Exclusive Interview: Writer/Director Mel House Talks Psychic Experiment, Upcoming Projects and More!
Dread Central: Talk a bit about your casting process and what everyone brought to the table in order to bring your story in Psychic Experiment to life.
House: Well that was kind of a crazy ride. As I mentioned, I initially wanted to try and shoot the film for uber-cheap. After James let loose with a few resounding peals of laughter, he said 'If I can get you a little more money, who would you like to put in the film, within reason?' And that’s when things started to take off because I could really go after the people that I envisioned as I was writing the roles.
I had already written (or re-written) a lot of the roles with local or regional actors that I knew already in mind. Theatre folks I knew, actors from other local films I’d seen or worked on, actors that were in Closet Space and so on. Lisa Stanton was always meant to be Melanie (even before we knew one another that well) and the role of Mark Kincaid was written for Omar Adam after I met him in my college English class. I think I started writing the Jennifer role for Shannon Lark after I met her at a convention and saw one of her short films. So between James and I we kind of placed actors that we knew into roles that were either ready-made for them or a good fit. The only role we auditioned for was that of Cole because I didn’t really know anyone that fit what I had in mind. We had a handful of guys read and Denton Blane Everett knocked it out of the park.
With folks like Debbie Rochon, Glenn Morshower, Kathy Lamkin, Adrienne King and Reggie Bannister – those overtures grew out of the conversation with James where he suggested we 'take it to the next level' and get some genre names. Of course I was ecstatic and just started reaching out to these folks. I’d seen and been around Debbie a lot at conventions and things, and I thought she’d be a good fit for Marie. At the time I hadn’t seen her play the evil mother-type role but now I think she’s done it a few times.
Reggie was another one I pursued – I just started thinking about genre guys that would be cool to see play against type by taking the Joseph Webber role but also find someone that would get the weird layers within the character – since the character of Webber is a recently-paroled pedophile, I could see how an actor might be turned off by that (this was pre-Little Children). Reggie and I spoke at length on the phone, and he got it- I mean, he got it in ways that even I hadn’t considered so we were stoked to get him. Adrienne I met through a mutual friend and timing was everything there. She was looking to make her comeback and I was looking to make my written-as-a-man bad guy into a woman! Then the folks like Glenn, Kathy, and Katie Featherston were people that James knew through his agent or through the Dallas film scene.
Getting Katie for Psychic Experiment is actually a funny story – and it involves Uncle Creepy. While promoting Closet Space at conventions I kept hearing big scary tattooed guys (including Creepy) talk and talk about this Paranormal Activity movie and how awesome it was. Keep in mind, this was when it was playing festivals, so no one but the horror crowd knew about the flick. At any rate it kept coming up and I kept hearing about it and I was like 'Wow, something’s going to happen with this flick.' Little did I know, right? So cut to 2008 when we’re preparing to shoot this movie and James suggests a friend of his that he acted in a short film with for a role that we had yet to cast. He sends me the link to the website and it’s Katie’s site with PA clips on it.
I was immediately like 'James, we’ve got to do this, she’s in Paranormal Activity.' He was like 'Paranormawhatsit?' Again, keep in mind this is 2008. But I think at the time the buzz was even that they might remake PA so we had no idea what was happening with it- only that something would, based on how folks like Uncle Creepy were talking about it. And that worked out pretty well for us, of course, for the obvious reasons but also because Katie is awesome. She perfectly embodied the Elspeth character in Experiment and All these pieces kind of fell into place for us. I would hesitate to call it luck, as there was a fair amount of Machiavellian calculation involved.
But blending the cast was interesting since we had genre vets and 'new' faces all thrown together in the same scenes. I was a little apprehensive as to how it would all go down, or if we’d have any 'I can’t work under these conditions' moments. But the genre vets were very gracious and generous and the new blood brought their A-game (new blood being a relative term as they are all steadily working actors) so the melding of the two groups was pretty seamless.