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.
Eli Roth on THANKSGIVING
Today we have a very, very special guest. Somebody who I've wanted to have on the show since I first started the show a few years ago. That is the legendary Eli Roth. We basically focused the conversation on Thanksgiving, his latest movie, which I highly recommend you go see. In any case, I figured I would give everybody a brief overview of the life and career of Eli Roth before getting to the interview.
Eli Roth was born in Newton, Massachusetts. His father was a psychologist, and his mother was an artist. He grew up on '80s horror and even had a horror-thriller theme to his Bar Mitzvah, where he got sawed in half. He went on to attend the NYU Tisch Film School, and he made what he called a Tarantino rip-off, a short called "Restaurant Dogs," which he spent about $10,000 on and used as a calling card to get his first feature made.
His first feature, of course, was Cabin Fever in 2003. So Cabin Fever was based on a real-life skin rash that he got while riding ponies on a farm in Iceland. Turns out it was ringworm, and he claims that when he was scratching his leg, entire pieces of skin were peeling off. He then went to shave his face, and it had affected his face too.
And as he tried to shave, entire swaths of skin came off of his face. Eli claimed that he essentially shaved off half of his face before realizing this is a perfect concept for a horror movie. He then went on to write the script, but it took six years for him to raise the $1.5 million budget, which he raised through private investments.
The movie went on the festival circuit, and Tarantino saw it and claimed it was the best new American movie. It was eventually bought by Lionsgate at the Toronto Film Festival in what was the festival's biggest sale and then went on to earn $35 million globally. Perhaps Eli Roth is best known for his breakout horror hit, Hostel.
This is my favorite Eli Roth movie. There's something about it that I find to be just timeless and ruthless but still a lot, a lot of fun. It mixes brutality with fun in equal measure and it gets really dark and really brutal and really scary, and you almost don't think you can handle it, but somehow you can.
Hostel was made for a budget of $4 million and opened number one at the box office opening weekend, eventually taking in $20 million in its first weekend and grossing $80 million worldwide at the box office. Eli turned down multiple studio directing jobs and took a directing salary of only $10,000 on Hostel to keep the budget as low as possible so there would be no limits set on the violence. In 2006, film critic David Edelstein in New York Magazine credited Eli Roth with creating the horror subgenre, "torture porn."
So when you think about it, the early 2000s was a pretty watershed time for horror. The '90s were relatively tame compared to the '80s. Of course, in the '90s you had Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but they paled in comparison to the buckets of gore that we saw with franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and even the Texas Chainsaw sequels that came out in the '80s.
However, the early 2000s led to the Splat Pack. This is a number of directors who were considered to contribute to a gleeful revival of gore being put back into movies, and Eli Roth was a big part of it. They include Eli Roth, Alexander Aja, Adam Green, Rob Zombie, and James Wan.
There were a few others, but these were the main guys credited as being part of the Splat Pack.
So to put this into chronological order, first came High Tension in 2003, which also kick-started French extremism. That was director Alexander Aja. And that movie is fantastic. I highly, highly recommend it.
Next came Rob Zombie's amazing House of a Thousand Corpses. I recently bought the Blu-ray, and I think I've bought this movie about five times now because I just cannot stop. In any case... Saw is what really kicked off torture porn in 2004 and essentially paved the way for Hostel, which came ou
Origin Stories LIQUID DEATH CEO & Co-Founder, Mike Cessario [Episode 108]
Mike Cessario is the CEO and Founder of Liquid Death, an outrageous new canned water brand with quality mountain water engineered to murder your thirst! Liquid Death has made a name for itself as an extremely disruptive force of marketing, and the brand's outlandish marketing stunts are as refreshing as the water itself.
