Interview: CURTAIN director Jaron Henrie-McCrea{0}

One of the quirkier and less classifiable new releases from Icon’s FrightFest Presents imprint is Jaron Henrie-McCrea’s Curtain. Here, Daisy Edwards asks McCrea to give us a peek behind the… film.

How did you come up with the premise of Curtain?

A lot of my movie ideas come to me when I’m taking a shower, or at least the more notable ones. There was one day I was trying to think, forcing my brain to come up with a really good idea and nothing was coming. I like to sit in the shower, so I’m just sitting there staring aimlessly up at the shower curtain and then I thought ‘what if that shower curtain was just suddenly gone?’. That was sort of the beginning of the idea. So I started writing a script. I thought it was really good, I really loved it, so I submitted it to a screenplay festival and it was immediately rejected. So I thought, ‘Oh, what a horrible idea! A movie about shower curtains is really dumb.’ So I put it on the shelf and started writing another idea, and that was a year of me writing this other idea that was actually far worse. I didn’t know what to do any more, and my wife, Carys, who is co-writer and producer of the movie, said “why don’t we go back to Curtain?” I said, “Sure” – but would she work with me on it? So together we wrote a new draft, changed a lot of it, made it much better and that’s pretty much the movie you see now.

Had you and your wife worked together before?

This is probably our first full on collaboration. She’s a screenwriter. We both met at film school in New York and we never really worked on each other’s stuff, only maybe on little short things here and there. This was the first time we thought ‘with our powers combined maybe we can make something good’. We feel really good about it. And we didn’t get divorced. [laughs]

How did you manage to make a film about a household object so terrifying?

A lot of my influences come from sci-fi and stranger horror movies. One of my favourite movies of all time is Videodrome and what David Cronenberg did with a television, making a television the most terrifying, awesome, weird, cool thing – I was just blown away by it. But I also love stuff like The Twilight Zone; I’m a gigantic fan of that. Just taking something that’s ordinary and just twisting it and making it terrifying and strange from a perspective you’ve never seen, I just love doing that. The most important thing to us was logic. You can make a shower curtain disappear and do all these weird things but it has to be grounded with some sort of rules that the rest of the story can follow. So we really took our time making sure this isn’t just absurd for absurd’s sake, there is an ideology behind it and a history behind it and all that sort of thing. But don’t want to explain too much. The fine line that you’re walking there, you don’t want to give too much information or else you start confusing people. Our first cut of the movie, we showed it to a very small audience and people said ‘you’re explaining too much. It’s better if you’re not telling us certain things and we just kind of add the pieces together’. So we actually had too much information there with which we start taking away from the scary and all that. So you want to peel it back and let the audience figure out things from themselves which is what I think really contributes to the scariness of it.

You mentioned Videodrome and The Twilight Zone. Did you make any particular homages to your influences?

I think our biggest homage was the music. We really love the music of John Carpenter, especially in Halloween and The Thing. Anything that he’s done has got amazing music behind it. We really wanted a really kickass Carpenter-esque, with kind of like a Goblins Argento score. So we were really looking for something like that and Carys’ brothers’ very good friend is a musician who was looking to move into doing original scores for movies. He’d gone to see other movies and said ‘they’re just trying make a really kickass, John Carpenter style score’. Her brother said ‘well they’re [Jaron & Carys] are trying to do just that so why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?’. So he came on board, and just totally destroyed it. The movie is only half as good as it could possibly be because of his music. So definitely the music, but a lot of the shots and the visual style is more from Sam Raimi, [he] is a gigantic influence. The Evil Dead movies and what he was able to do with such a small budget, especially at the time, he basically created a whole language of directing that is now mimicked by just about everybody including myself. I wanted to create a very distinct visual style but have very well composed shots. We didn’t do a whole lot of handheld, only when it was necessary. We just wanted to have everything well thought out. That’s what I find mostly with the best directors, they know exactly where each cut is going to be and how each shot is going to connect with the next one. So yeah, Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, all these guys they totally know their visual language and how they’re going to execute their movie in the edit.

So you had experience in all kind of stages in the film. What was it like directing compared to, for example, being the cinematographer?

For me, my favourite part of directing is the visuals, so the pacing and how we’re going to present this shot or this reveal. That for me is what I love most. I mean, certainly, working with actors is really fun, too. I might be the worst nightmare for some actors because I like to put them through hell and maybe that’s what I get off to, watching them get covered in blood or beaten to death or something like that. So I guess, in some small measure that’s a secret thrill of mine. Compared to the actual shooting of the movie [though], you make the decision as the director, ‘we’re going to put the camera here’ and ‘this is what’s going to be said’ in one small piece of the movie and then you say ‘okay, good, we know now what we’re going to do there. Oh crap, now I have to make that happen!’. We were a small crew of four people: me, Carys, our sound guy who was also our gaffer, and then our other producer was also eight or nine other things; and I’m also the camera operator, so it was physically exhausting. But that’s why, going into it, I did most of my directing beforehand through knowing what our shots were through shot listing and storyboarding. That’s where a lot of the heavy lifting for my directing half was and then after that it was just executing the thing.

