Exclusive Interview: Director Adam Wingard on A Horrible Way to Die

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Director Adam Wingard hit the horror scene running with his feature film debut Home Sick back in 2007 which centered around a maniac with razors, a super human killing machine attacking a group of unsuspecting teens and featured performances from genre favorites including Bill Moseley, Tom Towles and Tiffany Shepis.

In 2009, the filmmaker’s next movie Pop Skull introduced audiences to the gritty world of pill-addicted protagonist Daniel who’s biggest problem may not have been the drugs he couldn’t put down but rather the ghosts that haunted him in his daily life.

In Wingard’s latest, the award-winning A Horrible Way to Die, the director has teamed up with writer Simon Barrett (Dead Birds) to give horror fans an intimate and emotional look into the devastation one man’s actions can cause when Sarah (Amy Seimetz) discovers her boyfriend Garrick (AJ Bowen) has been leading a double-life as a serial killer and the struggles she faces while trying to put her life back together after Garrick’s sent off to prison.

Recently, Dread Central had an opportunity to chat with Wingard about his latest feature film where he spoke to us about his experiences collaborating with Barrett, the challenges of shooting on a limited budget and the status of his next feature film, You’re Next which is set to debut during the “Midnight Madness” programming slate of the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival later this month.

Wingard and Barrett had been friends for a while so the director knew it was just a matter of time before the stars aligned allowing the timing to be right for the pair to work together on a project which Wingard describes as a follow-up to his previous work. ” It may not seem like it but A Horrible Way to Die is somewhat of a companion piece to Pop Skull. Both movies explore the dangers of addiction- whether it’s to drugs, sex, killing- they’re all very similar addictions if you think about it. But Simon and I have always wanted to work together so that’s how we initially got together on this. After looking at countless books on serial killers, we knew we wanted to create a killer somewhat like Ted Bundy- meaning he was this attractive, charismatic and intelligent guy who ended up getting a lot of fan mail from all kinds of people while in prison, stuff like that. That’s what intrigued me- that charisma and why people would reach out to someone like that. You can say that’s definitely a big inspiration behind how things play out in the third act of Simon’s story here.”

“For the overall story in A Horrible Way to Die though, we wanted the focus to be more on the people’s lives surrounding these kinds of killers because I don’t think a lot of ‘serial killer’ movies do that these days- it’s usually more focused on the killer and while that’s cool, I just couldn’t get the idea that these killers were once ‘normal’ people in society who had people that relied on them, loved them, whatever- so what happens to them once the killer is unmasked? How do you put your life back together? A Horrible Way to Die is about how the aftermath of Garrick’s murders influenced so many lives, especially Sarah’s,” added Wingard.

Wingard is no stranger the rigors of working in the independent horror movie world. His previous projects were both “low-budget, high-ambition” endeavors so he discussed how he makes having a smaller budget work in his favor time and time again.

“We didn’t have a huge budget to make A Horrible Way to Die so the challenge there was to take away the attention from the fact that we lacked a huge budget by using strong storytelling and filmmaking tools that elevated our work,” explained Wingard. “Then we hired an incredibly talented cast that we knew would carry this story along and I think that’s why the movie works ultimately- throwing more money into production wasn’t going to make it any stronger than it was. The cast and Simon’s story were both compelling enough to get the job done and I have found that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t have a ton of money when you’re making movies- you just need to have a strong vision and be able to make the best of all the challenges along the way.”

“We shot A Horrible Way to Die in Missouri so it didn’t hurt us any that Simon is from there originally. That gave us access to a lot of resources while shooting there that we may not have had anywhere else so I think that helped us out a lot too,” added Wingard.

The director went on to talk about how he assembled his ‘dream team’ trio of leads for A Horrible Way to Die including the aforementioned Bowen and Steimetz as well as actor Joe Swanberg who plays Sarah’s eventual love interest while Garrick’s locked away.
Wingard said, “I met Joe at the Sidewalk Film Festival and that was a nice starting point to our relationship. When we finally got our money together on this project, I asked him if he was interested in coming on board and he was. Since then, we’ve collaborated on several other projects and it’s all been great with Joe- actually, he was responsible for getting us Amy too.”

“She had been in Bitter Feast and I liked her a lot in that so when Joe asked me if I had a ‘wish list’ for the part of Sarah, Amy was actually the first name I said. When we got her the script, she wasn’t initially interested because she didn’t know how she felt about doing horror. But when I explained to her more about our approach to the story and how it wasn’t going to be something that catered to cheap thrills, she agreed to come on as Sarah.”

“At first, I think AJ was initially going to turn down the role of Garrick I think because he didn’t want to get pigeonholed in the horror genre, which I totally get. But when I finally got to really talk with him and tell him what I wanted to do with the story, we immediately clicked and I think I helped ease his fears that I wasn’t looking to make another mindless horror movie riddled with clichés; that he would have the opportunity to tap into something different with this role,” added Wingard.

The filmmaker has kept himself busy since those days back in Missouri last year. He’s already nearing completion on post for his next horror flick called You’re Next which is about to kick-off its festival rounds at TIFF later this month. Wingard is also gearing up for production on his contribution to the horror anthology The ABC’s of Death and while we weren’t able to ask about the latter, we did get the skinny on where he’s at with the progress of his latest movie and what fans can expect from You’re Next at its bow in Toronto.

“We’re mixing You’re Next right now and just getting ready for the premiere at TIFF,” explained Wingard. “It’s my first full-on mainstream genre film and it’s far more fast-paced than my previous work so it’ll be exciting to see how people react to me making a bit of a departure to my usual style this time around. I’m hoping I surprise a lot of people but in a good way. But I got to round up a lot of the ole gang (meaning writer Barrett and actors Bowen, Seimetz and Swanberg) on You’re Next which was definitely fun so I’m really excited to see what happens at TIFF.”

Early Artwork for A Horrible Way to Die

A Horrible Way to Die hits DVD and Blu-Ray shelves on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 (review) courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. Special thanks to Adam for taking the time to speak with Dread Central!

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