Q&A with Bret Miller, Director of “A Visitor”
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
I could probably go with a few characters right now, but I’m feeling a lot like Paul Sheldon from Misery right now. I feel like I’m tied to a bed, watching the world burn around me. If it wasn’t due to a global pandemic, it would be some other crazy thing that would leave me unable to comprehend what I am seeing in front of me. And yet, we’re all just tied to the damn bed.
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?
I think it’s important for all filmmakers, or creatives for that matter, to recognize that most of our ideas are “bad” ideas. Even within projects that work are a handful of bad ideas that I’m forced to ride with. But, that’s the beauty of it. Filmmaking forces you to work with what you have, making decisions on the fly and being forced to adapt when plans are disrupted.
That being said, there are times when I might over think what the audience wants to see out of a short horror film. I like to challenge people, hiding little nuggets in the frame. But, the internet is usually quick to remind me that they came for the blood and guts. Next time!
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
I try to connect as much as I can, through my screenwriting, filmmaking, and horror film case studies. I love the horror community, it’s like a safety net to try new things.
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration is often times the easiest thing for me to find. And it starts with two tiers:
1) I look at the physical world around me. For centuries, tales have been an insight into the storyteller’s reality. Many Brother’s Grimm stories come from inspiration due to the Bubonic Plague, Japanese filmmakers responded to the Nuclear Bomb with a slew of Godzilla movies, and the United States made hundreds of alien invasion movies during the 1950’s Red Scare. I made a film called Apollyon in response to the disproportionate response to disenfranchised American’s, specifically in the healthcare system. With A Visitor, the film is a look into vulnerability, and how seemingly inconsequential decisions can make one more vulnerable. That’s what the lock on the door represents.
2) It seems obvious, but I am so inspired by films every day. I soak up imagery, and recycle ideas for my own work. I challenge myself by adding elements from different genres into my horror shorts, creating something totally new. For example, I was extremely interested to use the idea of reverse-voyeurism in Jaws in our new film A Visitor. I love the imagery of Chief Brody watching helplessly from the shore as the shark attacks innocent beachgoers. Sure, he’s safe (for now). But there is a haunting feeling, watching someone attacked and knowing that there is nothing you can do to stop it. It’s extremely unsettling to me.
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
I feel like I would react in a similar way as our protagonist. Resourceful, but so stuck in fear that all I could do is watch what is unfolding before me. I like to think of myself as the hero, but I don’t know if that would be true.
Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Leatherface, Freddy, Pinhead, and the OG Michael Myers. Meet me at 8 Mile and Livernois.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Freddy. The worst Nightmare film is better than the best Friday.
Practical, without question.
I’m going to go Pre-apocalypse. Early humankind horror is interesting because they didn’t have any explanation for what they were seeing. So, of course dolphins swimming by became mermaids. Or the black plague was a ‘curse’ upon the people. There is an interesting horror that comes from having no idea what your faced with; no context whatsoever.
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
My longtime Production Designer, Pat Bird and his team at Bad Trip Designs, created the practical effects and props for the film. We knew we wanted the victim to lose her head, but there were several different options in regards to weapon. It was important to me for the killer to be a creature of impulse; not Michael Myers with the same butcher knife. He would use whatever was around him, even his hands if that’s what it came down to. The house belonged to a crew member, who called me and asked if I had a script that could be shot inside a kitchen because “my light would look great on camera.” I had a couple things in the bank, and we decided that A Visitor was the perfect project.
I think the best way to create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar is to use them in ways that are atypical. Lucky for us, horror is the perfect genre for that. With our film, the house is looks like any other middle class home. But the way it inadvertently traps our protagonist gives the audience the opposite feeling that a home should give; security, and warmth. It becomes an inferno for the character, leaving us with not empathy, but fear when thinking back to our own homes. I definitely double check my locks at night now.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
I think that I become more and more scared by humanity. We are such fickle, yet brash, creatures. As soon as I think I have a handle on human beings, something happens somewhere in the world that totally warps that idea. But that’s where my storytelling comes from; situations that scare me in real life. My art is the sincerest form of imitation, and the fun comes from taking that fear and hiding it in plain sight for the audience to find on their own. A Visitor is about fear of voyeurism, and how ‘pulling back the curtain’ can be potentially detrimental to the human psyche. Imagine if American’s, for example, knew every dirty secret their government tried to hide. There would be no trust, no civic pride. We would fall to ruin, for right or wrong. So, I took those fears and wrapped it up into a serial killer movie.
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Psycho is the easy answer for me, but I am just so obsessed with Black Christmas so I’ll go with that. It’s a stalker film with out the mask; a slasher without the blood. It’s just pure, unmitigated terror. And, of course, the famous line.