So it sounds like you were really prepared. What challenges did you face as such a small crew?

There were challenges everyday. We never had enough money or enough daylight or enough nightlight or enough time or enough energy. There would just be some days [where] we would be exhausted and we’re going on Hour 20. Carys was also the script supervisor and assistant director so she would say ‘alright, let’s just stop. To go from this point on, we’ll just get bad stuff that we’re just going to end up going back and reshoot’; which was a valuable lesson that we learned on our first feature. So as much as it stinks to call it a day when you know we have more like 5 shots to go, we found it was much better just to wave the white flag, get some rest, recuperate and come back the next day and get those 5 shots. I mean, everything got in the way. We shot in the woods at a campsite that used to be a boys scout camp turned into this sort of full-on recreational event space. One day we were shooting, they were having a zombie paintball run, so all night we had to deal with people getting shot and zombies growling at each other and we’re trying to make this suspenseful scene with Danni in the woods all by herself. We had to deal with things like that. Tim’s apartment in real life is his apartment and he had a total lunatic of a neighbour beneath who, if we made the slightest sound, would come charging up the stairs, knocking on the doors and start yelling at us. She actually got evicted while we were shooting as she was so insane. That was one favour that the landlord did for us. But then shortly after he says, ‘by the way I need to demolish your entire apartment because we’re renovating the whole building and we say that we’re shooting and that it’s our primary location. He said, “Sorry but I can’t help you,” so we had to speed up our shooting. The bathroom was literally falling apart, the ceiling was falling down, the floor itself was beginning to sink and we were having, at certain times, 5 or 6 people in that bathroom. You could feel it wasn’t going to hold much longer. We got everything shot fortunately but that location no longer exists. It’s now very nice looking. It has marble countertops, brand new fixtures, and all that. Any shoots for a sequel would not happen there. It was also the only bathroom we had on set so when someone had to go we’d have to stop shooting, then they go, and we come back in which presented certain issues as well, I won’t get into that.

Was it really great to be shown at FrightFest? How did that feel for you?

That was a tremendous honour. I was floored that we got in and to be part of such a prestigious festival with the gigantic, awesome movies playing there and we’re a part of it. It was really an honour. We had a total blast there, saw some really awesome movies, met some really great people. Paul, Greg, Alan, and Ian were all really awesome guys who have been so supportive of the film. Now to be affiliated with the film on the FrightFest Presents label, being part of it, it’s really cool. It’s beyond our expectations or dreams.

Can you describe your film in three words?

Fun, weird, short!

What colour are your shower curtains?

What’s interesting about that is, we finished shooting the movie and then actually had to leave our apartment because [it] was moving to a new ownership. The new ownership was going to jack up the price. We thought ‘either we move out of our apartment to New York and a new apartment or we move to Hollywood and make it big’. So a day before we finished shooting, we then put all of our stuff in a U-Haul and a truck drove across the country to Los Angeles. We found a new apartment here in LA where we live now and this apartment has a shower with a glass sliding door so we don’t have shower curtains anymore. We’ve retired from shower curtains. After the movie, I had at least 30 shower curtains that we never ended up using in the movie and we ended up having the entire rainbow of shower curtains, which we then gave away at FrightFest with our logo on. Some people wanted them signed. But the very last shower curtain that we owned was a clear shower curtain.

What have you got coming up? What’s next for you?

Right now we are writing the next movie which is another high concept horror movie sticking with The Twilight Zone style of story-telling that we have with Curtain. This one is about a pizza boy, well he used to be, it’s 30 years later and he’s still doing the same job. It’s up in the Northern part of New York, upstate. He originally started this small pizza shop, really young at the time and seemed like this dynamo but 30 years later the business is struggling. He’ll do just about anything to keep it afloat. One night he gets a call saying, “For a thousand bucks, can you come to this really remote location in the middle of the mountains and deliver me this pizza?” The guy needs to money so he drives all the way up there –a 3 hour drive in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. He comes to this remote cabin, knocks on the door, and it’s this young millionaire jerk who’s got the world by the balls. He says, “Thanks for giving me this pizza. I really appreciate it. I can give you the thousand dollars or I can give you what’s in this box.” So our guy decides to take what’s in the box and it turns out to be the worst decision of his life.

– Daisy Edwards

CURTAIN comes to VOD and Digital HD from March 7 courtesy of FrightFest Presents