For the release of the upcoming horror film, THE MONSTER PROJECT, Craig had the opportunity to partake in a round table interview with director Victor Mathieu where they discussed everything from designing creatures to performing stunts.
Question: What came first, the idea of using a found footage movie or the idea for the overall story?
Victor Mathieu: The idea for the overall story came up first. Growing up I was a huge fan of R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" stories as well as a video game called Escape from Horrorland (1996) released by DreamWorks interactive. Eventually I watched a movie called THE HAMILTONS (2006), which is a movie about a family of vampires and I started getting ideas from that. I thought to myself what if I made a film about a group of fillmmakers that went in to interview a family of vampires. I realized then that my love for horror kind of kicked in because I love monsters. I then said what if I do a film about a group of filmmakers that interview multiple monsters [instead of just vampires]. At this time I had been working on my first film, which was going to be a film about a poor girl who is trying to get over her phobia of clowns, called CARNEVIL, but it proved to be too expensive a film for me to acquire the financing for, so I came up with THE MONSTER PROJECT idea instead.
Question: Why did you choose skin walkers instead of werewolves?
VM: Since I decided to do it in the first person perspective style of filmmaking, I think that skin walkers are a much more believable creature than the werewolf, especially since we're in California and there are people out there who claim to be skin walkers. I felt that it's also a monster that hasn't been really touched upon that much, so I thought that would be more interesting to tackle as well. I'd seen a lot of images of werewolves online before, but I had my idea of what I wanted to do with the skin walker; a very specific idea of what I wanted him to look like. When Jim (Beinke) came on board and he started sharing his ideas it just kind of came about this way. It was quite clear from the very get-go that it was not going to be werewolves but the skin walker instead. As you can see in the film, it's kind of a blend of skin walker lore, but a bit more of a werewolf.
Question: Did you take a heavy hand in designing the creatures?
VM: I worked closely with Jim in terms of design. I kind of already had the look that I wanted to go for, but Jim made it his own. He built a full-body suit for the skin walker, plus the face which was animatronic. It was a very long process and a very complicated design that he came up with. He did a phenomenal job with it. The skin walker is his baby, it's his design, I just came up with the idea to make a film with a skin walker.
Question: What about the design of the demon and the vampire?
VM: Jim and I were very set on the fact that the vampire would have two teeth on either side of the top of her mouth, it was just a design that I thought was interesting and different from other films. That was something that we decided very early on in the design process along with the facial prosthetics etc.
As for the demon, we always knew we were going to do some kind of effect on her face; it just ended up being a little bit more visual effects oriented than I originally thought, but it ended up working better. We toyed around with some ideas when we were in post-production that went further than what I had originally planned. We were quite pleased with the result. Actually, the company that did the visual effects, Refuge VFX, did a great job with Shiori, we were very pleased.
Question: How was it working with Jamal Quezaire again?
VM: I found Jamal for THE MONSTER PROJECT in the first place, but with such a long process to find funding for the film Jamal and I, and everyone else, were kind of working towards locking in the financing. In the meantime, me and two other friends made a film called DEAD LIST (2016) which Jamal acted in as well. Jamal is a fantastic guy and he has also done other work for me as well. He's very charismatic and he's really funny, just a really humorous guy. He has a great attitude so it's always a pleasure working with him. Also, to go beyond that, Jamal's character in THE MONSTER PROJECT wasn't going to be funny. It was not supposed to be a comedic role, if anything Devon's role was supposed to be more comedic than he ended up being. We kind of swapped that once we discovered Jamal and Jamal brought his own spin on to his character.
Question: Did Jamal improvise a lot of his role?
VM: Well, yes, but we also rewrote the script so that it would fit Jamal's character. I kind of encouraged him to add to his role. The dialogue was the dialogue but I allowed him to add his own spin to it as well.
Question: What was it like to not only direct the film but also perform the stunts?
VM: The main reason (I did the stunts) was to save money on the budget. I wanted to keep my actors safe and since I was the producer on the film as well I just decided to do the stunts myself. I've also been around stunts for a few years working on a live, interactive play called Delusion. I decided to do stunts myself for a lot of the scenes, but I also had some stunt doubles. For Brian's character, when the GoPro was involved, myself and Phillip Sebal took on the responsibility for some of those shots. It was quite and I loved doing that and would to it all over again. Maybe I'll be known as the director that does some of his own stunts, who knows. I really enjoyed it though and did everything from stair falls, to being on a wire, to being pulled through a room - it was quite fun.
