Still/Born is new independent horror movie that has been making waves on the film festival circuit, taking home awards such as “Best Director” and “Best Cinematography” at Sin City Horror Fest, as well as “Scariest Film” at The Overlook Film Festival. The film also currently holds a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, so you could say things are going pretty well so far for first time director/co-writer of the film, Brandon Christensen. We here at Nightmare on Film Street are big fans of the film (read full review here), so I was thrilled to sit down with the man behind the horror hit Still/Born.
DeVaughn Taylor for Nightmare on Film Street: Right out of the gates, Congratulations on your directorial debut, I think that’s something that definitely stood out whenever the film premiered that this was your first film. So with all the buzz, you got some awards on the festival circuit. How’s that feel?
Brandon Christensen: It feels great. It’s pretty cool to have this much opportunity on your first kind of jump into feature films like this. You know I was able to get a good team together that sort of helped give a leg up to get me into some circles that I may not have been into on my own. So you know, it got a lot of exposure just due to a lot of factors beyond my control and I’m really lucky that I was able to do that or be with people that I’m with, that definitely helped.
NOFS: The team behind it was fantastic because the production is awesome but the key point that I want to ask you about here was this was co-written by you and Colin Minihan. How did you guys link up?
BC: We started talking like 12 plus, probably longer than that, 15 years ago maybe on online forums, you know like filmmaking forums and stuff like that we were all kids. It was kind of like there was four of us, well there was I mean there was other ones, but the digital interference guys which was this Matt guy, Stu, and Colin and they were all kind of creating this company together and I was friends with them on the outside sort of watching it. When they started making great encounters and stuff like that I started to try and be a little more active in the friendship and being more in touch, I was always just talking to Colin and stuff throughout his career as it was kind of exploding in the horror market.
We were kind of just acquaintances until It Stains the Sands Red came up because they had the script and it takes place in Vegas, I live in Vegas, so he sent me the script. I was just like “yo, just come out to Vegas and let’s do this” and you know a couple days later they came out, we spent a couple days driving around finding locations for it and they’re like “Alright, I guess we’re doing it here.” And a couple weeks later, we were in pre-production on it. So I kind of tried to force my way into being closer with them and after working on that, it lead to Still/Born. Now we’ve got the projects down the pipeline that we’re working on as well.
NOFS: I’ve been really excited to check out It Stains the Sands Red as well. And Grave Encounters is one of my favorite horror movies ever, but Still/Born. This movie is fantastic. Where did the idea come from, did this come along when you were just going into parenthood?
BC: I think that probably helped. You know being a parent of kids, I’ve sort of dealt with a lot of some of the things that you deal with, you know, owning a home and all these things there’s just so many little idiosyncrasies that you deal with in life. But when Colin and I were looking to write a script, there was just one vision of like a woman giving birth to twins. And when the second one being delivered something’s obviously wrong and like without a word spoken you can see just by the way the nurse is looking at the mom and the mom’s the nurse. There’s something really wrong and then you smash cut to the nursery where there’s a woman sitting with one baby flanked by two cribs and that was the catalyst for the whole idea. And so Colin and I kind of start talking about this and how we could take this story about a woman that lost one of her babies. One of them lived and how how can that affect her and how can we kind of make a horror movie out of that.
And definitely being a parent, you can tap into some of the things because there’s just like just instinctual fears that you have as a parent that you know, there’s this tiny baby thing and if you leave it alone at any time who knows what’s going to happen with it. So you know you’re looking at a baby monitor, for example, and you’re watching this thing and you just wondering “what if something just reached into that crib and grabbed it?” So I mean there’s a lot of those things that I could definitely draw from my own experience to add into the script and Colin’s did a ton of scripts too. So we were working hand-in-hand, just trying to make this as scary as we could.
NOFS: I love that you mentioned that. What I love about this film is the human horror comes first and then the supernatural elements kind of just work themselves into it. You mentioned the opening scene was the inception idea. Did you always plan for that to be the opening scene?
