The Video Attic Presents: Telling Tales: An Interview with Ryan Spindell
Mike: Clancy Brown is such a delight in this film. I'm curious how much impact did you have on his character versus what he brought to the table?
RS: That's a good question. I think the character was pretty well defined prior to him coming on board. He was really collaborative and great from the very start. And, I was always pushing him, like "Do you want to take this into a different direction?" He was kind of really locked in on the character from the script already when he came in. We did work on some of his vocabulary, like of like the natural bend and flows that weren't in the script. For the most part though it was all in the script.
Mike: How long did his makeup take, do you recall?
RS: I do. The makeup took about two hours in total.
RS: Yeah, luckily we had an amazing makeup artist doing it. What's kind of an interesting tid bit about that is when I first started putting this script together I imagined him to be a lot more cartoonish. We intentionally built a much more complicated prosthetics, like jowls, i was kind of thinking about, have you seen Dan Aykroyd in Nothing but Trouble?
Mike: Oh wow, yeah.
RS: (Laughs) I love how unrecognizable he was. It's also in, I think Three Men and a Little Lady with the sequence at the end where Ted Danson dresses up like an old preacher with prosthetics and I just loved this idea that he was going to be this unrecognizable actor and people would be like, "I think I recognize this guy." Like, it was something in the eyes. I wanted people to know him but also not. Once we put him in the prosthetics, which we so amazing I felt like we were losing that Clancy Brown face which is already so great. So, we did several tests where we just starting pulling pieces off to see how much we could take off and still see the character but also like Clancy's face shine through. What I sort of ended up realizing is that the teeth was the most important component to the entire thing. I remember even in early drafts of the script describing the teeth as sort of like long yellow piano keys. But, I wanted them to be too many teeth. I sort of had this idea of instead of going the traditional route of big teeth or shark teeth, what if there's way too many tiny teeth? So, we had these dentures made for him and it turned out that whenever he put them on it transformed him, almost all the way. The irony is that as humans we smile to put people at ease but what happens is if he would smile he would get creepier. That is such a cool accidental byproduct of using that teeth for that effect.
Mike: Did Clancy have many stories from his epic career to tell between takes?
RS: He did have really good stories but I think one of the real stand out things to me that isn't a story. One day on set we were shooting in Astoria Oregon, keep in my mind it was a really small production and he's been on some huge stuff and is use to different scale productions. I was sort of nervous with a guy that's worked with some of the best directors in the world. But he right to our little production really easily and he had a blast with it. One of the things that was really cool was, in the town we shot it in there was a local guy who owned a comic book store and he had heard Clancy was in town and sort of swung by the set to get a glimpse of Clancy and, have me introduce him to Clancy. So, this guy was explaining how the Highlander movies we're majorly impactful to him and that he had a really rough childhood and those movies got him through a tough period. You could tell he was very nervous meeting Clancy and instead of him being weird about it, which I've seen other actors do, Clancy just embraced the guy like, "Come hang out with me while they do my makeup", and he gave this guy a tour of the whole set and hung out with the guy for a couple hours.
Mike: That's awesome.
RS: That's such a cool thing to do and, such an impactful thing for this guy from Oregon. So, I think of that as one of my big take away what kind of guy he (Clancy) is.
Mike: The one thing I think is great about the film is how visually stunning it is. I know you have a background in visual design, so having studied that field did it help you set the look and overall feel of the film?
RS: Yeah defiantly. I grew up as a big art kid and I remember for a long time I wouldn't watch horror movies, because I was too scared of them. My mom had kind of ingrained in me this idea that horror movies were just these brutal blood and guts, like they were just created to traumatize you. So, I kind of avoided them like the plague. I remember very distinctly in the span of one weekend, I think I was probably twelve or thirteen a friend of mine brought over Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 and Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. I remember watching those movies and it was like a switch clicked in my head. Because I didnt realize up until that point that horror movies could be so creative and so beautiful. Like, I could see the filmmakers just really having a blast and putting themselves into every single detail on the screen. I think it was in that moment when I decided I wanted to make movies but, I also decided that I wanted to make the can of movies that transported me to some other time and place. Back to the time of fun movies that we're bog and colorful. The filmmakers took all these different art styles I've been doing all my life like illustration and sculptor and I could take those skills and put them into one thing. Even now the way the camera moves, the way production design is laid out and the costumes and the make up, all of those elements are of equal importance to me. I tried to put as much of that into the film. Even though, as you can imagine on a budget, especially doing a "period piece" where there's no modern tech, no modern cars, no modern building and costumes its incredible challenging.
