SXSW 2016: Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel Talk Their New Thriller Hush and Upcoming Projects
We have been big fans of Oculus director Mike Flanagan since he released his underrated indie horror gem Absentia back in 2011, so it goes without saying that we were quite excited to check out his latest film, Hush (review), which recently premiered to a strong audience and critical response at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival and comes to Netflix on April 8th.
A joint production from Blumhouse and Intrepid Pictures, Hush follows a deaf-mute author named Maddie (Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote the script) as she is stalked by a crazed killer in her isolated woodland home on an unsuspecting evening. Complete with Flanagan’s signature thrills and a fantastic performance from Siegel, Hush is certain to find a strong streaming audience as it descends upon home viewers this week.
Following the film’s big screen premiere at SXSW, I had a chance to chat with newlyweds Flanagan and Siegel, as well as producer Trevor Macy. We discussed the inspiration for Hush, the highs and lows of making low-budget horror, and our own favorite Netflix genre gems.
On top of all that, Flanagan also dished some exclusive details to Dread Central about two of his upcoming high-profile projects: Ouija 2 and the remake of I Know What You Did Last Summer! You can check out the highlights from our chat and view the trailer for Hush below.
On the origins of Hush…
While many script ideas can often stew in a writer’s head for months to years before anything fully comes together, Flanagan and Siegel notably — and excitedly — came up for the complete concept for Hush during an evening out.
Siegel recounts of the night the story was born: “The idea came from a dinner that Mike and I had together where we — as we do — sit around and talk about movies we like, old movies we like, movies we want to see more of. We both touched on [Terence Young’s] Wait Until Dark, which is one of our favorites, and that spurred the kind of movies we wanted to make, which were these basic premises with […] some heightened element. Mike has talked about wanting to make a movie without dialogue [and] I have always been interested in the home invasion genre. […] From there, were were like, ‘Well, what if we put those two things together… what happens?’ And then we just — eh, glass of wine, talking about this and that, and by the time they served dessert, we had our pitch!”
Flanagan is quick to credit two particular television episodes that served as long-time inspirations for the idea behind Hush as well, divulging, “Since I was in college and saw the episode of ‘Buffy’ called ‘Hush,’ […] that blew my mind. And there was this other… when they did ‘Nightmares and Dreamscapes’ for TNT, that opening episode with William Hurt called ‘Battleground’ — not a single word. And I just love that, it’s like… Hitchcock called it ‘pure cinema’, you know, where it’s just the cinematic experience based on watching someone watching something else, and I think that’s so cool.”
It’s worth noting that Hush’s protagonist Maddie isn’t all victim in the film, having more than a few ass-kicking moments of her own. “I always thought of Maddie as an action hero more than as a final girl,” Siegel says of her commanding character. “I’m always looking to be more like Ripley in my day to day life!” Without missing a beat, Flanagan, Macy, and myself all vocally agreed with this sentiment.
On the fast-paced production of the film…
Despite the rapid emergence of the film’s story between its writers, neither Flanagan nor Siegel expected the film to jump into production as quickly as it did. “I think we didn’t expect it to move as quickly as it did. […] As we were joking about it being such a challenge, we were like, well, let’s write it and see what happens,” recalls Siegel. “The support of Trevor [Macy, of Intrepid Pictures] and Jason [Blum, of Blumhouse Productions] was so immediate and strong, we found ourselves quickly in a circumstance where we had to deliver on [the] idea that we had.”
Flanagan was equally taken aback by the fast response to the film’s script. “It was the fastest turnaround of any movie I’ve ever done,” he says. “We sat down for dinner I think in like August; we sat with [Macy and Blum] in late August. By Thanksgiving we had finished the script, and by February we were in Alabama [filming]. […] Typically with a movie you spend a couple of years trying to get the foundation built and get it going, and kind of before we knew it we were just there.”
On the challenges involved in making a low budget horror film with little dialogue…
Despite having had fifteen plus years of experience in the director’s chair, Flanagan is still quite open about the challenges present in this kind of film shoot. He admits, “The pressure of production, especially on a really low budget, is incredible. [… There was a] kind of trust we had to have in each other to get through production, you know. It wasn’t even just between Kate and I; that was a relationship that the producers had to have with me and with Kate and our department heads.”
On top of arduous days on set and budgetary constraints, Flanagan and Siegel’s other notable challenge was arguably framing the film around a character who cannot hear or speak. “It’s […] such a challenge cause it’s like you’re removing half of your tools as a storyteller and, for Kate, as an actor,” Flanagan says of conveying Maddie’s story of survival. “Half of your ammunition for getting your story in front of your audience in an effective way is gone. It’s like having one hand tied behind your back the whole time.”
In the end, however, all came together quite successfully, and Flanagan quickly and humbly credits his entire team for the success of the shoot: “It’s funny to me because when I think about the whole process of this movie, it’s been about relationships from the very beginning. […] There was the relationship Kate and I had in the writing [and] no one ever would have bought the idea for a movie like this were it not for the relationship that I had with Trevor and Jason. And then we couldn’t have pulled off the movie if it weren’t for the relationship that we already had with the crew. […] We had to kind of build this movie on the goodwill of our crew because it would have been literally impossible to accomplish this movie with the money we had and the time we had if it weren’t for [their] donated time, equipment, and talent.”
On collaborating as a couple…
Though newlyweds Siegel and Flanagan previously worked together on Oculus, Hush notably demanded more physical strain on the actress. When asked what it was like working in a high-pressure setting under her husband’s direction, however, Siegel recalls the fondest memories of the experience. “I was so grateful for Mike in the process of making this movie from the very beginning,” she expresses. “This is my first script [and] this is my first leading role in a bigger film. This was my first time going through this whole wilderness and Mike was always there — professionally supportive and relationship supportive — and I just felt like I had such a safety net in order to explore the writer and actress I wanted to be.”
