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Q&A: Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah & Josh Waller talk SpectreVision, Stanley Film Fest & “THE BOY”

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For any fright fans whose eyes have been keenly focused on challenging, contemporary horror, the name SpectreVision should be more than familiar. The horror-centric production company founded by Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh Waller has been at the forefront of the independent horror area for the past two years, developing provocative and unique films to much acclaim. This summer, however, SpectreVision sees two of its most recent productions, COOTIES and THE BOY, finally reaching a wide audience after building strong buzz on the festival scene. FANGORIA caught up with Wood, Noah and Waller at the 2015 Stanley Film Festival to talk all things SpectreVision…

FANGORIA: How did you all first get involved with the Stanley Film Festival?

DANIEL NOAH: I got a call from Britta [Erickson], who is one of the directors of the festival, inviting us out here and offering to give us the Visionary Award last year. At that point, we had not heard of the festival since they were only in their second year, and I was a little reserved about it. But then when we started looking into the festival and understanding what it was, we felt that it was not only something that we wanted to attend but it was also something we wanted to help build as much as possible.

ELIJAH WOOD: Our reservation also came from us earning a Visionary Award last year, and all three of us felt like we hadn’t done enough to deserve it yet. It was like, “How can we accept this honor when it’s something we’re still trying to achieve?”

NOAH: But when Britta explained the context of the award and how it was very specifically about supporting new voices in horror, that made sense to us. That’s something we really like to do, and if accepting this award would help to foster that part of our identity, it would be great. And then when we came, we have the best… weekend… ever… and literally the whole year after, we talked about how we can’t wait for the Stanley Festival.

JOSH WALLER: I remember on the first day here, we said, “Well, we’re coming back next year.”

FANGORIA: There’s an aura of ambition that surrounds every film that plays at the Stanley Film Festival, and that goes the same for SpectreVision’s output as well. How important is that ambitious streak to your brand and the filmmakers that SpectreVision works with?

WALLER: Vitally, I would say. It takes ambition to think outside the box since it’s easier to work in the lines. There’s probably more money there, too!

WOOD: We like to take chances and risks, and a well-trodden path isn’t interesting to us. As far as horror is concerned, there is a lot of well-trodden paths so we’re moved by unique storytelling and stuff that’s outside of the box. That’s not only what makes us excited as viewers but those are also the kinds of films we want to support.

FANGORIA: SpectreVision has really integrated itself into film festival culture, having been a presence at BeyondFest, SpectreFest and more. What kind of process do you go through as a company in terms of being a part of a film festival beyond the standard submission process?

NOAH: There’s an increasing distortion between people who love film and people who make film, particularly in the genre space. That is something we’ve felt very strongly at Fantastic Fest, which, to me, is the flagship for these types of festivals. So we always feel that there’s kind of a family atmosphere, and we feel that at Stanley very much.

It’s so lovely how little competition there is in the genre space, as if we’re all friends and we’re always sharing information about filmmakers, scripts, tips, etc. There’s really no separation at all, and festivals are really going into this grey area where it’s just about celebrating exciting films. As with SpectreFest, we love to make films but we also love to program films that we didn’t make. The three of us got into SpectreVision because we love genre movies, so we try and support them any way that we can.

FANGORIA: SpectreVision has been very unique in how you all have explored your release platforms and tie-in materials. Have you all discussed about what’s next for SpectreVision and if you’re interested in exploring other types of media?

WOOD: Those are all things we’re currently discussing, but ideally, I think we’d love to self-distribute sometime in the future. I think that’d be nice.

WALLER: It’s true that the kind of ambition that we look for in our filmmakers exists in us as well, so we’re always pushing eachother. There’s a strong sense of checks and balances, and with that ambition comes all of these new ideas and areas in which we can expand. Part of our problem is that we’re overly ambitious sometimes about creating an infrastructure to support our ambition, but ultimately, our ambition is good-natured since we want to help filmmakers make the films that we’d want to see. It all directly relates to the reality of what we what to put out.

NOAH: To answer your question more directly, we’ve always had a plan in terms of a long, long, long, long term plan and so far, things are going according to that plan. Step one was to establish our identity, so now we’re looking on to expanding into the next phases, which include growth and letting you guys know about all the new stuff we’ve got going on. [laughs]

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FANGORIA: In terms of how how you discover projects and filmmakers, are you at all interested in exploring any specific subgenres or a classic horror material that hasn’t been tackled in your wheelhouse yet?

WOOD: Well, aside from slasher films since I love them and they’re due for an update, there’s only an occasional yearning to make a kind of horror film that we love and haven’t made yet. Most of the time, it’s not self-generated. We’re not looking for things with any specificity, which is funny because when we first started the company, we talked a lot about the kinds of movies we wanted to make in different subgenres, and so on and so forth. Nowadays, we want to see what is out there and available.

