Balancing comedy and tension is a fine art. To keep an audience gripped whilst simultaneously making them laugh may seem counterintuitive but the results have constituted some of the most compelling scenes in horror history. Think back to the opening scene of Wes Craven’s Scream with Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker answering that fatal phone-call, it’s one of the most memorable opening scenes of any horror film and the comedic dialogue balanced with the genuinely terrifying circumstances is what makes it. Such is the case with Carey Kight’s An Actor Prepares, the balance of comedy and horror is key as we witness two acting classmates rehearse a scene before one of them takes it too far. It’s a concise and punchy short which operates as a great showcase of working within what is immediately available to you. Kight joins us online today to discuss working within his means to create An Actor Prepares, and balancing that fine line between hilarious and horrifying.
Where did An Actor Prepares begin?
As an indie filmmaker I follow the Duplass Brothers’ model, only writing with immediately available resources in mind. In this case, a real life couple who have great onscreen chemistry, an empty apartment we had recently moved out of, and the desire to play in the horror genre. My wife and producing partner, Andrea Buccilla, managed the location with our building’s superintendent. We had moved out, and there were still a couple of weeks left on the lease. Knowing they would be making renovations which would give us free production design, she secured a date for us to have the apartment to ourselves for a day. This was our least expensive and most successful short film to date. We used only natural and practical lighting, a mobile camera, and some basic sound mixing equipment.
Both performances in the film are fantastic, was it important for you to equally the balance the comedy of the man with the sadistic intentions of the woman?
Thank you! Ben and Mallory are really terrific. Their chemistry is real. Prior to this, they’d acted together in a number of productions over the years from Shakespeare on stage to a dramatic feature film. The heart of the story is the disconnect between men and women – what women want, how men are able (or not able) to deliver that, and how incapable both genders can be at communicating their perspectives. I gave both actors an extreme lane to play in. Mallory got to be the completely disengaged, arrogant femme fatale, and Ben got to be the well-meaning woke feminist who doesn’t have a clue. What was important to me was exploring that extreme dynamic within and through an existing, well-functioning relationship. The nuance in each of their performances was less directed by me and more just simply played by them.
Given the minimal nature of the shoot, how was production? Did you have many issues?
Production was smooth and easy. We shot this in one day and didn’t have a single hiccup.
In terms of the score, there’s a real tension that’s built up throughout, who did you work with and how did they look to convey this?
Billy Long is a mad talented music scientist and the drummer and primary music writer for the dance-rock band, Echo Black. We met when I directed a couple of their music videos. He and I spoke about John Carpenter’s scores as influences but chose to use a lot less synth, and we added a fairytale quality to it. I think we went through, like, three passes at it before we got it just right. I went out on a limb because I was so attached to the Carpenter synth, but there’s a fine line between paying homage and ripping him off. The first season of Stranger Things had just come out, so we went in a different direction.
It was a romantic comedy and not a horror, but having those reps certainly helped me refine my approach on this one, and as a more seasoned filmmaker this time around, I was able to actually execute that approach in ways I didn’t before. The main thing I did differently was to bring the whole cast in on my approach. I communicated clearly that we were starting at the top of the apartment building and descending into the basement together. I was open with Ben about his character’s naïveté, especially as it played against Mallory’s character’s arrogance, and encouraged him as an actor to be fully aware of his character’s genuine stupidity. We all worked together to make sure the tension was aligned before moving on to the next scene.
What can we expect from you next?
Well, I’m straying from the Duplass Brothers’ model and writing a supernatural horror feature that we definitely cannot afford to produce ourselves. It’s about three friends, two of whom are married and having a child together, who encounter a sinister cult in a small town over Thanksgiving weekend. It’s The Wicker Man meets Get Out with a dash of Scream.
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