Siegel recalls the first time she met Flanagan while auditioning for another of his films, noting the director’s attentiveness to actors as he let them have as many takes as they needed even in the audition room. “The idea that at the audition level a director cared so much about the script and about an actor… I was like, ‘This is a man that I would do anything to work with,'” she lauds. “That attitude towards storytelling and filmmaking has always been part of Mike’s process and that’s happened in Hush. […] That supportive filmmaking is very rare — so I married him!”
Flanagan echoed the positive sentiments of working with his partner. “I think too if your relationship can survive three [weeks] of night shoots on a million dollar budget in a house, marriage should be a piece of cake,” he says with a laugh.
On the faith of Intrepid Pictures and Blumhouse in Hush and Flanagan…
For all of its ultimately fast-tracked production, Flanagan and Siegel were still notably nervous when approaching the producers with their film, humorously likening it to asking Mom and Dad for permission to go play. “I can’t imagine anyone else in town ever greenlighting Hush except Trevor and Jason,” Flanagan acknowledges many times over. “All we came in with was like, ‘Here’s a basic structure, and here are the things I’m gonna tell you that make it really hard to for you to sell this movie: it won’t have a lot of dialogue at all, we pretty much only have two characters, Kate and I are gonna write it together, and she’s gonna star. Uh… so… what do you guys say? [laughs]”
At the end of the day, Macy and Blum were certainly sold on the project and seem to be big supporters of Flanagan’s work in general. “I think we just counted seven scrips that [Mike] and I have worked on together,” Macy says of Intrepid’s relationship with the director. “We’ve got lots of other stuff going, and Jason will be part of some of them. […] It’s one of those creative collaborations that you hope for as a producer maybe once in your career.”
On the Netflix platform and why Hush is best enjoyed in the comfort of your own home…
“I can’t think of a better way to watch this film than alone in your house at night,” Siegel says of Netflix’s acquisition of streaming rights for Hush.
In the modern age, streaming services have certainly become a commanding force in the industry, especially for genre films. Given the nature of Hush‘s setting, the film’s team is quite enthused for viewers to experience the film specifically in the comfort of their living rooms. “If we’ve done our job right, it will be a little scarier to be at home,” Macy says with excitement. “[Netflix] is an aggressive worldwide platform; they were super excited about the movie, and they have an amazing reach.”
“I just want [viewers] to turn the sound up!” Flanagan adds with a smile. “I kind of feel like […] more people are probably going to see this movie that first weekend that it’s on Netflix than saw Oculus in the theaters the first weekend.”
When asked what their favorite recent Netflix horror find is, Siegel quickly chimes in: “We found a gem the other week — we found Killer Mermaid!”
Flanagan seconds this endorsement, adding, “Killer Mermaid is a blast!”
Flanagan, on the status of his I Know What You Did Last Summer remake script and what we can expect…
As someone who grew up on late ’90s and early ’00s slashers, I of course had to ask Flanagan about the status of the script he and regular screenwriting partner Jeff Howard penned for the recently announced reboot of I Know What You Did Last Summer. Though he did not have any concrete details about the current production status of the film, what he did have to say pointed in some very exciting directions for the project.
“From what I’ve heard, the feedback from Sony is that they love the screenplay, so I think it’s just a question of them arranging whatever they’ve got to figure out with the studio and Neil [Moritz, producer]’s schedule,” Flanagan dished. “The original was one of [Moritz’s] first hits; Neil is determined to do it!”
Despite the success of the slasher franchise, Flanagan admits that he was apprehensive at first when Sony approached him with the idea of rebooting the franchise. “I said, ‘Well, you don’t need us to do that,'” Flanagan recalls with a chuckle. “[But] what [Sony] said they wanted to do kind of made [Jeff Howard and I] both go, ‘Ohhh!’ Like this could be something really interesting.”
Though many remakes and reboots often get criticized for being derivative and uninspired, Flanagan notes that he and Howard were allowed a great amount of creative freedom with their script. “That was a completely painless experience for us,” Flanagan says. “We had a blast writing it, and I’m curious to hear what you think when you see it because it’s probably not what you expect. […] It’s gonna be pretty wild if they do the thing we turned in — and it looks like that’s what they want to do. It’s gonna be surprising.”
Though we may have to wait a bit for schedules to align, it is looking like things are on the right track. “I talk to Neil regularly, and every time I ask him how it’s going, he always says it’s great,” Flanagan assures.
Flanagan, on getting involved with Ouija 2…
On top of his involvement with I Know What You Did Last Summer, horror fans were also quite surprised when it was announced that Flanagan was writing and helming the sequel to Ouija — a box office success, but critical dud.
“There was a lot of, ‘Really, you’re gonna do that?'” Flanagan acknowledges. “And I haven’t gotten to talk about it much because we’ve been working on the movie. […] I was nervous about doing a sequel at all to anything, but the opportunity was there to do something really unique.”
And quite unique it must be, as Blumhouse and Universal were confident enough in the current cut of Ouija 2 to show two clips from the film to us! Though I am not permitted to share much about the content of the clips, I can confirm that Ouija 2 does indeed look and feel like a very different take on the story, focusing on a creeping sense of tone, tension, and subtlety that was sorely missing from the first film.
“We finished the movie [and] we love the movie,” Flanagan confidently states of his first sequel. Ouija 2 hits theaters this October.
It goes without saying, but we want to send a huge thanks out to Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel, and Trevor Macy for not only treating Dread Central to some great exclusives, but also for supporting the site and our work for years. Don’t forget to catch Hush when it premieres on Netflix this Friday!