By Junsui Films | June 2012
The Writer/Director talks all things horror and tells Junsui Films all about his feature debut THE PACT and its journey from short to feature film…
Junsui Films: The Pact started out as a short film. Did you always envision it as a feature?
Nicholas McCarthy: The short was always supposed to stand on its own, but I was approached about expanding it into a feature after it premiered at Sundance and I started to think there was an interesting challenge there, to kind of do a riff on it, to almost use it as inspirational source material. The short was this cerebral character study that used a horror atmosphere, and I got excited about doing something different, to take it into a different direction tonally.
JF: How did your experience in shorts help prepare you for your first feature as a director?
It really helped having directed so many short films going into my first feature. I understood how a set was run, but most importantly had spent years trying different things as a director and seeing what some of my strengths were. Plus, most of my key crew that were on the short of The Pact then moved on to the feature, and that kind of camaraderie really helped the production. We were all really excited.
JF: Let’s talk about the writing process. Did you go back to the original [short] script when writing the feature or did you start afresh?
I knew I wanted something totally different for the feature so I just kind of used the short as a jumping off point. What the feature became was an extension of a different kind of work I had been doing while I had been making shorts. I had been writing full length screenplays for a few years, nearly all of them horror movies. My short films were always very different from my screenplays, so I wanted to see if I could nail some of the things that had been working in the writing as a director. It felt like a nice transition.
JF: The narrative effectively blends the supernatural with dramatic reality. How challenging was it balancing both genres?
When I imagined it, it just felt like something that I wanted to see and I wasn’t necessarily considering how it would change the tone of the film. It’s been interesting hearing the reactions some people have had to it; the moment works hugely for some, others don’t connect at all. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing in the shift. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of in the movie.
JF: Though The Pact adopts a more traditional horror approach, the film’s biggest jump scare is arguably the goriest. What were your biggest influences during the production?
A number of people have written about the movie being traditional or old fashioned, but there’s a few nasty gore scenes in there too, so it doesn’t really fit that description. I just followed my nose as a storyteller when writing, imagining what I wanted to see in each moment, regardless of whether that fit a certain template. The movie was made kind of outside of a marketing plan. It was so low budget, they just left me alone and hoped I would come up with something scary.
In the genre, I love a lot of early horror movies, like Island Of Lost Souls and Val Lewton’s horror films in the 1940s, but I also like a lot of relentless or extreme work from recent years, like Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs. For The Pact, Val Lewton and Dario Argento were my biggest touchstones but if you swapped out the names of the characters in the script you’d see the film is a total swipe from Psycho, just with a ghost!
JF: The film features an interesting cast including Caity Lotz and Casper Van Dien. How did you go about casting?
We cast the movie traditionally, here in LA, reading people in auditions. There were a few actors who came in and just blew me away, Caity Lotz and Haley Hudson among them. It’s what you really look for in casting – someone who transforms the role before your eyes. I knew right away they had the part. As far as Casper, it’d been a while since I’d seen him in something and I always loved him. The role, which is a small one, was a chance for him to play a slightly different kind of guy than he usually does.
JF: You shot the film on an incredibly tight schedule of 18 days. How challenging was the shoot?
It was insane. Time is always the biggest obstacle in a low budget movie. So we worked incredibly fast. We did an average of 30-35 set ups a day on the film, just getting shot after shot, often in one or two takes before moving on. There was no time to breathe. And our tiny budget was stretched so thin so we constantly had to improvise. It looks a lot more expensive than what was spent on it.
JF: Tell us a little bit about the first time you watched it with an audience.
I only watched the movie with an audience once before we premiered it, because we were so pressed for time. So when we premiered at Sundance it was like our test screening #2! But the movie was finished and I couldn’t change anything.
In both of those screenings, people would get quiet and then they would shriek. Then they’d get quiet again. I knew that I had achieved what were my two goals for the movie – to make something absorbing and also scary.
JF: Has it been difficult securing distribution for the film?
After we finished the movie we premiered it at Sundance a couple of weeks later. About 3 or 4 days after that we had deals in North American and all over the world. The distributors at the fest had seen that the movie worked with an audience so thankfully it wasn’t too hard to get them interested. There are so many great movies that get made that have a harder time. I’m thankful that my interest was in making a horror film, which is such a commercial genre!
JF: What next for Nicholas McCarthy?
I think those screams were addictive because right after we premiered the movie I went away and wrote another horror movie. I just want to explore that world another time- it’s too much fun. I’m really excited for this one and we should be shooting a little later this year.
THE PACT IS OUT NOW.