Q&A with Nic Stanich & David Harrington Miller, Filmmakers behind “Wet Willy”
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
David: I’ve always been a truth seeker, so the moment I saw Suzy Bannion in Argento’s Suspiria, I felt a connection. Because no matter what evil’s coming at her, she wants to learn the truth, and I’m wired the same way. There’s also her feeling of being an outcast. I think a lot of horror fans probably feel similarly. I can’t tell you how many times people that I love and respect have called me a “weirdo” or “sick” because of my love of horror films. It’s something that I think helps bind the community together, being “othered,” and I’ve always felt that in Suzy.
Nic: No question, Randy Meeks from Scream. He literally uses his knowledge of film plots and tropes to stay alive. I don’t know how useful that would be in real life, but if I ended up in a horror film that is definitely what I am bringing to the table. Also, I have been called a “rule follower” many times in my actual life and his big moment in the movie is laying out the “rules” of surviving a horror movie. He just gets it.
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?
David: It’s very easy for me to get excited about a new idea. It’s like a puppy, nipping at your heels, barking up a storm, demanding attention; I can quickly get seduced and give it all my attention, neglecting the projects I’ve been slaving over for months, even years. And half the time the idea isn’t even a good one. So what I like to do is write it down, either in my iPhone’s “Notes” or on Highland/Word/Final Draft and wait… and wait… and wait to see if it sticks around. If I still am as excited about it a month later, I know it’s something worth pursing. Now whether or not it’s a “good” or “bad” idea… that’s for the audience to decide, I guess.
Nic: I’m not sure if there is such thing as a bad idea. The “bad ideas” are the ones that pop in your head and you think are good, but you never take the next step in fleshing it out or exploring it… which is usually very telling. Even a bad idea might have an element or moment that works in something else. The funny thing about all of this is that even a “great idea” needs the same amount of work put into it. Ideas are easy. Doing the work is the hard part. Like when someone says “I have a great idea for a TV show” but they only have one character in mind, that’s not how that works. Work on the idea and have a strong point of view and the rest can be figured out!
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
David: Yes, I started a horror film club a few years ago with some friends. We call it Deep Cuts. We meet the first Tuesday of every month in Los Angeles, although the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to go digital. It’s honestly one of my favorite things in life.
Nic: I don’t actually. This was my first time doing horror and it wasn’t until this project that I was reminded how influential the genre was to me as a kid. I used to watch a ton of horror movies growing up – especially with my grandma. We would always watch Tales from the Crypt together, even though I was definitely too young for it. This film made me feel like I was getting back in touch with my film roots and I’ve been watching way more horror the past year and I look forward to diving more and more into it. I’m hooked!
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
David: I look for inspiration everywhere, because my best ideas come when I’m experiencing something new; whether it’s a concert, an art gallery, a new country, or even a new restaurant, these fresh stimuli get my brain revving and generally then ideas start to flow (which has made this coronavirus quarantine that much more difficult to handle). When it comes to the ideas themselves, I look to my own life. It’s tough, but I think most artists mine their trauma, their pain, to create art; it’s especially helpful when crafting horror. But I always try to build my ideas around a central theme or a fear that I feel strongly in my own life and I think others will feel strongly about too. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but I think the smaller the target you’re trying to hit, the better the results.
Nic: When it comes to inspiration I look at anything and everything, but film. I’ll read books, listen to music, go to a museum… consume, consume, consume. Take as much as I can in and see what starts to formulate. After that, I will go for a really long walk with the one rule that I am not allowed to listen to podcasts. My brain needs silence to start making all those creative connections. When it comes to the the world of the film, I ask myself “Why would anyone care?”. That sounds simple, but I think it is an important question to ask yourself. What kind of world would an audience quickly connect to and have their our thoughts and fears and baggage to bring into it. Start with the simplest human truths and then build up from there. That does a lot of your leg work if you can nail that.
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
David: Run, very far away.
Nic: Follow David and run very, very far away, but slightly in front of him!
Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
David: The Xenomorph, Jaws, The Thing, Pennywise, and Mamiya from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure (though I’d worry about him surviving, being around the others).
Nic: Fun fact – I am a huge basketball fan. If I’m going to build a team, I want to build an ultimate horror villain squad starting five that works well together. I want the speed of the zombies from 28 Days Later, the IQ of Hannibal Lecter, the dedication of Jack Torrance, the versatility of Pennywise, and give me Jason at center. I’ll talk that squad vs. anyone.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
David: Freddy. Lovecraft. Practical. Pre-Apocalypse.
Nic: Freddy, Stephen King. Practical. Post-Apocalypse.
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
David: Our film really came down to one big prop, Sam’s ear. That was our “money shot” (for lack of a better term) and it needed to be as real looking as possible, so we hired an AMAZING MUA/FX artist who created the ear, Katrina Sawhney. She absolutely knocked it out of the park. Katrina had actually designed an entire prop head, but there was an accident the day of our shoot and she had to make another ear with only hours to spare. So that’s my best advice when it comes to props (and making things in general), hire the best people you possibly can.
Nic: THE EAR!!!! When you start making a movie called “Wet Willy”, it just feels simple that you can have one actor give another actor a wet willy, but you definitely can not! Katrina Sawhney went above and beyond and used the actual head of our actor to make a fake ear that could be used in the climax of our movie. If we tried to cheat it or use CGI, it would’ve looked terrible. This gave us the flexibility to really make the moment aggressive and uneasy and without it the short would really be missing something.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
David: I suffer from nacolepsy and sleep paralysis, which often manifests in weird shadow creatures climbing onto my bed. So I’ve bascially lived a horror movie since I was a kid. The scariest thing is that no one believed me. They thought I wanted attention or was just “overly imaginative,” so basically all the adults in my life denied my reality. There’s nothing scarier to me than that, denying someone’s reality. I think Orwell did it best in 1984, but any story in which you don’t know what’s real or imagined, or worse, when someone forces their reality on you, there’s nothing scarier to me.
Nic: Flying scares me! I am absolutely terrified every single time I get into a plane, but what it really comes down to is a lack of control. I like to be the one in control *cough* director *cough* and flying brings out the worst in me. That doesn’t motivate me directly, but the concept of the simple things in our lives that scare us the most absolutely does. The best horror movies take these small seeds of human fear, feelings that we all have in our day to day lives, and expanding on it and then taking it to an eleven. Again, the more you can have the audience bring into the experience is such an advantage. Keep it grounded and then once you have them in your world… go crazy!
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
David: The Shining. I could watch it a hundred times and still discover new things I missed before. It honestly gets better with each rewatch.
Nic: This is not a “scary” movie, but I love The Monster Squad. That movie was everything for me as a kid. My mom had to buy me a red shirt that looked exactly like the one the Sean wore in the movie. I watched it over and over and over again. It wasn’t until years later that I realized Shane Black wrote it and that makes a lot of sense. A new version of that movie gets brought up all the time and if it ever happens I will be first in line to see it!