Exploring the techniques, strategies, and key pieces of advice for aspiring horror directors, straight from the minds of some of the greatest filmmakers and creators in horror. Host Nick Taylor engages in one-on-one conversations with directors, producers, writers, actors and artists to uncover the keys to their creative and professional success in the horror business.
Prolific Producer, DJ Dodd
DJ Dodd is a Philadelphia-based producer of over 20 feature films and has also produced and developed television content for many major cable networks including Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Food Network, Travel Channel, Nat Geo, History Channel, and Bloomberg, among others.
In this wide-ranging conversation, we get into DJ's backstory, his mentorship relationship with David Foster, his approach to casting major celebrities, and insights on how he's able to manage such an enormous amount of projects. Tons of insights here, DJ really is a guy who walks the walk as far as Producing and hustling, and I was super inspired speaking with him and think you will be as well. Without further ado, here is DJ Dodd.
Here are some key takeaways from this interview.
Overshoot with casting. When casting a movie, DJ always aims for the moon and attempts to cast actors way outside of the project's league. Though he doesn't always get them, sometimes he does. For this reason, DJ prefers to avoid casting directors, citing that many of them are too cautious and "realistic." DJ has no problem reaching out to megawatt celebrities himself and, as a result, has had many pleasant surprises leading him to have worked with a number of major actors, including Ethan Hawke, John Cusack, John Malkovich, David Spade, Emile Hirsch, Jessica Lange, Shirley MacLaine, Demi Moore, Bruce Dern, James Earl Jones, Sharon Stone, Jeremy Piven, Courteney Cox, Christina Ricci, Mira Sorvino, Selma Blair, Taye Diggs, and George Lopez to name a few. PS, if you are looking for a casting agent who's not afraid to shoot for the moon with you, reach out to David Guglielmo at Blood Oath - that's David Guglielmo.
Producers solve problems. A lot of people asks what a Producer does, and in addition to the myriad of responsibilities, they basically oversee the big picture of the project and bring the many pieces together while ensuring everything moves forward on time and on budget. All of that, AND they solve problems. DJ tells many stories about how Producers need to be the ones who solve problems as they arise on set. This ability to think on your feet is critical to producing as problems will inevitably arise on set, and you'll need a sense of cunning ingenuity to solve and push through them. For more on this, check out the life stories of both Jerry Weintraub and Shep Gordon. Both of these guys have wonderful documentaries about them and autobiographies - I recommend reading and watching both as they're masterclasses in producing. I actually had Shep Gordon on this show and highly recommend that episode.
Don’t wait to be discovered - bang on doors. A lot of would-be producers and filmmakers wait to be discovered - this is waiting in vain. At the beginning of his career, DJ spent all of his free time hustling, from cold emailing producers, packaging hypothetical projects, building his network, and pitching his ass off, all the time. The game of numbers ultimately worked in his favor, and he got his foot in the door, and after fortifying his mettle on movie after movie, he has since Produced over 20 projects all because he never stopped seeking out and actively pushing opportunities forward. Had he waited to be discovered, he'd still be waiting.
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SEE FOR ME Director, Randall Okita
Randall Okita is a Japanese Canadian director and artist. His latest movie is the new IFC Midnight thriller, See for Me. See for Me is about a young blind woman, house-sitting at a secluded mansion, who finds herself under invasion by thieves seeking a hidden safe. Her only means of defense is a new app called “See For Me” that connects her to a volunteer across the country who helps her survive by seeing on her behalf through her phone. See for Me is now available on-demand and super entertaining, beautifully directed, and of the many fantastic performances, features one of my personal favorite actors of all time, Kim Coates. Really enjoyed this interview with Randall; we got into the making of See for Me, his director origin story, and as always, his advice for aspiring filmmakers. Now without further ado, here is See for Me Director, Randall Okita.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Randall.
