Thursday, February 26, 2009

Director's Notes: Scared

The third episode of The House Between's third season is entitled "Scared." It's our annual horror show (think "Visited" in the first season; "Estranged" in the second), and it's this season's long-awaited Arlo-centric story.

Or more descriptively, "Scared" is a story that delves a bit more deeply into Arlo's mysterious background than we've seen before. This particular tale originated with a line Joe Maddrey wrote for "Caged" in Season Two. In that story, Theresa asked Arlo what visions the house was showing him, and Arlo revealed that 'he'd always had nightmares."

It was almost a throwaway detail (albeit a brilliant one...), a juicy nugget that wasn't developed, explored or elaborated upon at all...and which made it the perfect starting point for "Scared" in season three.

In terms of genre inspirations, I deliberately fashioned "Scared" as an homage to an episode of John Newland's paranormal anthology One Step Beyond (1959-1961) that I've always loved, and which scared the heck out of me as a kid. Actually, it scares the heck out of me now...

I don't want to reveal the name of that particular OSB episode just yet. To do so would immediately give away the exact nature of the villainous threat in "Scared," and it's more fun today to let it play out in the course of the episode. But for intrepid web surfers, I can inform you that this particular OSB episode starred a young (and gorgeous...) Yvette Mimieux. Look it up if you want.

In more general terms, "Scared" is also my ode of love and devotion to the 1980s-style rubber-reality horror sub-genre. You know the kind of movie I mean, right? In which there is a powerful supernatural villain who can bend reality to his demonic will. My favorite film of this cycle is Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), but I could rattle off titles including Shocker (1989), Lair of the White Worm (1988), Hellraiser (1987) and Bad Dreams (1988) to name just a few.

Considering such inspirations, I don't think it was a coincidence that I decided to marry an Arlo/Theresa story with a rubber-reality horror movie, since these are our two youngest characters on The House Between. Most of the time in rubber reality horrors, it's up to struggling adolescents to defeat evil before they get the chance to grow up and live happily "ever after." And indeed, Arlo and Theresa opened an "adult" relationship door together in "Addicted" that leads directly to the events of "Scared."

Honestly, I don't remember many intriguing specifics about shooting "Scared" except that I opened the day by gathering the cast and crew together for a pep talk and stated (with gung-ho enthusiasm...) that this was our one and only opportunity to make a no-budget ($700.00) eighties horror flick.

So that was the attitude we went in with and I remember everybody got into the spirit of the script. Tony Mercer, for example, told me he was picturing Peter Cushing for Bill's "Van Helsing"-style speeches. Poor Lee Hansen had to deliver one of his most reprehensible Travis lines ever -- but he did it with appropriate conviction -- and Craig Eckrich in "Scared" completes Brick's transformation to all-out action hero.

As usual, I have enormous praise for Jim Blanton, who rose to the occasion to imbue Arlo with new and vulnerable colors. Jim also brilliantly recited a spooky "campfire" that is the bread-and-butter of rubber reality horrors. Here, that monologue is truly one of the episode's most unsettling scenes because of Jim's acting. Jim got his monologue down perfect on the first take and as a consequence drew thunderous applause from the cast. Then he sheepishly asked. "Do I have to do it again?" I don't think we did...

I must also single out Alicia (Theresa) for high praise, because she had the difficult task of maintaining Theresa's trademark detachment and seeming authentically terrified during the scarier moments. She's never been better, and you can see real "horror" in her affecting, expressive eyes.

Kim Breeding was amazing too, especially in one bizarre sequence that we filmed after midnight. As usual, we were running behind, hadn't rehearsed, and were flying through an important sequence. Without a word of description from me, without even a discussion of how it would go down, or what we would do, Kim jumped into her role and performed a difficult song right on cue. I kid you not when I say it was pitch-perfect and absolutely beautiful. Again, Kim had no prep, no direction, no rehearsal...she just nailed it. And so we moved on...

And then there's "Scared's" guest star, our make-up artist and stunt coordinator, Rob Floyd. Here he plays a nasty character named Vinnie Coto, one who terrorizes the other House Between characters.

Let's just say that in his full costume and make-up, Rob was...quite the presence on set. He not only terrorized characters during his actual scenes...but his fellow actors between scenes. One distinct memory I do have of shooting "Scared" is a lot of nervous laughter...from all corners. Rob was a little too good, perhaps, at playing on a key fear that I know many people suffer from. Again, for the intrepid, look up coulrophobia.

If I recall, shooting "Scared" actually made for one of the smoothest days of the week. Which doesn't mean we didn't stay up late. Alicia, Jim, Bobby, Rick and I were still plugging away before green screens well after 2:00 am. I have vague memories of Bobby standing on top of a rickety ladder, dropping balloons in front of a green screen, wobbling dangerously...

It was in the editing stage that "Scared" became a nightmare...for me, anyway. I would term it a budget buster if we had a budget. More like a time buster, because of the number and complexity of the special effects shots. We've got your opticals; we've got your green screens; we've got your cloning; we've got your garbage mattes; and on an on it goes. Conservatively, I'd estimate there are well over a hundred special effects shots in this single 45 minute episode. For a one man, part-time studio like myself, the final cut posed a daunting challenge unlike any other episode of The House Between.

No budget, no time, no assistant editor...*sigh.*

Fortunately, I did have one magician watching my back during post-production. He made certain that all my post-production efforts came together. That person is musician Mateo Latosa, who has composed for "Scared" perhaps his best work for the series (so far, anyway...). Mateo's work here -- which includes titles such as "Darkness Theory," "Carpenter in Juno," (a nod to John Carpenter...) "Hold Your Breath," "Darting By," and "Vinnie Coto" -- is absolutely extraordinary.

I told Mateo on the phone some weeks back that if web programming ever got nominated for best music awards, I would submit "Scared" as an example of his finest work.

Another factoid about "Scared:" Mateo also told me that he decided early on to score "Scared" like John Carpenter's The Thing, which in retrospect was a brilliant strategy, I believe, and which adds what producer Joe Maddrey calls a sense of "dread" to the proceedings. Not only is The Thing another 1980s horror film (fitting into my theme on "Scared...") but it concerns a bunch of diverse people trapped in a less-than-welcoming location with a villain that seems to boast different forms. Very appropriate.

So that's the story of "Scared." It premieres tomorrow, and I hope you'll watch. It is best viewed with the lights down. In the dark...


  1. Anonymous10:17 AM

    HaHaHa I watched "Estranged" in the dark and it scared the living daylights out of me. I am not sure if I will be able to watch "Scared" in the dark by myself:-) I think I better have the nightlight on at least:-)

    Thanks for the warning, John!


  2. Anonymous11:12 AM

    can hardly wait. I love it when Kim sings. :)

  3. Anonymous12:32 PM

    I love it when Kim sings, too. It is so much more impressive when you take into consideration the fact that she has, so far, (I think) not only performed but also composed the songs! She did an outstanding job with the song she first performed, I think it was entitled "The House Between". The lyrics were very touching, heart-rending. She sang them with such feeling that we could feel Astrid's pain. I am brought to tears every time I hear her sing it.

    I can hardly wait to see/hear what's in store for us next.