MAG: I want to start off by asking you some questions about DARK TREATS. You took the concept of my short story and told your own story, almost as if it were a different story set in the same universe as my short. Can you tell us a little about why you went in that direction, and how difficult was it to come up with an original story within an already established framework?
FP: To be honest, your story tells the tale better. For those unaware, your story has a young boy stalked by one of the creatures; my short film has a teenage girl stalked by one. In both versions, there are two “treats”, which, as we learn at the end of both, are really eggs. In both versions, the eggs are initially thrown away, and in both versions the protagonist fights back. So while my version is still your story in spirit, I had to make changes to suit our budget. We didn’t have a child actor, and child actors can’t work late at night anyways. We also had no adult actors—so I very quickly made it “teenage girl home alone for the night”, since Jordan Toy was the film’s only certainty. Her brother in the film is her brother in real life; he had more lines and another scene, but I cut about 95% of his stuff since he rapidly proved that he couldn’t act. (No offense, David.)
As far as coming up with an original story—it wasn’t hard at all! When you really look at it, there’s a ton of plot for a ten-minute short. The whole thing moves so fast that people actually miss important plot points. Since there’s almost no dialogue explaining what’s happening, people always seem to be about a minute behind. (I chose to be almost dialogue free since we had no microphones on set.) A lot of the plot points/scenes Jordan and I made up on set; we were literally designing and creating scenes as we filmed them. There was no official script, just a loose outline I’d written. All the dialogue was ad-libbed, and I’d make up Jordan’s blocking on the spot. While that seems lazy, it was actually a lot of fun to just be freely creative like that. We had so much fun making this!
Probably the only “hard” part we had to deal with was the continuity. Though we only had one location, we shot the film out of order over five days. (One of those days was completely cut from the film, and the other day was just for the opening credits.) It was three solid nights of shooting at Jordan’s house though, usually from 8pm-3am. Because we were shooting out of order and making it up as we along, Jordan was constantly reminding me “remember, I was over there last night. So now I get over here tonight, but what was I doing in between?” To which I’d have to sit and think “Okay, the creature ran over there, and you passed out over there, and we need you over here by this door…” Honestly, the “missing reels” cover up both budget (there’s a missing reel every time the creature moves since it looked so fake) and continuity (the missing reels often skip forward in time, getting Jordan to a new place). The “911 call” scene was actually shot on Halloween night, so that’s cool though. I had to shoot at least one of the film’s scenes on Halloween, since the story takes place on Halloween!
MAG: What can you tell us about Jordan Toy, the actress who plays the lead in the film? She certain gives a spirited performance.
FP: She’s amazing! She’s my best friend, and we’ve always bonded over horror movies. We actually weren’t even really friends in high school—every year she and I would go to Monsterpalooza, a Burbank, CA-based horror convention and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood—but other than that, we never hung out or talked. We both had a common friend, but other than those two horror events, we didn’t see each other. I never had a class with her or anything. When you saw us at those events you’d think we were the greatest friends, but we both ran in different cliques socially. Then we graduated and all our friends scattered all over California and the rest of the U.S., and we both found ourselves stuck in our hometown and going to the same community college—so we became best friends by mutual benefit. That sounds completely horrible, but she’s like a sister to me now—and horror has always been the glue keeping us together.
Her performance in the short is probably what I’m most proud of, yet very little of it was because of my direction. She’d never acted before, but she’s just a natural. Because of our love of horror movies, we spoke a language that was very important to my direction—I’d tell her “for this scene, do you remember that one scene from the Halloween remake? Do that.” Or “you know how 70’s horror actresses always have that look on their face? Do that.” She’d take my suggestions and just run with them. Most of the time I’d just be looking at the playback and thinking “wow, I didn’t tell her to do any of that—but it’s all great.” Her little movements, expressions, everything—I have no clue where it came from, but I think everyone who’s seen the short has praised her.
She’s terribly shy about it too—she was so hesitant to record the screams during editing. (All of the screaming was recorded separately in my garage since we filmed in her house/backyard late at night, and I didn’t want her neighbors calling the cops on us.) Even before we started shooting, her acting was both of our main concerns: “Can we pull this off? Are you comfortable with this? Do you think it’ll be good enough?” But she was gangbusters. I’m so proud of her!
MAG: I hear that one of your biggest problems was the creature special effects. Talk to us a little about that, and the creative solutions you came up with.