Communicate with Music. One of the ways that Randall is able to articulate the tone and trajectory of specific scenes is by selecting songs and pieces of music indicative of what he has in his head. So many elements of cinema are nuanced to the point where they're hard to communicate with words. Sometimes you need another medium to convey the intangible details of your vision and music can be a great tool for this because it evokes very specific feelings. Randall uses music during the planning, filming, and editing of his movies and even plays certain tracks for actors to inform their performances.
Find people at the right time. Randall is one of those directors who were able to get extremely high production value and excellent performances from a relatively low budget. Randall cites that a key to doing this well is finding people at certain moments in their career when they're in a position to extend themselves. This is a matter of finding people at JUST THE RIGHT MOMENT when their career is about to take off when your project can offer them a stepping stone to get to where they want to be. This is a great way to give people killer opportunities while also increasing the production value of your own film on a budget. Part of this is hiring people based on ability as opposed to experience, and it definitely has its risks, but when it works, it can be a great exchange.
Cast relevantly. The protagonist of See for Me is a young blind woman, and Randall made sure that he cast someone who was actually visually impaired to play the role - this choice made all the difference. Even though it's a hot topic, casting for relevance isn't necessarily even a matter of social good as much as it's a means to bring real authenticity to your performances and, therefore, deeper realism to your movie. As a result of personal experience with becoming blind in adulthood, lead actor Skyler Davenport brought a level of reality to the role and was able to channel actual experiences. This extended beyond the performance and into many other choices made on the film that were directly informed by Skyler's true-life experience, all of which served the movie's realism.
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WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW Writer, Director & Actor, Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings is an American actor and filmmaker. He started his career in 2016 with the short film Thunder Road, which he extended into a 2018 feature film of the same name. You probably know him best for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, which he wrote, directed, and starred in. Wolf of Snow Hollow was one of my favorite films of 2020 and was the last performance of the dearly departed Robert Forster.
Jim's latest movie is The Beta Test, a dark comedy thriller about a hapless young man who unwillingly makes a sex pact and is thrown into a dark underworld of intrigue. Beta Test is super intriguing and surprisingly funny. Jim carries the entire movie hilariously, no pun intended, reminds me of a young Jim Carrey. He's a super interesting recent addition to the horror world, and I can't wait to see what he does next.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Jim Cummings.
Keep hustling. Jim wrote his first film, the short for THUNDER ROAD, on the commute to his job, and it got into Sundance and won. A lot of would-be filmmakers somehow feel the need to do something extreme, like quit their job before they give themselves the permission and validation to embark on their movie-making career. This isn't always viable or sustainable, and there are many cases of filmmakers with day jobs who get their first movies made while they're doing something else, and that's ok. What matters is that you're consistently pursuing it. There's a metaphor about two trains, where you're on one train that represents your current job, and adjacent to you is the train that you'd rather be on, representing your real passion. The more fuel you shovel into that other train, the faster it will catch up to the train you're on, and once it does, you'll know when to jump.
Number 2, a natural extension after number 1, even when you get signed, still, KEEP HUSTLING! After Jim's short won at Sundance, he got signed at the very prestigious agency WME - it seemed he had arrived, but after doing a waterbottle tour all over Hollywood, talking to many producers and studios, he had no offers. Unfortunately, this is the rule and not the exception for many directors who are signed, even to major agencies - you can enter a desert and waste years at a time just sitting on your hands waiting for your agency to bring you something. I've heard of this happening to more filmmakers than I'd care to admit. Once you're signed, it's critical that you keep that indie spirit going and get your projects made. Typically agencies make a cut of the total budget of a project, so they're usually less interested in pursuing smaller budgeted indies; that's ok; you don't always need them. Despite being signed with WME, Jim bootstrapped, kickstarted, and then equity-funded his first feature, cobbling together about $200k. Only after making that movie did Hollywood really come knocking, and he was able to make Wolf of Snow Hollow for a couple million dollars. The lesson here is to never rest on your laurels and to keep pushing your movies forward with or without your agency.
