We’ve made things even bigger this year at Nitehawk’s second annual Shorts Festival, adding a new midnite screening of twisted, darker and challenging fair that’s appropriate for the hour. While the rest of the filmmakers participating in Shorts Fest will have their chance to shine at post-screening Q&A’s, the late night crowd won’t get the chance.
But! These guys deserve to be heard too, so we reached out to some of our Shorts Fest Midnite participants to talk about their projects, what to expect, and their favorite late night movie experiences.
Short: “The Grey Matter”
Filmmakers: Peter McCoubrey and Luke McCoubrey
1. How did your film come about?
My brother, co-director, and DP, Luke and I have worked on films together since our teens. As our professional career was just beginning some years ago we wanted to make a short film for our reel, which was mostly comprised of music videos at that point. So I went off and wrote a script very similar to what would eventually become “The Grey Matter.” It was a dark comedy about a guy waking up with a massive head wound who’s antagonized by a talking worm-like creature….
We figured that because the film is sort of on the weird side of things, the best way to showcase the look and tone would probably be to make a short. So I went back and essentially truncated the first act of our feature script into what became current version of “The Grey Matter.” Recently I went back and took a look at the old draft of the original short film from all those years ago and while plenty of it has changed, it’s kind of amazing to see how similar it still is in many ways.
2. What was your inspiration for this project?
We always talk about how unique the 1980s were for filmmaking in regards to totally crazy genre bending movies. Everyone knows the 70s as the golden era of the maverick director making timeless classics within the studio system. But in the aftermath of all that, the 80s would end up having it’s own golden era of weird high concept genre oddities that didn’t always take themselves too seriously. Some of the more well know films like An American Werewolf in London, Return of the Living Dead, The Fly, Brain Damage and Brazil all had level of influence over our film’s initial inception.
Maybe it has something to do with our formative ages during that decade, but we’ve always wanted to make something that honored the wild, inventive, and playful spirit of those films without being just some disposable nostalgic throwback. That’s the main inspiration behind both the use of practical creature/make-up FX as well as the film’s overall tone – one that we hope makes the audience feel uneasy one moment and laughing the next.
3. What’s the best story from your shoot?
There’s a scene in the film where Simon, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, pulls the maggot-like creature, Brian, out of his head wound. Originally, we wanted to have him pull a real maggot out of his head and then later in the film the creature would be portrayed as it is now — [a combination animatronic puppet with CGI facial features]… On the day we shot the scene, I was under the assumption that Ebon somehow already knew we were going to be shooting with live worms, but I could tell by the look on his face that he was less than thrilled with the idea…
On the first take the worm didn’t move at all, it might as well been a rubber fishing lure, nobody said anything but the dead air in the room said it all… we needed another take. We checked on all the worms and picked another that seemed more lively. Same thing. Finally, we decided we’d do one more, and if the worm didn’t perform we’d just have to live with it… On the third take, to everyone’s relief, the worm was Daniel Day Lewis, wiggling all over Ebon’s fingers like it wanted an Oscar.
Months later in the edit, we realized that the leap from real worm to animatronic creature just wasn’t working. So, after all that, we had to… replace the real maggot with a CG one. We are big fans of shooting practical effects whenever possible, but sometimes you have to be thankful for the CGI artists who swoop in at the final moments and save the film… and your ass.
4. What’s next for you? Do you have anything you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
We have a feature length version of “The Grey Matter” that’s currently in the early stages of being set up… We’re really excited with where the story takes things in the feature version. Obviously it’s going to be bigger, badder, weirder, and funnier than the short, but we also feel it weaves classic genre elements into a new narrative realm that we haven’t really seen before.
5. What’s your favorite midnite movie experience?
Typically I’d say we go to midnight movies to re-experience a film we know and love with an audience, so I’m gonna go with a time that we got to see a movie I had always heard about but was never been able to track down on home video.
The film was Forbidden Zone directed by Richard Elfman (Danny’s brother) and we were fortunate enough to see it for the first time as a newly restored 35mm print… For years it was one of those films that was nearly impossible to come by, unless a friend of a friend happened to have an old VHS dub of it… I’ve heard it referred to as a new wave Rocky Horror Picture Show and it’s also the first film that Danny Elfman scored…
We were with some friends who had seen it before, it was a sold out show, and Richard Elfman was in attendance so it ended up being the perfect introduction to the film and a fantastic night overall. That’s what’s great about midnight screenings in general, you always know you’re going to see a film that has had a huge impact on a certain subset of fans, and those fans are in attendance in the theater seats all around you creating a spectacular energy – providing you don’t fall asleep because of the late hour.