With the recent premiere of his new short film taking place, writer/director Matt Mercer sat down with Abigail Braman to discuss FEEDING TIME (which has already won several awards), and what went into making this fun pop horror short film, along with exclusive behind the scenes photos.
Abigail Braman: Hi Matt! Thanks so much for speaking with me today. To start things off, how did the premise for FEEDING TIME originate, and what was your main source of inspiration?
Matt Mercer: This one really came out of trying to think of a scary idea for a contained environment. Originally I had pitched it to CryptTV. I initially gave them three short film ideas, and one of them was FEEDING TIME, which was on the longer end of the scripts that I showed them. I talked to their head of development, and we just couldn't see a way to get FEEDING TIME down to five minutes or less, which is what they wanted. After I developed the script, I really liked it and I wanted to find a way to still make it fairly cheaply. I'd also been wanting to do more horror as a filmmaker, and FEEDING TIME is pretty pure pop horror, so it was perfect. I then reached out to Kevin and Jennifer Sluder - I had directed a short for them called PLAY VIOLET FOR ME, and they showed interest in being executive producers for FEEDING TIME, after pitching it to them. We then prepped in about four to six weeks and began shooting. It was great to expand FEEDING TIME a little bit more and not be married to quite as strict of a runtime, because I got to do whatever I wanted in the confines of that budget. I was able to keep it tight while putting some air into it to build suspense.
AB: FEEDING TIME has such a great cast - I thought Stacey Snyder was perfect for this role with her mannerisms and actions. How did you two connect for this project?
MM: I held auditions for Stacey's role. I already knew Graham Skipper and Najarra Townsend were going to play the parents - I wrote it for them. I just knew they would nail these characters who were just off-center enough from being normal people; they're basically imitating what they think people behave like, but they're clearly not all there. With Stacey, I held auditions for that role. She understood the tone of the piece and character, better than I did, actually. I held auditions for about a day, I was getting worried - some good actors came in, but they just weren't getting the tone I was looking for. There's this balance between humor and being grounded in this short. It's not goofy, but at the same time there's some humor in it, and that character has to be smart enough to figure out something's not quite right with the situation, but also just dim enough to not figure it out or to get out of the house. And Stacey was just so good at nailing the tone and producing that millennial idea of being so distracted by her phone that she's not quite seeing the clues around her. She struck the perfect balance of being an identifiable character. She brought to it a lot of reaction that a lot of actresses just weren't getting in the audition. She was the only person who hit every single action back to back, which was perfect.
AB: What was it like having Steve Moore create your soundtrack?
MM: Where do I begin? Steve is one of my favorite composers working in film today. He did scores for movies such as THE MIND'S EYE, THE GUEST, and CUB, and I think THE MIND'S EYE score is my favorite of all of his work. I'm also a huge fan of his band Zombi. I was thinking about reaching out to him, but was nervous about it because of the budget and time constraints that we had. I was at a friend's BBQ one night and Josh Ethier, a pal of mine (and producer and editor of THE MIND'S EYE), and I were talking about how I was unsure about reaching out to Steve. Josh really pushed me to sack up and reach out. At the time, Steve actually had a two-week break before he would go on tour, so the timing to reach out was just perfect. So, I reached out to him, and within a day he got back to me and loved FEEDING TIME and said he'd do it - I couldn't believe it. To have Steve's touch on this short elevates it so much. The instrumentation and equipment that he uses produces the kind of sound that I love - all of his acknowledgments and the sound he produced was just perfect. Steve is really good at understanding tone, and he knows how to let the musical cat out of the bag. He really held back at first and didn't go full-force with his Steve Moore badassery until things get heated up in the film. The actual FEEDING TIME theme doesn't play until the end credits, and I think that's the greatest thing he came up with - it sounds like the love child of John Carpenter and Danny Elfman. Steve's score coupled with this absurdly great, self-aware title song called "Feeding Time" that Ben Wise created that just made all the music aspects of the film top notch and set the tone of the whole thing. I've always loved 80's horror movies where the title track actually plays in the film, as though it's part of the world of the narrative, not just a song about the movie...it's ridiculous but I love it. Like in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 when they're in the convenience store and the main theme is playing as a source cue in the store. It's like, "What?!" So we did a bit of that.
AB: I really like the effects in this short. What did you guys do for the glowing eyes in the cabinet - was that done traditionally or digitally?
MM: All the effects in FEEDING TIME are practical, with the exception of Graham's glowing eyes, which were done in post by Jason Miller. All the other eyes were practical, and we used blue LED lights that we put onto cardboard cutouts that were black and shaped like the baby's head. Rachel Ferrell (one of my producers) was laying in the cabinet in the dark, and she was moving the pairs of eyes one at a time at all different sides. I then layered those shots together - the camera was locked down so that I could composite all of those shots together. The end result was multiple floating eyes, when there was really just one original pair. Aside from the eyes, the main creature was entirely practical, too, and created by Cody Wilkins. The practical gore effects were done by the brilliant Josh and Sierra Russell.
AB: FEEDING TIME seemed like it was a blast to shoot - what was your overall experience like directing and being on set?
MM: It was great. One of the most important things when you're doing a project such as this one is planning. It felt good because everyone understood what we were doing, and everyone had a good time while working at the top of their game. The fun of it was infectious; I think we all just had a really great time doing it. I was really aching to get back to a pure horror experience and seeing if I could do that again before making another feature film. It felt good having the other experiences under my belt - I just felt very certain about the choices I was making on this one. It's just fun being around such great and talented people who you've worked with before. We had a fine-tuned unit, and I want to just keep working with these people because we had such a blast.
AB: What's next on the agenda for you, as far as writing and directing goes?
MM: I'm currently bouncing between four different screenplays that I'm writing. But, I'm really close to finishing one of them, and I want to do a horror/thriller feature and take what I've learned on FEEDING TIME and apply it to a bigger canvas. I also have some acting roles coming up as well.