To date, the brand has convinced 180,000 people to sell them their souls, has cursed its water with a real witch, and performed a reverse exorcism with an accredited warlock that allegedly put demons into the water. Customers who purchased during this time period were entitled to a coupon for $1 off any exorcism (yes, this is all for real). Recently, to further raise awareness of plastic pollution in the oceans, Liquid Death released a series of plush marine animal stuffed toys called Cutie Polluties that were bloodied and choked with plastic garbage. Additionally, as you can imagine, this is a brand whose unholy approach to marketing inspires a lot of controversy and hate, which is why Liquid Death took their favorite angry online comments and turned them into lyrics for their own death metal album.
Liquid Death also has a very compelling mission, which is to eradicate the overuse of plastic bottles. According to their website, the average aluminum can contains over 70% recycled material, whereby the average plastic bottle contains only 3%. Additionally, aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable, and of all the aluminum produced since 1888, over 75% of it is still in current use. Plastic, on the other hand, technically isn't even recyclable in the first place because it costs so much money to melt it down, sending most of it into landfills and into the ocean. The planet has been overrun by plastic pollution, and Liquid Death is here to do something about it, which is why 10% of profits from every can sold help kill plastic pollution.
Prior to founding Liquid Death, Mike worked in marketing with companies like Vayner Media and worked on multiple viral promotions for Netflix on series like "House of Cards," "Stranger Things," and "Narcos." The entrepreneurial origin story behind Liquid Death is extremely inspirational and a real testament to how putting passion, fun, and personality into a brand can make it into a formidable game-changer.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Mike Cessario.
Throw the rules away. The world of branding is silently governed by a list of archaic rules that dictate what you can and can't do - if you want a groundbreaking brand, it's time to stop playing by these rules. During his advertising years, Mike asked himself why products, specifically in CPG, had to play by these bland and boring 1950s rules, which entertainment brands were never at the mercy of. As a result, Liquid Death's marketing is brash, violent, occasionally foul-mouthed, and extremely controversial, but as a result, it has a rabid fan base because it's so fun and different. So whether you're starting a new brand or want to do something different with an existing one, consider throwing out the puritanical rule book that's been governing the world of CPG for decades and do something new.
Ideas don't sell. Proof sells. After coming up with the idea of Liquid Death, instead of running straight toward investors, Mike decided to prove the product's viability in a low-risk manner by producing a commercial for the product before it even existed. The commercial was completely insane, became instantly viral, and Mike set up a Facebook page to gauge interest and found that there was a serious amount of demand for his product. He was even pitched by stores like 7-11. Mike then took this data, made a pitch deck, and was off to the races with investors. Had Mike walked into a boardroom with the idea for a mountain water with unnecessarily aggressive branding called Liquid Death, he probably would have been laughed out of the room. But, by showing the serious interest in the product, he de-risk
THE OUTWATERS Director, Robbie Banfitch [Episode 107]
Welcome to the Nick Taylor Horror Show! As always, each episode of The Nick Taylor Horror Show explores how today's horror filmmakers are getting their movies made while deconstructing their methods and career strategies into practical insights that you can use on your own horror filmmaking journey. This includes their creative processes, funding resources, favorite books & tools, key life lessons, and much, much more.
In this episode, we're thrilled to welcome the innovative, resourceful, and determined filmmaker Robbie Banfitch. Robbie recently made an impressive debut with his first feature, 'The Outwaters.'
'The Outwaters' is a unique blend of survival horror and found footage with a touch of quantum horror. The film takes its audience on a terrifying journey into the heart of the Mojave Desert and straight to hell from there. Here, four travelers set up camp, initially to shoot a music video, but soon find themselves plunged into a harrowing, reality-bending nightmare. What begins as unexplained sounds, odd vibrations, and strange animal behavior soon morphs into a terrifying ordeal that challenges the very nature of their reality.
Not only did Robbie direct this film, but he also wrote it, starred in it, and financed it while working full-time for Greenpeace. All of this was achieved on a meager budget of just $7,000, proving that creativity and drive can outshine even the tightest of budgets.