FP: The creature itself was an animatronic dragon I bought from Toys-R-Us. It was originally fifty bucks—toy prices are ridiculous now—but someone had misplaced it under a twenty buck price tag, and apparently the store has some strange policy wherein the price under the toy is the price you pay, even if it’s wrong. So I got the prop for twenty bucks! I’m not complaining, but I wonder how many people purposefully misplace items to get them cheaper…
Anyways—we cut off some of the dragon’s features (for copyright purposes, hah!) and then covered it in dyed-green latex. We then shaped it a bit, adding some detail. Oh wait—we actually ran out of latex and ended up only covering its head, feet, tail, and some parts of the body. Latex is expensive! This already created problems, since we now could never have a full body shot of the creature. (I solved this issue by shooting the creature’s full shadow. It was really just Jordan’s brother David moving the creature with his hand, but I sped it up in editing to make it look quicker.) The next problem became the animatronics itself—the added weight of the latex made it so that the creature could no longer move properly. It just kind of shook in place. So while shooting the first real scene of the creature attacking Jordan, I said “forget it—we’re just gonna pull a page from Grindhouse and place a ‘missing reel’ insert here. We just can’t film this with this prop and this budget.” So instead of full creature shots, the final short has creature POV shots, creature tail shots, creature shadow shots, and creature close-ups. That toy dragon ended up being the damn shark animatronic from Jaws.
MAG: The shooting required a lot of night shooting. How was that?
FP: So many directors hate shooting at night, but I love it. Lighting is a concern—and I know for a fact that many shots in “Treats” are underlit due to my own inexperience—but at the same time, I think you have a lot more control at night. You don’t have the sun constantly in the way of shots, and you can light scenes according to how you want. Day scenes require reflectors and you can only shoot for a certain amount of time before the sun moves and it’s obvious you’re shooting at a different time. But night shoots can shoot all night, and no one would ever know that a story taking place at 10pm was actually shot at 3am. And, especially for a creature-feature, you can hide things in the dark—our creature in the daylight would look like the latex-covered toy it really is. We had to simulate rain too, and in the dark, spraying a couple hoses on Jordan suddenly looks a lot more realistic than it really is.
MAG: Who are some of the filmmakers working today you’d like to work with?
FP: Without a doubt, Colin Trevorrow. He directed this summer’s Jurassic World after only making one short film and one feature, the quirky sci-fi indie Safety Not Guaranteed. Steven Spielberg saw Safety and loved it so much he hired him for Jurassic, and now Kathleen Kennedy (the main producer for the Star Wars franchise) has taken notice of both Safety’s story-telling and Jurassic’s success and hired him for Star Wars Episode 9. He “made it” as a director the way I want to: he made a great, small, low-budget film and had the work speak for itself. Hollywood came to him, not the other way around—he lives in Montana. This speaks volumes to me; it gives me hope for my own future. I’m immensely jealous of him (he’s working on my two favorite franchises!), but have a lot of respect for his talent and work ethic. I met him at the Hollywood midnight premiere of Jurassic World too; he introduced the film, and I got to shake hands and take a picture with him afterwards, right there on Sunset surrounded by tons of fans and cameras at 2am. He was nothing but gracious and kind to the fans, talking to everyone he could. Even his bodyguard was nice! Basically, I wanna be him when I grow up.
MAG: I hear you are going to be subbing TREATS to some film festivals. Tell us a little about that.
FP: What’s funny is that submitting the short to festivals is gonna end up costing more money than making the movie even did. I haven’t decided which festivals to submit too, but I’m already a bit worried at how much it’ll cost. Some festivals will cost more to submit to than making the film cost!
I’m gonna go back and re-edit the entire short in HD though, and there will a couple new lines of dialogue to clear some plot issues up. There might be some new music too, but it’ll be the same film.
MAG: You’re a man with your finger in a lot of pies. I know you’ve experimented with publishing. Is that something you want to pursue more in the future? Perhaps run your own small press sometime?
FP: Definitely, to both questions. Ideally one day I’ll make enough as a director to be able to fund my own small press. My production company is called Creature House Productions; one day I’d love Creature House Publications to be up and running! I’d love to edit anthologies too in the future. I think a main concern in horror fiction right now is a lack of new editors—it’s just the same handful of editors editing every damn anthology that comes out. Some new blood needs to come in.
