INTERVIEW: WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (SXSW)
SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST used to be the go to fest for music but it’s film component has become a very important part of the festival and a very promenent festival for filmmakers. We had the luminous Danielle Dallaire, our newest addition to FEAR FOREVER, sit down with WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE filmmaker Colin Minihan and stars Brittany Allen and Hannah Emily Anderson at The Driskoll Hotel in Austin Texas.
Fear Forever (FF): With so much of this film being shot outdoors in a heavily wooded area what kind of obstacles did you face while shooting?
Brittany Allen (BA): Well it was a consideration leading up to filming. We were really nervous because the best time for all of us to shoot was mid-to-end of Spring which in Muskoka is the WORST bug season. So, it starts with the black flies, then it becomes mosquitoes and finally deer flies. It was almost to the point where I was like “I don’t know if we can do this” but we had already scheduled it so we had no choice.
Colin Minihan (CM): How did we schedule it? I think the first half was mostly the outdoor stuff.
BA: I think so, yeah because we knew that the second half would be even worse. But the first half was insane. You know you had to like pretend that….bugs weren’t flying everywhere!
Hannah Emily Anderson (HEA): Yeah we had bug nets.
FF: You cant even tell while watching the movie at all.
CM: Yeah, we sprayed a lens right in front of the camera pretty much before every take because some of the shots if you didn’t, you would be able to see little dots flying around.
FF: How Frustrating!
BA: We sprayed ourselves with DEET
HEA: We were covered in poison.
FF: That stuff never works though.
BA: This was illegal stuff!
CM: We ordered this stuff that was like 98% deet stuff that we ordered off Amazon. We had a line in our budget for the bug war.
FF: Oh really? You had to have a line in your budget? A budget for the bugs?
FF: Oh my gosh how ridiculous, that’s really funny.
FF: What did you do in between takes and shooting days to find some levity while working on this film?
HEA: I think there was always laughing and joking, we are a pretty tight knit group. We also got to know each other pretty quickly. Especially in those conditions.
FF: Yeah, you kind of have to, right?
HEA: There was a joke of the day like everyday. Or every hour. We also had someone on set, his name is Ben who was one of the producers. He would just sometimes pop in, do something crazy or hilarious and just sorta pop out.
BA: Hahaha yeah!
FF: So that helped? It didn’t like, break your characters or anything?
CM: Well there were probably times where you’re like “get the hell out of here”.
HEA: Sometimes it was not appropriate but mostly it was.
BA: It’s so dark so you have to just have to…
FF: have balance probably?
FF: So, This film reminded me of another female driven film called POOR AGNES (2017) where our villain is a strong, scary, stoic female who is physically fit, good with weapons and the lay of the land. Both are quintessentially Canadian films. What is it about Canada that lends itself so well to horror?
CM: Well, in terms of that specific film, I don’t know. But there’s some great Canadian horror movies for sure. My favorite Canadian horror movie is GINGER SNAPS. Have you seen it? It also two female leads. Maybe it is the bleak winters of Toronto, the darkness and nobody leaving their houses for months on end because it’s so cold. I don’t know. I think maybe it conjures up some shit in people over there.
BA: Colin grew up in a small town on the northern tip of Vancouver Island and I just remember you always talk about how a lot of your ideas as a kid starting to form on the long drives through the dark forest from the next town South. Which was around a 2 hour drive through the mountain and the woods.
CM: Sure, yeah! Totally. Well there’s only 30 million people in Canada and there’s 30 million people in just California alone.
FF: Ohhh ok.
CM: So there’s a lot of empty space out there.
FF: I think that has something to do with it then!
CM: I think nature plays a big part obviously, the last two horror movies that I made were definitely inspired by the area that I was living in when I came up with the idea, one being the desert of California and then this other one just being kinda nature and the wilderness. I think I like that challenge, though. I like to think that I can like, defeat it.
FF: I can see that, well the land was definitely practically a character itself in this movie.
FF: Ok, so this one is for Brittany.You spend a good portion of the film with some prosthetics and spfx makeup, what was the procedure of that like and did it hinder your ability to move which your character?
BA: It was something you get used to. I didn’t really have too many prothstetics. I just had like a big cut or gash on my wrist. That was pretty manageable, you know. It’s not like I had anything crazy on my face it was just a little bit of sticky blood which after a while can get uncomfortable. That’s the biggest thing.
FF: But it wasn’t an issue?
CM: It never makes you moody, you’re never moody with blood or goo.
BA: I just kinda get used to it, you just have to go into a sort of meditative state. Because sometimes when you have a lot of the stuff on you, you do want to just scream.
FF: Low key freak out? Like Ahhhhhh!
BA: Yah, take it all off and have a shower. So you just have to kinda like, stay in a meditative state.
FF: And realize its a movie?
FF: So this question is for both of you women, What kind of work did you have to do to shape and develop your characters?
HEA: I had a couple weeks leading up to filming so I watched a lot of stuff and did a lot of research. I watched tons of interviews with psychopaths and serial killers. I have always been interested in that. For some reason, they are just fascinating people to me. So I did a lot of that, and I think a lot of it just happened while we were shooting.
CM: There’s discovery for the first few days, for sure.
HEA: Yeah like we were just playing with it and trying to figure out what the tone was so we would do a take and then sometimes we would just role for a while and then Colin would say “try this, try this, try this” and we would just try and find the level and eventually I think we just found it together.
FF: Well that’s cool, I would have never thought that you would have that strategy to watch interviews of psychopaths…that’s really smart.
HEA: Yeah, I would study their faces.
FF: So this is for both of you women. You guys have worked on multiple films together. How did working on this film compare to your other joint projects?
