Friday, October 15, 2021


A salute to everyone reading this interview. It's utterly enriching, a delight have the chance to read, hear or observe the ups and downs that lives an indie filmmaker during the path of his or her audiovisual project creation. Understand the vicissitudes to overcome, defeat in order to have that informal or sudden idea that came up one day at a friend meeting, in a coffee shop in whatever place to a done work and watch it out on the screen one day. I can only imagine the rainbow of feelings that emerges abruptly over this person, maybe observing the original plan is deviating for unplanned paths or when the uncertainties goes away and the things are coming back how were planned before. Folks, I had that kind of chat with SHAN SERAFIN, my today's interviewee.

SHAN is the director and writer of "THE BELIEVER" which in SHAN own words: "This film’s about that dreadful feeling of being in a relationship where you suspect the person sitting across the table from you no longer wants you to do well. Pouring gasoline on this fire, we take a guy who can’t even be sure of what he suspects here because he’s losing confidence in what’s real." This psychological horror movie stars by Aidan Bristow, Sophie Kargman and Bill Zane and distributed by Freestyle was released on April 2nd - 2021 on DVD and VOD format in platforms such as  Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube Movies, etc. Apart of that, SHAN is a prolific novelist with more than a couple of stories on his back, you should check out "Seventeen" (2004), "The Women's War" (2016) or "Revenge" (2017) for instance.

YOU! indie filmmaker, neophyte filmmaker, indie filmmaking lover, if you want to read about a extensive, profound and valuable experience about the real sinous roads found during the making of an indie horror movie, the ups and downs, the doubts, the joyness, the final feeling of watching your movie on screen, please, scroll down and read this full of worthy advice interview.

EFF: First things first, thank you for speaking with me, really. Second, could you tell us where are you from and how did you notice that movies would be your life thing?

SS: Thanks for having me. I’m from LA but for the past few years I’ve been in Paris. In terms of how I started in film, I actually fell in love with directing when I was 7 years old. I had no idea what directing was back then -- and maybe I still don’t today, hahaha -- but I started sort of doing it in my head as a kid, composing cinematic moments, moving actors around, framing. I was 7 when I saw Jaws, which mostly just traumatized me, but the next morning I recapped the entire movie for my best buddy, scene by scene, moment by moment, including a good amount of the dialogue. It wasn’t so much that I had a good memory, it was that the film had etched itself in me. The visuals, the music, the concept, the guy dangling out of the rowboat with a missing eye. The genre as a whole had sunk its teeth into my psyche and honestly it’d never let go. By sixth grade I’d be at sleepovers with classmates and we’d stay up all night watching horror movies, this ran the gamut, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Thing, Alien and it was Poltergeist that almost got me behind a camera. I wanted to do a spin off called The Clown; just based entirely on that damn clown; but, sadly, video cameras weren’t easy to obtain yet and my dad was broke, so it was until after college that I started to do my first short films. The thing is, by this this time, my artistic energy shifted toward theater. It was on the stage that I’d be developing my ability as a director in terms of working with performances and choreographing blocking. In other words, I was about to begin letting my camera skills atrophy. Oddly enough, when I finally started directing screen work, years later, I became obsessed with framing: framing the shot, plotting camera moves, learning lenses, learning composition, you could say that choreographing the lens and the actors is my biggest passion!

EFF: Very interesting to see how your passion began, where it moved and then now came back to the original interest, movies. Shan, you have three feature-length movies shot so far, right? The first one was a horror film and the second one was an action one, what I want to ask you is why come back to shoot a horror movie again? Do you feel more comfortable on it or is it because something else?

SS: I love horror. I always will, I love action, too, but horror can be made on a micro-budget and, by contrast, the action genre requires a lot more money. I mean, other tha, let’s say, El Mariachi, very few filmmakers can do an action with micro-financing levels, right? As for the time frame, even though my learning curve spans quite a few years, I still consider myself relatively new to film directing. I’m studying, I’m gaining momentum, I’ll eventually direct in other genres but I’ll never stop doing horror, why? Because it demands such discipline with the camera, without proper shot selection there’s really just no visual suspense. Horror thrives on visuals, you really need to find the edges of the frame, find what’s dark, find what’s visually terrifying, right? In addition, I love that challenge, I’m constantly learning and re-learning how it all works!
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EFF: Sure how you say, horror thrives on visuals, but doesn’t hurt to say that having  good story is a plus, that’s why I want to ask you how "The Believer" story was crafted, how did you come up with the plot?

