Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Ryan Spindell Gets to The Root of the Problem with Dread Central
Just a few weeks ago at the CineMayhem Film Fest, this writer had the pleasure of screening indie filmmaker Ryan Spindell's latest horror comedy short, The Root of the Problem, which hilariously taps into everyone's inherent fears of the dentist.
The film, set in a 1950's candy colored world, hearkens back to old school Tim Burton films like Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands.
Co-written by Spindell and Mark E. Davidson, The Root of the Problem follows a nervous housewife (Alison Gallaher) who begins to suspect her dentist (Ptolemy Slocum) has a far more sinister agenda than just drilling cavities and pulling teeth.
Last week it was announced that The Root of the Problem would soon be heading to the East Coast as an official selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival as part of its stellar shorts programming slate, and to mark the occasion, Dread Central recently chatted with Spindell about his latest short film project and much more for Indie Horror Month.
Dread Central: Can you talk about what inspired your story for The Root of the Problem (and for the record, I've always found dentists inherently creepy myself) and setting it in the 1950's, which really added a nice sense of surreality to everything?
Ryan Spindell: The original inspiration for the film came from a short writing exercise my co-writer Mark Davidson had done as an experiment to see if he could tell a complete story in five pages. What he ended up with was an awesome character study that relies on a subtle building tension that slowly gets under the readers' skin. I was especially impressed by the dentist character who was both charming and creepy as hell. Plus, everyone is at least a little freaked out by dentists.
As for the period setting, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Norman Rockwell aesthetics of the 1950s and felt that embracing that classic "Twilight Zone" aesthetic would put a unique spin on this pulpy little story.
Dread Central: I thought both Alison and Ptolemy were great in this- what was your casting process and what was it about both of them that made them perfect for this story?
Ryan Spindell: You know, I couldn’t be happier with all the performances in the film. I tend to gravitate toward material that’s tonally a bit on the weird side so casting is of the utmost importance. Without strong performances, the whole project would fall apart like a house of cards. I like to start the casting process with an actor who brings something interesting to the table and then build the role specifically for that person. It’s sort of a backwards way of doing things, but I find the results are always more interesting than my initial conceit.
Dread Central: So where did you guys shoot?
Ryan Spindell: We shot the entire film in my friend’s warehouse downtown. Unfortunately we didn’t have the money we needed to afford a great location here in LA, so I opted to build the set myself. I found most of the flats and building materials for free on Craigslist and just sort of Frankensteined it all together. It ended up being a much bigger job than I anticipated and I nearly died at least three times but the learning experience was amazing.
We did have plenty of difficulties along the way but to me, it often seems like filmmaking is little more than a string of problems but it’s how you deal with those problems that defines you as a filmmaker.
So naturally, I curled up in a ball and cried like a baby.
Dread Central: I loved the color palette you used in this- can you discuss the visual style you were going for in Root?
Ryan Spindell: Visually, we wanted to do something unique with this film. Yes, it’s a horror film, but there’s also a good dose of fantasy and dark humor throughout and we wanted to have fun with it. One of the biggest benefits of building the set and all the props myself was that I had complete control over the color palette. I chose to embrace bold, primary colors to emphasize that candy-coated aesthetic of the 1950's- the Coca-Cola 1950s that only exists in our minds eye.
I grew up idolizing hyper-visual filmmakers like Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Peter Jackson, and I think you can see traces of those filmmakers in everything I do (at least that’s my intention).
Dread Central: I thought Dr. Clayton's story about the tooth fairy was great, both in content and in delivery; how much of that was based in actual folklore?
Ryan Spindell: I did a bunch of research on the mythology behind the tooth fairy expecting to discover some cool gothic folklore, but for the most part it was all pretty banal. At the end of the day I just made up my own mythology, which ultimately was a lot more fun.
I’m not saying that this should become the go-to mythology…but this should become the go-to mythology.
Dread Central: Have you thought about adapting this into a feature if the opportunity came along?
Ryan Spindell: Haha! I wish I had the business savvy to make this short as a sales tool for a larger project. The reality is, I made it just because I love making horror shorts. I look forward to the day when making short films proves to be both creatively and financially profitable but until then, I’ll continue fighting the good fight.
That being said, you should all invest in The Root of the Problem, The Feature: Mary, a reluctant young housewife uncovers a conspiracy older then time itself that propels her deep into the twisted underground world of missing teeth and the Bone Grue.
Dread Central: What's coming up for you? Any new projects on the horizon?
Ryan Spindell: I have all sorts of exciting coals in the fire. (Can coals be exciting?) The project I’m focusing most of my energy on now is a feature called The Mortuary Collection. It’s an old-school horror anthology film that pays homage to all the weird and wonderful films I grew up with. With a little luck we’ll start shooting this fall.
Beyond that I’m working on a new short film, a horror musical series and a super bloody creature feature; I'm really looking forward to 2013.
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