Receiving its World Premiere this month at the Shockerfest Film Festival in Modesto California (it’s screening on Friday 24th September at the Brenden Theatres at 10th and K Streets), Nightmare fuses psychosexual horror and indie auteur cinema and is the stunning and stylish debut of filmmaker Dylan Bank.
A native of Philadelphia, Dylan Bank, 26, spent his adolescent years as a video store clerk educating himself with all breeds of cinema before developing an admiration for a broad spectrum of directors, ranging from highbrow filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Stanley Kubrick, to low-budget horror mavericks like George Romero and Sam Raimi.
His first film, co-written with producer Morgan Pehme, focuses on a film director who wakes one morning in the arms of a mysterious actress. Startled to find a video camera at the foot of the bed, the couple watch the tape, only to see themselves on screen committing a savage murder in the room that they have just slept in. But there are no victims in the room, there is no blood and no sign of struggle.
Arriving late at his film-making class that day, the director recounts the horrifying experience he just walked away from, convincing them it's fiction and part of a movie pitch. By the time the class enthusiastically votes to produce his movie, it is too late for him to back out.
So now, the director spends his days filming the waking nightmares that he discovers nearly every morning on videotape, and spends his nights searching for who is filming him.
EMB: How did you and Morgan (producer / co-writer) meet up, and in what way was this film co-written? Was it an idea made up at a similar pitching session as the prelude of the film?
Dylan Bank: From its inception, Nightmare has blurred reality with fiction for me. Nightmare is a film within a film based closely on my own experience, so on set I often felt the lines blurred so perversely that I had to step back and get my bearings.
Nightmare even began unexpectedly for me at a cocktail party, just as it does for Jason Scott Campbell, who plays the young director who is the film's protagonist. I hardly knew Morgan (Pehme) when he first called me out of the blue about making Nightmare. His roommate at the time had been an actress in a few of my short films, so he had seen some of my movies, though I couldn't remember having discussed them with him. He said that he had just produced an indie feature called Exist and was anxious to do his next picture, however he couldn't find a script that really gripped him. He explained that two years earlier at a party at his house I had described to him an idea for a film I had planned to write, and though at the time he had no plans of being a producer, the pitch had affected him so intensely that he eventually realized he had to make it.
My recollection of the conversation was a lot more fuzzy, since it took place at a party, but he seemed serious, so I confessed to him that while I had completed a number of screenplays that the pitch he wanted was still just an idea. Morgan is a writer too, so he suggested we try teaming up and fleshing out the script together. I was apprehensive about writing with someone else at first, but the process turned out to be perfectly suited to our styles.
EMB: What films have specifically inspired you to make your own feature film debut?
DB: As we wrote Nightmare, Morgan and I watched a number of films for inspiration. Ultimately, I'd say we were most influenced by Vertigo and Psycho - because of the pure visceral terror they impose upon their audience, Basic Instinct, for its erotically charged violence and Brain Dead, a little-known Twilight Zone-style gem starring Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman.
EMB: Tell us about the trials of filming low-budget?
DB: When you have no money, every day is an ordeal. One day we were filming a scene of Jason scaling the side of a building in Brooklyn. The City, however, wasn't giving out permits to shoot in that area, especially for a low-budget film with an actor dangling from a window ledge. We used most of the crew to stand around the camera, facing away, to obscure the equipment.
When the cops would drive by, which was more frequently than you'd think, Jason would quickly press his body against the building to hide, as if it were possible to look casual climbing up a building in broad daylight. To make things worse, we didn't have anywhere to plug in our gear, so our gaffer, Nicolo, jimmy-rigged a street lamp to steal the power we needed. At the end of the day, our Italian cinematographer admitted to us that she was worried we were going to get her deported.
EMB: Were the cast and crew as equally committed to the project as yourselves?
DB: Our protagonist is in literally every scene in the film and his bedroom figures heavily into the movie, the film being Nightmare and all. Jason was so committed to the role that he asked the producers if he could actually sleep in his character's bed and live on set at the sound stage we were using. The guy who owned the place thought in was bizarre, at first, but he lived there too and I think that maybe he wanted company. So I'd get to the set at 6:30 AM and Jason would be there in his room, already in character, rearing to go.
EMB: Tell us about the best day you had whilst filming Nightmare?
DB: In the script we had a scene called ‘Romantic Streets’ and casually had written in that it takes place at sunset. There had been a lot of rain and we were coming up on the end of the shoot without having covered the scene. Finally, we managed to get to our location, a brilliant panoramic of Manhattan, but we only had enough time for a couple takes before it would be too late.
We quickly set up the dolly and prepared to shoot the scene in one shot, because the clouds were changing so rapidly the light was never the same. At the time I was heartbroken, because I was sure that was I thought was the best take was still only half right. When we later screened the footage, though, we were blown away. Everything came together for one perfect take. The light of the sun forms a heart between the lovers' silhouetted kiss as birds fly by a fiery sunset. It was fucking incredible!
EMB: How long did it take to film the whole shoot?
DB: One VERY long month.
EMB: Where are you taking the film now, and what sort of industry feedback are you getting?
DB: We're being really careful about who we show the film to until we work out distribution. The audiences we have shown it to have been extremely receptive, and, in some cases, I think, extremely scared. We've just sent out the film to a bunch of festivals and we're really starting to promote the picture and the website, nightmarethemovie.com, so we'll know soon enough what the industry will be.
EMB: So, yet another video clerk making films. Aren't you afraid that people will just dismiss you as another Tarantino wannabe?
DB: If critics want to compare me with Tarantino, I'll be flattered. He's proven himself as a filmmaker. I don't use my video store clerk background as a credential. The advantage of working at a video store is that you are exposed to an extraordinary range of movies, geared at every possible audience. I discovered so many films that greatly influenced my approach to directing that I otherwise never would have known even existed.
EMB: What other projects do you have on the go?
DB: A couple of months ago, Morgan and I went to the middle of nowhere in Western North Carolina to scout locations for our next movie, a sci-fi action thriller called Genesis that takes place entirely in lush, paradisal woods. We still have to raise the financing since this is going to be a much larger movie, but I can't wait to make it. I know it sounds bombastic, but I think Genesis could change the world.
EMB: Great, thanks for your time Dylan, and best of luck with the film!
DB: Thanks so much for all of your interest in Nightmare. It's a real pleasure for me to answer your questions for the horror fans at EatMyBrains.com - I made Nightmare to satisfy the type of movie lover with the good sense to visit a website with a name like EatMyBrains.com.
Nightmare is currently nominated for a festival-leading four awards at the upcoming Shockerfest, including Best Horror Feature, Best Score (Kangol and Charlie Walker), Best Actor (Jason Scott Campbell) and Best Actress (Nicole Roderick) – see 2005.shockerfest.com/?page=nominations for more details.
Nightmare is also an Official Selection of the Eerie Horror Film Festival from October 6th-9th in Erie, Pennsylvania. See the festival’s official website for more details - www.eeriehorrorfest.com