From director Julius Ramsay, Midnighters (review) is a layered, enigmatic thriller set in the Gothic backwoods of New England – the perfect place to get away… but of course, not everyone gets away with their lives in this one! The action kicks off on midnight, New Year’s Eve: when all the hopes of new beginnings come to life – except for Lindsey and Jeff Pittman, whose strained marriage faces the ultimate test after they try, unsuccessfully, to cover up a terrible crime. The film is written by the director’s brother, Alston – we had the opportunity to sit down with him to ask about the film’s inspiration and production.
Dread Central: Midnighters is being touted as a horror film in some circles. As the screenwriter, how would you describe it?
Alston Ramsey: I would probably call it a noir thriller with elements of horror, my brother coined the term “Gothic fairy tale” to refer to it, just for like a deeper level. We kind of bridged that divide where there’s enough in there for horror fans to keep them, the DNA of it is it’s a pretty intensive suspense thriller in general, I think that would be the short of it. I completely agree with your point, it’s not straight up horror but I also don’t think it’s quite a straight up thriller so I like to think we took the best elements of both of those genres and managed to combine them into something original.
DC: We understand you chose to fund the film yourselves… aspiring filmmakers want to know: What was that experience like?
AR: It was funded mostly from friends, and friends of friends in small amounts. This is where the fact that I went to business school and I had focused on entrepreneur stuff and had worked with a startup [helped]. It’s a little different in the film world but… Our third brother got involved in the film, and he also has a MBA. So that was sort of the starting point for friends to give to financially, to give a small contribution to it. We did consider the crowdfunding option, but I think the issue was from our read, that you really would need a big, well known actor with a big social following to be able to pull that off. Otherwise the concern was if you do crowdfunding and you don’t make your goal, going forward it looks like something that doesn’t have a market for it.
DC: When you wrote the script, did you have some cast in mind?
AR: No… I mean, we had the script and one of the things we said when we went into casting, especially when we went the full on indie route and raised the money ourselves, we were afforded the complete freedom to do whatever cast we wanted. And honestly, you want to keep an eye towards marketability, but we’re never going to get a big name that will raise millions of dollars for a movie like this, and that really wasn’t our goal so we went into casting. We told our casting director: we want to get the best actors for these characters, the ones that are the best fits. I think the funny thing is, outside of Perla Haney-Jardine, who is the young woman my brother saw in Steve Jobs, everyone auditioned on tape. They were just perfect for these roles. In a funny side note, Ward Horton, the villain, we found out later on that he was super concerned we wouldn’t understand what he was doing with the character, because he kind of had a different take on it. Some of the audition tapes we got, they were playing it super scary and frightening, as opposed to what’s really scary about that character, that being the bizarreness of him. You know, when we got Ward’s tape, we literally laughed when we watched it. We were like, ‘There is no reason we should watch any other tapes because this guy completely gets how this character was written.’ You know, all three of them who [got the lead roles], it felt eerie when we watched them because they embodied exactly what we wanted from their character, and that’s in a two-minute audition tape.
DC: How did the film all come together, with you and Julius working on it?
AR: The genesis of the project is that he and I wanted to come up with [a thriller]. It was right when I moved to Los Angeles, where I traveled from Washington and did some things before taking this crazy plunge. We wanted to write a movie that was fairly in the genre, because he was working at “The Walking Dead” and had been at “Battlestar Galactica.” We wanted to do something that was in his wheelhouse and do a script, a horror/thriller, something in that area that could be done for a reasonable budget such that we could go and try and get the finances for it. So I was out here a couple months before I actually moved here, just batting around ideas and one of the ones I came up with was a very neat story from ten years earlier: I remembered this whole thing of someone getting themselves hit a car and they broke through the windshield, and the person was still alive, and they were there for about a day and the person bled out, basically. That was sort of the starting part of the script so we worked out a number of the major plot points together and then headed off to Europe for a couple of weeks and killed myself to get the script done. I banged through the whole draft in ten or twelve days and then when he came back, we went back and forth and learned a lot from that step, the structure remained the same but when it came to the characters, the major part of the script, that evolved in conjunction with and I think that’s what any director wants, to be involved in shaping the script that way.
DC: Then what?
AR: From there, we went around Hollywood and tried to raise some money. We both realized that, learning a lot from the process, that we should probably just produce it ourselves. So we went out, I spearheaded the effort to raise some money, and we did that and went to Rhode Island, I think we showed up December 30th, the year before last, and started shooting in early February. He and I were in Rhode Island doing everything, he was finding the caterer and finding the main sets, and I was handling more of financial and legal elements of it. I was there on set every day, and being there with the screenwriter right there, I can say no, our actors actually have a line that is better than the one we did. It feels a little more natural or tell them no, that line is not really necessary from a plot standpoint, it was good for feedback, if someone asked ‘Well, how about this?’ then I could offer my advice. Having worked with the actors, I can answer their questions of the motivations. But certainly, Julius spearheaded all the directing. My role in that was very minimal.
DC: Sounds like an amazing collaboration.
AR: Yes, it absolutely was.
Midnighters stars Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes), Perla Haney Jardine (Dark Water), Dylan McTee, Ward Horton (Annabelle), and Joseph Lee Anderson. It was written by Alston Ramsay. Julius Ramsay directs.
The film will be available in theaters and on VOD/Digital HD on March 2, 2018.
New Year’s Eve, a married couple hits a stranger walking on a dark forest road. In a panic, they take the body home so as to sober up before turning themselves in. But they soon discover that the man wasn’t dead after all – that he was in fact armed and already on his way to their house. As the family is thrust into a deepening mystery, they discover that no one is who they seem – including each other.