FrightFest Previews – Interview with ‘Let Her Out’ Director Cody Calahan

Let-Her-Out-movie-1.jpgThe opening night midnight slot at FrightFest has proven to be a mixed bag over the years, but never seems to fail to draw a reaction. With a tendency towards high-energy crowd pleasers like You’re Next and Zombeavers, we venture into darker territory this year with Let Her Out, the new film from Antisocial director Cody Calahan. He took the time to tell us about the film, what it was like making Antisocial 2, and his route into filmmaking…

Shock Street Horror: Hello! How about you tell us about yourself, and how you got into filmmaking?

Cody Calahan: I’m going to actually describe in some detail how that happened. I wasn’t a very good student in school. C student if I was lucky. Thankfully my parents were very creative. They gave me a large and extremely heavy VHS camera when I was pretty young, and I started making really bad – but I guess creative – short films with my friend Ari Millen. He stayed in the industry as well and moved into acting after that.

I went to film school after that. I didn’t have many choices since I didn’t get into many schools, but I did find a school that would take me based on a few short films and some random art from high school.

When I graduated everyone said to “go get a job as a Production Assistant”. I did, and started working in the Art Department as a set dresser. At the same time, to try and stay as creative as I could, I was working for a skateboarding magazine, where I met John Geddes and Jesse Cook, who eventually formed Foresight Features. They were looking for a Production Designer for their first feature, Scarce. I lied – I said I had worked as Production Designer on a few features that weren’t out yet…they, thankfully, believed me. I told them a little while after – we’re good friends now.

From there I worked as an Art Director and Production Designer for a bit before meeting Chad Archibald. I wasn’t moving the direction I wanted to at that time, so when I heard Chad was looking for an Assistant Director, I said I would jump in. Of course, I had never done it before so…I lied…I said I had been an Assistant Director on a few things that weren’t out yet. Yes, I realize there’s a pattern forming here, but that’s how I learned: throwing myself into the deep end.

After that, Chad was about to direct his first solo feature. I ended up coming on as a producer. It wasn’t long after, that we partnered and made Black Fawn Films our main focus. We did a ton of music videos before co-writing Antisocial together, which we pitched to Breakthrough Entertainment. Six months later I was on set directing.

There’s no amazing moral to that story…

SSH: Why don’t you tell us a little about Let Her Out – hit us with a synopsis!

CC: When a bike courier discovers that she has the remnants of a “vanishing twin” in her brain, she falls prey to strange episodic blackouts, hallucinations, and night terrors. As these escalate into psychotic episodes, making her a danger to herself and those around her, she finds herself overtaken by an evil that will stop at nothing to get out of her mind.

SSH: The script came, as I understand it, from an idea that you conceived with Adam Seybold, who had previously worked with you on Exit Humanity, although this is obviously a project you have a lot more creative control over. It’s a pretty interesting concept – what was the genesis of the idea?

CC: Adam and myself had been going back and forth for a while on ideas, but nothing was sticking. A couple weeks later Adam mentioned this article he’d read about “vanishing twins”. I couldn’t believe it was real and did a Google search which made me cringe. We figured if we got that reaction, an audience might too.

When we verbally pitched it to the studio, and after they did the Google search on the spot, we got the same response. Immediately we saw this story becoming a straight up body horror, which neither of us saw a challenge in doing. We wanted those elements, but nothing straight up.

We kept saying “an urban haunting” and “It’s a horror that’s right next door” I had wanted to make something embedded in the city for awhile and this seemed like the right time. Since we were on such an insane deadline to deliver a movie, the script came together really fast, and within a few months we were shooting.

SSH: The midnight slot at FrightFest on opening night has historically pulled in some very interesting films, and always seem to get a reaction from the crowd – everything from You’re Next to Zombeavers! How does it feel to see your film in such a prime spot?

CC: Honoured. There’s a kind of validation when a festival like FrightFest chooses your film, especially in an opening night slot. Sometimes I fear I’ve made a film I love, but does anyone else want to watch this? So there’s a lot of nail biting until we hear news like this. The movie is very dark so I’m curious to see the reaction.

SSH: Dark is good! What’s your relationship with the festival? Have you been before, either as a filmmaker or as a fan?

CC: Unfortunately I’ve never been myself. My first film, Antisocial played there in 2013 so it’s very exciting to be back. Alanna LeVierge, who played the lead, is going which is great.

SSH: Your last project before this was Antisocial 2– what was it like to conceive an idea for the original film, then enjoy enough momentum from it to develop a sequel?

CC: Writing Antisocial was great. I think we got to take a lot of stabs at things that bothered us. Social media is amazing but totally terrifies me. The sequel was green lit shortly after the original’s festival run. It went from the most fun writing I’ve had to the biggest struggle. Trying to follow up Antisocial was very hard. We wanted to give people what they wanted, but also surprise people by doing the opposite of what they expected. That’s a very fine line. There was 5-10 different concepts and treatments written. Every few weeks the film went in different directions. It was a weird movie to make a sequel for. I think we created something weirdly interesting. People either love it or hate it, and that’s a good thing, I think.

SSH: Broadly, how do you find shooting a sequel differs from shooting other features, if at all?

CC: Well, right off the bat you know your main characters (if they survived) and you have a tone and some of the same rules already. A bit of the heavy lifting has already been done, so it’s a little easier. However it can sometimes also hold you back creatively. It’s a battle just like any other shoot though. New challenges and road blocks. New ups and new downs.

SSH: In your experience in the industry so far, is there anyone that you’ve especially enjoyed working with, or have learned a particular amount from?

CC: The cinematographer of Let Her Out and one my best friends Jeff Maher, has taught me a ton. He’s shot every movie I’ve done and I hope that continues as I learn something new from him every time.

I feel like every film I learn something new. Recently, Adam Seybold has taught me a lot while developing Let Her Out. Making a film is very collaborative, or at least I think it should be, and therefore every new person you work with brings something new.

SSH: What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers?

CC: Push out of your comfort zone. When I get nervous on set then I know at least we’re doing something different, maybe not to the world, but at least for us. That’s how you learn. Take chances whenever you can and make movies that you want to see. If you’re honest, people will feel that.

SSH: And finally, is there any emerging filmmakers or performers whose work you’d like to let our readers know about?

CC: Stephanie Copeland has been scoring all of our films since Antisocial, but what some people don’t know is that she also has a band; Public Panic. She’s an incredible artist and I can’t push her music enough.

http://exclaim.ca/music/article/steph_copeland-public_panic_album_stream

Let Her Out plays the Main Screen at FrightFest at Vue Shepherd’s Bush, London on August 25th.

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