Q&A with Douglas Sullivan, Director of ‘C A U G H T’

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Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
The Creature from the Black Lagoon. He’s misunderstood, looking for love, unsure how to frame his feelings, and occasionally it leads to violence. But mostly he just wants to chill in the cool, dark and deep water without being judged.

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?
One of my worst ideas, I believe, was one this convulted witch tale about a four generation curse that essentially was nothing more than pieces of every other witch movie you’ve seen. My process for finding my way out of the dark of bad ideas involves a bit of spiritual connection slash magic. The ideas that won’t leave me, the ones that creep into my dreams, or my thoughts while I’m working on something else or watching a movie – those are the ideas that I end up developing. There certainly are some stories that need flogging to find their magic, but some of my best ideas, I believe, arrive from sources unknown and ignite the spark in me themselves. Prior to this pandemic, I was at a late show for a big bugdget comedy and spent the first act of scribbling an idea in my notebook by phone-light because an idea struck me during the trailers. This is just how I approach the early development/idea stage. Once the flint is struck, it’s all about putting in the time to develop it. As the adage goes, amateurs wait for inspiration, professionals know it’s about sitting down and getting to work.

Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
I consider myself a new member still trying to prove he’s a friendly. I have always been a bit scared of horror movies – of being scared in general. However, I was drawn to write horror screenplays, something about those scary stories kept calling me. Perhaps it was a way to deal with fear after relocating to Los Angeles by myself early in the decade, even so that was intermittent. I only fully embraced the fanhood, revery, and enjoyment of horror within the last few years in earnest – but I am loving the ride.

When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
Early on in my process I look to classic-to-me films regardless of genre, often purposely not of the horror genre. For example, for C A U G H T I watched a lot of 70s paranoia cinema to set my mood, my ideas for framing and what needed to be seen. Regardless of the project, I always return to my roots at somepoint in my story development. Since I started out in the poetry world, I return often to poetry to build my imagery in my head, the potency of words drives my imagination and helps me locate the scary bits of humanity before building a world meant to scare them.

What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Definitely not hide under the bed

Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Freddy Krueger is my leader; the crew from The Strangers are my henchmen; Ghostface from Scream is my loose cannon capo; all those mofos from The Brood are my backup, and the The Tooth Child from Candle Cove (that s.o.b. who is made of all human teeth) he’s my last resort hunter/killer.

Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Freddy, King, Practical all day and twice on Sunday, and Pre Apocalypse because what we haunts in sunlight consumes in moonlight, both emotionally and realistically.

How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
Turn off the lights and watch the shadows. I look at sets similar to how I approach sound design. If they’re bad, they’re the first thing that will take someone out of your movie. So, I aim for my sets to feel lived in, I ask questions of people who know more than I regarding that space. In C A U G H T, I needed a lived in but not modern cabin and I am a city boy who doesn’t really camp. So I talked to friends who do, asked them questions about comfort and safety, so I knew what I should put in my set but also what to leave out. Sets need to feel alive, not dressed. For props, my I look at what looks scary under moonlight, what shifts its imagery as the sun goes down and then I aim to find the useful scary version as it relates to my tale.

What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
I am a person who suffers from anxiety, and at times it feels like it comes from all angles. That last-nerve energy definitely inspires my stories, but also my heroes and villains. Everything from fear of being alone to hearing a creepy-ass noise in my backyard at 3am scares me, and each one leads to an avenue of storytelling, I hope anyway. Not that I’m outside scared thinking ooh this will make a great monster, more so I’m registering my own emotions at the time and trying to recreate feeling and mood in my work. Though sometimes – it really is just about the badass monster.

And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
I have to say The Strangers here because it’s one of a few horror films I watch all the damn time and continue to learn from, but also because I saw it alone in a theatre in the middle of the day and still got shook. The first Nightmare on Elm Street is close second though.