Exclusive Interview: Filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy on The Pact and More
On Friday, July 6th, up-and-coming writer/director Nicholas McCarthy's feature film debut, The Pact (review here), hits limited theaters nationwide courtesy of IFC Midnight Films; and in anticipation of its release Dread Central had the opportunity to chat with McCarthy about the flick.
Starring Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, and Agnes Bruckner, The Pact follows a pair of sisters who return to their childhood home after their mother passes away suddenly. While staying overnight in the house, a mysterious presence shows itself and proves to be interested in harming the siblings, and after her sister goes missing, it's up to Annie (Lotz) and local Detective Creek (Van Dien) to figure out the mysteries lying within the house before it's too late.
The Pact's story actually begins back in January 2011 during the Sundance Film Festival, where McCarthy's short film of the same name debuted successfully, promptly putting the writer/director front and center on the independent scene. Shortly thereafter, McCarthy set out to adapt his short film for a feature-length effort that would also allow the filmmaker the chance to make the leap from the world of short films he'd been working steadily in for seven years.
Last week Dread chatted with McCarthy about his approach to adapting his short film for this project as well as more on his experiences working on The Pact and how a split within the genre back in the 90's inspired his ghost story.
Dread Central: Since this is your first feature film, I'd love to hear a little bit more about yourself and your approach to filmmaking with The Pact.
Nicholas McCarthy: Well, I have always loved movies, and I had been making short film after short film after short film pretty much up until now with The Pact. Honestly, I've never really had a plan; I moved out here 10 years ago and didn't really know how it was going to work out.
I've really realized as of late just how important it was to keep directing all those little films before this because it really prepared me. Going through the film festival experience, too, really allowed me to learn a lot because there is a huge difference between screening your movie for a few friends and screening your movie in front of 200-300 strangers.
So about four or five years ago, I started working on a bunch of screenplays; I had some success here and there, but I also wrote a few slasher films that never went anywhere either. So the short film of The Pact was born out of that frustration- my own frustration with where my career was and just how bad the business had become.
Dread Central: Can you talk a bit about the differences between the short version of The Pact versus the feature-film version?
Nicholas McCarthy: Sure. The Pact short film was more of a moody character piece about this idea of a woman believing in ghosts, and for the feature film I had to open that world up a bit. Honestly, I didn’t make that short as a trailer for a feature; it was only when I left Sundance and I met with ContentFilm that the idea of a feature film was first brought up. During our meeting they told me that they loved my movie and wanted to make a feature of it. I didn't have a script at all, but I never told them that- I realized what kind of opportunity this was so I took six weeks and put the script together. All together, it took us about 40 weeks to complete The Pact from start to finish.
Dread Central: Being a first-time feature filmmaker is always stressful- did you face any big challenges along the way?
Nicholas McCarthy: You know, the biggest challenge for me was just going from making shorts to making my first feature. It wasn't really the day-to-day activities on the set because we had money for a crew and everything. I guess the biggest question for me going into the feature film was whether or not this story was 90 minutes worth of entertainment for fans and would it be scary, and I think we succeeded in both of those goals.
Dread Central: Can you talk about your influences for The Pact? I got a bit of a Ju-On vibe while watching the movie myself.
Nicholas McCarthy: I wasn't ever consciously trying to tell a ghost story specifically; it was more about the fact that I just wanted to tell a story, and I’ve always found ghosts scary, as most people find ghosts scary. But that wasn't enough because what can be scarier than ghosts? Other people; human nature can be a terrifying thing so those were two huge elements in this.
I wanted there to be that sort of idea of a person that is in the room that is invisible because it's a really terrifying thought- you're being watched and not even knowing that you're being watched is kind of a disturbing idea so I wanted that in this movie; kind of an homage to those 'the call is coming from inside the house' moments you've seen in horror movies throughout the years. That was the idea.
I think something happened with horror in the '90s where the genre kind of split in two; I think the split happened during this mainstream acceptance of slasher films where that subgenre split into the PG-13 world and the R-rated world. Then there were ghost stories like Ju-On and Shutter overseas or The Sixth Sense here in the States, and finally, ghost stories were frightening again. I didn't really think about it at the time, but The Pact ends up sort of being a mash-up of that divide because there are definitely elements from both slasher films and ghost stories at play in this.
Dread Central: Are you working on anything now? Because you're a fan, I'd guess you want to continue to make horror films for a while at least.
Nicholas McCarthy: For sure; the one thing that always pissed me off as a fan is when a director would come in, do his first movie which would usually end up being horror, and then would take off for another genre and then go on to bash the horror world. They just leave the genre behind, and I never want to be that guy. The Pact was a great experience so I plan on staying for some time, I hope at least (laughs). But I do have another project that I am working on; I can't say too much because it's still early, but it is a devil-centric story and we're looking to start filming this fall. I was raised Catholic so it should definitely be interesting.
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