BC: Yeah, it was definitely always the opening scene. It’s just I thought it was a great way to you know with you got this nice music that plays and it’s just building to something and how it’s supposed to be this really happy moment and then it’s just shut off immediately. Just kind of this sort of bittersweet feeling that there is this one healthy baby there, but there’s just this sense of loss and I feel like I’m kind of curious through the whole thing tonally. I feel like with the music that Blitz//Berlin did, it was just a really powerful scene that we were able to use it for marketing earlier on kind of when we weren’t sure where that film was going to go. So it was kind of a safe teaser for the world, I guess, just to see sort of what Still/Born was, but it’s crazy. It’s been almost a year since we saw it at Overlook. It’s just such a slow process.
NOFS: You mentioned the music, which is fantastic. With it being your first film, I was taken aback by the cinematography and the score, the production overall. How’d you stumble across Blitz/Berlin?
BC: Colin had worked with them on his film Extraterrestrial and It Stains the Sands Red. So when we had the script for Still/Born, we sent it to them because you know they’re all artists and they like to read scripts and stuff and sort of vibe on stuff and when they read it, they wrote this little piece of music and actually plays during the credits it’s a little lullaby that plays the very end. They wrote that before we even went into pre-production or anything, so they sent it to us and it was like that vibe totally encapsulated the film for us. And so there wasn’t really a question of who we would used to score the film. They wanted to do it and we wanted them to do it, so with Colin’s relationship made it pretty easy to get them to work on it. And they were great. We kind of did a temp score with some stuff, and they kind of used some of the ideas that we had, but they brought their know their own voice to so many scenes that I think worked so much better.
NOFS: It really set the tone for the film. Especially the opening scene, the score really brought it home without the commotion of the birth. Everything about the way it was composed was great. Another note on the production is you have some personal touches in this film. The baby in the film is actually your niece, correct?
BC: Yeah, so that was a big reason why we shot it up in Canada. One was just because two of the producers are from there. So they had experience kind of pulling together low low budget films that turned out really great. So that was part of it. My brother was having a baby at a certain time, it was their second kid so I wasn’t as shy asking if I could use her because they’ve already babied the first one, the second one is less of a big deal. They said yes and seven days after she was born, she was on set Day 1, so we did 19 out of 20 days with the baby and she was great. I mean, as far as baby actors go. The only hard part was making her cry, that was the challenging part was when you needed her to cry in a scene and she just wouldn’t. So eventually we found a solution of that, but yeah.
NOFS: Top notch performance there by that baby, she’s got a bright future. But did it also present some challenges?
BC: Yeah, I mean there’s definitely like an emotional component when you’re working with family that closely. I mean, we shot in my parents house which was already a family thing because we weren’t supposed to, it just was like a last minute emergency. So having the baby there, when you’re shooting overnight and you’re telling your brother like “hey, you gotta be here at 2:00AM” or his wife. My my sister-in-law would have to come with the baby or my parents would come with the baby. There was always someone that had to be there with the baby, and we would try our best to kind of shoot out the scenes that we could get with her, the shots that we needed and be really specific. But in some cases, you know making movies sometimes is pretty slow. There’s a lot of scenes where they’re just waiting and they were great about it for the most part. It’s just it sucks on my end just to see them and they’re obviously like ‘I want to go home. You know I’m not being paid enough for this.’ So that was that was tough when you just kind of worried about about your family turning on you at a moment notice (Brandon says laughingly)
NOFS: You could say two sides of the coin to having a personal touch in there with the film, but so to go back to get more into the movie itself. The one thing that I love about this film is that there’s not one false scare in this film. How do you go about crafting a scare in a film?