SS: In 2015 my dear friend Aidan Bristow approached me saying he knew a producer guy who could get us a house and two Alexa cameras and a full crew, along with the question of “Yo, man, what little story can we shoot for $25,000 and maybe four actors?” At that time we were looking to do straight-up indie horror - something cerebral and conversational without too much blood and maybe no gags, at all. This was in the strategy for staying within a $25,000 budget. What is funny is Aidan’s producer friend who started it all ended up leaving the project a month later, but I’d quickly written a first draft and Aidan liked it, so, I stuck it in the fridge for a while until a year later Sophie Kargman read it and loved it and wanted to bring the character of Violet to life. At that point Aidan scouted around for a decent house to shoot in, found one, and we found a fourth producer named Will Frank. We booked dates, we found crew, we got going,  so that’s “how” the story is what it is. The real question is “Why.” Why is the story what it is? The themes of the The Believer embody my frustration with what’s going on politically in America lately. In my humble opinion, our national divide is nothing short of deadly and what is insane to me is how often is labeled as a faith issue. “Our side believes! Your side doesn’t!” Which assumes that the Left isn’t faith-based. Which leads to an ideological disaster. So I wanted to explore all that - poke a hot needle at the soft tissue of the nation, y’know? Indirectly, not overtly. I wanted to pose the question: What is the damage by us constantly pitting science against faith? So, doing all this transforms the question into a plot question, which is: What happens to a couple drawn together by the sex but drawn apart by the faith question? In addition, uh, let’s add an abortion to the mix. This is the backdrop for the story and the genre is, of course, a possession film, which is a genre I find terrifying - the notion that demons take advantage of those who are emotionally isolated and vulnerable. Terrifying.

EFF: OK, that is the background of how the movie emerged from the ground, but could you explain us a little bit more further about funding process , how did you do after the guy who supposedly was gonna be the producer abandoned the project. 

SS: Great question. Once the script was written, we were looking at $46,000 for principle photography and maybe $5,000 to $10,000 for post. We shot quickly with a skeleton crew composed of young folks fresh from film school along with a handful of more experienced folks. We kept the mood on set as positive as possible. When we wrapped principle, we learned that our Post-Production process would be different from the plan. No problem, right? We always knew we’d have to be flexible. That is where we began to get little crazy with expectations. I had a very old, 2009 Mac Pro desktop computer that still functioned. I’m not an editor but our producer team felt if I could stitch together a usable assembly cut, we could use the cut to shop around for additional resources. My machine was nine years old at the time and I was cutting on Final Cut Pro 6, which is a great program but old, so, yes, it was crashing about once a day, so, my one-man-operation was really slow. Then, in the middle of editing the film I got an offer to write a major novel, which I had to accept because writing novels is my one source of income. You can see how this is spiraling down, right? I couldn’t refuse paid work, so The Believer assembly cut got delayed and ultimately took me a year to complete – meaning, incidentally it’d now be regarded as a rough cut. When this rough cut (which was really an assembly cut) was done, our production team saw it and lost unity. A couple of us thought the cut wasn’t too bad; a couple of us were on the fence; a couple of us hated it. We were divided and we lost emotional momentum. We couldn’t agree on what the next step would be, which was, honestly, a brutal moment for me as an artist. I’m not an editor but I felt pretty bad about disappointing everyone, regardless, If I had to do an autopsy on what exactly went wrong at this junction, I’d say we’d shot a script that was meant to be dialogue-driven $45,000 movie but ended up looking deceptively-similar to a bigger commercial venture, without having the proper resources for a bigger commercial venture.

