As the FILM4 FrightFest 2013 kicks off this evening, we had the great pleasure in speaking to David McCracken and Joel Townsend, two thirds of the directing team behind horror movie Daylight (with Kaidan Tremain making up the creative trio).
Showing at FrightFest on two occasions – at 1pm on Friday 23rd and 10.15am on Saturday 24th, we spoke to the directors on the phone, to discuss their found footage thriller about a team of Child Protective Services workers who investigate a series of unusual cases of child abuse. We discuss the making of this low-budget flick – and how the entire Indiana town of Evansville contributed to proceedings. We also speak about the importance of the setting, reasons behind using found footage and their delight at the film’s inclusion in this summer’s FrightFest programme.
So tell me where the idea for Daylight came from?
DM: It came about a while ago. We were graduate students and while we were doing our film programme we just got this bug to make a feature, I thought like, I’d been in the programme a couple of semesters and felt like I’d learnt enough to go and do a feature. So me and Joel and this other guy got together and we went to Indiana, which is where I’m from, and we made it.
You’re directing as a trio – can you tell us about the dynamic? How did that work?
JT: Basically we all made sure we were on the same page as far as what we wanted. We all had our babies that we wanted to helm, so we literally just taped up the scenes on the wall of our production house and would go over it. ‘I really like this scene’ or ‘I really love this scene’ and compromised that way and then one person would take that scene and mould it and present it to the other two and we’d talk about it, and then basically get to a point where we’d all agree, until we were all on the exact same page as what we wanted.
David, you’re in the film yourself, had you ever done any acting before?
DM: Yeah I’d done it before. Originally though we were all going to act, me, Joel, Kaidan and then Josh Riedford the producer, but it ended up just being me and Josh. The original idea was that we would all be playing characters named after ourselves and that was how we’d be credited, which is why our names stayed the same because that train had already left the station. Then we gave me a bigger role and it wasn’t supposed to be that big, but because of the various movie making demands, I was defaulted into having more lines.
So you weren’t tempted to have a character yourself Joel?
JT: I have a cameo! I turn on a computer at one point.
DM: It took 72 takes.
JT: 72 takes, I nailed it. But yeah, the script really supported the role that David had, so we had the story first and went about it that way.
When working on a smaller, independent movie with such a low-budget, I imagine there must have been a really strong team spirit?
DM: Yeah there was. It all started really by going back to my home town and reigniting a lot of relationships that I hadn’t been able to maintain while I was gone at film school, and really reaching out to the community and the universities in the area and trying to make this an Evansville, Indiana movie. Josh and I were high school friends so we both grew up in that town and we really thought that if we could get the town behind this movie then maybe we could make something special that would mean a lot to people, because nobody was being paid. We basically got all of our meals donated by restaurants and we got a lot of favours and donated things because we tried to make it a community film.
The town ‘Daylight’ does play a really key part in this film, like an additional character. How important was it for you to capture that local spirit?
JT: Very important. Right from the offset that was something we wanted to capture, because this story would live or die on whether or not people believe that this town was a character. It was way more important than just the tone in the movie, it was a big part of why characters are doing what they do and a big part of everything ever since the stories conception.
The casting process took place in the local area too – how long did it take before you had everyone on board?
DM: While Joel was in LA working on the script, Josh and I were doing auditions and pre-production work in Evansville over the summer. So we saw hundreds of people, we advertised via the radio, and really tried to cast as many locals as we could. I think there was only one guy from out of town, which was Patrick Andersen, and everybody else was local. It took a while, we cast all the major roles before we started filming, but there were a few straggling roles that we cast as we went.
Sydney Morris is a great find…
DM: That was a big worry initially, that we couldn’t find someone to play the little girl, and as you probably know, when you cast the kid, you also cast the parents and she had very supportive parents who were doing this because Sydney wanted to act, not because they wanted Sydney to act. When we met them they were very open to some of the crazier stuff we would have to have her go through, but they were also very protective of her. It was a really good mix, they didn’t want her to kill herself for this movie, but were willing to talk about it and accomplish the stuff we wanted. Not only was she a good actress, but she was excited and supportive of the movie too. We were lucked out there.
JT: She was one of the ones who, immediately when I saw her, she was the one I wanted and fortunately everybody else agreed and we ended up getting her.
Going back to the realism aspects of the film, you’ve gone for found footage – can you tell us about the decision to go for that style?
JT: We could have told the story in third person view, but that would have cost a lot more money, and also, found footage puts the audience in the place of a character, which is something that we really liked. Also the story we had, we’ve never seen found footage presented this way. So it’s cost effective, interesting and we really liked what it said about the characters by putting the audience in their shoes.
There are several severe themes in this movie such as child abuse, and yet there is a supernatural edge – was it difficult to maintain that realism, given the supernatural elements?
DM: We tried to keep the set fun and light and that coupled with the fact we had long days and nights in the cold and people got really tired, it was hard to keep that in our minds and to always go back to the seriousness of the subject matter, and we wanted really treat it responsibly and use the supernatural stuff as a metaphor. That was the main thing, to just treat a serious subject matter responsibly but also keep it light on the set and not get too bleak ourselves.
JT: It really helped that everybody who was there, was there through a labour of love, they wanted to be there and they believed in the script, so it wasn’t difficult to get people to really commit to what they’re doing.
Was the horror genre you both always wanted to explore? Was it always going to be your first port of call?
JT: I love horror movies. I mean, I love all kinds of movies, but David and I are big genre fans and it wasn’t something where either of us were like ‘we have to do a horror movie first’, it just kind of happened that way. That’s the story that presented itself and the more we talked about it, it became the one we ended up making.
DM: Our favourite movies are the ones where you have characters you can root for that. So that was one of our main goals. It wasn’t just about whether the characters would live or die, it was about the journey they’re going through and whether living is worse than dying in this universe.
Can you see other genres in you, or will you stick to horror movies in the future?
JT: I would love to do a horror movie again, but I’d also love to expand and do like a crime thriller, or something like that. We’re big fans of that genre.
DM: That’s why this movie had so many investigative, mystery elements.
This film is showing at FrightFest over here in London, must be pretty excited for you both to know it’s going to be up on the big screen to a room of horror fanatics?
JT: I know! It was one I was so hoping we would get in to, and when we found out we were in, we thought it was a mistake at first. We’re very happy, it’s still very surreal to find out it’s playing there, I just wish we could go.
So what’s next for you both? Will you collaborate again?
JT: Oh yeah, we have a very good working relationship, unless I’m mistaken?
DM: We’ll talk later.
JT: [Laughs] No we love to work together, and we have some ideas actually, one for a crime genre film which we’re developing now.
Tickets for Daylight and other Film4 FrightFest screenings, can be found here