Mike: That brings me actually to my next question which is, had you always planned for this to be a period film, because obviously, as you said that makes the budget go up.
RS: It was the plan from the very early stages. I think initially I wrote the script, trying to think back, I wrote the script in 2012. I just storyboarded the entire movie in 2013. Yeah, I guess it did always have period setting. A big component of it was I didn't want it to be set in a specific period, I wanted it to have a timeless feel. So, you know the stories are in large being told by Montgomery, and I would imagine would have a very antiquated lens through which he views the world. So I wanted to use this idea of story and storytellers to kind of set up everything in this neutral, could be any time, time period. I think that it leans heavily into the '40's, '50's era but thats mostly because I feel like that was the last period in North America where costume in furnishers was made in more natural materials, which pre-dated synthetic plastics that changed the look of everything. In my mind that period is kind of the timeless period. It was important to me that, and its interesting because early on we got a review that said the different segments were set in different periods and the reality is they are set in no-period. Maybe I shouldn't say that out loud, because maybe thats working better for it. I hope you can watch this movie in a hundred years and think its timeless.
Mike: What I love about Mortuary is how its retro but its so subtle about it, like it lets you fill in the blanks of when its set.
RS: I agree. It's funny because as a fan I'm incredibly nostalgic for horror of yesteryear and I think its almost impossible to not have that come out in your work. I sort of agree with you, I'm not the biggest fan of nostalgia for nostalgia sake. Many of those troupes are for people to go, "Hey, I remember that!" and I think its more fun to take stuff like that and use it in a way thats interesting. It's interesting because even in the past month of me thinking of the film its funny how you can make something and that it continues to reveal itself even months after you finished it. I knew I grew up being impressed by the original Twilight Zone. That was the show that, even though I hated horror as a kid I still loved to what that. I would watch that with my dad and I felt safe. The aesthetics and the ideas of that series really became baked into my consciousness. In a weird way, I think that like, watching this movie recently and thinking about Sam and Montgomery discussing what makes a good story, I realized that the two of them are sort of two halves of my brain. Montgomery is sort of the classicist like, "The old ways the best way", you know, a good solid rally cry that teaches you a lesson. Then Sam is the opposite, "Thats old, thats boring, we've seen that before, we want something different and exciting." In a weird way those two characters represent the thing that happens in my brain every time I make something which is I want to do something that really appeals to the stuff I loved the most growing up but I also want to do something surprising and new.
Mike: I use to love the Twilight Zone but my thing was the '90's Tales from the Crypt series. We didnt have cable when it first came on the air so my Dad's friend would record episodes for my sister and I to watch.
RS: The crypt keeper was, for me as a kid a little too scary so I would always cover my eyes while he was doing his intro and then I would watch the episode. I had the same thing, we didn't have HBO but my friend did which I only seen at his house late at night.
Mike: For me, looking back at that series it was kind of kid friendly, even though it had some spicy elements being on HBO. Like it was more playful and never too mean-spirited.
RS: Yeah it was more for fun.
Mike: And looking back I also think about how tricky that shows tone was to pull off. Being scary but keeping the macabre fun of the E.C comics.
RS: Yeah, that is tricky. The entire process thats something thats always come at me. Especially with something like people who are financing the movie and the people are creative. So its constantly like, is this too funny. Humor and horror is the thing that scares people the most. I think you can make a straight horror movie and thats easy because you know what's going to appeal to those fans. For me, I want a little bit more with my horror. I do like the straight horror stuff but I think for my giddy thirteen year old brain that I still have this is the kind of horror that I miss the most.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. It seems like I've been noticing a refreshing return to more fun horror.
