Writer, actor and director of Scare Me Josh Ruben dropped by the Video Attic to talk about 2020's Scare Me, its home video release March 2nd and his upcoming film Werewolves Within. Scare Me is currently streaming on the horror platform Shudder link HERE Link Opens in a new browser
VA: Working on CollegeHumor videos, did that quick format help you keep pace with Scare Me's fourteen day shooting schedule?
JR: Oh yeah. I didn't go to film school but I did learn the facts of backdoor routes to filmmaking basically by making my own stuff with a bunch of my friends one of which is Sam Reich who now actually owns CollegeHumor. But, we would make sometimes three even four sketches a week and even by the time I left and I was there from 08-013 I had basically had seven years of shooting sketches that I was in, writing sketches Monday that would shoot Friday. In directing sketches we wouldn't even scout locations, often times we would be seeing the location for the first time on the day of filming.
It was a hell of a film school. I had directed at a slightly quicker pace at a professional level in the commercial world. So, by the time that Scare Me rolled around, as much as I wanted to get famous and make my first movie (laughs) by the time I was a teenager or my early twenties but I was no better prepared then I was at thirty-five.
VA: I'm sure the feature is worlds apart from the short format you were use to.
JR: Yeah. It was still tight. We shot that movie in thirteen days, we had Aya for nine days, we shot Chris for about forty-eight hours. We had Becky Drysdale for about a day and a half as well. We were fighting snow and all kinds of weather issues but we still technically wrapped with what I would say was a few hours ahead of schedule which is pretty crazy.
VA: Wow. Thats impressive. What was it like pitching a movie like Scare Me which is very minimal in nature. That must have been difficult?
JR: I wouldn't say it was difficult. I think the hardest part was that none of us other than Chris and Aya weren't very well known. The criminal thing about You're The Worst is that it's something you`ve either heard of and love it or have never heard of it. It has this almost cult-like hit in a way but, now The Boys has made her a household name. So, I think the hardest part of pitching was there weren't any big names catapulting this film or anchoring this film with a built in following. So, I was really pitching myself and the best that I could do and point out everything I've done from commercials and short films to a pilot a made for Netflix that Matt Damon and Peter Berg produced that will never see the light of day. (Laughs) All you can do it say, "Trust me, I can do this". I think the most appealing thing to the investors and the my sort of pitch in the beginning is this is almost quite literally two people in a house acting out scary stories so you`d even be saving money on props. It's all sound design and all performances. So, it became this appealing thing or this intriguing thing for the investors and anybody coming on board. Its like, A I haven't heard of this before and B your saying something about the current state of the world and the state of the culture which is a commentary on toxic dangerous emasculated men.
VA: And, thats the thing, Scare Me is a movie that has a message but never becomes preachy, it really walks that fine line which is a credit to the sharp writing.
JR: Thanks. There was an urgency to Scare Me that I did not take for granted and I now going to sort of put myself to the ringer on that any project I do has to have a kind of urgency to it you know. You gotta be saying something even if it's, don't judge a book by it's cover. That messaging is why a big part of Scare Me exists and how it happened so fast.
VA: So, I know that had contacted Aya Cash first to play Fanny but did you have any back-up actors in mind for the role?
JR: This is the thing. I only reached out or listed people that I knew. Aya was not only the most talented person that I was closet and probably the most famous person I was closet to but also she lived near where we wanted to shoot in the Hudson Valley. So, my pitch to her was, "Hey, do you wanna do this weird, different movie that says something about the state of the world today about gender dynamics?" She had just done an amazing interview in The Cut talking about going out for these just absolutely sexist roles where she would be bikini clad or just the woman would just be in service to the male counterpart protagonist and that would be her sole purpose. She wanted a challenge so I said, "Hey you wanted a challenge to do all these voices and stuff" and she said, "I meant like a period piece not doing a Crypt Keeper voice". She has a great reputation for being a wonderful collaborator. A big conversation with her initially (which was the same conversation I had my cast of Werewolves Within) was asking "How do you like to be directed? How do you like to work?" Establishing that is a important thing to do as the director. It's what made working with her and Chris and Becky a dream. All of them have live-performance background, they all have collaborative DNA. Thats what made it easy despite all of our challenges.
VA: You can really tell in the film that everybody has such great chemistry.
JR: I'm really glad that Aya and Chris got along so well and played really well into our kind of dynamitic. It was great I am really happy with how it all worked out, how they were all down-to-clown.
VA: Are you open to your actors ad-libbing?