Question: How do you choreograph things when working from the first person perspective?
VM: I really enjoyed that aspect of it. The complications, though, were working the GoPro and not being able to see what you're filming at the same time. No matter who was operating the GoPro it was very complicated to know exactly what it's aiming at. That was a challenge and so we'd have to redo takes a lot of the time because we missed capturing the specific moment, or the specific item, or whatever it was we needed to capture. That was the challenge of the first person perspective, making sure that you capture what you need to capture in the scene.
In terms of storytelling, I think it was very nice to work that way. One of the scenes I feel accomplished what I was trying to go for was this scene between Bryan (Toby Hemingway) and Murielle (Murielle Zuker) by the first pit early on in the film. It was kind of a romantic scene and I thought it was quite intimate and interesting to experience that as if you're Bryan going through that romantic scene. I thought it was quite cool to experience.
Question: Why did you decide to use an addiction angle with Bryan's character?
VM: That's something that we were always interested in bringing into the film - the fact that monsters are addicted to blood. We wanted to bring the drug addiction aspect into Bryan's character because we thought it tied in well with the addiction theme that goes hand-in-hand with the monsters. That's why we did that, but it also helped with the idea of faith. The whole film was also revolving around the idea of holding onto faith and religion.
Question: Going back to the style, what was the most difficult thing to pull off with the GoPro?
VM: Quite a few things. With the GoPro, the hardest moment by far was Bryan crashing through the flooring with the vampire. We thought of how to accomplish that so many times. I wanted to destroy the ceiling, pre-break it, but it was going to be very expensive and the property owners weren't having it, which I totally get. We were thinking about doing it on a stage, but then we had to rent out a stage. It was all about how can we make that work with the budget that we had? It ended up being a three shot moment, like a three second moment, that we intercut and combined with visual effects because there was no other way to pull it off. Huge thanks to Refuge VFX because that was a difficult shot to blend.
Question: How do you do storyboard scenes in a first-person perspective movie?
VM: I brought onboard a storyboard artist that I met and he and I spent a good amount of time at the location. I would describe to him the scenes, exactly how I wanted to shoot them and then he went ahead and storyboarded all the action scenes. Everything that involved action or stunts, that was storyboarded beforehand so that this way the crew or the stunt team could see exactly what was happening. Everything was very organized so we could execute it in a very organized, safe manner that was efficient with our schedule. As a matter of fact, we're going to do a behind-the-scenes making of video pretty soon that will show some of the storyboards that we did.
Question: What monster ended up being your favorite or your baby?
VM: I love all three of them. I do think that the skin walker is a beast - he is super fun to watch. I would love to make a prequel to the skin walker story. We did a whole thing going surrounding the desert scene that was supposed to be a set up for a prequel on the skin walker. I have a really cool idea for that one, and for all the monsters. I don't think I'll ever do that, but we are certainly thinking about it.
As for Shiori, she's just terrifying. When Pei Pei Alena Yuan gets into her role she's terrifying. We did a web series prequel about her character that we launched online so if you haven't seen it you should check it out. Epic PIctures release it on their YouTube channel and it's really terrifying. It's eleven episodes about the weeks leading up to her character showing up for the interviews and how she aggravated this demon, The Smiling Man, and how she came about being involved with the interviews for THE MONSTER PROJECT. It's quite scary and fun to watch.
Question: Would you prefer to make the skin walker prequel a web series or a full on feature?
VM: Full on feature. I did the web series as a broad marketing tactic for the film, but I'm not so interested in doing web series or anything like that from here on out. I just want to do feature films or TV. My team and I are really focusing on and starting to think about a sequel to THE MONSTER PROJECT, as I think that there's tremendous potential for it. I've been thinking hard about what I would for the sequel and especially with a higher budget there are some crazy things that I would like to do.
Question: What's your next dream project?
VM: I just finished writing a script with Yvonne Zima, who plays the vampire. Her and I became really good friends. Since we wrapped THE MONSTER PROJECT, her and I have been writing a script together. I also have a couple horror scripts that I've written that are finished as well. I'm also working on The Smiling Man (the demon that haunts Shiori), it's a creature that is really scary and I think that people would quite enjoy as a feature film.
THE MONSTER PROJECT will be in select theaters and available on VOD August 18th.