We Summon the Darkness has been tempting horror fans with it’s 80s vibe and shroud of mystery since it hit the festival circuit last fall. The latest directorial effort from My Friend Dahmer‘s Marc Meyers, the film boasts a bevy of familiar faces and some truly killer moments. Alongside fan favorite Alexandra Daddario (Texas Chainsaw 3D), performances from Johnny Knoxville (Jackass), Maddie Hasson (Mr. Mercedes), Amy Forsyth (Hell Fest) and Logan Miller (Escape Room) power this heavy metal infused ride into darkness. Lucky for us, the wait is almost over as We Summon the Darkness hits VOD and digital Friday, April 10th.
When looking at a film as a final piece of work, it’s easy to forget just how much work goes on behind the scenes. Dozens of hands and countless hours go into each and every frame. In this regard, We Summon the Darkness is no different. One set of those hands belongs to the film’s lead editor, Jamie Kirkpatrick. With more than two decades in the industry, Jamie has worked on projects ranging from Dave Chappelle’s Block Party to Lost in Translation. We Summon the Darkness marks Jamie’s third collaboration with director Marc Meyers and his talent and passion permeates oozes out of the screen. I recently had the privilege of speaking with Jamie and he gave us a unique peek into the magic that unfolds behind the dark, velvet curtain of cinema.
The film is set in the Midwest against a backdrop involving a killing spree thought to be orchestrated by a satanic cult. Three best friends embark on a road trip to a heavy-metal show, where they bond with three aspiring musicians and head off to one of the girls’ country home for an afterparty. A night of fun and youthful debauchery takes a deadly turn as bodies begin to pile up, with each side thinking the other hides the killer.
Rachel Reeves for Nightmare on Film Street: How did you first get involved with We Summon the Darkness? At what stage in pre-production did you come in?
Jamie Kirkpatrick: So, We Summon the Darkness was my third film with director Marc Meyers. We had previously done a film together called How He Fell in Love and then followed that up with My Friend Dahmer. After the success of My Friend Dahmer, Marc was looking for his next project. I know he was a little hesitant to do something in the genre space again, but 4 or 5 months before We Summon the Darkness was shot he called me up. He said, ‘There’s this script and I really dig it. I think this thing would be super, super fun. Read it and tell me what you think.’ So he sent me the script, I read it and I agreed with him! The word that kept coming up was ‘fun.’ What a fun movie this is! I feel like only fans of thrillers or horror films will understand how I’m using that word. Obviously there’s a lot of violence and mayhem in the film, but if you appreciate the genre, this was such a fun throwback to the classic 80s slashers or thrillers. I was so immediately taken by Alan Trezza’s script I told Marc, ‘I love it. If you’re gonna do this thing, I’m in.’
NOFS: Having been brought on so early must have had its perks. What were some of the early conversations like regarding the approach to the film’s editing style?
JK: Having read the script as early as I did, it was really helpful. Once Marc signed on to the project, he started working with the screenwriter to get the script where it needed to be to reflect his take as a filmmaker. I got to read those drafts as they came along and see the direction it was moving in. That was really helpful because once Marc and his team start moving into pre-production, there’s really not much for me to do. So in that time, I took it upon myself to do a little research, but nothing too specific. It ranged from John Carpenter and ‘teens in peril’ stuff to much more modern films. Movies like You’re Next and Don’t Breathe were films that Marc and I really thought captured the same feeling we were going for. And for me, re-watching those really helped me get kind of a lexicon in my head. As an editor, it’s not like I’m studying how to edit them. That has to come from the actual footage that I get. But you can, when you start to watch that stuff, see there is a language and a sort of universal rhythm that those films tend to have. I found it really helpful to get in that head space.
Right before they started shooting, Marc said, ‘Listen. I just want you to think of this film as a rollercoaster ride.’ I understood exactly what he meant. Like any good rollarcoaster ride, you start with this slow, climb to the top. And on the way to the top, it’s very misleading. Nothing happens, it’s relaxing. You can feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. But you understand that something is coming. And then you get to the top and realize you’re going to fall 1000 feet. That was the important thing. I wanted the audience to feel lulled in. That was really the visual I had for the whole film. So once that drop happens in the movie, it needed to be forward, never relenting energy.