NOAH: Yeah, it’s not like we had a mandate to make a black-and-white vampire film in Farsi. Instead, we looked at 20 of them and asked ourselves which one was the strongest. [laughs] No, we made a deal with ourselves at the beginning of this process at SpectreVision that we’d react first and foremost to content. We wanted to erect the economic and material infrastructure around something that moved us in a very simple, pure way. It’s like, “This is a movie we want to exist, so we’re going to make it,” as opposed to, “We’re looking for certain films at a certain budget in a certain genre that speak to a certain demographic.”

WOOD: Yeah, we don’t think about those things at all.

WALLER: Well, we think about those things later. [laughs] It’s not our leading motivation, but in this process, we don’t venture into anything unless the three of us are unanimous. The three of us are just best friends, but we’re also very different people with very different tastes. So since we don’t move forward with anything unless the decision is unanimous, what ends up happening is if the three of us are aligned on something with all of our different tastes, the chances of a project appealing to a broader audience are greater.

There’s been times where I’ve got up to Daniel and Elijah and been like, “The guys are gonna love this.” And I’ll say, “Guys!” And they’ll go, “[raspberry noise, gives a thumbs down sign].”

WOOD: In that scenario, it wasn’t that we weren’t excited about the project! It was because you sang it to us! [laughs]

NOAH: To anyone who wants to pitch us a project in a showtunes voice, here’s a note: don’t. [laughs]

FANGORIA: Considering how many projects must go your way, what’s the most important aspect about getting a SpectreVision project off the ground? Is it the artist and their ethic and self-presentation or is it a certain visual style or a vision within a script?

WALLER: It’s all of those but it could also be none of those, you know?

WOOD: It could be as simple as reading a script and seeing the vision within a script or just have someone pitch you a really good idea or be from a filmmaker that we love and want to work with who will do whatever the fuck they want. We love them for that. So it’s really a variety of things but it’s also all of those aspects as well.

NOAH: We always say the first litmus test for us is, “Is anyone else making this kind of movie?” If the answer is “yes,” we won’t do it. For example, we would love to do a haunted house movie, but every script that we read, we’ll turn to each other and go, “This reads like something Jason Blum is doing or has been done before.” What Blum does, he does so brilliantly, so why would we do that?

One of the things we often say to each other before doing a project is, “If we don’t make this, it probably won’t get made.” So that’s really the number one thing, and when you read so many scripts and see so many shorts, you can almost immediately identify a project as “unique enough.” It’s almost like we have to get through a script and after 20 pages, if it’s like, “There’s nothing like this.” It needs to feel new.

FANGORIA: In terms of THE BOY, what spoke to you all about that project and made you think it was something you needed to produce?

WOOD: We internally talked about a serial killer origin story because we’ve always been fascinated by serial killers and true crime.

WALLER: I don’t know about this “we” business. [laughs]

WOOD: Okay! I’ll own up to it! Serial killers are my thing and I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology of people with the capacity to take other people’s lives in really heinous ways. I think it’s super fascinating, especially when there’s a separation between what they do and who they are. But it all starts somewhere, and there’s a lot of common threads between these people so I’ve always been interested in what those threads are as well as the combination of things that lead people down that path. And with THE BOY, we saw Craig Macneill and Clay Mcleod Chapman’s short, HENLEY first.

NOAH: What also happened first was that we were asked to come up with a pitch for a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE reboot and our initial thought was, “No, thank you, that just doesn’t seem like our type of thing.” But we stepped back and said, “Hold on a second, what if we start with his childhood and we tell the story of Ed Gein in a fairly realistic manner?” They weren’t interested in that idea but we were, and so we became impregnated with this idea, and then we saw Craig [Macneill]’s short called HENLEY, which played at Sundance and was essentially what we were thinking of.

After seeing HENLEY, we came together with a filmmaking team as well as a shared ambition to tell the origin story of a future mass murderer in a really grounded way. From there, we were off and running.

WALLER: We almost wanted to make it like a documentary on bad parenting but as a horror film, as in “Here’s what you shouldn’t do.”

WOOD: Yeah, THE BOY shows an interesting mixture of nature and nurture- or lack thereof- as I believe that condition is a real combination of those things. I think the really interesting concept in the film is that killer psychology is inherently in humans, but it just needs a nudge, whether it’s isolation or the lack of a presence. That’s enough to push someone to that behavior.

NOAH: If John Wayne Gacy had a different family setting, perhaps he could have been a surgeon or something.

FANGORIA: Considering the ideas at play over at SpectreVision, it only makes sense that these ambitions would lead you all to television, where serialized content is truly having a renaissance. Is SpectreVision vying to enter the television space one of these days?

NOAH: We long have had a long term plan for SpectreVision, and we can say that we definitely have plans to move into other mediums in the future.

THE BOY hits VOD and select theaters on August 18th.  COOTIES hits VOD AND select threters on September 18th; be sure to check out this writer’s interview with COOTIES directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott in FANGORIA #344. For more on SpectreVision, check back here at FANGORIA.com!

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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