MAG: I also hear that you will be doing your own podcast. Care to tell us how that came about and what we should expect from it?
FP: I’d been toying with the idea since early this year, since you could do it with no money. Then Project iRadio (a podcast syndicate) announced that they were looking for new podcasts, and I submitted three ideas for approval. They were very interested in two of the three, so we’ve been working on the duo for the past couple months. Jordan Toy is my co-host for both of them—one of them, It Came From Generation Y! compares pulp horror movies to modern horror movies, and will have interviews with filmmakers, writers, people behind the scenes. The hook is its two millennials dissecting genre movies from before they were born! For example, one episode compares The Land That Time Forgot, a campy Doug McClure vehicle from the 70’s, with Jurassic World.
The other, the purposefully mis-spelled The Hauntening, (a bad pun derived from The Conjuring) is gonna be a monthly podcast wherein Jordan and I investigate a different horror location each month. (Someplace haunted, someplace with connections to the genre, someplace with ties to UFO sightings, etc.) Like a horror documentary, but in audio form. Truthfully, both these projects have proven…more time-consuming that I would’ve ever thought, haha! For the former we have to watch two movies before we even record; the latter takes a lot of time and money and research. Gas prices are so crazy in California right now that we’re trying to find places as close as possible to us. We’re building an episode backlog right now so that when we eventually debut both pods, we can stick to a consistent schedule. If Project iRadio doesn’t mind waiting even longer, I’d prefer to debut both of them in early 2016.
MAG: With all your work in film, publishing, writing, what would you say your greatest passion is? What would you focus on if you could only do one thing?
FP: Film for sure, because it enables me to be able to do everything I love. I love writing, so I can write my film. I love photography/cinematography, so I can shoot my film. I love being the leader, so I can direct my film. I love music, so I can score my film. I love advertising, so I promote my film and design it’s poster. Some people, like Tarantino, even publish their scripts, so I could still be involved in publishing too if I wanted too. (Haha.)
Right now the only thing challenging my love of film would be my love of education and teaching. I’m 19, still just barely starting on my career—but if I failed trying to be a director, I’ve long said that I’d be a second-grade teacher. My mom is an elementary school principal, and I actually volunteer at her school and teach a Film Club every Wednesday. It’s so cool—at elementary ages, most kids have never been exposed to the art of film. In my club they’ve made their own film trailers, short films, silent films, learned about acting, film speeds, etc. They really wanna make a claymation short, and I keep trying to explain to them how much work that would be.
People keep telling me to blend the two and become a drama teacher, but I hated high school. Ideally, I’d go off and become a director, make ten films and a good nest egg, and then retire as a teacher.
MAG: What projects can we expect from you in the future? What are you working on now?
FP: I can’t say anything about it yet, but it’s gonna be another adaption. A short horror film based on a story I read recently that clicked visually with me right away like “Treats” did. If all works out with the author, I think it’s gonna be very cool, very modern horror. The author is very respected. I do want to try to focus on adaptions right now, simply because they have built-in fans and promotion—people who read the original work will want to watch the adaption, and the author can help promote the work more than I ever could. I think for someone just starting out like I am, adaptions are as good a place as any to begin.
I’m also finishing up two feature-length scripts, both of which will be done by year’s end. The goal for them is to get an agent and shop them around to studios. One is a straight-up, gory horror flick called Petrichor, and the other is an action/comedy called “3”. Petrichor is like if the Final Destination movies and Jaws and Richard Laymon had a child; “3” has a talking dog, an evil corporation, clones, and genies. (Side story: someone broke into the backyard and stabbed my puppy while nobody was home; while she was recovering I’d hold her in my arms and think to myself ‘If only you could talk, and tell me who did this to you…’ Hence, the origin of my talking dog movie.) Though I predominantly consider myself a horror writer/director, “3” has been ridiculously fun to write so far. It’s a big, explosive, hilarious summer blockbuster waiting to happen.
What I’m most proud of though is a finished script I have called “Teenage Monstrosity”—it’s a short film script that’s completely original, completely my own. I’m dying to make it, but the budget would require at least $1500…which is nothing for a film, but far too expensive for me to self-fund right now! It’s insanely dark, but I think it’s a very smart script with a great revenge-type ending. And the main character is a mermaid! One day I’ll get the money and make it.
MAG: I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. You’re a dynamic young man, and what you’ve accomplished at such a young age is very impressive.