Stanley Film Festival 2015 Interview: The Minds Behind SpectreVision
Winners of the Stanley Film Festival's 2014 Visionary Award, production company SpectreVision blazed back into Estes Park, CO, to present a new cut of their feral child horror-comedy, Cooties. (The film originally debuted at Sundance 2014. Read Todd's original review here and my review of the new, Lionsgate-approved cut here.) I spoke with SpectreVision principles (pictured left-to-right) Josh C. Waller, Daniel Noah, and Elijah Wood about the stories they're bringing to the screen, including upcoming projects.
ScreenAnarchy: What drew you to COOTIES?
Elijah Wood: Firstly, I love ScreenAnarchy! But to answer your question, it was an internal idea of our partner Josh, wherein prepubescent children are infected with a virus that turns them into savages. We lost our minds with the notion that no one had ever made a film in the '70s or '80s called Cooties. This got communicated via a friend to Leigh Whannell.
Josh C. Waller: That same friend also introduced us to each other---Ryan Farhoudi.
Wood: Anyway, it was communicated to Leigh and he jumped at the chance to write it for us.
Daniel Noah: We were fuckin' thrilled.
Waller: We couldn't believe it.
As a production company, how do you set yourselves apart from other indie houses?
Noah: We always look for properties that are unique. That's the first thing we evaluate: is anyone else making this type of movie? If the answer is yes, we usually won't do it, just because we started this whole thing to help movies get made that probably wouldn't exist otherwise. For example, if we get a really great haunted house script, our feeling is that Jason Blum is doing this so brilliantly, that we don't need to contribute to this sub-genre, so we pass on it. But when we get a movie like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, no one is making this movie. So we try and throw whatever resources or weight we have behind it to help it exist.
Do each of you specialize in different roles at SpectreVision, or do you all work on everything collaboratively?
Wood: A bit of both.
Waller: In the broader sense, the types of projects that we venture into, that's the three of us completely, and everything that we do is a unanimous decision, period. In terms of the workload, which has been growing for the past few years, Elijah oversees the creative integrity of the entire ship. Daniel heads up development, and I head up the physical production side of things. I'm never around, I'm always on set, calling them and weeping.
Do you have a general strategy for the films you produce or is there more of a holistic approach to each individual project?
Wood: It's holistic. We're always to looking to serve each piece of each individual film, and it's different every time.
Waller: In the independent space which we still currently live in, when it's in the early stages and you're looking to finance the film---unless you're lucky enough to have some gigantic, millions-of-dollars film fund---it's going to happen pretty differently every single time. You're gonna get money from this person or borrow against this, or get money from some dentist in Idaho or whatever it's going to be. The same applies to production. I think that as we grow, we're looking to to find something a little more structured as we finance the films. Also on the production side of things, so that the approach that we take to each one, and it's going to be a similar approach to each one in terms of the infrastructure and production elements. but the creative elements are always going to be different, and it's going to be flexible to support those creative elements.
You produce very creative, different stories, but do you go into each project with an eye on what works for both domestic and foreign markets?
Noah: When we started SpectreVision, we made certain promises to each other about things that we always do and would never do. One of those things that we promised we would ALWAYS do was to have a "heart response" first to a piece of material. To never have a mandate when we're producing. We have a piece of material. If it moves us, just as people who love films, we figure out economically from a production standpoint, where it will live in the marketplace. If we were thinking about those markets, we never would have gotten involved with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night or The Boy. These are movies, on paper, that don't look commercial. Not every film has to reach four quadrants. Not every film has to be The Avengers. One is enough if it's a small enough budget, Cooties and The Boy premiering at the same time is really funny, because they both represent such opposite ends of the spectrum. They're both child horror. One's a very heightened horror comedy, and the other is an extremely grounded psychological study. At no point did we say that we wanted to make two child horror films, they were just films we responded to, and we figured out how to make them work.
Have you considered branching out into documentaries or are you sticking with narrative films?
Waller: We HAVE discussed branching out into documentaries.
Wood: It's harder because all three of us love docs.
Waller: What we don't want to do is make a documentary about horror films.
Wood: It's so well covered. There are people doing it that are doing a great job.
Noah: The Nightmare is a great example of something we would have been excited to have been involved with. But since the beginning, we've had a very clear, long-term plan for SpectreVision. Phase one has been establishing our identity in this space and we're getting close to having achieved that. We're getting ready to grow into other realms of the entertainment industry.
Can you share any of your future plans?
Waller: We think humanity will start colonizing other planets, and those markets are really untapped. No, we're still trying to figure out what we're doing, and that will be in the next couple of months.
Noah: We'll be curbing our enthusiasm and ambition with our newly appointed COO, Lisa Whalen, who will help us get to those next levels in a really efficient way.
Wood: You just sucked the air out of everything!!
Waller: When you said that, all I could picture was Dignan (played by Owen Wilson) in Bottle Rocket: "50-year plan, looking ahead!"
Wood: That movie is one of my favorites of all time.
Waller: (imitating a crow) "Ca-KAW, Ca-KAW!"
Wood: It's one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies.
All right guys, our time is up but thanks for talking to us.
Waller: Aw, you're getting the boot already?
Noah: Thank you!
Wood: Thank you so much! It was great to see you again!