The upcoming vampire-esque drama, THE TRANSFIGURATION, had its North American Premiere this past week, and in anticipation of it's release, Shannon spoke with director Michael O'Shea about his film as well as the unique inspiration behind the story.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Mike, thanks so much for speaking with us today and congrats on THE TRANSFIGURATION having it's North American premiere at SXSW! To start things off, could you tell those who may not be familiar with your film a little bit about it?
Mike O'Shea: Of course! THE TRANSFIGURATION is about a young teenager named Milo who's 14 years old and believes he's becoming a vampire and is acting on that. The story takes off from there during a summer he spends in NY where he meets a girl.
NC: What inspired you to make THE TRANSFIGURATION?
MO: It's sort of a cynical story, less romantic, but I had just failed at making a slasher movie (laughs). It was too expensive for a first time director to be financed and I couldn't come up with a good proof of concept for the slasher. I thought to myself, what's a cheaper film I could do with a proof of concept that could be easily done. I started to think about a film that would be in our world, a portrait film like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, that I could shoot live in New York City. I wanted the style to be far away where I would zoom in on people, so like doing a horror movie but using a documentary style of filmmaking. I knew all those things but I didn't actually have an idea yet (laughs).
One day I was talking to a friend and she mentioned that her friend's kid was getting bullied a lot because he was obsessed with vampires and all he would talk about what ghosts and vampires and he was getting made fun of at school. That was it for me, I was like wait a minute, what if I do a film where a kid believed he was becoming a vampire and what would that kid be like. I started constructing the character of Milo and it took awhile to kind of construct his back story and how he came to be. Once I had that then I moved on to what happens to him. That's pretty much the birth of the film and the idea. Though it started from a cynical place it ended up in such a sincere place.
NC: When it came to casting for the film, what was the process like?
MO: When you are making a really small budget movie like this, I think what's really important is to have things set before the money comes in. The second you get the money and pre-production starts, the clock starts ticking and everything becomes very expensive. The more things you know you are doing before that moment happens, the better off you are. I had Eric Ruffin (Milo) and Chloe Levine (Sophie) before we had money. I spent tow years knowing that I was casting this movie that I was trying to get money for. I had Chloe when I auditioned people for the proof of concept film. Though I ended up not using the Sophie character in the proof of concept movie, I decided I wanted Chloe in the film.
One night when watching "The Good Wife" I saw Eric Ruffin on it and he had this face that was perfect. For the film, the face of Milo is an incredibly important thing, it has to be a face that is believable for the character and also very sweet and innocent and very likable in a way. When I saw Eric's face I was like that's perfect. I brought him in to read with Chloe, and again this was before we had money so I rented a casting room and got a casting director (who wasn't involved in the film). The purpose of it was I just really wanted to see Eric and Chloe together reading from the script and when I saw them it was amazing and I knew my two leads were cast.
NC: What was it like when you found out that the film got into the SXSW Film Festival?
MO: It was absolutely amazing! I've been touring the world with THE TRANSFIGURATION and we had it's World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May of last year. Since then I've been basically running around the globe with this movie but I'm really happy to have it's American premiere at SXSW. I think SXSW is a wonderful home for horror and I think they are very supporting of horror films and genre filmmaking in a way that other festivals aren't as much. That's where I want to belong because I'm making horror films because I love horror, not for any other cynical reason. Whenever I go to horror film festivals that's where I'm the happiest because I feel like the fans are the best and the programmers are the best. There is such an earnest enthusiasm for the genre going on that I just love it. When I got into SXSW I was very happy because the festival has been very good to horror and also programs that are outside the box of horror.
NC: Lastly, what can fans of yours expect from you in the future?
MO: I'm actively trying to raise money for a cross country murder/violent/bloodbath movie that starts in New York and ends in California. Originally I was going to try and make the slasher film next, but then Trump got elected and the cross country murder/bloodbath movie has a political satire element to it. It just seemed like I should do that one next (laughs). The film is in America where it feels like everything is falling apart and people are going crazy and being violent and suddenly America is now beginning to feel like that.