Q&A with Carlen May-Mann, Director of “The Rat”

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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?
My worst ideas tend to be the ones that overcomplicate. The earlier drafts of The Rat had many more locations, more unnecessary dialogue, and generally just more moving parts than ended up on the screen. To me, getting past the bad ideas is all about distilling the film to its truest elements, taking a step back and figuring out the one thing you really want to say. A lot of this happened for me in the writing stage, and even more of it happened in the edit – I found that sometimes a single look from an actor or a perfect cut says so much more than a few clunky lines of dialogue. Getting past the bad ideas for me is all about as much awareness and understanding as possible of the movie you’re trying to make, and the flexibility to accept that that’s going to change throughout the filmmaking process.

Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
More and more I do. I’m actually relatively new to horror – I was a sensitive kid and couldn’t handle much in the way of violence or scares onscreen, and it wasn’t until college that I fell in love with the genre and everything it entails. Going through the festival circuit with The Rat, I’ve met so many wonderful people working in the horror space, from filmmakers to superfans, who have turned me on to some mind-blowing films and with whom I’ve had some truly eye-opening conversations. I’m also lucky enough to be surrounded by horror fans in my personal life, and am actually part of a weekly horror film club. And of course, I couldn’t be more excited to now be a part of the ALTER community!

When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
For The Rat I was inspired by my two favorite film genres, horror and teen movies, and set about to find the best way to combine the two. This meant that I got to create some of my favorite types of scenes – a slow creep through a haunted house, and a crazy frat party. I also wanted to create something that I felt captured the spirit of Halloween (the holiday, though the movie was certainly inspirational as well) and so the iconography of my favorite holiday was a natural well of inspiration. And of course, I was inspired by the things that scare me the most in the world, both the surreal (as a child I had a paralyzing fear of people in masks and costumes) and the real.

What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Unfortunately, I am living in the world of my film. With The Rat, I wanted to create a singular moment of true terror that felt like it could really happen. The film examines a question that I ask myself a lot, both as a horror creator and fan – what do we find scariest in real life, and how would that look translated into the world of horror? The world we live in is a frightening one for members of oppressed and marginalized communities, and The Rat is an expression of my continued attempts to comprehend what exactly it means to live in this world.

Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
The Bride of Frankenstein. Norman Bates. Minnie Castevet. Carrie. Mother Suspiriorum. Nancy Downs. Asami Yamazaki.

Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Jason. King. Practical. Pre-Apocalypse.

How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
The haunted house set was one of the most important parts of the film, and so finding the right location and building it up to make it both immediately recognizable and surprising was paramount to the film’s success. My team and I searched for ages to find the right house in New York City, until finally producer Beck Kitsis heard about the Kreischer Mansion in Staten Island. I knew when I arrived to scout that it had the right look, but it wasn’t until I heard about the actual ghost stories attached to the house (seriously, look it up) that I knew with one hundred percent certainty that it was the perfect location. From there, the house itself inspired so much of the production design of the film. It has so many little details that made the world of the film come alive – the crystal chandeliers, the ornate metallic wallpaper – and our production designer Lance Mitchell did a fabulous job highlighting those elements while also making the beautiful house feel abandoned, grimy, and run down.

And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
So hard to narrow it down! Here are a few: The Seventh Victim, The Night of the Hunter, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Lost Boys, Mulholland Drive, Hereditary