Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Dread Central Chats with Sanitarium Directing Trio – Kerry Valderrama, Bryan Ortiz and Bryan Ramirez


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Earlier this month the psychological horror anthology Sanitarium premiered during the Miami International Film Festival.

Directed by Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderrama and Bryan Ortiz, Sanitarium consists of three segments based on the particular patients of a mental institution that’s being overseen by the sinister Dr. Stenson (Malcolm McDowell), who acts as the navigator through each chilling story.

With elements from “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Creepshow,” and “Tales from the Crypt,” Sanitarium explores the different narratives of the insane patients and the tales which led to their crazed states of minds. These accounts reflect hallucinations, imaginary voices and altered realities and include themes of the paranormal, the unexplainable and the mystical.

Sanitarium also stars Robert Englund, John Glover, Lou Diamond Phillips, Lacey Chabert, Chris Mulkey and David Mazouz. Recently Dread Central chatted with the directing trio behind the film for Indie Horror Month, who touch upon what inspired them to team up for the anthology, their experiences working on the project and much more.

Dread Central: Can you start off by talking about how you got involved in the project? I noticed a few of you were credited as writers on Sanitarium too- did the story come first or the idea to make a movie together?

Bryan Ramirez: Kerry, Ortiz and I have known each other for many years. I was working on Mission Park and Kerry came to me with a crazy idea of making a three-part film about an insane asylum starring Malcolm McDowell. Obviously I loved the idea and we met a few times about the stories and cast, and once I wrapped up on my last project called Mission Park, Kerry had everything ready to go.

Kerry Valderrama: I created the project two years ago and co-wrote two out of the three segments (“Figuratively Speaking” and “Up To the Last Man”) with my writing partner, C. M. Bratton. I then brought on both Bryan Ortiz and Bryan Ramirez to help me make it into a feature and we all worked together to make it happen in San Antonio, Texas.

Bryan Ortiz: Kerry Valderrama came to me two years ago with an idea to do an anthology film. The film was to take place in a sanitarium and we would each have a story to tell. I like the idea because it reminded me of the 1973 classic film Tales that Witness Madness as well as the 1989 series “Tales from the Crypt.” I immediately jumped on board in excitement; I would get to direct and create a film with my close friends? YES!

The idea to make a movie and the story came at the same time. Kerry had the idea to create short stories, by three different directors, that would create a film. Kerry gave us the guidelines to follow, which were for each story to start and end in the hospital. From that we were asked to submit several log lines for story ideas. We all read our log lines and decided which stories would make it into the film.

Dread Central: What was it about doing an anthology that appealed to you as a storyteller? Was there a particular reason for using a mental hospital as the setting?

Kerry Valderrama: I’ve always wanted to do a re-vamp of what I consider classic storytelling and using the older shows like “Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. It seemed to me that having Malcolm as your presenter and then following each patient into what led them to insanity within the sanitarium could potentially result in having a multitude of stories in the future.

Bryan Ortiz: One of the greatest advantages to an anthology is the ability to tell so many stories at one time. In our case, three different stories with three distinct styles all connected by the hospital. This allows the audience to enjoy a variety of film flavors all in one sitting. There is such joy in getting to experience all that a film has to offer, and then being able to experience three times that really heightens that experience. It gave me the chance as a storyteller to tell a strong high impact story in a short time frame. That was one of the most exciting challenges for me.

I come from a short film background so getting to tell my story with a larger cast and crew in a short film narrative couldn’t have made me happier. The challenges of fitting so much into such a small time is really scary and exciting as a writer and that’s when I feel I become more creative. And a mental hospital allowed us the ability to create a multitude of storylines for not only this film but for future films as well. It also gave us the ability to tell individual stories and tie them all together.

Bryan Ramirez: I love that we all have different stories to tell, while keeping a connection to a sad, pain-ridden hospital that people can never leave. We’re able to take you into the world of these three characters and show you why they are there, how, and what they may have done to be confined to such a future. At the same time, we have three completely different stories that can be enjoyed by different people.  

Dread Central: Was the creative process any different for you on Sanitarium than on a traditionally structured feature since here you’re telling your own story but you have to make sure it works well as a companion to the other stories being told as well?

Kerry Valderrama: We were very fortunate that the majority of each segment takes place outside the sanitarium so that we could treat each segment as if it were its own feature. The one location that we had to make sure matched the other three segments was the sanitarium.

Dread Central: For our readers who may not be aware of this project, can you discuss the idea of Sanitarium and give us a sense of what we can expect from the stories?

Bryan Ortiz: Sanitarium is a thrilling anthology film that tells the story of several patients and how they ended up at the Sanitarium under the care of Dr. Stenson. Each story will dive into the sad story of each patient and the horrors that plague their life, the demons that brought them to the home of Dr. Stenson.

Dread Central: Can you talk about the cast you assembled and their respective roles- you’ve also got a few of my own personal favorites in this like John Glover and Robert Englund so I’d love to hear more on what you’ve cooked up for them in Sanitarium.

Kerry Valderrama: In my personal segment Lou Diamond Phillips plays the role of a Mayan professor named James Silo. He is a conspiracy theorist who locks himself inside a bunker only to find out that he might not be alone. Lou was a pleasure to work with and his performance was magnificent. I believe he will keep the audience on the edge of their seats until the very end.

Bryan Ramirez: In my segment John Glover plays Gustav Spieler, an eccentric miniature figure artist whose only happiness lies in the world he has created. Robert Englund plays Sam, his super-agent and curator whose only happiness is trying to make Gustav the star he knows he deserves to be. When Gustav’s assistant Mateo (Walter Perez) and Sam curate an extravagant exhibit that can make them millions, the pressure pushes Gustav over the edge, causing the world he created to become his reality. The outcome… well, you’ll just have to see the film to find out.

Bryan Ortiz: My segment of Sanitarium consisted of the very talented David Mazouz, veteran actor Chris Mulkey and the ever beautiful and talented Lacey Chabert. They do an amazing job at not only tackling a very difficult social subject matter but also creating the world around David, who plays our patient in the hospital.

Dread Central: How were your production experiences? Did you guys all shoot your segments separately?

Bryan Ramirez: We each shot our segments in five days, one after one another, and then ending with the hospital in its entirety. Bryan Ortiz kicked it off, I followed and then Kerry wrapped it up. We really have to recognize our producers Remy Carter, Kerry and Amanda Rubio- with our films overlapping pre-production of one during the others’ production week, they really helped make our production a success.

Bryan Ortiz: For me, the production experiences were intense yet exciting; we only had five days to film each segment so we had to move very fast. It’s scary when you have such little time to shoot so much story, but that is when creativity really kicks in. We had an amazing team that really pulled it all together. The experience was like nothing I have ever had. I had the chance to not only work with some of the best crew in Texas but with some of my favorite actors in the industry. We shot the segments separately, but while one was shot, the others were in pre-production. That allowed us to stack the projects on top of each other and have the film done on time.

Dread Central: Congrats on the premiere at MIFF- what’s coming up next for Sanitarium then?

Kerry Valderrama: We are currently in negotiations with several different domestic distribution companies and should be announcing Sanitarium’s release date by next month. We are also currently in development for Sanitarium the Series, which will be in production by the fall.

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