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Q&A with A.J. Briones, Director of “The Smiling Man”

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ALTER: Name a horror character you relate to on a spiritual level. Who is your horror spirit animal?
A.J. BRIONES: Freddie Krueger. He’s highly creative, has a great work ethic and clearly loves what he does for a killing…I mean, living.

A: You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
AB: I get bad ideas every day! I think the thing about staying creative is to get all your ideas out in the open — the good and the bad — and let them lead you to better ideas. For example, the
original script for THE SMILING MAN had a much longer path for the little girl to get to the
kitchen, with some unmotivated jump-scares and other beats that I ultimately cut out. Originally, the kid was also a little boy. I changed him to a little girl and consolidated the actions and imagery once I found a thru line that had a deep personal meaning to me. Sometimes things like that don’t present themselves until after you’ve put it all down on paper.

A: Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
AB: I think so. I have a lot of friends that are in the community, and in the larger filmmaking
community. It’s really great to follow them and cheer them on as they take their next steps and
enjoy the films they create. It’s also great when the stars align and you work together on a project.

A: When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
AB: A lot of what goes into my films are heightened versions of memories, experiences or dreams that I’ve had. In a way, they are also allegories for certain views I may have of the world or of the human experience at the time. I try to obscure the connections so they may not be so
obvious, but they’re there somewhere.

A: What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
AB: I’d feel pretty sorry for myself.

A: Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
AB: Asami (“Audition”) with her gloves and piano wire. Chop Top (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre II”). He’s so much more interesting to me than Leatherface. Tristana Medeiros (“REC”). She can make a demon zombie army. Perfect. Lastly: a Graboid (“Tremors”). In case things get desperate.

A: Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre-Apocalypse?
AB: Freddy. When he kills you, at least he does so using his imagination. King. Practical AND CGI — CG gets a bad rap, but the magic is in the audience not knowing where one ends and the other begins. Pre-Apocalypse.

A: And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
AB: The Exorcist III. It’s nearly a perfect movie.