The film premiered at the New Jersey Film Festival in 2022 and is now streaming on Screambox.
Without further ado, please enjoy this conversation with Robbie Banfitch.
Reflecting on our conversation with Robbie Banfitch, only one key takeaway stands out: if you want to be a filmmaker, there is simply no excuse not to make your movie.
Robbie's journey with 'The Outwaters' showcases this in its purest form. With a limited budget, he managed to create a feature film that didn't feel restricted by its financial constraints but instead used them to inform its very intentional style and narrative.
Horror is not just the most profitable genre—it's also the most adaptable. We've witnessed an explosion of creativity, with filmmakers exploiting simple technology to craft stories through Zoom calls, screen shares, and beyond. You're truly only limited by your imagination.
Our guests consistently reiterate this advice which is: look at what you have and just start filming. We're in an era where excuses are obsolete. And Robbie is a shining example of this spirit. He's not only made Outwaters but has gone on to shoot two more features. Regardless of what he has access to, he's a relentless creative force who actualizes his projects, offering a pretty serious lesson for all of us.
Robbie's journey reminds us to seize any and all opportunities and to start creating, regardless of our circumstances. As Robbie demonstrated, all it takes is a little ingenuity, tenacity, and a budget as low as $7,000. As I reflect on this conversation, it's clear that it's time I take this advice to heart myself, and I hope you listeners do too.
Until next time, stay spooky and keep creating.
Knight of Cups
Thank you for listening! Don't forget to subscribe.
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What Was That? Hanover Haunting Survivor & Grim Reaper Sighting (TRIGGER WARNING) [Bonus]
Today, we are moving away from our usual discussion about cinema and diving into uncharted waters. A while ago, I developed a podcast concept called 'What Was That?', where I explored the world of the paranormal. The series didn't come to full fruition (yet), but I've held onto two pilot episodes that are ready to be revealed.
The first episode tackles a true event known as The Hanover Haunting, one of the most intense examples of demonic activity in history. Be warned, this episode delves into some intense content, so listener discretion is advised along with a trigger warning that this episode mentions instances of child abuse.
The second episode centers on an individual's encounter with the Grim Reaper. This experience challenges our understanding of life, death, and the mysterious in-between.
As we explore these true accounts, keep this question in your mind: What Was That?
Hope you enjoy!
Produced by Simpler Media
MALUM Director Anthony DiBlasi [Episode 106]
Welcome to The Nick Taylor Horror Show! Today, we have a dynamic duo, Director Anthony DiBlasi, and his wife, actress Natalie Victoria, joining us.
After graduating from Emerson College and moving to Los Angeles, Anthony became a protégé of Clive Barker and worked alongside him on films like Midnight Meat Train and 2009's Book of Blood.
Anthony made his directorial debut with the psychological thriller Dread, based on a Clive Barker short story. One of Anthony's most acclaimed films was Last Shift, released by Magnolia Pictures in 2015. His filmography also includes the psychological thriller Extremity from 2018.
Now let's talk about Anthony's Wife, Natalie Victoria. Beginning her career in theater, Natalie has earned awards and recognition for her acting and writing. Natalie has acted in various features, short films, and stage plays, including the comedy "Deadheads," and the cult classic horror film Last Shift.
Natalie stars in Anthony's latest release Malum, which is actually a remake of Last Shift. The film follows a rookie police officer as she uncovers the eerie connection between her father's death and a vicious cult during her shift at a decommissioned police station. As the lone officer on duty, she finds herself in the midst of terrifying paranormal events while learning the shocking truth about her family's history with the cult.
In our conversation today, we discuss the importance of building trust with actors, crafting horror based on personal fears, and Anthony's 10 years working with Clive Barker. Here for your listening pleasure are Natalie Victoria and Anthony DiBlasi.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Anthony DiBlasi.
Make Hell a safe space.
