Having had it’s World Premiere at Dances with Films Festival in June, THREE SKELETON KEYhas been steadily gaining momentum in the film festival circuit. Shannon had the chance to speak with director Andrew Hamer about his short film, the origins of THREE SKELETON KEY,(**NOTE: SPOILERS FORTHCOMING……) and working with rats.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Andrew, thank you so much for speaking with us today. For those who may not be familiar with your short THREE SKELETON KEY, could you tell us a little bit about it and where the name of the short came from?
Andrew Hamer: “Three Skeleton Key” was a classic short story written by French author George Toudouze. In 1937 it was published in English in Esquire Magazine. It was also adapted later on in the late 40s/early 50s as a radio drama starring Vincent Price, where it gained a lot of acclaim. I read the short story as a young kid and it just really terrified me. I thought it was just a fascinating story and I wanted to see it adapted into a film.
The short focuses on a few men in 1921 on this small island called Three Skeleton Keys which is miles and miles away from the mainland. Their job was to safeguard and help ships at night know where they were so as to not run aground on reefs or any other barriers. One night, they observe a mysterious ship approaching the island as well as the dangerous reefs surrounding the island. They try to warn the ship with their lighthouse beacon but the ship keeps on coming closer. They soon realize that there is something onboard the ship and it’s not human.
NC: I noticed that the short had a Lovecraftian vibe to it. Where did you pull inspiration from for THREE SKELETON KEY?
AH: There’s definitely a Lovecraft theme for sure, but also I think I was really inspired by Hitchcock and films like THE BIRDS. I also enjoyed John Carpenter’s THE THING, and my short is similar to that in regards to a group of men on an isolated area trying to survive and figure out how to deal with this thing that’s trying to destroy them. Those two directors were very influential to me, but you are right, there’s certainly a Lovecraft element as well to the story.
NC: What was the casting process like? Did you have certain actors in mind for specific roles or was it more of an open casting call?
AH: It was a little bit of both. I did have a few actors in mind, one of whom I worked with named Greg Perrow, who played Bill Roberts the lighthouse assistant. I also knew Dan White, who play Andre Rolle, the other lighthouse assistant, and Paul Rae, who plays the lighthouse keeper Jim Beal. We also did an open audition where I met Robert Fleet who did a fantastic job as the character Terry Driscoll, the other lighthouse assistant. They all had a really great dynamic and you could see that kind of tension there between the characters, particularly Andre Rolle and Jim Beal.
NC: Without giving too much away, the film has a heavy focus on rats. Was there symbolism that you had with the rats that you were trying to convey?
AH: The way we think about rats is kind of sad because they are beneficial to humans. We have an association between them and death, the plague, and everything that’s menacing. Rats definitely have that symbol of pestilence, decay, and a sense of dread.
NC: Did you use real rats or did you use CGI? Or was it a combination of both?
AH: It was actually a combination. We had 20 trained rats and we worked with a great animal wrangler who did an incredible job. It was difficult at first to get the rats to move as a group, it took a lot of training. The wranglers would have these catch boxes with fruit loops and peanut butter with a buzz on it that the rats would hear. They would know food was inside and the wranglers would train them to move from one part of the set to the other by the buzzing sound. Actor Greg Perrow was also a trooper about having all these rats cover him (laughs). We also had a great visual effects team, Temperamental Films, who did the CGI. They took all those real movements of the rats and made them into a huge army to put all over the lighthouse windows.
NC: Would you like to see THREE SKELETON KEY become a full-length feature film or do you think that it’s better to have it as just a short?
AH: I definitely have been planning on making it a feature film. I’ve actually written a feature length script and this is kind of the proof of concept short. I definitely think THREE SKELETON KEY is a great story that would make a wonderful feature film. I know we kind of leave things at a cliffhanger [in the short], but things do get worse.
NC: Last, but certainly not least, are there any projects that you are working on that we should keep our eyes out for?
AH: I’m actually working on a few screenplays, one about an incredible real life World War II British commando who actually killed a German soldier with a bow and arrow. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction (laughs). I’m also trying to develop a script about some of my ancestors. They were German settlers in South Carolina in the 1700s and I actually read that there was a Charles Manson-esque cult during that time period. This guy and his wife ended up thinking they were God and things get a little crazy (laughs).
THREE SKELETON KEY will be screening at the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival in San Diego (Sept. 8-10), FilmQuest Film Festival in Utah (Sept. 8-16), and the San Jose International Short Film Festival (Dec. 7-10).