JR: I didn't really have time on Scare Me to go off-script at the very least to do an extra take here or there on the occasional moment where it felt appropriate. For example, like you`ll see in the DVD extras one or two of the outtakes one of them was scripted and the other was, "Hey since were already rolling on Chris why don't we keep acting out different ways of killing each other on a snowy night." Some of the more vitriolic criticism of the movie is like, "Well, this is an improve movie and these actors are just improvising, there's no script." I love letting go off-script, I love letting people play around but for the most part these guys really stuck to the script. I encourage them to make all dialogue their own and not to stress the "ums" and "I's". But we just didn't have the time to improves. It was something I was flexible on but didn't encourage just because this was a thirteen day shoot. When you don't see Aya in shot with me, especially in the beginning part of the movie leading up until when Carlo (Chris Redd) arrives Aya wasn't there I was reading with my fiancé who was working on Fosse/Verdon.
JR: Yeah, it was crazy.
VA: What's your favorite story in the film?
JR: Oh man, hmm. I love them all for different reasons. Like, I love Grandpa and Venus because I could just sit back and watch these actors sort of from a selfish directing perspective and enjoy the show. I have really fond memories of anything I'm not involved in. So, Werewolf would probably be my least favorite because I was the most nervous and also we kept revisiting and sort of cobbled together that sequence in so many different ways. We realized that we had forgotten set-up's or we were or weren't going to have Aya for certain days for reactions. So, it was a very patchy one. I think troll was the most fun because it's not only written as an homage to Stephen King's Cats Eye troll which scared the shit out of me as a kid. It was just quick paced ridiculous Tales from the Crypt like two-hander with Aya. We had such a good time raising and lowering the camera and speeding through it. It's so punchy and wonderful, that was a great one to do and I'm thrilled with how it turned out.
VA: Scare Me has the amazing writer Rebecca Drysdale who is a legend. How did she come onto the project?
JR: I've always known Becky to be a improve performer and a brilliant writer. I think I admired her most not only for founding the improve theater out here called The Club House here in Los Angeles but also as the constant on Key and Peele as a writer and producer. Dan Powell our producer at Ironing Point is not only a fan of hers but has worked with Becky for years. In fact, his film Becks (2017) that he directed with his co-director Elisabeth (Rohrbaugh) is based on Becky.
VA: Wow, I did not know that.
JR: Yeah. Thats a wonderful movie by-the-way, really awesome. Anyways, at my biggest swing I wanted Bettina to be a sort of a Annie Wilkes-like-character. So, I was reluctant to cast anyone in their thirties or close to it. We had three thirty-sometimes in this movie already and I didn't want it to look like a movie full of contemporaries who might do improve together when the cameras not rolling. I wanted an older actress, I wanted Katy Bates seeing how this was my Stephen King-type roll. We had gone to a few different actresses and we were getting so close to the shot date and, I think our first shooting day was the car ride. So, these offers were falling through and we wouldn't get responses. Again, I'm a first time filmmaker so I cant just call up Jamie Lee Curtis who I have worked with before and say, "Hey can you do some scream-queen cameo for me." Dan was like, "Becky would fly here and do it for me. I think she`ll be great, she`ll put on the puffy coat, she's great at improve and well respected in the improve community". And, she's great. I didn't even consider her, I didn't even know she wanted to act. She came in and just knocked it out of the park. When people talk about Scare Me they often say, "You guys are wonderful, the troupe of two-three in the house but my god Bettina." People love that character so yeah, it was a, I don't want to say happy accident but I happy favor that Becky did for us.
VA: It really is incredible how she makes the most out of a small role.
JR: Yeah, she wins the movie!
VA: A lot has been discussed about Scare Me having a MeToo so I'm curious what the feedback has been on that, specific from female fans?
JR: The feedback from women fans of has been overwhelmingly positive. The most impactful for me is when my producer Alex Bach saw the film for the first time. She couldn't be on set proper since she was on maturity leave so she had a copy of the script and I was giving her updates and she oversaw all of post when she was back up and running. And I'll never forget the phone call where she said, "I just watched the rough cut and holy shit I knew this was going to be interesting and unique movie but that ending scene is so fucking scary." She became even more of a champion and in turn we became a more powerful operation. She was the one to say as a woman I can attest to the fact that the final act of what many women find themselves in at the end of the night with a strange dude in a kitchen or elsewhere, whether they'd been drinking or they've been kind of horsing around-they don't know. They don't know what the person is going to do to them. They don't know if they are going to lean in for a kiss or take a swing or worse. The most moving and impactful moment of the process was when my producer leaning in all that much more. Alex has gone so far above and beyond on this movie. And, thats a big piece of it because it spoke to her. She was able to get on the phone with investors and ask for more money and convey that there is an urgency here. That meant the world to me.
VA: Speaking of feedback did you get any praise from anyone you admired in the industry?
