After Dark Originals: Brett Simmons Talks Husk
More After Dark Originals love with Husk director Brett Simmons, who was kind enough to talk us up about his wicked scarecrow flick. Having already shown his original short at Sundance, the director tells us about turning his corn-stalking scare-show into a feature film.
Chris Haberman: Where were you filming and how did the shoot go? Any fun set stories?
Brett Simmons: We shot in Ames, Iowa, outside of Des Moines. We shot for three weeks, 18 actual days. It was a lot of fun, but pretty intense because shooting in cornfields is challenging. There isn't any space for anyone or anything to work because the stalks are so tall and thick. We had to get pretty creative with how we operated in there. Also, we had a ton of weather issues. A normally sunny, blue sky state was suddenly stormy and rainy for the three weeks we shot, so the already difficult cornfields were oftentimes pretty muddy and swampy...which was horrible.
Probably the best story to share for readers that's the worst story for me is the day one of our hard drives failed. We shot on the RED, which was a great experience considering the environment and conditions. Using film and changing reels in a swampy, bug-infested cornfield doesn't lend a lot of confidence. I've shot on the RED a bunch with no problems, but of course, the day after we shot the biggest, most involved sequence in the film...we showed up the next day to learn the storage drive failed and we lost everything from the day. Everything. Our actor lost his voice giving his all for the performance, stunt guys were bruised and had broken knuckles doing the stunts, the crew slaved tirelessly for hours, everyone gave their all...and we lost it. It was the worst feeling in the world. That was also nearly halfway through our 18 days, so the later half of the shoot was characterized by trying to figure out how to finish the movie AND re-shoot a scene that already took an entire day. Yeah, that was a fun series of emotions. But the good news is, we DID re-shoot it. It's the version in the movie. And it came out much better than the first time. Rather than be bummed, we were instead inspired to view the first round as a dress-rehearsal so that we could knock the re-shoot out of the park. I really think we did. And we did it in half a day, thanks to knowing exactly what to do. So there's fun set story to read that was a nightmare to live.
CH: What was the most fun and/or challenging aspect of adapting your own short film into a full-length feature film?
BS: The most fun was having the length and space of a feature to dive into things I could only graze upon in the short. The short film format is so limited (which is actually why I love it so much), but feature length opens up a lot of room. Truth is, I deliberately avoided certain creative territories in the short, hoping for the chance to instead explore them in a feature. Thankfully I got the chance, and it was a rewarding one. The hardest/most challenging part was achieving the objectivity to tell the story well. By the point I started writing the feature, I had already been on a two-, almost three-year journey with the short film. The short and I were close...but a little too close. My mind had adapted to the size and limitation of a thirty-minute horror movie; it became hard for me to stay as clearly open-minded about the feature as I probably would have been without the short.
It's like the kid from the country moving to the big city. Where you've been makes it pretty hard to instantly comprehend where you're going. You gotta live there a little while. Fortunately, I had enough time to work and re-work the feature to finally get the objective view I needed to make sure I was telling the story I wanted to tell.
CH: Did you take any inspiration from or take intentional departure from previous scarecrow-centric genre films?
BS: I would say more of an intentional departure, but seeing those movies is what inspired me to depart my own way. I've always appreciated the potential for scarecrows and cornfields. It's a natural place to be drawn toward because scarecrows and cornfields are automatically so spooky and recognizable, your job is largely done when you get there. I think where I've been let down in the past was by story. In the past I've seen so much focus put into making sure that the scarecrows and cornfields are scary that ultimately neither are because I'm not interested or engaged enough in what's happening. Scarecrows, for me, don't need glowing eyes or sharp teeth to be scary. The burlap head alone already freaks me out. I've always been more drawn by the potential of what/who the scarecrows could be and why they're doing what they're doing. So when I wanted to make a horror movie, I decided to attempt what I had been missing.
CH: How were the FX handled? Practical, CGI, or a combo?
BS: 99.9% of the effects were handled practically. Only one effect wasn't, and even that was just a separate practical effect superimposed on top of another practical effect...which probably means we were 100% practical, but I'll let you be the judge. I prefer doing things practically as much as possible because I enjoy capturing everything in camera. I like knowing that everything I need has been shot. I'm open to CGI when it better serves production and/or the story, but with a low-budget horror movie, I felt there was no excuse and no need. Mike Regan and Blake Bolger did the FX. They were amazing. Mike and Blake came up with some amazing stuff. If you've seen the After Dark Originals teaser (or the Husk trailer), all the "nail through finger" stuff was them, and it's awesome. I can't take any credit other than giving them license to do what they do best. And they did.
Gary J. Tunnicliffe created the scarecrow masks, and he did a phenomenal job. The masks had to be my biggest worry going in because I knew if the scarecrow faces weren't up to snuff, Husk could be facing some big trouble. A scarecrow movie about scarecrows better have cool looking scarecrows. Fortunately, Gary saved me by doing an amazing job and creating some faces that I think are both chilling and memorable. I love how the scarecrows look.
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