Indie Horror Month: Exclusive - Director D. Kerry Prior Talks The Revenant
A few weeks back we posted a couple of cast member interviews from the indie horror flick The Revenant (review here), and we pick up our Indie Horror Month coverage today with an interview with the film’s director, D. Kerry Prior.
Before directing the project in 2008, Prior was well known within the horror world as a visual effects artists who has worked on some of the biggest projects we genre fans have loved for years (Nightmare on Elm Streets 3 & 4, The Lost Boys, The Blob remake, and Bubba Ho-Tep just to name a few). It was about a year before they began filming The Revenant when Prior realized it was time to step up to the director’s plate.
explained Prior. “There was so much going on in the script that it took me years to write. Then, I knew my next move would be to start getting people on board so the first person I hired was my casting director, and then I hired a line producer. Both of those roles are so important to have in any film with any budget, I knew those were the first two people I needed to get involved.”
“Then things started to slow down, and I will admit that it took us quite a while to put together the cast. There was actually a moment where we suddenly realized we’d all been collaborating on The Revenant for a year and we hadn’t shot a single frame, and that really motivated us to get moving on things from there, which was when we gained a lot of momentum. Sometimes independent filmmaking can be a Catch-22 situation when to get the money, you need a cast, but to get a cast, you need the money. That’s what was happening with our production,” Prior added.
When Prior and his team started assembling their final cast, TV veteran David Anders signed on for the lead role of Bart, a soldier killed overseas whose body returns home for his funeral services but ends up reawakening that night as a revenant. For the writer/director, though, it wasn’t Anders' impressive resume that landed him the role. “I actually had no idea who David was when he came in to audition for us. I am kind of pop culture illiterate and don’t really watch TV so I didn’t know anything about him on 'Alias' or 'Heroes'. I just remember the first time he read for us, it was for the role of Joey, and we didn’t really think he was the right fit. But we loved him so we eventually brought him back to read for Bart, and he was perfect. The cast ended up being four perfect pieces of a puzzle coming together.”
With their “Yin” in place (Bart), Prior knew it was time to cast Bart’s “Yang,” his best friend, Joey. Prior spoke about getting comedian Chris Wylde to balance out Ander’s straight-man Bart.
The director said, “Getting Chris was another one of those magical things. He had been in before to read, but we needed to see him again so we met for lunch at Bert’s Café in Hollywood, and it was one of the most interesting meetings I’ve ever been to. I say 'interesting' because there was this dude at the bar who was clearly a fan of Chris’ and he comes over and starts falling all over Chris and joking with him. We thought he was a plant or something, but it turned out to where it was just a random meeting. But we knew from Chris’ ease with that situation he would be a natural as Joey.”
“Both Chris and David are natural performers, but I really think they immediately fell in love with each other - I’m talking the kind of love that’s unrivaled by any 80s gay action movie ever made. There was even a montage in an early cut of The Revenant that featured subtle glances and longing looks between the two that we recently added back in. They didn’t even need to act like they were best friends - that is how natural they were together, and that’s 100 percent the glue that holds the movie together. You fall in love with them too,” Prior added.
At its core The Revenant is definitely a horror movie with a lot of comedic elements, but once you get past that layer, there is something much more going on, and Prior talked about where he took his cues from when it came time to put his own spin on vampire folklore. “Ultimately, I wanted The Revenant to be an honest exploration of what would happen if your best friend came back as something that needed to drink blood to survive, and there’s nothing glamorous about that kind of situation,” explained Prior. “So much of our culture these days is polluted with stuff in modern movies so I went back to vampire folklore that pre-dates Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’”
“You see, during the 18th century there was a major vampire scare in Eastern Europe where even government officials frequently got dragged into the hunting and staking of ‘vampires.’ To get to the bottom of the matter, a famous monk of the time, Dom Augustine Calmet, put together a carefully thought out treatise in 1746, which was at least ambiguous concerning the existence of vampires, if not admitting it explicitly. And to me, I thought those kinds of vampires that were described in that treatise were far more interesting - the kind that die during the day and actually rise from the dead at night, and they don’t have fangs either. I found that the more I stuck to the old vampire stuff, the better the script became,” Prior added.
For the up-and-coming director, most of the stress came early on in the process. “I think the most stressful thing about my experiences with The Revenant was actually deciding to make The Revenant. When you start off making a movie, there’s all this stress because there’s a million things to do. We had to start off by addressing every little nuance of the project, which is time-consuming since The Revenant had a very big cast for a very small movie, which makes things even harder.”
“But as more of those things came into place, more of the stress would start to slip away. In fact, my first day on set was the best day I had throughout the entire process because after that we started to fall behind. And as an independent production that happens a lot when you have some lesser experienced crew members, no matter how hard everyone tries. It can be challenging no matter how many sets you’ve worked on so the odds were definitely against us, and it ultimately all led up the worst day for me, which was our final day of shooting. I was so beyond exhausted that all I could think was that I chose the wrong profession. It was so hard, but the thing that kept me going was my cast and crew because they all made a commitment to me so I needed to keep my commitment to them,” Prior added.
Even though making The Revenant was challenging for Prior and his entire cast and crew, their determination has paid off. Since hitting the festival circuit in 2009, the film has stacked up a laundry list of accolades, including the Audience Award at CineVegas, the Silver Feature Award from the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, as well as Best Picture, Director and Audience Award from the NYC Horror Film Festival. For Prior the festival circuit has almost been as much work as making the actual movie.
“The entire festival process has been exhausting from the start,” explained Prior. “I remember the first time we screened the movie in Portland ... we decided to show a rough cut there, and I remember sitting in the car on the way to the screening, and I was still rendering the digital file of the movie. That’s how close we cut it.”
“The Revenant is very lucky to have been part of so many wonderful and prestigious festivals, but I guess the reason behind the sheer number of fests we’ve been a part of is because we hadn’t been officially picked up for distribution yet over the last few years. We have this amazing online profile within the horror community, but my big mistake was never focusing on the festivals where movies actually sell at. Don’t get me wrong; I love every festival we’ve played, but I should have been more conscientious of those other ones, too, and it’s a hard lesson to learn,” Prior added.
While Prior mentioned that The Revenant doesn’t have an official distributor as of right now, look for news on its release hopefully later this year. “I think we found our home, but I don’t want to say anything just yet and jinx anything,” Prior said. “But I definitely should be able to talk about it soon.”
We at Dread Central certainly hope so!
For more check out the official The Revenant website!
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