Q&A with Joseph Dwyer, Director of “Blood Highway”

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Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?Bruce Campbell’s character in The Evil Dead – he’s just looking to party and have a good time with his homies at a cabin in the woods until someone opens the Book of the Dead and then all of a sudden he’s got a chainsaw attached to his arm.

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?
Originally the story behind Blood Highway involved a zombie plague outbreak that originated from a bad batch of fish at a fast-food joint, but that really bent and expanded the narrative in a direction that I didn’t have any interest in exploring. I really wanted to leverage the short film framework and keep the narrative of the film scaled to just the action bits, so I chose to cut out all the setup and first two acts of the narrative to make a short that really just encompasses what would be the third act of a larger film. That decision simplified the story and the narrative quite a bit and helped me to focus on other more important aspects of the short film.

Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
Jason Tostevin & Chris Hamel at Nightmares Film Festival have done a fantastic job cultivating a community of filmmakers and creatives on Facebook around their annual festival and screening. Blood Highway played at the festival in 2018 and it was an exceptional event and experience where I met quite a few filmmakers that I still follow and stay up-to-date with.

When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
Our current cities and built environments are typically my starting point – if I can create a visual world that the film’s characters inhabit that references and feels like the world we live in, it’s immediately more relatable for audiences because it resembles something they’re intimately and unconsciously familiar with.

What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Start boarding up my windows with plywood and stocking up on canned food.

Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Probably Slenderman, Darth Vader and the Shredder

Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
I’m actually pretty unfamiliar with Freddy, Jason, Lovecraft and Stephen King beyond The Shawshank Redemption – Horror is not typically my preferred genre! But I do have a strong preference for practical effects over CGI always. 100% of the effects seen in Blood Highway are practical. We went to stupid, extreme lengths to capture everything you see in-camera without CG effects or trickery – gallons of fake blood, prosthetics, rear-projection, light gags, editing sleight of hand and more. We were shooting on 16mm film and initially planned to move the DI back onto a hand-cut negative from the camera original negative, and so there was no budget to create CG effects, print them to film and then intercut them into the original negative. Everything had to be done for-real. Practical effects are infinitely more rewarding because you’re creating and manipulating something tangible rather than pushing pixels around in a 3D plane. As far as post- vs pre-apocalypse, I think titles like Mad Max, The Walking Dead and Fallout have overly fetishized what a post-apocalyptic wasteland looks like in audiences’ minds – my vote would be for 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?
We couldn’t make this film in a real house because of the insane amount of fake blood and damage that would be applied to the set over time. So we constructed a series of modular stage flats laid out like the first floor of a house – living room, garage, hallway and bedroom – that gave us the flexibility to drill holes in the wall, dump fake blood all over the place, and gradually rip the place apart as the film narrative progressed. Our “soundstage” where we constructed these sets was a basement in an old paper factory with a 6ft ceiling and punk bands who rented the rooms on the 1st floor above for rehearsal space, so production was a process of navigating tight physical constraints to pull off all the shots, while also navigating the sound constraints of having uncontrollable punk rock blasting from the floor above at random intervals.

What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
I’m scared by running out of time or the wherewithal to make more films, and so that’s the constant drumbeat in my head that drives me to think, write, shoot, edit and share as often as humanly possible.

And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Alien (Ridley Scott)