“Obviously there’s a lot of violence and mayhem in the film, but if you appreciate the genre, this was such a fun throwback to the classic 80s slashers or thrillers.”
NOFS: We Summon the Darkness takes place in the late 80s. And My Friend Dahmer takes place in the 70s. Does the time period of a film affect your editing and pacing at all? If so, how?
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JK: The answer is yes. With My Friend Dahmer, we did want to be true to the style of filmmaking that was popular at that time. The kind of New American Cinema, young auteur US directors that were being given real budgets to work. And with We Summon the Darkness, same thing. It was not any sort of explicit direction from Marc, but I did really want to see what we could do to employ some of the techniques that were used in the mid to late 80s. And when I say techniques, I don’t mean something cheesy like star wipes or bad dissolves. Some of those things don’t age well in my opinion and can feel really dated. But in this modern era of filmmaking, there’s no question that the pace of editing has increased. Certainly compared to movies 30 years ago. The simple pacing of the editing is now much, much faster. Audience attention spans have been narrowed. That’s good and bad. They’re able to accept much faster editing in a way they would not have been able to 30 years ago. But, it’s also sometimes resulted in films that are really messy.
We have a whole scene with a bunch of characters around a bonfire. And that’s a really tricky thing to shoot. We had a live fire and multiple characters. At night. But it’s a really good example of Marc trying to capture and me trying to honor…letting a scene unfold in a really natural way. Not pushing the pacing. And not creating an artificial rhythm. So that way, as things are slowly revealed in that scene, they feel natural. You don’t feel the hand of the filmmaker saying ‘Hey! Did you hear that? Did you notice this?’ Those devices have their place in films, but we really tried not to do that. We tried to allow the really wonderful performances from our cast do the work.
NOFS: I’ve often heard directors talk about getting attached to early temp scores. Do you ever get attached to early edits? Any particular scenes stand out from this project?
JK: That’s a great question. Really, really good question. The simple answer is yes. I do get attached to early edits sometimes. But I should preface this by saying, every editor works differently. Every editor has a different work flow. For instance, some editors like to do a super rough pass. They’re really just doing an assembly and not worrying too about match cuts and angles. I know some editors who work that way. They’ll do that first, get the cuts that they want, and then eventually go back and finesse. For really technical scenes or really gigantic scenes, I will sometimes do that. But for the most part, I have trouble leaving a scene until it’s viewable to me. I’ve always said that editing is the closest to writing. The same way anyone who’s ever written anything knows, you fall into the zone. You get to a point where time kind of stands still. It feels like you’ve been writing for 30 minutes but turns out it’s been 3 hours. Editing is exactly the same way for me. I find that if I leave a scene before I feel good about it, it takes me way longer to get back into that zone.
That said…We Summon the Darkness proposed a particular challenge to me. Marc had to shoot this thing at an incredibly accelerated pace just due to independent film production realities. His original schedule got cut down by a couple days so he had to move really, really quickly. And part of how he did that was by having two cameras for a lot of the larger scenes. Also, Marc comes from a theater background and he really likes to have scenes play out if he can. Sometimes it’s not possible, but for the most part, he will let actors do a full take of a full scene, start to finish. Multiple takes, from multiple angles. While that’s a great way for a director to ensure he’s got what he needs, and for the actors to really find the scene as they go, the reality for an editor is a bit of a nightmare. In terms of the sheer amount of footage I’m receiving.
For example, that bonfire scene was hours of footage. They had two cameras running simultaneously doing this long 15+ minute scene. And they did it many, many times. Plus pickups. That scene probably took me 3 days to cut. Which is not typical. Usually I can cut several scenes in a day. But in this case, there was so much happening and so many beats that I had to make a little map on my wall with the script pages. Only by doing that was I able to kind of find my way around this mass of footage. In the end, not only is it one of my favorite scenes in the movie, but it’s one of my favorite scenes that I’ve ever been able to cut. I think it came together really well and it’s really the heart of the audience figuring out what’s happening in the film.
After Marc and I had gotten through his director’s cut, the film had to go on hiatus for a while. And when it came back, to finish up the director’s cut and the producer’s cut, I was already on another film. So, Marc and our second editor Joe Murphy continued to hone the film down and put the finishing touches on the whole thing. I thought they did a really good job at getting into the shape that audiences are going to see.