I blame myself for not keeping the scope and the expectations smaller. The crippling problem now was that not only was the edit imperfect, we weren’t sure if perfecting that edit would result in a film we’d like. Horrible, right? I was starting to see that my script was flawed - in that it was a recipe for a cake our team didn’t know they ordered. Regardless of all the hurdles, Aidan exists as an unstoppable cinematic force. He refused to give up. He pushed forward through the grueling challenges -- grueling -- and got us the resources needed to shoot additional scenes to basically make a new cake. We did a ton of new ADR. I invented a new story line. We brought in some killer Post-Production people, music, effects, people doing favors, People led by our valiant new producer Josh Minyard.

Enter Josh two years into the four years of post, Aidan found as a new producer who brought in fantastic new energy and fantastic resources, Josh, who brought in a great editor, great composers, great audio, great effects, and we then ended up with a true Rough Cut of the film and made the group decision to augment the therapist character. I wrote four new scenes and Billy Zane agreed to play the expanded role of Dr. Raymond Benedict. I had a daunting load of 14 pages for him to do in a single day of shooting so Cue Cards were needed and we had to Run n’ Gun all day on a sound stage that was located literally on the same property as the Burbank Airport. Yes, an airport, yes, we had commercial jets roaring every eight minutes. Plus, the door to the sound stage wouldn’t open when we arrived. Plus, we also lost our video monitors for half the time.

It was yet another brutal day of filming The Believer. It’d become the running joke between me and Aidan. One of those jokes where you don’t really laugh, you just stare at your shoes. But, we managed to get it in the can, we managed to get our pages shot and Billy had some superb moments. At this point, we quickly got ourselves to Picture Lock heading into 2020, ready for the final phases of Post-Production, which is when Covid hit, which, of course, delayed things even more. So, we ended up finishing the film at the beginning of 2021.

Everyday, for those four years I’d wake up and tell myself, “Whatever resources my producers find for us next, I’m going to do my best with it.” I adopted this positive mindset and refused to imagine that there were setbacks that could cripple the film. I told myself, whatever crap happens tomorrow, I’ll find a creative solution for it. Having said that, now that the film is released, now that the journey is done, I think it’s very important to be objective and re-examine what I could’ve been done better. Looking back, there’s a lot I’d change about the script I wrote. Whereas, as a director -- given how much went wrong -- I think as a director I actually did well. I know that verdict – that reversal of the hierarchy -- contradicts some of our internal opinions and there’s obviously shots I’d do differently as a director and blah blah blah but I think my directing was as good as it could’ve been given that it was my script that dug me in the hole. My writing could’ve been better -- I mean, in terms of how to best write for a $46,000 shooting budget. I think that amount of money is prohibitive, right? In the back of my head, I always knew that, at the very least, this project would offer valuable lessons for up-and-coming filmmakers.

For anyone shooting for under $50,000 there’s just so much that must go perfectly well with your initial phases of Development and Pre-Production. As a writer-director, I take the blame for all that went wrong but I do think a lack of resources is also crippling to you as a director. It’s emotionally exhausting not being able to pay crew as much as you want, you’re constantly asking favors, you’re constantly unsure how much of a workday you’ll get from anyone. But, you also tell yourself that there’s no point in handing anyone a pile of excuses. At the end of the day, you gotta deliver the movie. You gotta generate the best version of this film, whatever that might be.

EFF: I know you have talked a little about the core of the movie plot but still, tell us what the movie is about?

SS: This film’s about that dreadful feeling of being in a relationship where you suspect the person sitting across the table from you no longer wants you to do well. Pouring gasoline on this fire, we take a guy who can’t even be sure of what he suspects here because he’s losing confidence in what’s real. Is he crazy, or is his wife subtly, treacherously, undermining his confidence and ultimately, his manhood? That is a major theme – manhood-. We as a society may have gotten better at identifying “toxic masculinity,” but, no matter how well we define it for ourselves, there’s still the question of “OK, so then what exactly is non-toxic masculinity?” What exactly is the wholesome, gluten-free version? once you do figure it out, how do you then protect it from the contamination of modern society? I don’t have a pat answer to all this but The Believer poses the questions. What is this violent urge inside so many of us? What brings it out? Is there a gender difference in that regard? And, ultimately, what’s the role of religious zealotry? Take Lucas -- he’s an otherwise decent guy, subjected to an infinite amount of repetition of self-doubt. That’s what Violet has set out to do with him -- to distill him to his violent essence. She’s going to keep him in the frying pan on a slow simmer for years, for decades, then turn up the flame of paranoia like Iago might turn it up on Othello, or Lady MacBeth on MacBeth, so that Lucas comes to a boil. He goes from dinner-table bickering to small-scale violence to, ultimately, the worst destruction available to us, war. So, what’s the plot? What’s the Once Upon a Time of it? Lucas is witnessing odd, inexplicable activity in his house. He thinks his wife is creating it, perhaps out of fanaticism, perhaps out of spite, and dark forces in this house are bringing out a violence within Lucas.

