Just a couple of weeks ago, Epic Pictures Group’s The Monster Project (review) hit Amazon Prime, allowing subscribers to catch the found footage horror mockumentary. Packed with practical FX and compared to movies like Hell House LLC and Grave Encounters, The Monster Project comes from the mind of director Victor Mathieu, who co-wrote the film with Corbin Billings and Shariya Lynn.
Today, we’ve got an interview with Mathieu and Billings, as well as producer Phillip Sebal, about the film, diving into what sets it apart from other found footage entries, how their multi-faceted roles impacted the making of the film, and what’s next for each of them!
To watch The Monster Project, head on over to Amazon Prime!
Dread Central: Victor and Corbin, can you walk me through writing The Monster Project and where the inspiration came from?
Victor Mathieu: I came up with the idea for The Monster Project back in 2012, and Phillip happened to live with a writer, Shariya Lynn, who I quickly decided to co-write the film with. I had the spine of the film already developed, but Shariya helped me add the flesh, blood and veins to it. We spent about three weeks breaking the scenes down and then writing. Almost two years later, Corbin came on board as an investor and added/modified the script further until we all felt it was ready for filming.
The inspiration for the film came from a few things — my love for Goosebumps, the video game Call of Duty, and the found-footage genre (particularly The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity). The other inspiration was a movie called The Hamiltons, which featured a young boy filming his family with his video camera, and in the end you find out that they’re all vampires. I was sitting in my car with Phil, and I was aching to make my first feature film, and I remember thinking to myself how great it would be to make a movie about a documentary crew going to interview a family of vampires. Then, I thought about marketing, and I knew it would be a smart move to throw in a mix of multiple types of monsters to feature on the poster and trailer.
Corbin Billings: When I received the original script that Shiraya and Victor co-wrote, I was immediately struck by the potential of the premise. In approaching the rewrite, my main focus was to add as much complexity to the characters as I could. I wanted to show how the personal demons of each crew member was reflected by one of the monsters that they were interviewing. For instance, Murielle being manipulated and controlled by her ex-boyfriend is akin to demonic possession. Jamal’s two-face nature is similar to how a Skinwalker can shapeshift. Bryan’s struggle with addiction is similar to a vampire’s need for blood, so it became really important to me that Bryan’s history of drug abuse was not simply a story of his past (as it was in the first draft), but a present reality for his character.
DC: The Monster Project comes at a time when found footage films are on a downward spiral, at least in terms of theatrical releases. What drew you all to this particular style of filmmaking over a more traditional approach?
VM: I had about a dozen feature film ideas at the time that I wanted to make. However, they were all too expensive to make as a first time filmmaker, and I knew that I needed to think of a cheaper way to make my first film. So I came up with the idea for The Monster Project, which to be clear, was always going to be a found-footage film from the start. To me, The Monster Project would not have worked as a non-found-footage film. I loved it the way I thought of it and I just really wanted to make the film so I could share the images in my head with all the horror fans out there.
DC: Victor, Corbin, and Phillip, what were the challenges in producing a found footage film where the monsters were put in front of the camera rather than kept off-screen or obscured like so many other found footage films tend to do?
VM: It’s a lot more work to put the monsters in front of the camera, let’s just put it that way. Seeing a shadow or door open or close is a lot easier to do than a flying vampire that tackles an actor, or two people crashing through the floorboards of a house down to the floor below, and all the other stunts and practical effects that we executed to make these monsters come to life.
For a studio, The Monster Project would have been less of a challenge to make since they would have been able to make it with more money, therefore allowing for a more controlled production. But for us, we were first time filmmakers diving straight into it with a very small budget. And with a very limited budget comes a limited schedule for shooting. We had to film the entire movie in 15 days which with stunts and special effects, which take up a lot of time on set, meant we had no time to breathe.
Because of all these constraints, I personally think that this was the biggest challenge for us in terms of putting the monsters in front of camera — finding enough time on set to actually make these monsters believable and bringing them to life.