I've talked with people at length about how horror can be substantially more demanding on actors because it requires the most intense emotions. For this reason, horror directors need to take particularly great care of their actors. Anthony mentioned that it's essential for directors to shield their actors from on-set turmoil, especially time constraints. By ensuring your actors are cocooned from such pressures, even at the cost of other departments, you provide them with the environment necessary for a stellar performance.
Forge an emotional connection to your actors.
Anthony also stressed the significance of establishing genuine emotional connections with your actors. It's the director's job to uncover the emotional truth that resonates with the actor for each scene. Rather than rudely prying them for emotionally intimate details of their life, Anthony stated that he would often reveal intimate and vulnerable details about himself and how he related to a scene to enable them to open up. Art often requires vulnerability; if you want your actors to go to dark places, you have to be willing to go there first.
Find out how your actors like to work. Further, Anthony and Natalie underlined the importance of understanding your actor's preferred way of working and direction style. Encourage them to share past directing experiences, both good and bad. Every actor is different, and tuning into their specific needs will mold you into a more versatile director.
Create a repository
When it came to the creation of Malum, Anthony revealed how various elements - dreams, sketches, vague concepts - had been incorporated into the film. Fortunately, his habit of consistently jotting down ideas, no matter how undeveloped, provided a wealth of material, or 'firewood' as David Lynch would say, all of which was at his disposal during the scriptwriting process. As a result, Anthony strongly encourages the use of note-taking apps (like Evernote and Notion), as they can be game changers. Amassing your thoughts over time can make facing that blank page far less daunting.
Thank you for listening! Don't forget to subscribe.
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SWALLOWED Director, Carter Smith [Episode 105]
Welcome to The Nick Taylor Horror Show! Carter Smith is a writer, director, and photographer who has directed movies such as The Ruins, Midnight Kiss, and, most recently, Swallowed.
Swallowed is an independent body horror film about two friends who find themselves swallowed up in a drug smuggling operation where they ingest drug-filled sacs and trigger a chain of horrific events.
This is my second interview with Carter, so if you're interested in his director origin story, including his work with Paramount and Blumhouse, you should definitely go check out episode 34.
In this interview, we cover the making of Swallowed, the benefits of working with a lower budget and smaller crew, and how to puppeteer monstrous worms. All this and so much more on the Nick Taylor Horror Show.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Carter.
Write what you can make on your own.
This is a recurring theme in these interviews. As both Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith did with their first movies, Carter took an inventory of everything he had access to and then built his script around that. This included a white van and a hunting lodge, both of which appeared in the movie. It's easy to write beyond your budget, but it's still important to maximize production value; everyone typically has access to something that can boost production value; a house, property, a friend with a boat, etc. Figure out yours and write a script around it.
Make your second first film.
Common advice or direction in the film industry has a lot of directors always trying to substantially increase their budget with every subsequent movie. It's what agents advise, but it can be creatively limiting and leave you in a desert for years. If you have a movie under your belt, doing one at a lower budget is not a step backward, so it shouldn't be for your ego (or your agents). Carter has done movies for Paramount and Blumhouse but was itching for a project and went for it with his own money. It's ballsy, for sure, but it's what artists do.
Write with the budget in mind.
With his budget so low, Carter surmised early on that he and his crew could shoot at a rate of 6 pages per day, so he structured his script entirely around this shooting schedule and made sure that each scene only lasted 6 or 12 pages so he could maximize locations and minimize company moves. As much as it may feel like you're stifling creativity, putting these guardrails in early in your creative process can save a substantial budget and, as Carter says, can actually be creatively liberating since limitations force creativity.
Low-budget movies mentioned:
- Horrible Way to Die
- Sun Don’t Shine
- Are we not Cats
- Always Shine
- Toad Road
- The Deeper you dig
- Blue Ruin
- She Dies Tomorrow
- Like Brothers by The Duplass Brothers
Thank you for listening! Don't forget to subscribe.
Produced by Simpler Media
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.