“…this is exactly the kind of movie people can stream in their home and get a real kick out of.”
NOFS: Despite the film being delayed for a minute, I actually think the timing is kind of perfect for it right now.
JK: Marc and I were just talking about this the other night…the genre audience is very loyal. I think they are probably the most consistently loyal audience in entertainment. Meaning, the people that like those sorts of films (thriller, horror), they will go see stuff no matter what. There’s a real appetite. And we always knew that was a real positive for this movie. That said, even though I think We Summon the Darkness would make a great theatrical film, there are a lot of films that producers and filmmakers don’t know what to do with right now. They don’t feel the subject matter is appropriate or even that the tone is appropriate for everyone being socially isolated. But the irony for me is that We Summon the Darkness is the perfect film for that! For people that like genre films, it’s not depressing and even though it does have this kind of dark view on humanity, it’s done in a fun, ‘wink to the audience’ kind of way. And I think this is exactly the kind of movie people can stream in their home and get a real kick out of.
NOFS: Alright, nerdy question…what kind of software did you use on this project? Does your system change depending on the project?
JK: Generally speaking, I usually edit on Avid Media Composer. That was true on this film as well. For what it’s worth, my first five features were all on Final Cut Pro. On this film, I want to give a shout out to the guys at Nice Dissolve in Brooklyn. They really took care of us and set us up with a room, systems and also set us up with a high speed internet portal so we could actually receive our dailies from Canada. That was really helpful because sometimes on these small indies you might end up cutting in the production office. It just kind of means you have no tech support or if something goes wrong you just have to figure it out yourself. While most of us are able to do those things, there’s nothing worse than spending two hours of your day trying to troubleshoot not hearing audio out of your speakers when you just want to cut the damn scene. Pierce, who co-owns Nice Dissolve, was truly instrumental in making sure that pipeline was really smooth for us.
NOFS: There’s so many fun little action scenes, especially in the second half of the film. Do you have a favorite scene in the film or one that you’re most proud of?
JK: There’s a scene where a particular secondary character meets their end in a really bloody way. I’ve worked on stuff before that has had gunshot squibs and I’ve even worked on stuff where people have gotten stabbed, but I’ve never had the opportunity to cut a scene where it had pretty copious practical blood effects. So while it didn’t really have a whole lot to do with the mechanics of the editing, it was kind of fun because it was really my first time of doing the creative calculus of…’Oh. Do I show the knife first and then the killer’s face? And then the stab and then the victim’s face? Or is it a different order to get a better reaction?’ It’s funny because you realize, I’ve seen that moment in 100 different films. I’ve seen somebody get stabbed to death in a movie like, literally 100 times. But as an editor, when you actually have it in front of you as four or five different pieces of footage…I mean, I’ve edited 20 some features. I’m not exactly a newbie, but even I had this moment of pause where I was like, ‘Oh wait. How do I best put this together?’ The first time around I just followed my gut (pardon the pun) and it looked ok, but I wanted to spend some real time on it. And I ended up changing the order of those shots several times until I found the right combination.
You realize, it’s one of those great illusions in filmmaking. Where in reality it’s a simultaneous action. The gun shoots, the bullet hits the person, the person starts to bleed, and the person reacts. But in film, you have to show each of those things happening. And you need to show them in order so that the audience has the most visceral reaction. So, that was a fun discovery for me. This fairly simple action, that literally only takes 10 seconds, maybe 15 seconds in the movie, you have to watch a few times. Coupled with, ‘How much blood am I going to show here? Do we want this to be horribly graphic? Or is it scarier to only get a glimpse of the blood that’s on the floor?’ I think most people, who haven’t made films, take those things for granted. If you can’t tell by my enthusiasm in talking about it, that’s why I love what I do. It is so unknown and there is a bit of magic. It’s magic in the true sense of the word. It’s illusion. And if the illusion is done well, you don’t realize you’re watching an illusion. You just think that something disappeared.
“It’s magic in the true sense of the word. It’s illusion. And if the illusion is done well, you don’t realize you’re watching an illusion. You just think that something disappeared.”
We Summon the Darkness will be released by Saban Films on VOD and digital, April 10th. You can also check out more of Jamie’s work in his upcoming film Critical Thinking directed by John Leguizamo. Release date TBA. Have you checked out We Summon the Darkness? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!