EFF: What visual elements you used in order to convey the film’s message?

SS: Changing lens size as the story intensified was my initial goal. I remember learning about Sydney Lumet doing it in Twelve Angry Men. I love the concept of increasing the visual claustrophobia, so I worked out a lens plan for using it in The Believer. However, this goal went out the window within the first day of shooting because right away the production started to crumble. We managed to keep things going but we had so many regions of that house we couldn’t point the camera at, so my revised visual plan became to shoot the film as straight as possible. Why not, right? Straight. After all, the original goal was to make a dialogue-centered movie where the audience indulges in cool, trippy, weird conversations, almost like an absurdist play. Then, I think, as the producer team was watching dailies; they started to see potential for a bigger genre. We then re-committed ourselves to adding more visual elements at some point.

Yes, honestly, I wish I could’ve been more indulgent with the cinematic aspects -- the visuals -- but the truth is, with $46,000 and a tricky location, I wasn’t free to do whatever I wanted with the camera. Or, let me put it like this, more humbly, I don’t have the skill set to be wildly-visual with $46,000 for a feature. Maybe there are directors who can do it, but, myself, I wanted to prioritize actor performance. I also had to make sure our crew was treated humanely. What that meant was a very limited number of camera set-ups and a limited number of takes. The stairs in that house and the inaccessible windows made it a tricky place to light so I committed myself to shooting it straight; in other words, to get the story in front of stationary medium shots. I’d love to do jib arm stuff and dolly stuff, that is where my heart is at, an active camera, slow,  Ominous, Overhead angles. But, the one day we laid track ended up being a cruel lesson in Baby Powder, hahahaha. We didn’t have the resources for handheld shooting as an alternative, so I redid all my shot lists after day one.

So then, how much mileage can you get out of a locked off camera? You tell yourself as a director to keep your actors moving around, left-right for energy and forward-and-back for dynamic depth. To make all that work without the actors going out of focus -- because your overworked First AC is also slating and handling D.I.T. -you need to really mark it out ahead of time-. Again, the house was cramped. Tricky. So you need to rehearse your actors as much as possible.

You take all those parameters and you decide to reshape the story around the visuals rather than cry about the limitation. We thus were looking at a very contemplative, patient and deliberate camera. We played a lot of with the edge of the frame, where the tension can lie. I like a very low camera to make it seem like the characters are larger than life. I lock it off about two feet below the eyes of the lowest person on screen. In general, I like to frame things as carefully as possible, framing on the thirds, in general, and then conceding the occasional odd angle whenever the budget allowed.
EFF: What style did you try to impress on the film, maybe any references to other movies?

SS: There are so many movies and people to name! I’ll probably end up leaving out the most important stuff -- just because it’s an avalanche of visuals in my head whenever someone asks me what I might reference. Film is everything to me. It doesn’t just shape the way I express my art; film shapes the way I live. I’m really a sort of latch-key-kid weaned on screens who never grew out of it. I love films. Love. Having said that, in terms of being the bard for The Believer, the films that influenced me were The Shining, The Thing (1982), Poltergeist, The Ring and you could add Rosemary’s Baby. I didn’t see Hereditary until halfway through our editing process but, by far, Hereditary is the scariest film I’ve seen in years. There’s something about the loneliness, knowing that those characters are just doomed, that a darkness is coming and all the little details are falling into place and there’s nothing these people can do to stop it. That’s breathtaking to watch! Plus, Ari Aster is a master at the classic horror gags. Watch the first ten minutes of his film Midsommar -the way the main character screams on the phone-. It’s chilling and it shows just how much Aster understands the human element. I’ll forever be a student of film so I’ll forever be studying how I can do better on my next film. Finding the humanity in each moment is my top priority.
"The Believer"

EFF: You have explained us vividly about the via crusis of being an indie filmmaker with this movie, but I still want to ask you specifically, what setbacks you stepped in during the shooting stage and how did you beat them out?