JR: As I'm sure you know the horror community is so welcoming and the community is just so palpable and warm. If you are outside of it and I was until Scare Me dropped you might roll your eyes at any interview where someone like Lin Shaye gets emotional talking about horror and the fanbase. But once your actually in it and then you go, "Holy shit people really see it for what it really is." While you have certain people that poo-poo the fact that there's not enough gore or dismemberment, the horror community as a whole digging it has been so insane. I'll never forget the day Barbara Crampton and Kelli Maroney followed me and sang its praises and posted about it or Josh Malermen who wrote Bird Box or Paul Tremblay.
JR: Yeah. It's a fascinating thing because when you find yourself apart of...I'm not apart of the in-crowd by any means but its just interesting to say you really do become apart of this movie-club where people go, "Okay, yeah you know what your doing." And, I see it and appreciate it. You can do that if you have something to say and you can shoot it for barely any money with your friends. Now you can shoot it on your iPhone and upload it to Vimeo and make an impact.
VA: If you could make any of the stories in Scare Me it's own feature what would it be?
JR: That's funny I had been writing Venus for ages. It's why if you have this script it's like twelve pages and it was our most problematic stories in the edit because in the movie the rough cut came in at just over two hours and we had to cut that segment down to a minute and a half. I have like a forty page Venus movie that I really love and if I had all the money in the world I would hand off the content to a woman filmmaker for her take it on. Because, it does have to do with this interesting dynamic between boys and their mothers. It's similar to the one I had with my own mother who I thought was this lioness, she was so all powerful she could control the weather you know. I use to blame my mom for when it rained. So, in this Jennifer Kent Babadook kind of way, with the kid controlling the mom and her bending to the kid. If thats the already pre-existing dynamic what would happen if there's some zombie like infection that only infects women and there sort of away from the world waiting for dad. It would be such a deep and unsettling film, like a ticking time bomb movie where these creatures in Night of the Living Dead fashion would start to get to them. Also, this ticking time bomb for whatever this air borne thing this to hit mom and mom suddenly become the monster in the house with this little kid. I hit such a wall with it years ago and it was one of those stories that obviously I pulled out of the draw and dusted the cobwebs off of and puzzled into the second act of this movie.
VA: Was there any stories that you wanted to include and didn't make the cut?
JR: No. Venus was the only story that had to be cut down for time. There was no extra story to shoe in. In fact, a big conversation we had was the length of the film once we got it down to an hour and forty as opposed to a trimmer hour twenty is do we trim one of these (stories). That's why Venus was cut down from an eight minute sequence to a minute and a half sequence. So, we were all hemming and hawing about what needed to be cut. Now that I have a second feature with several producers and a lot more cooks in the kitchen and it just being a differently paced film I go back and watch Scare Me and think, "Oh my God, there is totally eight minute of fat I could just trim out". But, it's perfect the way it is because its my first feature.
VA: It's certain a fun film. So, lets shift focus to your upcoming movie Werewolves Within. So, just to be clear this has nothing to do with the werewolf segment in Scare Me?
JR: (Laughs) No, its purely a conscience. The crazy thing is Werewolves Within came about because I invited Matt Miller and Natalie Metzger from Vanishing Angle the production company behind not only Thunder Road (2018) but the Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) to watch Scare Me. And they watched the first cut and gave me awesome feedback and then hit me up about pitching a movie called Werewolves Within. While it has nothing to do with Scare Me its kind of a wonderful conscience in that you also have different characters stranded in the house and there's some evil around.
VA: So, you aren't acting in Werewolves Within. I'm curious if acting in any of your own movies, at least as a major character is something you`d consider doing again or not?
JR: I'm far more eager about raising up all kinds of talent in any way I can and directing them and just being there as an actors director. I think part of my goal is being a director that fit the qualities that I've admired in directors I've read about or worked with. But yeah, I enjoy directing myself I feel a weird shielded diplomatic munity about it but also I'm so sensitive to others time. Even though we were tight on time with Scare Me my psychological faults will always be wanting to rush through my stuff. While I'm toying around with a concept where I will be the lead I will probably not be the lead in anything or write myself a lead role in anything (laughs). I'm more excited about putting on the rubber nose with supporting roles. Anyone else would be great to take center stage especially a person of color, a woman, someone with raw talent, someone who I can truly champion, that's something I'm excited about.
VA: So, recently you got some big news on Werewolves Within right?
JR: So, I just got conformation Entertainment Weekly is doing a synopsis of Werewolves Within with some first-look images. And, the big news is that Werewolves is going to be distributed by IFC.
VA: Wow, thats great.
