Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Richard Powell Discusses his Latest Short Film Familiar and More!
In just a few short years, writer/director Richard Powell has made quite a name for himself with his provocative and unrelenting trio of short films - Consumption, Worm and Familiar - which have established the up-and-coming filmmaker as a serious talent on the rise.
After recently viewing Powell's latest offering, Familiar (review here), Dread Central immediately caught up with the director to talk about his powerful short film, the inspiration behind his often challenging stories and more on his plans to adapt Worm into a feature film while still not planning to leave the short film world behind altogether just yet.
Dread Central: Can you start off by telling us more about your career before Familiar- we'd love to hear more about your other shorts (Worm and Consumption) and what prompted you to get into filmmaking.
Richard Powell: I grew up watching films constantly, be it with my grandmother, who would take me on trips to the video store, or my uncle, who had hundreds of films in his collection. I always had access, and my love grew from there. Eventually the goal was to not only consume film but to create it. Filmmaking is the ultimate expression of a film lover's appreciation of the medium.
Consumption was the first short film my partner, Zach Green, and I made after film school. In many ways the film is an extension of our film school days, but it also marked quite a few important firsts for Fatal Pictures- first use of special F/X, actors who weren't friends and family and of course, the first time we told a story that was representative of our tastes. It was an ambitious project, and we learned a lot from it. Worm was then our attempt to raise the stakes in every way and put into practice all the lessons learned on Consumption.
DC: Clearly you have a very distinctive voice as a storyteller in Familiar- what kind of themes speak to you as a filmmaker? What kind of stories do you enjoy telling?
Powell: I find myself drawn to character-based narratives; the themes may vary, but my obsession with focusing intensely on a character is strong and still developing. I don't really aspire to work within a set of themes or genres; rather, I create characters, and their characteristics inform the genre.
Worm, for instance, is my notion of a dramatic film with a horror film character dropped into the center of it. Consumption is a horror film with no victim, no malicious violence. I use genre elements but am not bound by them, and this creates something unique, something representative of my voice.
DC: Tell us more about the story of Familiar and how the idea for the short came about.
Powell: Familiar follows a family man who happens to loathe his family and will do almost anything to be rid of them. As his attempts at escape become ever despicable, John comes to discover a shocking truth about himself and the hatred which has shaped his life for years. The film is really a dramatic character study with horror elements and shares a great deal of thematic similarities to my previous short Worm.
Both films feature antagonistic characters in the lead and delve into deeply personal fears and anxieties persistent in society but often overlooked and or ignored. After making Worm, I thought it might be interesting to revisit this concept with a more metaphorical approach, and Familiar is what sprang from that idea. A bloodier, darker and more intimate telling of Worm.
DC: I really enjoyed how the film sets you up for one kind of experience and then leaves you with another, and I also really loved the use of voiceover in the short because it was unsettling yet soothing at the same time. Can you discuss what led you to the decision to use V.O. since it's not a risk a lot of filmmakers would take, and honestly, I've never seen it executed so well in a short film. Also, can you talk about the challenges of creating a short film that is unique and keeps viewers guessing until the very end?
Powell: Sure, the use of V.O. can be problematic when used solely as an exposition device, but in both Worm and Familiar this was not the case. In both shorts the voiceover operates as a character rather than a God-like voice informing plot points which may have eluded the audience. The voiceover in these films is carefully considered and never used as a cheat; add to that Robert Nolan's ability to infuse so much emotion and force into the performance, and you have something that isn't obnoxious or expository but something hopefully engaging and entertaining.
In terms of creating a unique work, I feel that's a result of making a film that represents who I am as an individual. Every person has one thing that makes them special, important and unique, that being their point of view, perspective or even their take on the world. If as a creative person you tap into that unique well of inspiration, you can give birth to visions and ideas that are as unique and intricate as yourself; this is something I aim to continue to do. The only thing I can do better than anybody else on earth is make a Richard Powell film so that's what I'm going to do, and hopefully people appreciate that!
DC: I noticed that you worked with Robert previously on Worm, and I was wondering if you could talk more about collaborating with him. It's a tall order to have someone command almost every frame of a short film, but he did it incredibly well in Familiar.
Powell: Robert is a very talented actor and happens to be tailor-made for these roles. He embodies much of what the characters represent, and in that sense the greatest aspect of our collaboration is the natural chemistry between my writing and Robert's energy and persona. Robert is also an extremely thoughtful and sensitive performer, and his insight and dedication to these roles is what really brings them to life and makes his performances so magnetic. My writing is cruel and distant, but thanks to Robert a human element is added to these films, and that I feel is the magic formula. Robert attempts to understand and interpret at a human level the monsters I create, and somewhere in the middle and on the screen is where you'll find the final result.
DC: I loved the effects in Familiar and how the gore factor in the short kind of hits you out of nowhere- can you talk more about them (they were pretty incredible for a short film, too)?
Powell: Thanks, the F/X in this film are what really got me excited about the project in the first place. After Worm I was eager to get in some blood and guts stuff so the first person I called was The Butchershop, a great F/X company comprised of Ryan Louagie and Carlos Henriques. I handed over a series of sketches, and they went to work. They brought on board some great artists such as Steve Dawley, Indiana Allenmag and Kevin Hutchinson, who all helped out in various ways- be it painting, puppetry and F/X application.
Thanks to Ryan and Carlos we got some amazing gore and creature stuff in our film that we would never be able to afford anywhere else. The Butchershop has always been a great partner and friend to our films, and we look forward to a long and happy future collaborating with them.
DC: With three short films under your belt and now that you're making a name for yourself as an indie filmmaker, do you want to continue making shorts, or are you looking to branch out into features next?
Powell: I do love short filmmaking, but I feel it's time to make that transition to features. Our stories will be better served in the longer format and will allow us even more room to explore our characters and plots. That said, I still have many short film concepts I'd love to make happen, but with limited resources, time and opportunity, I feel it's time to enter the big leagues. Don't be surprised if another short or two pops up, however; it's a format I love and I feel if done right can command as much attention and respect as a feature.
DC: Have you guys started sending out Familiar to fests yet? Any word on when fans can see the short on the big screen?
Powell: We have and are currently awaiting decisions from many festivals, but it is tough having a 24-minute character-driven short in a festival climate that thrives on 8-minute gimmick-heavy shorts. I feel like our substance will be recognized and accepted eventually.
Our premiere screening will take place in Toronto as part of Fangoria's Fright Nights screening series, and after that we aim to get the film out to the world in as many fests and conventions as possible. The goal is exposure because we are proud of our film and our team's work and want it to be seen.
DC: So what's up next for you?
Powell: Well, I've finished a feature screenplay version of Worm, which Zach Green and myself hope to make Fatal Pictures' debut feature. It's still very early, but there's been a lot of interest in the project and we are confident we will get it off the ground in the near future. On top of that I'm always writing and can't wait to begin work on a few new stories which mark another progression in my storytelling.
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