SS: My secret weapon was Aidan Bristow. Once upon a time I had the horrible idea of writing a story that took place in a house with a basement. “Houses in LA don’t have basements, Shan.” Yes, thank you, I know that now. I wrote with the intention of shooting ultra low budget, as in scrimping, as in principal photography would be about $45,000, which meant we needed to get an all-in-one location in LA that also had a basement. Not easy! We started looking for locations and within a month the entire film was scrapped. There simply weren’t any basements in LA. No house has one and if it does, the owners charge a billion dollars for ten minutes. 

We considered the possibility of faking one, but, oddly enough we didn’t have the resources for faking it. Luckily, when Aidan Bristow the Actor puts on his Aidan-the-Producer hat, his powers are nothing short of biblical. Within a few months he parted the Red Sea of tape and found us an intriguing location in Redondo Beach, a house with, yes, the Grail, a basement. We booked a date and thereby forced ourselves at fiscal gunpoint past the point of no return. Down payment spent! We now had no choice but to shoot this movie. So, with several major factors locked in place we were very confident that our biggest hurdle was behind us. “Location booked. The rest is cake, right?”

Cut to halfway through Production -- Aidan acting in a huge scene while keeping his personal phone in his front pocket because he was on calls with the bank all day trying to fix the teeny-tiny budgetary problem of having no more money, at all. Yup, correct, we had no more production money halfway through production. And Aidan’s needing to make calls all day to try to sort this out so the crew can get, y’know, paid this week. I’m sure there’s footage where you can actually see his personal phone in his pants with about 55 text messages from, like, banks and shit, announcing that production would literally be shut down by the end of the night. We were halfway through our shoot. Yet he still acted his ass off and managed to get the money secured. He did all that, and with that major hurdle behind us we knew that “the rest of the movie making process should be cake!”

That summer Redondo Beach set it’s all-time record for heat -- on the same day that the air-conditioning in our location went out. That was also the day we were shooting our most complicated shot where the father gets his throat slit. I’d made sure we channeled all our resources into that shot: buying a prosthetic, having a blood technician on set, having extra Set Design personnel, extra crew -- planning for a grand total of two takes, because we’d have to reset the dinner table and the food and the reset wardrobe and clean the floor and all that. The truth is we only had one take to get it right because once you break the prosthetic over the throat, it’s kind of done. Well, anyway, Lindsey Ginter, who plays Gus, was a trooper. We put him in all this heavy clothing and then sentenced him to several hours in make up, then made him walk up the stairs to memorize a bunch of verbose lines I wrote him, before telling him, “OK buddy, you get one take. Go, go, go,” and the A/C had been out and Gus was literally overheating. Steam was coming off this man.

These are the moments that can break you as a director. I’m personally not interested in prioritizing my movie over the welfare of the crew. That means I’m willing to sacrifice the story when necessary. You anticipate what the challenge is. You re-write a few things in your head. You shorten. You tighten. You try to decide what moments you can lose without crippling the plot. You sheepishly tell yourself what can be achieved later in Post-Production and then you bite the bullet and delete dialogue. You lose camera angles. You lose lines. You pray that some semblance of a story can be cobbled together in post.

Ultimately, Gus more than came through for us and we got the bulk of his dialogue recorded, but the next day on set we filmed Violet for six glorious hours -- everything moving along really well -- before we realized that Violet was supposed to have a massive bandage on her chest, so we had to re-shoot everything we’d just shot. Certain sequences had to be gouged as we lost time, then the DP, who’d banged his head on the first day of shooting, stepped on a nail on the final day of shooting.