RS: Yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of reasons why I think that is. I do remember when I first graduated from film school and I started pitching horror with comedy in it and it was a very different time and production comes were like, "Yeah, no. We want something like Saw or Hostel." They wanted just straight horror. But, thats really turned over dramatically recently. Thats because people that grew up on Tales from the Crypt and the Hammer movies, their becoming the ones in charge. They want a return to that and I think on top of it things are already so bleak in the world today I dont know if people want to settle in and depress them even more. I think escapism is more important now more than ever.
Mike: Yeah! Speaking of tone I think this is a good seg-way into my next question. The film opens with a child's funeral. I know its important to the framing device but were you ever worried that that might be too bleak or set the wrong tone?
RS: It has crossed my mind but no. I mean, its like the give and take of independent film. The give is that if your somebody like me that thinks though a Spielbergian lens everything is incredible difficult because your like, "How do I make a big scale horror movie with no money?" So, you end up sort of using these weird tricks and getting really Sam Raimi about it. But, on the other hand you have the freedom to make the movie you want. You dont have to answer to studio people. So, no I didn't really question that at all. If anything because of the fantastical tone of it we were worried people would think it was a kids movie off the top.
Mike: ah okay.
RS: We actually had an entire extended scene which involved these kids all meeting in the woods, kind of like the Losers Club and making their way to the mortuary where they were investigating it, because they discovered it was at the heart of all the strange happenings in town. And, it was such a fun scene and it was very like, E.T with kids on bikes, stuff like that. What happened was we would screen it and the critics would say, again and again how it feels like a kids movie, but then we get to the point in the movie where dicks are exploring and they are totally lost. So even those it was cut I loved that stuff and in a way this movie is kind of a kitchen sink of a movie, like everything I love crammed into one thing. But, even I was like I have to eliminate that stuff off the top. Especially because everything is streaming now and you have to hook people in or they`ll switch to something else.
Mike: Did you have a lot of footage that didn't make it into the final product?
RS: We did. As far as what you see, because of the production design and the cost its kind of a trade off. You say to yourself, "I have to put all of these money into what's on screen and we have less time and resources." And, of course you have less people to put it off. As far as the scenes that you see, your seeing almost everything. We really didn't shoot any extra coverage and we didn't have the luxury of extra time to shoot other stuff. Going into this we had to really know the shots that we needed but there are some pretty big sequences that we ended up slicing away just because of the run time. Its a weird thing because the general consensus is you dont want your run time to go over more than about ninety minutes for a small movie like this. I hate when people criticize this movie too, like "Fun movie but they should have cut fifteen minutes." But, with a movie is cut the way it is because each story is already so tightly knitted together. You end up cramming so many things into a scene to make the story work its very difficult to just eliminate full scenes without the entire thing falling apart. So, the editing of the movie was a huge challenge because our backers were saying, "Cut cut cut cut" and it became this balancing out of how we to cut as much as possible without sacrificing the story. I'm sure people might say, "Just cut one of the stories" and I know in the heat of the moment that was a big struggle for us.
Mike: Yeah, it comes back to that old saying about killing your darlings.
RS: Yeah, that's so true. The thing that we kind of learned too is that when your making a feature, a traditional feature with one story and one set of characters you can sometimes eliminate whole scenes because you realize that you spend all of this time with these characters like as an example you might go, "Oh I need this scene to establish this character is sad". But, you can kind of see that in six other scenes throughout the movie that this character is sad, lets remove this altogether and people will still get it. But, you dont really have that opportunity as much with shorts since one scene might be doing six different things if that makes sense.
Mike: Yeah. As I said earlier the look of the film is great, especially the establishing shot of the town. Was that digital backgrounds to archive that look?
RS: Yeah, the town that we shot this at in Astoria Oregon, thats also where they shot The Goonies. So, the town itself is already amazing little Victorian town right on the coast. So we had all the buildings with this great look. But because we wanted each from of the opening title to cram as much material and atmosphere as we could we did enhance some of the backgrounds with digital mat paintings. It helped give everything a more dramatic effect. Most of the buildings and infrastructure is real, but like you said just backgrounds mostly.