BA: Well we actually didn’t have any scenes together in JIGSAW. So we had just met in passing a couple of times. And hardly knew each other at all before jumping in to WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE. We had to really quickly get comfortable with each other. That’s always the case on a film when you’re having to play like you’re in a relationship with someone you know, and the first couple of days or so you’re trying to navigate it and everything and then suddenly, it just comes together. I loved working with Hannah. We worked really well together.
HEA: yeah, It was great.
BA: We challenged each other a lot and we really elevated each other.
CM: Especially physically.
BA: Yeah but also in our work, I like to think that we both brought different qualities to our work and so I think I learned from Hannah and she learned from me.
FF: So different strengths and weaknesses?
BA: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
HEA: It was nice to actually get to work with Brit. I had seen her every time on the JIGSAW set but she was always just completely covered in blood.
BA: Haha, yeah!
HEA: But yeah getting to actually work with her was great. There was a healthy competition between us because it was really just the two of us for most of the film. And I have never had that before. So we really just elevated each other.
FF: So that helps, when you actually get along with reach other right? Haha Major!
HEA: Oh yeah that’s huge!
FF: Ok so for Colin, You co-created the popular Canadian horror franchise GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. What experience from working on those did you apply to this project?
CM: I mean those movies are so different. I feel like intuitively the kind of filmmaker that I naturally am lends itself more to this sort of violent thriller. Something darker more grounded and real life. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a supernatural movie that also tries to stay grounded in kinda this situational real life. I think with that film I had to abandoned the stylistic ideasy, camera angles and you rich cinematography that I’made such a fan of in movie. With this film I was actually able to showcase that, which is what my style has always been. I have been making films for as long as I can remember. What I learned most on GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is that some of the best stuff you can get is the unexpected stuff that comes out of the scene. So, if I had a scene written one way and it just wasnt playing, I would open it up to the actors to help kind of find it. I felt that on this film especially cause we were working with a smaller crew we werent as restricted with having to put the camera here, cause there like a hundred lightso. You weren’t like bogged down by the equipment and gear. So we had room to play a little bit which reminded me a little bit of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS.
FF: That’s cool! Ok so Colin, One of my favorite characters in the film was actually the land itself. It’s peaceful, yet quite brutal and menacing at points. Can you tell us about how you found and chose your locations?
CM: The house?
FF: The land and all that.
CM: Well it was just a fluke actually. Around 4 years ago Brit and I (Colin and Brit are a couple) visited her family’s cottage in Muskoka in the summer. It is literally that road on the very first shot when you turn off the highway and you turn down this big dark and narrow long stretch of off road. I think the very first time I drove down I noticed that there was two roads parallel to one another with trees in between which is hard to find! I scouted tons of things trying to shoot from car to car. That area was so awesome I actually said out loud to Brit, “I am going to try to write a movie here!”. So, I did. For a long time I was kinda thinking that I would use her parents cottage if we couldn’t find a better one. Then one of our producers stumbled across across a location database looking for something completely different. At the bottom of this database of houses were photos that people had uploaded that were open for renting for movies. We found a really great one that was actually like a 40 min drive. So we were able to house the girls there and shoot at the other place. And everything else was basically right around the area too.
FF: Kinda like the land inspired you from the very begining.
CM: Yeah, totally. Just kinda like how I was saying earlier.
FF: Music plays a big part in the film. Between Jackie/Megan being a talented singer, guitar player and pianist, the score for the film is quite prominent and carefully placed. Did you work with the composer to do the scoring and create the exact tone for the film that you wanted?
BA: I actually scored the film.
FF: Did you? Whoa!!!
BA: That’s cool that you thought that!
FF: Thats dope! Man, you women are so talented, what am I doing with my life?
BA and HEA: Hahaha
CM: You’re doing fine!
FF: You’re like amazing actresses, singers, playing all these instruments, that’s so cool!
CM: I think music was a huge part of the film. It became a bigger part of the movie because I found BLOODLET which is the song by Canadian artist by KATHLEEN MUNROE. That’s the “demon inside” song and I found that when I was doing a rewrite just before shooting and it became such an important part of the film. You know that there was no scene where you (Hannah) picked up a guitar and sung or anything before that. That song really built that scene and brought it to life and then I brought it back a bunch in the movie. It became such a piece of it and it worked so well cause I knew I wanted to do you (Hannah) playing MOONLIGHT SONATA on the piano and you’re a gifted musician so it tied in great. But Brit scored the movie and created ultimately every rich texture that’s in there and did a phenomenal job as her first time scoring a movie.
FF: Wow good for you!
CM: So she had been making electronic pop music and learning production over the last two and a half years or so and a lot of the sounds she used are really TRENTON RESNER sounding. Like grimey and pulsing electronic synth sounds. I knew the texture I wanted to be more piano mixed with that, and so we weren’t sure if Brit would be comfortable scoring it ultimately. So I sent her a scene and said try this scene and lets see how it goes. We’re going to know if you’ll be able to score this movie based on you scoring this one scene. At the time we were living in this place with a piano and she just wrote something awesome.
BA: Yeah it was so much fun. I really really loved it.
FF: Ok well just the last question, Is there anything else you want readers to know about yourselves or the film?
CM: Talk more about the music.
BA: I think for me this project was special in so many ways but definitely the most lasting way it will have affected me is it introduced me to scoring which is something that I never thought I would do before but always had a really deep appreciation of in other films. Now that I’ve done it, it makes a lot of sense as something that would be a good fit for me and something I hope to do a lot more of in the future. So I am so grateful that Colin entrusted me in that and that we have just begun that journey.