Interview with director Chris TrebilcockDecember 8, 2015
Recently, we had a chance to sit down with the writer and director of the horror/thriller film The Dark Stranger Chris Trebilcock while it had its Toronto premiere at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival.
Could you tell me a little about your film?
Well, The Dark Stranger is a psychological thriller about a young woman who’s an artist and is struggling with issues. She’s living at home with her father and younger brother and begins drawing a new graphic novel and a character from within this novel seems to be coming into her world and tearing her life apart, and that’s just the basic premise.
Where did the idea for the movie come from?
It sort of came from two places. I originally started writing it because I wanted to do something that could be done relatively low budget but then as the story evolved it started to become about artists dealing with depression. Many artists struggle with depression and the issue of taking medication to try and keep their depression at bay, which in turn makes being creative more difficult so I thought what if the depressions was expressed in a character and went from artist to artist, preying on them, so I thought that was interesting.
Was the animation always going to be part of the movie or did that evolve over time as you brought the film together?
I think it evolved over time. I’m a big fan of stories within stories, one of my big influences growing up was Kurt Vonnegut and he often incorporates that. Like in Slaughterhouse Five, there’s different narrative threads that go through the story but they all complement each other. So I thought it was an interesting way, using animation in the film, to get into Leah’s psyche about what’s going on, what The Dark Stranger character represents to her, this figure that’s leading her seemingly to a better life but may not be really doing so.
The lead, Katie Findlay, was very impressive but you also managed to surround her with some great supporting actors. How were you able to get to get that talent together for the movie?
Oh, it was a long process. When you’re a first time director, experienced actors are a bit leery to come on board but often it was writing letters to the actors, saying why I was thinking of them and what I thought they would bring to the project and meeting with them and talking with them on the phone, convincing them I’m not going to make them look terrible and that they’ll be good for this.
The family dynamic was a very important part of the film, especially the role of the father played by Enrico Colantoni. As a director, how hard was that to film so that you were satisfied the idea was coming across properly?
We were on a very tight shooting schedule so we didn’t have a lot of time to spend on each scene, but there was a lot of conversation with the actors before we started shooting and I know Enrico really related to and sympathized with the character so I think he brought a lot of that to it as well. We had a rehearsal period where we sat down and read the script together and talked about where this character is coming from, how it’s important to always try and be supportive of his daughter. For his character, every single sign of his daughter getting a little bit better, a little more willing to engage with the world, that’s a victory for him.
Being in the indie film business, what is the hardest part in making a film?
Raising the money. Yeah, raising the money and a lot of the money is prevalent on cast, who’s attached to the project, but it’s also the script as well, is it unique, is it interesting, is it commercial, it’s all those things together and it can be an uphill struggle. It took six years to make this film, from when I finished the first draft to getting it made.
The movie has a wonderful slow burn, building of tension, from start to finish. Was that a hard thing for you to accurately portray in the movie?
It was definitely a real consideration because many horror films will just give it to you right away, with a murder or whatnot, but I wanted to make sure the audience, you want to put in little clues and set up atmosphere that tells them it’s coming, it’s coming. The original Exorcist is a bit of a slow burn but it has a great scary, eerie atmosphere that sort of signals to you the big nightmare that’s coming towards the end, so that was very much on my mind going into making this movie, for sure.
Was the cost of the animation in the film a big hurdle and was there a time you ever thought about taking it out altogether?
I know the funders were very concerned about how good we could make the animation, we did not have a huge budget, but Key Frame Digital did a fabulous job. There was a lot of animation in the script , sort of surreal style animation, but they have a great background in animation and CGI and they really rose to the occasion. I hand drew all of the rough story boards of what I thought the animation should look like. Sean Schofield was the illustrator who did the mock ups of all the characters and he gave the landscapes and the character designs to Key Frame and they put it all together and animated it. Sean is a terrific guy and he’s drawn comics for DC and Marvel and he’s a great find, I’ve worked with him many times before on short films.
What projects do you have coming up?
I have three projects I’ve been developing for a while now. One is called Beneath Planet Cronenberg, about a young boy who is obsessed with David Cronenberg and wants to become just like him. It’s a project I’ve been working on for quite some time and it has the blessing of Mr. Cronen berg’s office. That’s going to be a little more expensive because we go in and out of the fantasies of the story, a little bit like The Dark Stranger in a way. Another one called Hangman which is about a bullied teenage boy who gets protection from a vigilante serial killer, and I’m hoping that’s going to go soon. It’s got some interest from some actors and a distribution company, so that one could be done for a little bit less. I also just wrote one called Hatchet Face, which is a slasher film about a down and out actress who is coming to do one last film in the slasher series that made her famous, only to discover that the killer has escaped from the film and has targeted her in the real world, but no one will believe her.
I want to thank Chris for taking the time to talk with us.