JR: Yeah, so IFC is the incredible distribution team behind horror movies like The Babadook and Relic which is mind-blowing but also Oscar winners like Boyhood. They saw this movie and believe in it and they love it and I think a lot of what folks are responding to is the fact that it's not a out-and-out horror but it also gives you a film that we all need right now in a way. Sure there are characters going against seemingly impossible odds in a way but also your going laugh, your gonna see good people emerge the heroes and that I think is what is a message that we all kind of need right now and I'm stoked to share this with the world.
VA: Can you say what percentage of horror and comedy this movie will be?
JR: I don't want to give anything away. I will say that much like Hot Fuzz I guess you could say which is a big inspiration for me or even a film like Arachnophobia or Jaws. Like, in some ways your community can just as horrific as any sort of monster. That's what I think is so exciting about this one, especially just given the political climate as of late and everything else. I think thats about all I'm allowed to say. It explores that small town dynamic both good and bad and I'm a small town kid. I came from the Hudson Valley and was about to convince these guys to shoot it in the Hudson Valley where I'm from which is actually where we shot Scare Me as well. Just to go back home for both of these movies and bring some commerce and some gigs back to the folks who worked as a favor for the first go-around is really is great.
VA: It sounds like that classic Twilight Zone episode about the town, I can't think of the name.
*The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (Season 1, Episode 22)
JR: Yeah! I think that's always going to be kind of relatable right? There's always going to be an urgency and very little shelf life with the gray area of people and whether or not you can ever truly trust your own neighbors.
VA: Werewolves Within is a bigger budget film?
JR: (Laughs) Yes, several millions and several peers bigger than Scare Me. I had a lot more toys to play with a lot more of a cast. Yeah it's bigger in every way. I probably would have had more money to play with it I wasn't so stubborn about shooting it in Hudson Valley.
VA: So, I know what you do tends to be more on the humorous side but would you ever do something darker? Like, would you ever do something like an A24 movie?
JR: Oh yeah! I actually talking to one of my favorite horror writers about adapting one of his short stories. I can't say much about it but it would be...The first thing I told him is this should be in the hands of a Adam Wingard or Ari Aster. Truly it should be with a more horror proficient director but I'm really excited about continuing to craft something chilling and make something feel as unsettling film as possible. So, yeah I would be stoked to do anything for A24. I just saw Saint Maude which has such a wonderful tone to it. I wouldn't call it an out-and-out horror but it's defiantly my kind of vibe. There were elements that kind of reminded me of Scare Me, in the way everything is so performance driven and yet so specifically unsettling. But yeah, I would love to bring something different in that regard.
VA: That's great that you feel like you want to push boundaries for yourself.
JR: Yeah, I mean I've been obsessed with horror since I was a kind. The dream scenario is to...I think so many filmmakers are on different levels trying to figure out where the next Freddy Kreuger is, whose that next iconic character that people want to see terrorize folks and enjoy doing so (laughs). I think Jordan Peele is in first place to crack something like that. I wouldn't mess with any genre though if I didn't feel an urgency to whatever concept it was I wanted to follow. I think that the next big challenge for me is just sort of go, if I get opportunities thats great but if I'm not saying something then what's the point? It's just going to end up like that horribly reviewed movie that people forget.
VA: So, the exciting thing is that Scare Me is getting a home video release March 2nd! What can fans of the movie expect as far as extras?
JR: Oh, my god we got great stuff. If you wanna watch the "music video" portions. We separated the devil song which by the way is now on iTunes and Spotify and anywhere you get your music if you wanna support our composers Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez and Anni Krueger. It's important for me to get that single out there and see if we can get it at the top of the billboard 100. But, you can just watch the music video, Branden Banks my cinematographer and co-producer do a commentary on the film which was a lot of fun to do. We really go deep on our approach to this. It's not just us going, "Yeah, this scene is cool" we really go deep and it was super fun. There's also a, I wouldn't call it a sneak peak its a first episode of a podcast series from the guys from MCS Media called Make Cool Shit. It's hosted by my buddy Aaron Kheifets. Scare Me was their sort of guinea pig launch for a first series exploring how we make an independent film. They are gong to do other seasons about making stuff not just films it could be making sneakers, it could be about the launch of an album. So, their first season is going to be about the making of Scare Me. I believe there are going to be eight episodes featuring interviews and really awesome narration from my buddy Aaron. It goes deep deep into the trials of making a first feature. So, anyways the first episode will be on the disc, hopefully that will drive folks to check out the show. Beyond that are outtakes and some behind the scenes stuff. It's pretty chocked full for being a little indie.
A big thank you to Josh Ruben for taking the time to talk about his amazing work.
Scare Me is currently steaming on the amazing horror film/television platform Shudder. Link HERE
The home video release of Scare me arrives March 2nd. You can get a copy HERE from Amazon
Please Note: Browsers will open in a new window.