Mike: Did you keep many props from this shoot like the title card book?
RS: Yeah! I have everything (laughs).
Mike: That's awesome.
RS: I have two trunks full of stuff in my friends garage which I need to move this week. I have all the key props. There were some props that I wanted so bad like The Raven's End sign that the kid rides past when he goes into town. Such an amazing piece of art that my good friend and art director Karleigh Engelbrecht painted. It was just too big so we ended up donating it to the film museum in Astoria.
RS: Yeah, they also have some of our nicer props like the childs coffin and some of the other bigger things. So, I'm hoping at some point enough people like this film that make a little exhibit dedicated to Mortuary Collection.
Mike: I can totally see Mortuary becoming a cult classic or straight up classic. And, I have to be careful how I say that because some people still equate the term 'cult classic' as failures or not reputable movies.
RS: Sure sure.
Mike: But not me, I love those kinds of movies. So you can worked with actor Caitlin Custer previously so it must have been easy to get her up to speed on what you wanted in terms of your vision for the film?
Mike: It was such a cool thing to watch her and Clancy really play off of each other in their scenes.
RS: Yeah! It made it so much easier on me to have Clancy a seasoned pro who never has an ounce of ego, there were no trailers on set, he was just like in a bedroom getting his makeup done and then just sitting on the porch waiting for us to shoot. He was the coolest guy on set and he set the tone for all the other actors but especially Caitlin since every scene with them is this back and forth. There is a risk when your writing stuff like that like, "Are people going to want to watch two actors talking in between stories? Is this going to be boring". But luckily the chemistry is there and it helps really elevate the writing.
Mike: Maybe a loaded question but do you have a personal favorite segment?
RS: (Laughs) I dont have a favorite segment. I've asked myself this question many times and I think to pick one is like picking my favorite child.
Mike: Ah okay (laughs).
RS: The Babysitter Murders will always have a special place in my heart because thats the movie that we made first independently and it sort of raised the money for the rest of it. So, that was the movie that started it all. That was a real labor of love, which was financed by Kickstarter and made with nothing. So that will always have a special place for me. We initially had a longer segment, they were all suppose to be around twenty minutes. Then as we were getting ready for production we realized that we weren't going to have enough money to shoot everything that we wanted to. The one that was there was like actually the biggest of all of them and it had a lot of linking pieces that linked all the stories together. When we had to cut that piece we already shot enough components that we needed to have a short there. Problem is we couldn't have anything big so the producers were like we need something very producible because we have very little money left and asked if I had any ideas. The whole time I was making this I was kind of upset there wasn't a monster movie in it, monster movies are my favorite. So, I sat down and I wrote that piece and my initial thought was this was a fun little one off story. But, the thing doesn't really go anywhere unexpectedly or doesn't have a big twists or surprises, its just a straight forward monster movie. Then I was like, I could have Sam sort of call it out for what it is. And in a way it further elevates this exploration of stories and what makes stories. It ended up working perfectly. Montgomery is a story telling and enjoys classic stories, Sam says," Tell her a story" and he kinda throws her a soft ball. I love it but it is a soft ball and she calls him to task and he says, "Okay I need to step up my game, the stories gotta be better, be twister, they gotta be more". So that was kind of a happy accident that happened. Thats why that segment will always hold a special place in my heart. I have a question for you, I'm really curious what your favorite segment is?
Mike: Oh, hmmm..I would have to say the first long segment with the Frat guys. But, then again I also love The Babysitter Murders and that twist and how it subverts certain troupes.
Below Ryan is referring to the 2015 short film which was later re-worked later into a segment in Mortuary Collection.
RS: It's funny because we made that movie in 2015 and I was really scared that someone was going to do that before we got this movie done. It seems like obvious and universal and I know a lot of people had seen this short so I was just waiting for someone to sort of make the feature length version. But, I again I think when horror became this mainstream genre everyone was sort of trying to find a way to pick apart the slasher movie.