Find a way to pre-visualize pre-experience the tone and trajectory of your movie. Jim and his writing partner PJ do a fascinating thing with their scripts prior to shooting - they will perform the entire script, record it, score it then listen to it to see where the lulls are and what could be better. This is pretty brilliant as a way to kick the tires on your own material because sometimes you need to hear the material performed, or even perform it yourself, to know what it needs to work. Sometimes he'll rent a cabin with his friends and make an event out of it. When you're deep in the trenches of your screenplay, you'll likely get tired of reading & re-reading the same material and lose objectivity - instead, find a way to bring it to a new platform. This can counter your screenplay fatigue while bringing a whole new perspective to your project. Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscri
FRIED BARRY Director, Ryan Kruger
Ryan Kruger is a South African writer and director who burst on the scene last year with his feature debut Fried Barry. Fried Barry is completely bonkers in the most wonderful way. It's about a drug-addled man in Johannesburg who gets abducted by aliens. The aliens take full control of his body and we watch the title character Barry go through one insane drug-fueled and blood-soaked adventure after another under their control. It's a blast and was featured on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs (which is unarguably the best way to watch it). This movie is one of the most original films to come out of horror in recent years which is why I was so excited to speak to Ryan. He has a lot to say on the topic of originality, true indie filmmaking, and how to market your projects. Without further ado here is Fried Barry Director, Ryan Kruger.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Ryan Kruger:
You don’t have to film in a straight line. Instead of production taking place through a designated timeline, Fried Barry was filmed on and off over the course of a few years. Sometimes, this is what you have to do for budgetary and scheduling purposes and there's nothing wrong with that. Even if you don't have your movie fully funded, start filming it. Investors are way more likely to jump on board once the train has left the station and they see that you're making tangible progress. See my conversation with William Lustig for more on this. If your production needs to start and stop, so be it, but make sure your cast and crew is aware of this and down for the ride, if only for continuity purposes. The other benefit of filming in stops and starts is it allows you as a director to evaluate your movie more deeply than you could have by just reviewing dailies at the end of a shoot day. Instead, as was the case of Ryan, he was able to sit with what he'd filmed for months at a time, and ruminate over it so he could make adjustments as he moved forward. Become a master marketer. Some filmmakers think that a movie's success will be based on its quality and merit. While both those things are critically important, your movie won't have an impact if people don't see it - therefore, you need to have a marketing plan and learn to promote the shit out of your film. This was something that Ryan was naturally very good at from the beginning. When promoting Fried Barry, he didn't do so through marketing traditional channels like media, interviews, etc. Instead, Ryan did off the wall things like making Fried Barry condoms and a relentless series of memes that featured the main character so that he could build recognition of his face on the internet. Traditional marketing channels for films are crowded and often leave you fighting for scraps of attention. Even if you can get your indie movie mentioned on Deadline, it'll soon be buried with news of higher budgeted projects and lost in obscurity. Instead, you need to come up with intelligent, creative, and disruptive marketing ideas that people will talk about. Listen to my interview with Shep Gordon for more of this, or just watch his incredible documentary Supermensch. Make polarizing work. Love it or hate it, Fried Barry cannot be ignored. It is so over the top and such a specific, hyper-individual vision that only Ryan could have made. These kinds of movies can be difficult to get approved, but they're a surefire way to get people oriented with your sensibility as a director - see Greasy Strangler for more on this. As Quentin Tarantino said, and I'm definitely paraphrasing, you should only make the kinds of movies that you were born to make, movies that only you would be capable of making instead of things that could be easily be done by someone else. Thank you for listening! Don't forget to subscribe.
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1922 and RATTLESNAKE Director, Zak Hilditch
Zak Hilditch is an Australian writer and director primarily known for the Netflix hits, Rattlesnake, and 1922, based on the Stephen King novella. Zak's earlier films include Transmission and These Final Hours. Zak is a very exciting director and has a very inspiring origin story, along with some great advice for pitching producers. I took a lot of notes from this conversation and hope you enjoy it.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Zak Hilditch.
