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Q&A with Nate Ruegger, Director of “Trust Me: A Witness Account of the Goatman”

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Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
As much as I want to say someone badass like Ripley in ALIEN or MacReady in THE THING, the horror character I most relate to on a personal level is Will, played by Logan Marshall-Green, in THE INVITATION. While I’d jump right into monster-killing alongside Ripley, MacReady without any hesitation – there’s something so deeply human and even more terrifying about what Will faces in THE INVITATION. All Will wants out of this dinner party is a moment with his ex to find closure – and maybe even have a few laughs with his old friends – and so, like all of us, he’s thinking, “Don’t make it weird, buddy. Be cool. Don’t be weird.” But as the night goes on, and things seem a little weird, and he’s thinking, “Is this weird? Or am I making it weird?” So I’m totally on board with this guy who just wanted to a fun night with friends suddenly having to become a horror hero – and not by facing some killer creature – but by embracing one of our society’s most-feared monsters: being a socially awkward nightmare in front of everyone you love. He is a much braver soul than me!

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?
This first horror story I wrote was “The Thing That Came From Deadwood Creek” and it was about a monster made of algae from the creek in my back yard and how it terrorized the town until scientists made a silver match that could make a silver fire that kills the monster. Now I’ve written better horror stories since then (I hope!), but what makes me smile fondly over this early story is the passion that you can see the passion I had for telling scary stories – and that I didn’t give up. I allowed myself to write stories that were patently not good and learn something new from each story I wrote, from each short film I made, and got a little bit better along the way.

But what I think really helped me find my spark – on top of churning out stories and short films plus cramming as much horror content as I could fit into my eyeballs – was sitting myself down before I write and asking myself, “Why do I want to write this story? Why do I want to make this film?” Now the key here is to be aggressively honest with yourself in answering those questions. No making a movie “just because it’s cool idea” or you want to do your own monster movie – you have to keep asking yourself, “Why? Why you? Why this? Why now?” until you take yourself to a raw, emotional, and deeply personal place that gets tears in your eyes and makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck as you realize what your deepest and darkest fears truly are – and you make your films from there. So no matter where you get stuck – in writing, on set, while editing, wherever – you know in your heart of hearts why this horror story matters to you and why it needs to get made – and that will carry you across the finish line to keep making good horror again and again.

Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
Yes, I do consider myself part of a horror community – several in fact! In making our short film, “Trust Me,” we crowdfunded our budget and so we built a community of fellow horror fans amongst our friends and family, which grew out from there to fellow horror filmmakers I’ve come to know on Twitter and Facebook who I’ve since had the pleasure to meet at film festivals around the country – and I only hope it keeps growing! What I love about the horror community at large is that, even though we’re into some pretty dark and gruesome stuff, I have never met kinder or more wholesome people than fellow horror fans!

When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
When I’m looking for inspiration, I’m an omnivore – reading horror novels & short stories, watching horror movies and shows, reading creepypasta online, even going out to museums and looking at art – whatever I can do to refill the tanks and spark new ideas. But what really helps me to build the world of a new film is settling on my film’s cinematic metaphor. Once I have that cinematic metaphor down for my film, what I want my audience to feel and what that will look and sound like in my next movie, then I can gorge myself on all the other masterful works of horror that have done the same thing and learn some tropes to avoid plus some tips & tricks of what to try myself.

What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Here’s the scary thing – I’d probably do exactly what the characters did! I think the scariest films are the ones where you can empathize with the characters, like them, root for them, and see them intelligently working to overcome the evil… but what I find so fascinating about our monster is that, as a shapeshifting mimic, it’s an apex predator – we’re just not equipped as human beings to deal with the threat of someone who looks and sounds 99% like our closest friends and family… until it’s too late. So yeah, The Goatman would totally get me too.

Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
For me, I’m more a fan of the horror villains that live just on the edge of your psyche – am I losing it, or is this thing really coming after me? So my Top 5 Horror Villains would be: The Babadook, the It Follows monster, Sadako from The Ring, Candy Man, and Cthulhu.

Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Freddy – you can run from Jason, but you can’t hide from Freddy in your dreams
Stephen King – I’ll take THE TALISMAN any day over THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH
Practical – I think the more genuine horror you can catch on camera & on set, the better and the scarier the film
Post Apocalypse – especially right now, it feels like we’re all living in “pre apocalypse” times; so living after the bust of society and having nothing to worry about but the bare essentials has a certain blank-slate allure to it that I think keeps drawing us all back to apocalyptic horror

How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
Perhaps my favorite prop in the film is The Blanket that we see shrouding a crouched figure with a hideously inhuman voice in the very beginning of the film. Because this blanket bookends the short, we knew we wanted it to be special, an off-putting signature prop for The Goatman… so in asking myself what this blanket should look like, I filtered it through my cinematic metaphor of wanting The Goatman to convey this slow-boil sense of anxiety through all the departments of our film. First, we locked our location for the opening with this great little hiking trail that has this lush, vividly green grass with dead, blackened trees – very eerie – and I knew with color I wanted this blanket to pop against the background, so we went with a red blanket to stand out against the green and brown palette. Then, for the pattern on the blanket, I talked about it with our writer, Leslie O’Neill (who was also our production designer!), and we both really liked the idea that this blanket – and this creature – has been in these woods terrorizing people for years, decades even, so we went with a vintage pattern from the 1950s. Then, to really help tell that story that this blanket and creature had been out here since the 1950s or earlier, Leslie took great pains to rough up the blanket, burn it, put holes in it, dirty it up, and then – the final touch – was taking a page from ALIEN who made their monster look so slippery and slimey with, well, KY jelly. If it’s good enough for ALIEN, it’s good enough for us, so we slathered that all over the blanket – and when you get a good close-up of that vintage, red blanket popping against the green-and-brown forest, matted with dirt and grime, I really hope it gives the sense that there is something seriously, paranormally wrong with whatever’s under that blanket.

What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
What scares me definitely inspires my storytelling – and was, in fact, a big influence on my latest short, “Trust Me.” My greatest fear is that the little voice of doubt that nags at you in your quiet, lonely moments is right – and that’s what I think makes The Goatman in our film so terrifying because it’s like a monstrous manifestation for depression & anxiety: it calls out to you with a familiar voice and lures you into the darkness. So with laser focus on this cinematic metaphor for “Trust Me” – that The Goatman pervades this feeling of anxiety and paranoia wherever it is – making creative decisions became very simple. The film begins with a “slice of life” handheld documentary look following our couple on a romantic camping trip in short shot/reverse takes under warm, even lighting, but… as they cross into the woods of The Goatman… the takes become longer, their faces fall into shadow, the composition becomes much more controlled and symmetrical… and so all of these incremental decisions about light, color, sound, and composition all add up to an overall feeling of growing dread that, hopefully, conveys my own personally-felt fears to the audience within a fun, little monster movie.

And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
ALIEN – perfect monster movie, perfect home invasion movie, perfect serial killer movie – it has everything you could ever want in a horror movie to keep you on the edge of your seat and shuddering till the very end.