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Less is More – A Minimalist Approach to a Short Genre Film

I’m a daydreamer. Always have been. It’s gotten me into trouble a few times and I’ve been told to ‘get my head out the clouds’ more times than I care to think about. A few years ago I decided it was probably smart to try and control the tangential nature of my imagination and attempt to do something I’d always wanted to do: make a film.

I remember watching late night TV when I was about ten years old (I never had a TV in my bedroom so sneaking around at night became a nurturing skill) and earning my first film badge by catching a glimpse of ‘Pulp Fiction’. The sight of Bruce Willis, bloodied and beaten, punching a gimp in the face in the basement of a sadistic pawnshop laid the foundations for my morbid taste and curiosity that has continued to shape my imagination. It remains arguably my favorite scene in the history of cinema, followed closely by the always-awesome bank robbery scene from Heat (see also: the ‘Sloth’ murder scene from Seven), and I still go back and re-watch it anytime I need a creative ‘punch’ in the face myself.

From there a love of hard-genre films took hold. It seems to be a natural evolution that my first forays into filmmaking all had one thing in common: they all had a distinct genre-focus.

And right now in 2017 it’s a great time for genre films. Niche is making a comeback. It’s a welcome reemergence (How many times am I going to write the word ‘genre’?).

The more popular showcase however: short film. It’s probably what really motivated me, discovering and watching great (often times downright brilliant) short films online, to actually put finger to keyboard and begin writing short screenplays and giving my meandering and unfocused ideas a distinct direction.

‘Spread’ is in many ways the first amalgamation of any sort of real direction I’ve managed to properly apply to a short film; my previous efforts were practice swings with interesting results. Good and bad. I still hadn’t felt totally comfortable with my subject matter.

The dark side of social media is an interesting subject. It has almost endless possibilities in terms of making a short genre film. Dating apps are a minefield and, good stories aside, the horror stories are the best to hear about. In homage to some of my favorite horror films (looking at you The Thing, and you The Fly) and my own small (massive!) hypochondria, I wanted to do something with body horror and sex. In the sign o’ the times it seemed like all roads led to hook-up apps.

In terms of the body horror, earlier drafts of the script had this to a more extreme length but ultimately the final film captured this aspect, for me, better than I could have done it with excessive gore. I’m always trying to narrow things down and simplify when I’m writing and the same rules apply it seems to my filmmaking. Besides, the time constraints of a short film allow what I can only describe as ‘the one big reveal’, as oppose to the many little plot devices and twists and turns that accompany the nature of a feature length.

The big reveal in this case: the last shot.

It was also the first shot we filmed as it took the longest and was the most complex in its preparation. I’m sure if you asked Sandra, the lead of the film, she would say it was also the most uncomfortable to shoot. Six hours of makeup for a thirty second shot. Watching Vladimir airbrush the face of a monster we had conceptualized and created was the first time I truly felt like a filmmaker. Using practical makeup effects instead of CGI was something that is very important to me when it comes to horror so getting the results I wanted in this regard gave me an underlying feeling that we had something on our hands with this film.

It was, in it’s design, a very low-key and minimalistic production and narrative, straight from the idea that less is more, and through this the approach to its filming followed suit. We shot the whole film in just two days over a warm and sticky weekend at the end of May and used natural lighting almost entirely. The dark-colors of the film mixed with the nightlights of Montreal provided a nice palette for a horror film to unfold and this is all down to the brilliant work and eye of cinematographer Marek Bagga, a partner in crime who has followed me onto my next (and ongoing) project. Because of the smash and grab nature of the shoot, which included shooting on the wooded Mt Royal mountain in the center of the city in the dead of night, mostly every shot was done with minimal takes (something I try to stick to always) and with neat and stable camera angles.

We got the luck when filming; the weather cooperated, the locations were sparse enough for us to take complete control over and the actors really brought their A-games. The post-production process was more of a challenge. The extensive sound work and soundtrack provided by Daniel Marquez has frequently been highlighted at festivals and as such is as much a part of the experience as the visuals. Due to some mishaps made with sound when filming (busy and overly saturated nighttime ambience infiltrated most of the outdoor scenes) a lot of the sound work was done entirely from scratch.

Ultimately, there was a moment, at the end of the post-production process, that I knew that this was a worthy ‘waste of time’. The seed implanted the moment I had seen Zed raping Marcellus Wallace over a pummel-horse was finally a small weed. I had made a film that I considered to be a fair representation of my idea, made much better than I could have imagined by the efforts of those who worked with me. They made me look better.

The film isn’t perfect. Short of an ice-cold beer on a hot summers day, nothing ever is. The writing could be better, my shot selection could have been improved, I could have done more takes in the outdoor shots; but for what it is, a small genre film that ropes in monster folklore and vampires and dating apps, it does its job.

With screenings at genre-king Fantasia Film Festival, the main target for this film, among others, it is ultimately a successful endeavor and one that has, instead of quenching my filmmaking thirst, simply worsened it.

I need to get back on set.

I need to make more.

The gimp is no longer sleeping.

Written by Samuel E. Mac, Director of "Spread".

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