Phillip Sebal: The biggest issue in my opinion was, as it often is, budget. When Victor first created the concept and we started working on it we knew we wanted to clearly see the monsters and quickly realized the money raised through Kickstarter early on wouldn’t facilitate this properly. This led to a several year fundraising process where we had to attempt to convince investors that this was not what the same running from the shadows style of filmmaking that often is used in found footage.
CB: The most challenging task for me as a writer was to figure out how to mount a camera on one of the monsters (specifically the Skinwalker because we didn’t want to show too much). For me what you don’t see is always scarier than what you do. I think back to the show “LOST” and how disappointed I was when they finally revealed the smoke monster in season two. Before that, the “security system” as it was referred to was simply a POV shot that would chase the characters, and it worked beautifully. It became clear to me that we needed the same element in The Monster Project, and making the skinwalker a police officer with a body camera seemed the only sensible motivation.
DC: Phillip, you also edited the film and were the cinematographer. How did those two roles play against and with each other during the shooting of the film?
PS: I’m glad I had the opportunity to both shoot and edit this film. I think knowing the footage as well as I did allowed us to work smoothly in post. I was also able to think as the editor on set so, along with getting the best shot possible, I needed to consider where my seamless cut points were or could be. I also had to have several backups if we chose to cut to anything else in the house before the camera frame crossed a wall which was often used to cut.
Victor had the film completely storyboarded so we knew where the beats needed to hit in the rooms. It was getting our characters from one room to the next flawlessly with a very frantic camera that was difficult. We had to consider the character holding the cameras energy, thought process at the moment, blocking, and their height when going from each room into another. The cameras are very much characters in this film and we wanted to remain consistent. The biggest issue for me was that as cinematographer and editor I was unable to start editing throughout the short process of filming to see if any connecting material was missing. Luckily, we were able to do a few days of reshoots after putting together a rough cut.
DC: What do each of you think The Monster Project does differently than other found footage films that will draw the interest of horror fans?
VM: The Monster Project does basically the exact opposite of what other found-footage films do. It brings action to the horror genre and puts the monsters, like you mentioned in one of your previous questions, right into the viewer’s face. I wanted for the film to be a joy ride, a monster rollercoaster, a Goosebumps for grownups type of film. And the mixture of all three monsters into one found-footage horror film just sounded like a wild entertaining ride that I hadn’t personally seen before in this sub-horror genre.
PS: The Monster Project takes a very non standard approach to the found footage genre. I always considered this a traditionally paced and structured film shot in the found footage style to really put the viewer into the action and horror.
CB: Up to this point, we are the only found footage film to feature a dream sequence. I know it seems inherently paradoxical… how could you record footage in a hallucinatory dream world, but we’ve got a digital demon haunting the footage of this film, showing up sporadically in static and pixelation, so it only seemed natural that the demon could transport our protagonist into a literal nightmare to revisit the demons of his past and explore his backstory in a way that was visually interesting.
DC: What’s next for each of you?
VM: I’m currently filming a TV show called “First List”, which I am the writer of. I’m also in development on four feature horror films, all of which I will be directing and will not film in America but in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Romania, independently. I’m looking forward to turning the page on the found-footage genre and stepping into traditional cinematography for my next feature and prove my love and passion for beautiful, elegant and poetic storytelling within the world of horror.
PS: On March 20th I have a comedy feature called Game On releasing that I produced and co-directed it will be available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and On-Demand. Currently I am working at Uproxx Media and always in the process of developing new feature films that I hope to bring to life in the future.
CB: I’m currently pitching three other horror scripts that I wrote, including a Western-Horror genre film that delves into the real Navajo mythology surrounding Skinwalkers. Additionally, I wrote and produced a majority of the diagetic music in The Monster Project. You can find me performing locally in the LA area under my rap alias, Floowood, producing dark industrial hip-Hop music that sounds like a mash-up of Nine Inch Nails and Eminem.
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