Then came Post-Production. Welcome to hell. After a year of post -- a full year -- our movie looked worse than ever. We had what was essentially an assembly cut but we needed to call it a rough cut. It’s semantics but people watching a rough-cut have certain expectations, and all we really had was the uncomfortable 90-minute result of me sitting alone with my nine year old Mac Pro cutting the entire movie on Final Cut Pro 6, which was a great piece of software four-hundred-years ago, plus my computer would crash two or three times per day. Everyone hated that cut. Actually Will Frank didn’t hate it, although I think he was just being nice and considering its potential. Josh Minyard was the next producer to come on board and Josh saved us by bringing in legit post resources. For the first time we were seeing edits that brought out the potential Will Frank had seen, and a soundtrack that’s sublime and a sound design that’s sublime.

Long-story long -- the movie turned out better than I’d hoped and I couldn’t be more impressed with the performances, which, for a story like this, is everything.
"The Believer"

EFF: What was the hardest scene to shoot and why?

SS: The opening scene was the hardest. We shot it on Day One and I’ll never never never do that again: I’ll never try to shoot a micro-budget movie without watering down the schedule for Day One. For every shoot day, really. We had so many things go wrong in the first twenty-four hours during which our intended workload was to shoot all three opening scenes of the movie -three huge scenes in a single day with a skeleton crew and very little money-. Yikes,  that wasn’t smart! What really stings is I had some intricate camera moves mapped out yet we never quite got the timing we needed between actors and camera so I had to quickly shoot alternate angles and revise a lot of the dialogue and action in my head. On the fly. After we shot these scenes, we had to go back and re-edit several times. We did a lot of ADR. The long dolly shot that really drives the tension in the dialogue is missing. We did eight takes but couldn’t get it to match in post. By the time we switched editors we simply ran out of time to re-insert the missing pieces. I don’t say all this to complain. I’m sure every director has his or her share of insanity. I say this to contribute to the collective wisdom of indie lore. You really have to assume things will go wrong in the early days of a shoot. Our DP had a concussion the morning of Day One. Audio batteries went down on day one, I had certain fires to put out on day one, which meant that my actors, who were depending on me as a barometer, couldn’t get the time they needed. So we lost key stuff. C’est la vie. The editor came in and worked miracles, regardless.
Shan Serafin

EFF: What camera did you use in the film and why?

SS: We shot on the RED Epic Dragon. At the time it was one of the best cameras available. Still it’s a superb machine, which my DP owned outright, which I think was super strategic of us -to have someone on our crew own the camera outright-. That way, when we did need a quick pick-up shot of an exterior or whatever, we could get it relatively easily. In that regard, John, our brilliant DP, was supremely generous.

EFF: As an indie filmmaker and taking into consideration the micro-low budget usually an indie horror film can get, what is the most important thing an indie director needs to have in consideration when filming a horror movie?

SS: Phew. What a question! Can I cheat my answer a bit? I don’t know if there’s just one thing I can identify as the one ultimate codex of wisdom. I think there’s a few key things. It’s common knowledge that everything starts with a good script, right? I think there are other factors that are worth mentioning, too. Maybe the best way to highlight them is to tell you some mistakes I made with The Believer. Let’s do it that way.  

Lesson 1) I think you have to adjust your shooting style to your budget. My instincts are to have a “precise” camera. I like studying David Fincher and Spielberg and Kubrick. From my theater days, I’ve grown to prefer well-choreographed blocking, but, here’s the lesson: when your budget is super low you need a much-more forgiving shooting style, you need a looser camera, looser blocking, deeper depth of field so that marks can be missed. I might’ve gotten more shots and more takes if I allowed a grittier look, so that our tiny amount of money could be stretched further. 

Lesson 2) Keep it dark. I wish we were darker, that’s my fault. So many of the scary movies I admire capitalize on how terrifying the dark pockets on screen are. Hereditary, Relic, The Conjuring, Hush, The Strangers, The Ring to name a few recent titles. 

Lesson 3) Rehearse and plan as much as possible. This will allow you to handle the surprises of production. We had everything go wrong on our shoot. We really needed to plan for disasters, not just regular problems. 

