Your work has spanned through anthologies, short films as well as features including the thriller “Gut” which has left a dark mark on many! You are a producer, writer, director and promoter on the up and coming very personal feature “Ayla” and currently you are also a producer and co-writer on the Nick Basile directed “Dark” based on the 2003 New York City black outs. With “Dark” out on June 7th both on VOD and DVD, this is a busy time for you! Thank you Elias for taking the time out to speak with me about “Dark” and much more!
My pleasure, Jay! Thanks for the invitation!
1. How much does the people, architecture, community and pulse of New York City influence your work on every level of film?
Aesthetically New York was a big influence on me for many years because I lived there of course. In terms of how it influenced other aspects of filmmaking, that’s tough to say. I cut my teeth in New York for sure — at school and as a young adult. It definitely provided a stomping ground and an injection of energy into our collaborations that is probably pretty unique to that city, but New York especially is a reflection of its occupants – it doesn’t so much mold us as we mold it. When I started college there in “97” it was already starting to shift from Gothamesque and gritty to more gentrified and condo-occupied. I lived in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan while I was there and it was the first place I really called home after I’d left my childhood ones behind.
2. “Gut,” I believe established you as a filmmaker and gave you a path to have films like the personal “Ayla” made as well as bringing on incredible masters of horror like Joe Dante to “Dark”. Next year will be five years since “Gut’s” official release, reflect on that time and journey as “Dark” is released?
“Gut” definitely laid a lot of groundwork for me. I’m still proud of it, with all its early warts and imperfections. I think its audience will only grow as I make other films and there’s something really nice about that thought. It’s a story that’s very near and dear to me and even now seems to sometimes reflect my own journey through life in an eerily prophetic way. There were plans for two more films, not traditional sequels exactly, but a continuation of some of the themes and ideas from the original with new elements and characters. Kind of along the lines of what Nicolas Winding Refn did with the “Pusher” sequels in that they’re not really sequels in the traditional sense.
3. For the film “Dark”, you are basing the story, mood, locations and characters off of events that truly happened in New York City during the 2003 blackouts. Was it difficult for you and director Nick Basile to craft the story from the reality of that ordeal and weave the fantasy with horror elements that some people compare to Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion”? How much of your personal experiences in the city was reflected?
Nick and I have known each other since we first met at SVA in ’97’ and we often chat on the phone late at night. Once we decided to collaborate on “Dark” it progressed really quickly. Fastest first draft I’ve ever turned out. I was living in New York when the blackout happened and it was a relatively peaceful 48hrs or so as I remember, but when the power first went out it was very unsettling and you could feel the fear and worry in the air that it was something more than a blackout. I put a lot of my own memories of the outage in there and Nick’s as well. I lived in New York for over 10 years and a lot of my experiences during that time are in there, often with some creative license taken in adapting, but just as often it’s eerily close to moments from my own life. Emotionally a lot of what the main character Kate goes sometimes paralleled my own state of mind both growing up in New York and Virginia Beach.
4. What was it like to have Joe Dante jump on board as an executive producer? What was his insight into the production and it did change the path for the film?
I love Joe. Collaborating with him on “Dark” has been wonderful. He gave us great input and continues to help us bring more attention to the film. I still sometimes can’t believe that we worked together on the project – I mean the guy’s movies were a part of my childhood and a huge inspiration. It’s a surreal and very humbling thing to be able to collaborate with someone like that.
5. What has the partnership on this project with Nick Basile meant to you?
Nick’s one of my oldest friends. We’re incredibly blunt with one another about everything and we have often very different sensibilities, but being able to be so honest with each other for year after year has only made us better friends and collaborators I think. We’re also both very stubborn bastards and that’s something you kind of need to keep going in this business, that and a whole host of other things of course.
6. “Dark” features a smaller cast with very talented and experienced names that brought each of the characters to life. Talk about that casting and especially Whitney Able who we had a chance to talk to face to face and both of us were so impressed by the connection she had for the character of Kate?
Nick knew very earl that he wanted to work with Whitney on the project. He saw her in ”Monsters” and was really impressed and her performance in that film really stood out to me as well. That was pretty much it. Our casting director reached out. Nick and Whitney talked about the project over Skype and everything just clicked. I met her for the first time in New York when she was visiting for a film festival. We all sat in a fittingly “dark” restaurant in the lower east side and just talked character mostly. Whitney passed the script onto Alex and pretty soon after that we had our Leah as well. Making movies is always about movement and keeping momentum and Whitney contributed a lot to that process. I’m really happy to see her getting so many positive reviews for the film, she gave it her all every day and we’re so grateful for that.
7. The story of “Dark” focuses on the paranoia, insecurity and fear that character of Kate goes through during the blackouts. Can you talk to me about the transition from writing to filming to post and how you were able to make this character of Kate fully blossom with the fear, dread and paranoia?
I can’t speak to much on these transitions unfortunately as I wasn’t living in New York during production, having transplanted to LA back in 2012, but Nick and I talked regularly, as we always do, and bounced a lot ideas back and forth during all the stages of production. Nick and Whitney worked very closely on Kate’s character arc in the film and there was always room for improvisation and new ideas, which is great. The progressions of fear, dread paranoia, etc are also helped a great deal by Nick’s vision for the film our DP Trent’s natural lighting and shooting style and all the work done in post on the film by Aaron, Neil and Ken.
8. What was it like shooting in actually locations within New York City including the apartment building, loft, local business and more?
Can I defer to Nick on this one? I wasn’t there of course, but I understood it was very challenging and that matches up with my experiences shooting on location as well. You get great production value, but it’s a lot of work to navigate locations and they rarely come without their hiccups, but they usually work so well it’s worth the strife.
9. How has the funding aspect been for these films? How much did the fan funding support mean to you and the production?
Funding was challenging – it nearly always is for independent films. Raising our budget partially on Kickstarter and the fanbase we began building during that process was huge for us. Without it I don’t think the film would have been made. Crowdfunding can give projects that often struggle to find their start a foothold and a real chance to take off and have an impact.
10. Before you head off, how is “Ayla” going? Where is it at and how where can we find more about “Dark” and “Ayla”?
I’m in the midst of editing “Ayla” right now. It’s turning out really well and about as close to what I saw in my head when I wrote the script as I could hope for. Our team did beautiful work on this and I’m so grateful for everyone blood and sweat on this one – and there was a lot of sweat. You can keep up with
Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat, Jay, and for being so supportive of our work over the years.
My honor and my pleasure as always Elias! Look forward to the next project from your twisted and creative mind. Watch the trailer for “Dark”
(Images come from Google)
You can follow Jay @HorrorHappensRS