“I had that story for about 17 years.” -David Slade
Producer, director and writer David Slade takes us through the journey of getting his short This Way to Egress made for the anthology Nightmare Cinema. The movie will premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal on Thursday, July 12th.
A series of down-on-their-luck individuals enter the decrepit and spine-chilling Rialto theater, only to have their deepest and darkest fears brought to life on the silver screen by The Projectionist – a mysterious, ghostly figure who holds the nightmarish futures of all who attend his screenings. By the time our patrons realize the truth, escape is no longer an option. For once the ticket is torn, their fate is sealed at Nightmare Cinema.
For more information on Nightmare Cinema, check out Fantasia International Film Festival.
Dread Central: I really enjoyed your Nightmare Cinema project. What drew you into the project?
David Slade: Mick Garris, who is the producer and one of the directors, is somebody I’ve admired for a long time and has offered me chances to make films in the past with him. I really wanted to and none of them really worked out. So he came again with a project and essentially gave me free range to pretty much tell whatever story I wanted to, as long as I could do it for the money they had, which was a smaller budget. I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I couldn’t say no because I actually did have a story that I wanted to do. It was the one you’ve seen. It’s a story I’ve been carrying around with me for a long time, based on a short story by Lawrence C. Connolly. We wrote the screenplay together for my episode. I had that story for about 17 years, I think. I’ve been wanting to make that little film. I wanted to make it as a longer film to begin with – but eventually, when Mick came along, I was like, “Ah, we can actually get it shorter… like a 15 to 20 minute story.” So Mick came with the keys to allow me to make a film that I’ve been wanting to make for years. I met Mick before and he just invited me onboard with a wonderful proposition to do something really crazy and fun as long as it’s in the horror genre.
DC: What can you tell us about your story?
DS: My story, This Way to Egress, originally was published as a short story called Traumatic Descent. It was written by Lawrence C. Connolly. I read it in a horror story collection years and years ago and I loved it. I loved what it was. I loved the idea behind it. It’s a thing that’s plagued me – the idea that everyone knows something you don’t know, which is a common thing. A lot of people have this. Everybody knows something… about you maybe. But you don’t know what that thing is. It just was, I thought, a terrifying premise. I felt that if I got the right people together and I could do it with the right tone, we could do something very special and actually something very unusual, too. I don’t think anyone has told this particular story, which is a story of potentially mental breakdown – a story of extreme anxiety and psychological pressures – a story that has a subtext, which are very real – an analogy of a story. I thought that was really interesting. It was something I wanted to do. Years and years ago, I had tried to make it a feature film. I developed the short story into a longer script with a friend of mine called Charly Cantor. Charly passed away from cancer, so there was a bit of a legacy with this. So I kind of had this story with me. I met Larry, who wrote the original short story. My friend and I had developed a feature film together based on it but had never been able to get it made. So this opportunity to tell the story came about. We couldn’t use Charly’s script, so I went back to Larry Connolly. I asked him if we could do it as a short film, and he and I would work on it together. I would really adapt his story, and I would do it really faithfully. So faithfully in fact that I would really want him to take the credit just because he may as well be the writer of it. It’s his story. Then, when he read my draft I said, “We really need an extra scene.” He wrote an extra scene for me. And so, yeah, we wrote it together and Larry came down for the shoot. We shot it over three days in Los Angeles on location. The result is what you see.
DC: I really do feel like you achieved an elegant yet creepy tone. I know a lot of people are really going to receive it well. Secondly, I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, Mr. Charly Cantor.
DS: Thank you. It was back in 2002. It’s a long history but it’s something I carried with me and I wanted to make it for a long, long time. So I’m really grateful to Mick for giving me the opportunity to do so.
DC: That’s absolutely amazing. Did you come across any challenges with making this project?
DS: It was made by a group of friends. It was made with a small crew on location, and we tried to make it a good experience for everyone. The director of photography was Jo Willems, who shot my films Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night, American Gods pilot with me and various other things. I worked with Lisa, who had worked with me on a Twilight film. We were very well organized, and we managed to not have too many problems actually. It was just a lot to shoot. It was quite a lot of story in three days. It was largely tonal. There really wasn’t that much in the way of an action piece. Besides one long dialogue scene, there’s not a lot of dialogue, which made us shoot quickly. We just had to hustle. Really, that was the main thing. it was like a twisted, very dark Twilight Zone story.
DC: I can definitely see that. You’ve worked in so many different genres, so I was really curious to see this one. Are you a huge fan of horror?
DS: Absolutely. I’ve done film noir. I’ve done horror. I’ve done fantasy. I’ve done dramas and science fiction. To me, I don’t think the genre is important. I think if you are trying to tell a human story, it doesn’t matter what genre it’s in. But what I will say about horror is that it allows you the most freedom – as long as you can work for slightly less money than usually bigger stories. It allows you the freedom to break rules and be more creative with what you are doing. One case in point was that this particular script was always going to be incredibly ambiguous. There are very few genres where you can get away with that much ambiguity.
DC: Very true and beautifully stated. You’ve worked as a producer, director and writer. Which position do you enjoy the most and why?
DS: They all come down… there’s a title that I would say… author – not writing author but a person who authors a piece of something. Whatever that becomes, that is the bit that I enjoy the most. Usually, I enjoy the area where I have the most freedom, which is often directing at this point. But it is filmmaking that I love. It’s cinema that I love. It is where I may be given the most freedom to do the best work. That’s always the area that I love the most. Usually as a producer, I’m the director as well – so the producer gives me the strength to be able to make more decisions as the director.
DC: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Slade. I know that people are going to enjoy Nightmare Cinema and your short This Way to Egress. It’s truly a blast.
DS: It is a blast, isn’t it? It’s really fun. It does all come back to an early era where films like Creepshow had enough varying styles to have something for almost everyone. So I’m really proud of it. I’m really happy with it. I hope a lot of people get to see it.