Lesson 4) The script. I think if I had a time machine I’d go back a few years and write a better first draft. We did indeed utilize a second, third, fourth, and fifth draft of the script and, ultimately, yes, our final cut represents a great script, but it took so many rewrites and re-shoots to get there. That eats up resources. I think I tried to tell too much story with too little money. That’s not to say I don’t applaud our team for taking a tiny budget and making something great out of it; at this low-level of money, they did what very few crews could do. Very few. I state all these lessons as a critique of my own choices. The rest of team went above and beyond what was expected of them. Actors. Crew. Camera. Post. Everyone. I’m just talking about what I could’ve done better given a sub-$50,000 budget.
Shan Serafin

EFF. What kind of director do you consider yourself: directing actors, your crew, etc?

SS: Above all, I try to be a great manager. I like to sit people down ahead of time, one on one, privately, and find out what their passions are. This is with everyone, Costume, Hair Make Up, Production Design, Actors, Producers, The DP, etc. I want to know what type of set they like to be on and what this movie -- my movie, their movie, our movie -- can do for their career. This info really helps me later during production when I’m trying to manage all the personalities around me and I’m wondering when I can push my crew and when they simply need to chill or ease back on the throttle, and refresh for tomorrow. When it comes to actors I like to rehearse as much as possible, weeks in advance, so I can discover where their instincts are taking them in the script. 

I’m very precise with the camera; this means I need actors to hit their marks, walk here, walk there, stop, turn, walk again. It can be a pain in the ass from a performer’s perspective, right? It can be un-fun to dwell only within a rigid path. So, to mitigate that un-fun-ness, I like to rehearse and let the actor freely do whatever they want in rehearsal. Walk, sit, jump, flail, yell, cry, do nothing, roll around, pick up a prop. From there, I build my visuals. Again, that’s acting first, visuals second and let’s note, I’ve never had a “survivable” budget. I shot my first feature for $17,000 and my second feature for $0.00 with no crew, and my third feature, The Believer, was about $45,000 for principle photography. In other words, these are budgets that make most people run for the hills, hahaha. So I find my rehearsal-first strategy to be the only strategy that survives a micro-budget shoot. Maybe one day with good financing, I can reverse my process and film a bunch of takes where the actors are fresh to the material with no rehearsals and see what magic happens, right? It’s part of my learning curve. Maybe I’ll see if that works for me down the road.

EFF: When the film was out and how can people watch it?

SS: Right now we can watch it on Hulu, YouTube, GooglePlay, Amazon, and Freestyle. There might be a couple others. I’m currently in France and our market here is much different.

EFF How has the audience response so far?

SS: We expect it will take about a year for it to find its audience. It’s not a film for everyone. The ending has two rather-unsettling implications and, for the horror crowd, it can come across as more of a Think Piece than a traditional eight-trope genre piece. Normally, a year is too long to find an audience but we’re in the midst of a dynamic market for streaming options so I think it’s reasonable. Fingers crossed.

EFF: What are your inspiration; directors or films?

SS: If I had to name one director, just one, which is brutal for me to do because there’s really four or five who are always in my creative consciousness, I’d say David Fincher -- just in terms of his infinite capacity to get great performances and his absolute brilliance with the camera. He’s one of the few directors you watch where you just can’t think of anywhere better to put the audience’s eyes than where he’s putting them. If I can add some names to his… Spielberg and Scorsese. Spielberg for his ability to create spectacle. Scorsese for how well he finds humanity. I read Sharon Waxman’s book Rebels on the Backlot and the personal accounts therein -- they’re incredible. Most of the directors mentioned in her book are creative pillars for me, as in I’m looking at their work all the time for inspiration. Soderbergh, Tarantino, David O. Russell. In terms of production, I learned a ton reading the journals of Spike Lee. All three books. School Dayz. She’s Gotta Have It. Do The Right Thing. Then there’s Rebel Without a Crew, which is the Robert Rodriguez book, which is ridiculously inspirational and fun. And along those lines, Shoot To Thrill by Christine Vachon is a book I recommend to friends all the time. As for who is new and up-and-coming, I really like director Ari Aster’s films and those of Jordan Peele and then there was this amazing film, Relic, with Emily Mortimer. It’s about Alzheimer’s but it’s kind of not about Alzheimer’s -- in the sense that you’re watching what feels like a possession story and it’s scary as fuck and the performances are brilliant and I checked out who the director was and watched some of her short films and she’s this young lady from Australia -- Natalie Erika James -- and I couldn’t be more inspired by her. She’s killer. What she does with the camera and tempo is outstanding. So, as a whole, horror’s a genre that continues to attract incredibly diverse talent and I’m in awe of how much I myself can still learn from the people working in it.

