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Horror Business: THE WRETCHED Directors Filmmaking Advice

Brett and Drew Pierce, known in the industry as The Pierce Brothers, are the director duo behind IFC Midnight’s The Wretched. The Wretched (available to stream on Hulu this Friday) is another great entry into this new “season of the witch” era of horror, along with Gretel & Hansel, The Witch and Hagazuzza

A defiant teenage boy, struggling with his parent’s imminent divorce, faces off with an old witch who has possessed the neighbour next door.

The Wretched has been in the news recently for breaking COVID-era box office records since it was one of few movies released to audiences during the lockdown to the last safe bastion of public cinema, drive-in theaters. This strategy has allowed IFC Midnight to carve out a top position in box office charts during a time when just about all other studios have frozen their release schedules. All in all it seems Joe Bob Briggs was right, and the drive-in will never die!

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The Pierce Brothers grew up on the set of Evil Dead, since their father, Bart Pierce, was on the special effects makeup crew. So it’s clear that indie horror film-making is very much in their blood. In a conversation on The Nick Taylor Horror Show, we talked about their history, the making of The Wretched, their first movie Deadheads, what they learned, how they pitched producers outside of the film industry and we geeked out about ancient witch mythology.

Here are some key lessons learned from this conversation with The Pierce Brothers. You can hear the entire interview on The Nick Taylor Horror Show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere you listen.

Develop your idea with mythology. When conceiving of the main idea behind The Wretched, Brett and Drew observed that witches were gaining in popularity but there were no hard fast, “silver bullet,” “stake through the heart” rules about witches like there were vampires, werewolves and zombies, so they invented their own.

To do so, Brett and Drew looked into a number of lesser-known but fascinating witch myths like Black Annie and the Boo Hag, that they turned to for ideas which they composited into their own witch concept. This gave their witch a deeply textured history that was grounded in established myths. This is probably why the movie was so resonant because the mythology was based on deeply rooted stories.

Shoot in places where nobody shoots. Brett and Drew chose to shoot The Wretched in a little town in Michigan nearby where they grew up. They mostly shot in actual locations and hired local extras. As a result, their movie was such a spectacle that excited the local community and everybody eagerly wanted to get involved. People volunteered their houses and generally had a helpful attitude about the movie because it was so exciting to them. 

The willingness of locals to give the directors access to land, houses, vehicles, etc. significantly boosted their production value and the easy permits helped matters as well. If you’re working with a low budget, you want a helpful community. The fishing is best where the fewest go so consider shooting your movie in locations that don’t get a lot of production action. Clearly this has drawbacks in how there are no local crews and if you crack a lens it’s difficult to get a new one locally, but you take the good with the bad. A lot of states with fewer amounts of productions often have great tax incentives as well, so look into those too. 

Finish what you’re working on. Small note worth mentioning: the fact that The Pierce Brothers had completed their first film, Deadheads, on a very small budget indicated to producers that they were legit because they knew how to make a movie with very few resources. Having a history of completed projects or just one completed project that demonstrates your ability, is a big asset when it comes to raising money for your movie. So whatever you’re working on now, finish it – it can help you tremendously get the next project made. 

Pitch the rich. The Pierce brothers pitched both of their movies to multiple people, many of which were not in the film industry – most of them were actually dentists. As Dov Simen’s book From Reel to Deel points out, dentists usually have a lot of money and frankly don’t know what to do with it, making them the perfect people to fund your movie. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell did exactly that when they were making Evil Dead. They’d actually go to dental industry dinner parties with a bunch of dentists and their wives and pitch them Evil Dead, and that’s how it got funded! So find some local dentists and pitch them what you’re working on; it worked for Sam Raimi, it worked for The Pierce Brothers, it might just work for you!

The Wretched is available to stream on Hulu starting this Friday July 31st.

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We hope you found these insights helpful. If you’re an aspiring horror filmmaker and want free insights, inspiration, and practical strategies for getting your movies made from working horror directors, subscribe today to the The Nick Taylor Horror Show Podcast.

Written by Nick Taylor

Nick Taylor is a producer and journalist specializing in horror cinema. With a background in marketing and PR, in addition to writing for Dread Central Nick hosts a horror-filmmaking podcast called The Nick Taylor Horror Show. The interview-style podcast explores the techniques, strategies, and key pieces of advice for aspiring horror filmmakers, straight from the minds of some of the latest and greatest names in horror today (Joe Dante, Mick Garris, William Lustig, Joe Bob Briggs + more).

Nick is currently producing a documentary on Steve Johnson while working on Zombie Road, a feature-length immersive zombie movie on the Oculus Rift platform that integrates film & real actors into a cinematic video game platform in virtual reality.

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