BC: I wouldn’t say that there’s no fake jump scares, I mean the biggest one in the film by far is the baby monitor. Yeah. And seconds after that happens, there’s a fake out with the husband and it’s just too good of an opportunity where you’ve got this super heightened tension when she’s got the baby and you just like you know you need an ending to that and that’s just like kind of a nice people laugh at that one because it’s such a cheap scare but the rest of them aren’t like that, but I mean crafting a good scare…it’s kind of just the contrast between being like just two polar opposites like if you can lull the audience into a false sense of security or something like that and just have a really quiet moments or a nice happy moment or something’s very the exact opposite of aura are scary.
Then when that scare hits I think it just sort of like a slingshot of emotions, where you’re just being pulled in one direction and all of sudden boom, the release is just that much bigger because you’ve been pulling so long. I think horror movies work really well when they kind of drag out these scenes and they build tension or they just sort of…it’s hard to put into words. It’s just all about that contrast and that’s why I a movie like Get Out works so well, because Jordan Peele is such a funny guy that he’s able to take these humorous characters or humorous scenes, and then just immediately kind of turn the page or you know just flip the script on the audience and they’re just like “holy shit, I wasn’t expecting that!” And that’s more effective just because you felt safe for a moment.
NOFS: So how did you come up with Mary’s character? Still/Born very much rests on her shoulders.
BC: Yeah, it’s really tough to kind of put this much pressure on one actor for a film. So I mean, when we were writing it we sometimes would write some scenes that would be from the husband’s perspective. Like, maybe he’s at work and doing something but it kind of took away from that feeling of just being alone with Mary that I felt like it was so strong. Every time we have that we’re just like, “no let’s try and let’s just keep that away, focus on Mary” because we really, for the most part, want to be in the shit with Mary because I think the audience really gets to sympathize with her the more time they spend with this woman alone having these issues.
So when we were writing it, we were kind of approaching it from two perspectives like one there’s the supernatural side and then two there’s kind of the real based on real events like postpartum aspect that we’re dealing with and you’re kind of doing a tug of war while we were writing where you know, I’m pushing in one direction, Colin’s pushing in the other. So any time one thing happens on the one side, it will influence something on the supernatural side and vice versa. So we’re just being very aware of what was how you know we wanted to kind of stay pretty close to that line and not kind of read too far in one direction.
NOFS: Yeah, and I think you guys did strike that balance really well, too. So what’s what’s the biggest thing that you want people to get out of this film?
BC: I mean, I want them to enjoy themselves for sure because I do think it is kind of like a roller coaster and it has fun with itself a lot of the time, even though the subject matter is pretty serious. We’re definitely not trying to be offensive in any way, we’re just dealing with a situation that I’m sure a lot of people have dealt and we’re just sort of putting a spin on it. I think it’s really fun to kind of watch a character just be put through the wringer and see what kind of person they end up being on the other side. I just want people to enjoy it and not watch it on their iPhones so they can hear it properly, you know there’s definitely a lot of audio cues and the score cues that do make a big difference so you know it’s coming to theaters in 10 cities or nine cities, next week in ten theaters. And if you can go, I think it’s a great theater film.
NOFS: I agree wholeheartedly. Even though I got to see it at the festival, I still would love to see this one like in a big theater, this is a fun one to to watch with people.
BC: Yeah I hope the people enjoy it because you know it’s fun. It’s nerve wracking to wait and see what happens. It’ll be it’ll be fun to see it out there and let people finally finally see it. It’s kind of weird when you when you premiere a year ago and you kind of do a festival run and then it tapers off, you kind of feel like it’s over like okay about movies that are we’re moving on to the next one but then all of a sudden the release is happening right. Oh right. You know, I thought I knew what everyone thought about this thing but now we’re going to find out for real how it kind of actually hits the general audience. That’s really cool I’m just looking forward to like, if I can get Chris Hardwick to tweet about because he’s a big horror fan, I would love to see him just sort of say something. He’s married, he loves horror, that would be cool to see.
Well, you heard the man. Go see this movie on the big screen if you can and tweet this movie to Chris Hardwick ASAP! Still/Born is available on iTunes and VOD platforms.