Brandon Christensen first came on the scene as a Director in 2009 with his comedy short, Flip. Since then, he’s gone on to direct a slew of shorts, commercials, a TV mini-series, his first feature film and now his sophomore feature, Z. Recently, Nightmarish Conjuring’s Shannon McGrew spoke 1:1 with the director/co-writer where they discussed everything from the genesis of the story, crafting daylight scares and reuniting with his Still/Born co-writer, Colin Minihan.
In the film, when Beth’s (Keegan Connor Tracy) son (Jett Klyne) brings home an imaginary friend named “Z”, she becomes concerned that he is falling too deep into a world of make believe. He starts to display extremely destructive behavior, blaming Z for all of his action. But after he gets kicked out of school, Beth is forced to find a solution. She medicates her son, making him unable to see his imaginary companion. But now Beth sees Z…and he wants to be her friend.
Hi Brandon, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today! Z absolutely terrified me and I was wondering if you could talk about how this film came to fruition?
Brandon Christensen: After Still/Born, I found that I really enjoyed the mother/child dynamic and started thinking about something similar to The Omen. My oldest at the time was of that age and had just started kindergarten and for the first time we were letting him out into the world to learn and play without us being involved. So it led to discussions with my wife about what would happen if instead of cute macaroni art – he brought home some demonic entity hellbent on destroying our family. My wife threw out the idea of an imaginary friend, and Z was born.
You’ve worked with Colin Minihan in the past (Still/Born) and have reunited again for Z. How was it working together and what was that process like?
Brandon Christensen: Having written Still/Born together, when Colin joined up on Z (after the first draft, which I wrote with my wife), there was a comfort level that we probably wouldn’t have had if it was the first time working together. The script had a lot of great ideas but had some problems as well, and our prior relationship of doing this let us skip the pretenses and just get to work on it. Colin’s great at keeping the conversation going to really figure out what a story needs. It was great and I learned a lot.
One of my favorite aspects of the film was your ability to craft scares during daylight hours. Can you talk about your process in doing that?
Brandon Christensen: I think traditionally, darkness is used for scares because being afraid of the dark is a very universal feeling. The less you can see, the more that can be out there to scare you. The light, or daytime, is generally thought to be ‘safe’ so being able to strip that away removes the ability to be safe at any point. I think Paranormal Activity 2 was the first time that I can remember doing that and it was really effective. The thing with being a parent is that most of your work is done during the daytime, so you’re forced to evaluate moments where you’re parenting where things can go wrong. It’s really finding those moments where you feel you’re safe and putting a ‘what if’ twist on it. Like – oh my son is just upstairs playing with his friend, what’s the worst thing that can happen?
Well… A lot apparently.
What was it like finding the cast? Especially for the roles of Elizabeth and Joshua?
Brandon Christensen: Jett Klyne was the first person cast on the film. It was complete serendipity as we posted a general facebook casting call in Calgary. You are just trying to get a sense of what’s available locally – and 30 minutes after posting, we received an email from Jett’s mom being like “My friend sent me your casting notice, here’s my son Jett”. And then – the hardest part to cast was suddenly on board.
Keegan Connor Tracy was someone that joined pretty close to production. When you’re an indie like us, you don’t have any money to go through the real casting process, and you certainly don’t have the budget to lure big actors to you because you don’t have it. So I reached out to a casting agent in Vancouver to ask if she had any thoughts for who we could hire. She, fortunately, had just had Keegan read for something else and sent her audition tape and we reached out to her manager immediately. Lucky for us, she really got behind the film and was excited to try to tackle a character like Beth. The role is incredibly demanding and she was totally up for it.
I found that, for me, outside of this film being a wonderful scary movie, it seemed to be a metaphor for trauma/abuse. What do you hope people take away from this film?
Brandon Christensen: I think beyond the scares, and having nightmares for some of the sights and sounds in the film, I want people to come away with the idea that when someone is presented with a tragedy or trauma, that they’re capable of having the strength to handle it. It’s something that you don’t really think you’re capable of, and unfortunately, something that almost everyone will have to deal with at some point, but when you are confronted with an impossible situation – you are able to reach deep and handle anything. I think that’s something that I’ve personally dealt with – and I’ve definitely seen my wife deal with – and it never ceases to amaze me.
Z is now available on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray. For more on the film, check out our review here.