EFF: What is the hardest thing about being a horror director?

SS: As you pitch your horror project you’ll find a little bit less respect than you’d find if you took those same ingredients -- in terms of cast and production value -- and pitched a serious drama or bio pic. You’ll certainly run into cool, hip, hungry, geeked-out horror fans in this business. Certainly. But, for the most part, our genre suffers in the award department. That’s fine. That’s all fine. We don’t do horror for awards. But that has a trickle down effect. You have to fight a little harder to win over the people you want involved. Plus, it’s a bit sad that so many stellar acting performances in horror are overlooked. On the flip side, for quite some time it’s been a very lucrative genre in terms of budget versus box office. So, if you gather the right elements, you can sell your film. In contrast, if you do the same with, let’s say, a dramatic bio pic you might have to work harder to prove your revenue potential. I suppose there are pros and cons then, right?

EFF: What new projects are you working on now, something you can anticipate us now?

SS: I wrote a feature about witches, which I’m dying to shoot in the $1 million to $2 million range. I love witch stories. I have a larger-budget sci-fi spaceship horror script that I may be a few movies away from finding a budget for; in other words, I’d need to earn that higher bracket. As for writing novels, I write almost exclusively in the crime-thriller genre but my next novel is a bit on the sci-fi thriller side, somewhat like an expanded Black Mirror thing.

EFF: If a producer gives you a chance to direct a horror film remake, what would it be and why?

SS: That’s quite a question! I have mixed feelings! Anything worth remaking is something that’s probably already great, right? So why remake it?! Doesn’t it deserve to be left untouched? For the record, I do appreciate the remake on Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even though I love the original. They’re two very different films, right? The 1974 version has this creepy, edgy, realism to it, almost like you’re watching a snuff flick. The 2003 remake is just fun and great and scary and Jessica Biel is brilliant. I should add that I love Zack Snyder’s re-doing of Dawn of the Dead. So I’m torn in how to give my answer. I suppose there are some films from a long ago that deserve an augmentation in terms of modern computer animation and camera mobility. In that regard, I’d cautiously, hesitantly, nervously, quietly say my answer is Forbidden Planet. This is simply because there’s an enormous amount of fun you can have with the monsters in there. In the story, the enemy is manifested from the recesses of the human mind. Monsters from the id. The Catch 22 is that one of the reasons I love Forbidden Planet so much is just how advanced the visual effects were. They made it in 1955! These guys did an absolutely epic job with matte work and the scaling. Josh Meador hand drew each frame of the monster. I mean, it’s stunning. Those shots on the subterranean platform! Insane!

EFF: How have you lived this pandemic? Personally, Professionally...

SS: Honestly, I’ve never yelled at the TV more than I’ve yelled at it this past year. Just watching the various national leaders handle things with such low regard from human welfare. It’s sickening. It drove me crazy. Yet, from a filmmaker perspective, my God, this pandemic has been a treasure trove of material. Virtually, every problem you could ever imagine has coming screaming to the forefront of our national consciousness. And what’s really funny, as horror fans, having watched tons of zombie movies where we routinely criticize the crowd as being too dumb, now we know that crowds are that dumb. The human idiocy this past year was astounding to watch.

EFF: Would you like to say anything else?

SS: Thanks for having me. I feel like I’ve talked your ear off.  Anyone who bravely made it thus far deserves some silence and beer..

**SHAN SERAFIN'S | IMDb Twitter Facebook Wikipedia | **

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