Having just had it’s Los Angeles Premiere at the Screamfest Film Festival last evening, RUIN ME continues to receive acclaim and praises from critics and fans alike. Prior to it’s premiere, Shannon had the chance to speak with director Preston DeFrancis about his latest film where they discussed everything from haunted attractions to addiction.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Preston, thank you so much for speaking with us today! To start things off, for those not familiar with your film RUIN ME, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Preston DeFrancis: RUIN ME is about Slasher Sleepout, an extreme haunt / escape room / camping trip in the middle of the woods. Six people sign up for a weekend of terror… well, actually FIVE of them have signed up willingly, and the sixth, our protagonist Alexandra, is tagging along with her boyfriend. She’s not a fan of this stuff, she doesn’t really watch horror films, and she’s not at all prepared for how intense this weekend will be. In fact, none of the participants – even the hardened goth couple who have done many of these before – are prepared for what happens to them.
NC: I’m a haunt enthusiast, whether it’s home haunts, pro-haunts, extreme haunts, or immersive experiences. What was it about this script that interested you and are you someone who enjoys haunts?
PD: I love haunts, as does my screenwriting partner, Trysta Bissett. We are really lucky in Los Angeles to have access to so many fantastically produced haunted attractions… Blackout, the Great Horror Campout, Delusion, and others. As much as we enjoyed these, neither of us came out feeling truly scared. So we started brainstorming: What would it take to frighten us at an event like this? A more isolated location, like the woods; way fewer people, like only six or so; and the feeling that anything can happen. That’s how RUIN ME was born.
NC: I really love that the film not only focuses on an “extreme” haunt experience but also ends up becoming a study on addiction. As someone who had an alcohol addiction, I really resonated with this film on many different levels. Was it important for you to showcase a movie that was more than just a surface level horror film?
PD: I am truly humbled to hear you say that. We would not have made the film without the storyline you are referring to. We are absolutely horror fans, and as fans we love horror movies at all levels of sophistication. But for us as creators: We aren’t going to spend the time to make it if it’s not working on many levels. In truth, we came up with the setting – Slasher Sleepout – first. But it wasn’t until we created the character of Alex, and the things that she is struggling with, that we knew we had to make this movie. If someone were to ask me what we do – and when I say we, I include Trysta, and our creative producer Aaron Galligan-Stierle, it is this: Genre movies that are driven first by narrative, but that put character, performances, and theme at almost equal weight.
NC: What really drives the film is in the archetype characters in the supporting roles as they really offset what our main character is experiencing. How did you go about casting for these roles?
PD: The supporting players are awesome, right? These actors just inhabited those characters so well; and I hope also bring a grounded, three-dimensionality to them, too. Chris Hill, who plays our comic relief character, is a friend who I’ve worked with several times before, most notably on my USC short, THE BIG PRODUCTION, which is now available for free on Amazon streaming. (It’s a comedy, though, not a horror film!) We cast a wide net for the roles of Pitch and Marina and saw literally hundreds of people for each role through taped submissions. We brought in just a handful of people for in-person callbacks, and John Odom and Eva Hamilton just clicked, both as a couple and separately. Cameron Gordon, who plays the strong and silent Tim, was also a friend who has done great work both in front of and behind the camera, and I knew he would be a great addition to the team.
NC: What were some of the challenges you faced filming in the woods? And what was your shooting schedule like?
PD: We shot fifteen days for principal, and one day of additional photography several months later. (I know that some big-budget movies get flack when the trades report on their reshoots, and I guess if they are doing massive re-writes, I get the criticisms; but I have to say, I love having a re-shoot day or two built into the budget. Once you get into the editing room, you can see so clearly the shots you need to elevate the storytelling.)
Shooting in the woods takes very clever producing, especially at the micro-budget level. Our producer, Rebecca G. Stone (who also happens to be my wife) helped us find the perfect balance of “looks super isolated” vs “is actually not that far from a parking lot and bathrooms.” We also had great help managing this from our executive producer and production designer, David Hendleman.
I think the hardest part was on the actors… you don’t realize until you get there that what you’ve written – though it sounds relatively simple on the page – actually requires them to be rolling around in the dirt and leaves over and over again. Especially our leads, Marcienne Dwyer and Matt Dellapina. They were troopers, though, and didn’t hate me for it! At least not that they’ve told me.
NC: Last but not least, is there anything we should be keeping our eyes out for in the future from you?
PD: Absolutely! We will hopefully be getting the band back together for our second feature, AFTER THE SUMMER. A horror film with a unique setting – a lake town that completely empties out after the summer vacation season; an intriguing mystery at its center – a history of violent murders in the town that are unconnected and officially solved as far as the police are concerned; and a strong female character, Olivia, a 21-year-old college student struggling to find her place in the world. She gets interested in the murders and starts digging. What she finds will place her in great danger.
We are hoping to film in Fall of 2018 in the same town we shot RUIN ME – Muskegon, Michigan, not far from Grand Rapids.