For the VOD release of the slasher inspired horror film, CUT SHOOT KILL, Shannon had the chance to speak with director Michael Walker about his vision, inspiration, and how he went about creating a unique spin on the slasher genre.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Michael, thank you so much for speaking with me today! To start things off can you tell those who may not be familiar with your film, CUT SHOOT KILL, a little about it?
Michael Walker: CUT SHOOT KILL is about an up and coming actress from NY, Serena Brooks, who gets a job on a horror film with a bunch of Appalachian filmmakers. Alabama Chapman, their director, wants to make his slasher films as real as possible, and he has come up with a unique way of making his films. When the actors start disappearing, Serena suspects that there may be something more sinister going on.
NC: The slasher genre has a tendency to follow the same old tropes, but in your film you take that narrative and give it a unique twist. How did you come up with this story and were there any inspirations?
MW: My first inspirations were when I watched some videos online that had people dying in them. Real dying, like car crashes or bad "fail" videos, which can be really sad and brutal. But also, there are sort of cheesy snuff films out there that aren't real, but kind of present themselves as real. The quality of the actual filmmaking in these is usually pretty bad, which is part of what makes their creepiness so effective. I started to wonder who these people were who made these films. They don't like professionals, but they look like they spent some time and effort and thought in making them. I thought about a someone who had watched the real death videos and loved horror films, but hated how fake they look and came up with this new way of making his films. Once I had Alabama's character, and thought of what his crew would look like, I got excited about writing it.
There is a feeling when making a movie that a director, a crew, an actor, would do anything to get a shot. It's a very dedicated profession - no one would do this job for just the money. People put their hearts and souls into movies. So it's fun to think about a director who takes that idea to the next level.
NC: What was the casting process like for finding your actors? Did you have specific people in mind?
MW: I found the actors through casting directors. Fortunately, at this budget level, we didn't need any stars. Stars can be tough to get to and waiting for them to read your script can mean that a year of your life goes by and nothing happens. Pretty much everyone in the film was cast through auditions. Catherine Curtin I knew from a script reading she did with me, so I asked her personally.
Originally, the script called for Blake Stone's character to be a real life child star. I tried very hard to get Macaulay Culkin, which I thought would be another level of meta in the film. We managed to get the script to him, but ultimately he never read it. The character was the same as Blake Stone, just without the real life fame, and I couldn't be happier with Phil Burke, who ended up playing him. In the end, I wouldn't trade Phil for anything.
NC: I found myself becoming increasingly invested in the characters, especially Alabama. Though morally the lines are drawn did you still want the audience to have a level of conflicting feelings on who they should be rooting for?
MW: Movie morality is always weird. CUT SHOOT KILL is a fun film and it doesn't judge anyone for these horrible things they do. Nicole's films (in CSK) tend to be female revenge stories, so when she kills it's for self defense, even if she's bad ass when she does it. I guess it's the motivations that make the killing OK or not OK in a movie, but in real life, I don't think anyone should kill anyone else for any reason. As I say in the credits at the end, it's an asshole thing to do.
Alabama kills people, but he is still a soulful person and clearly has a vision about his filmmaking and ambitions to take it to another level. Also, he needs a new leading lady for his films, and he has a real respect for Serena, so he is very protective of her. She's the first real actress he's worked with, and trying to figure out where to blur that line of imagination and reality is as important to her as it is to him. So that makes him sympathetic in a way. Once Serena buys into Alabama's vision, she wants the film to be as real and as true as he does, but maybe she has her own ideas of how to achieve that, even at the end. But she's really doing it for her art, so if that motivation gives it a pass in the movie-morality debate for you, then you'll love her.
NC: What types of challenges did you face while filming CUT SHOOT KILL?
MW: I had a great time making this movie, so it's hard for me to go back and complain about how awful the conditions were when we were shooting it. It was crazy and it was fun. Hopefully the movie is like that too.
I think, stylistically, the challenge was to make the whole film seamless, so that you never know whether you are in one of Alabama's films, or the film that we are watching or what. This meant trying to shoot with as little style as possible. We tried to create something that looked "real" for the style of Alabama's movies and for the style of our movie: trying to make it so that audiences never say, "where's the camera?" or "how could they get that shot?" That took some thought and imagination, but I think we got it to work.
NC: Last, but certainly not least, are there any other projects you are working on that we should be keeping our eye out for?
MW: I've been working on a TV show, "Paint", about young artists in Brooklyn who are trying to make it in the art world. It's a comedy, not a horror. Hopefully that will get picked up.
CUT SHOOT KILL is now available on VOD starting August 8th.