Mike: I like how Mortuary is self aware but doesn't go over board with it.
RS: Thanks. Yeah and I think going back to the segments its interesting to talk to people but which ones their personal favorites because it dramatically swings and thats a surprise to me. Every anthology movie always has one or segments that are duds. Like there are some ones that really kill and then you have some filler. That was a big push for us because when I was working on the script I was thinking how do I make this anthology where there are no duds. We worked really hard to do but we got to the end of the road and its kind of impossible to make a movie with multiple segments that people love equally. Your kind of setting yourself up for people to pick favorites and its somewhat vindicating that people's favorites have been different a crossed the board. So you dont have one specific story that everybody hates. Everybody seems to be connecting with at least one story in it.
Mike: And as I said in my review every segment felt like it drew from something bigger like, Lovecraft or Poe. I also love that the theme of story is woven into the every bit of connecting tissue in the film.
RS: That was one of those major components at the very beginning of this project was the wrap-around. Like I asked myself, "How do we make a wrap-around that feels like its own movie and not just a book end?" I feel like, and even Creepshow to me, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, I feel like that wrap-around is just a book end. It's not a real thread that sort of is ran through the movie. So, my idea since every one was getting hot on this format again, I still felt like other anthologies were taking loose threads and finding ways to connect them together. So, what if we start from the framing story and work our way in. Though, I think South Bound has an interesting structure. Have you seen that one?
Mike: I haven't. I heard good things though.
RS: Its interesting it doesn't have a framing story per se but it stiches each of the stories together and each story kind of runs into the next one.
Mike: One of the things I really loved by Mortuary is how, I I think I mentioned this in my review, on my second viewing I began to notice all these little details or clues I missed the first time.
RS: Yeah, thats cool. That's a huge compliment. For me thats a big part of it. I love movies that you can watch again and again and you can start to pick up more threads. So, I crammed as much of that into this movie as humanly possible within our tight budget and timeline. It/s interesting because there was little flourishes in the production design or signage on the walls, like there is so much you can do with that to add layers to your movie. But all of those things are typically what ends up getting cut on an independent level. Its like, "Here what you have money for, you get this room and you can dress it like that, and if you want to do the detail stuff its going to cost more and your not going to be able to do". So, whats nice is about this movie, even though we didnt have the traditional budget to dive into all those details, I did have an amazing team of people and I also have a background in design and graphic design as well. So, me and my friends would stay up late at night and make those things ourselves and sort of layered it in. I would go to the store and get some misc. objects and paint them, my girlfriend did all the artwork, and the books. It's just little stuff like that that sort of, its the kind of thing you stay up all night doing and you wonder if its worth it. But, then you heard from people like you that say they pick up on it I think it makes it so much richer.
Mike: You can certainly tell that a lot of work went into it. It looks like a real lived in world. So, the film is streaming on Shudder Oct 15th. Is there any home video plans?
RS: Yes, as you say we premier on Shudder Oct 15th as sort of their build up to Halloween, which is perfect because it very much is a Halloween movie. I believe we roll out the Blu Ray and I believe digitally early 2021.
Mike: That's very exciting I hope I get to review that when it comes out.
RS: Amazing. We have so much material. It took us two years to make this movie and the whole time we were shooting behind the scenes. So right now we are putting together a ton of special features, even videos like us in my apt doing stuff like the puppet effects. Its going to be a really cool package when its all finished.
Mike: Thats awesome! Now, my final question is, besides Creepshow what is your favorite horror anthology?
RS: Ohhh man. That is a tough one. I think I'm gonna say the Amicus movie Asylum.
Mike: Yes thats a good one!
RS: The main reason is going back to this, it has a real framing device story. Amicus movies were always good about that but I just love Asylum's framing device. The set up of the new doctor at the hospital, I think its such a cool clever idea. I really miss that in anthologies. I'm also a huge fan of Tales from the Darkside the series and film.
A Huge thank you to Ryan Spindell for taking the time to talk to me about his amazing film. It already streaming on Shudder so check it out!