Make your feature 8 shorts in rapid succession. Hopefully, by now, you've read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story by Robert Mckee, and maybe even the Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Cambell. They all feature multiple formulas, etc., but one of the simplest, arguably most elegant ways to approach a feature screenplay is to make 8 12-minute shorts. For a movie to have compelling beats, every twelve minutes should feature a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end to keep things consistently interesting. Hitchcock was known for doing this; for another example, pay close attention to The Others. Yes, this is formulaic, and yes, it's important to be original, but it's an interesting concept to observe because sometimes you need to know the rules to break them. Prep for your water bottle tour. First of all, a water bottle tour is when typically, your agent or manager sets you up with back to back to back meetings with producers so you can pitch them on yourself and your projects all at once. Each office along the way usually gives you a bottle of water while you wait hence the name, water bottle tour. If you get the chance to do a water bottle tour, make sure to have a full stable of ideas and concepts to pitch everyone you meet. Sometimes these meetings are in the context of a specific project, but this is not the way to approach water bottle tours. Yes, arrive prepared to pitch that project, but know that they may pass on it, in which case, you need backup concepts in your arsenal to tell them about. Having multiple projects enables you to pitch your sensibility as a director because there's always a chance they like you and your taste, but that one project isn't right for them. Having multiple projects makes you way more likely to get a deal since not only do they have more options to choose from as producers, but you get to showcase your sensibility in a much deeper way so that when a project comes across their desk that you're right for, they're more likely to think about you. On water bottle tours, producers meet so many people that they cannot remember most of them, so you need to leave a strong impression of yourself, your work, what you're capable of, and the kind of stuff you want to do. Keep multiple irons in the fire. This point is a natural extension to the previous one and further speaks to the importance of developing multiple projects at once. This is a paradox to the importance of focus, but the name of the game is being versatile and multi-faceted and having multiple things you're pitching at all times because you never know which one will hit or when. Zack spent years pitching one of his projects with little to no interest; meanwhile, his concept for Rattlesnake was instantly greenlit by Netflix. Hollywood is a fickle beast this way, without rhyme, reason, or logic sometimes, and it can drive you insane if you're not prepared for it. The film industry is a current, and rather than fight it; you need to learn to surf it. So get those screenplays ready, and I'll see you in Hollywood! -----
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HORRORPOPS Frontwoman, Patricia Day
Welcome to the Nick Taylor Horror Show. Patricia Day is the lead singer and standup bass player for the HorrorPops, a Danish punk band with a sound rooted in psychobilly, rockabilly, and punk rock with a horror-centric edge. I am a huge fan of HorrorPops and have been for over 15 years. My personal favorite songs are Psycho Beach, Where they Wander, Walk Like a Zombie, and Dotted With Hearts. Their sound is so cool and so much fun. They intertwine horror with 50's rockabilly with a tongue-in-cheek vibe, and I just love them. If you dig the Nekromantix, Misfits, or any horror-centric band, definitely check them out.
The HorrorPops recently released their first album in over 12 years with Live at the Wiltern, a dual album and DVD that features a 68-minute concert film. As a longtime fan, I've been super excited to see the Horrorpops getting back in action. In this conversation, Patricia and I get into favorite music, what's next for the Horrorpops & her songwriting process on this episode of the Nick Taylor Horror Show. Now without further ado, here is Horrorpops frontwoman, the wonderful Patricia Day.
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Really good episode with David Prior!
Always informative and interesting
Nick always has interesting guests and asks great questions leading discussions in ways that even the most seasoned fan will get some new insight out of. Highly recommended listening.
Great dialogue and format
Nick hosts an amazing discussion that speaks primarily to a horror community, but is truly rich dialogue for artists in general, whatever the format. I think there is an ongoing theme of artistic process, or maybe just defining a plan, then doing that plan. I’m always inspired by these episodes, and Nick is a fantastic interviewer. He clearly does his homework, and has an infectious reverence for his guests. Thanks for making great content Nick.