I recently had the chance to interview Craig Everett Earl, the writer and producer of horror film Intrusion: Disconnected, you can find a review of the film on site now, we chatted about everything from the state of modern horror, the trials and tribulations of filmmaking and of course the topic every interview needs, ICarly. Enjoy.
Q: Important is creating and maintaining a running sense of tension to you in your films?
A: I used to think that it wasn’t that important. Back when I wrote and produced the first Intrusion, I really didn’t want to concentrate on that. I just wanted to make a good story and characters people cared about. There is a big audience that considers a movie not being scary if they haven’t jumped, but basically the jump scare films are typically a loud cue in the music, the camera switching from a wide shot to close up and back to a wide suddenly with that loud cue. I’ve always thought realism in horror films was more scary because it’s unnerving when it’s something you can relate to or hear about in the paper the next morning. However, I gotta say tension and suspense definitely enhances the experience. With Intrusion: Disconnected, I tried to throw in a couple of jump scares but tried to focus more on the characters and try to get people relating to them. I think connecting to those characters and not wanting them to die is scarier in a sense and creates tension all on its own. The acting and the score for a film really enhances that tension and then in post you can always throw in the jump scare stuff for fun.
Q: Do you have any goof on set stories?
A: We have this running joke on set. One of my cinematographers brought up iCarly to get a point across for some reason. I honestly don’t even remember why. Somehow though, it turned into this ridiculous and meaningless joke. A couple of the cast started bringing up and blaming iCarly for everything whenever we had an issue. At one point, I believe one of my crew snuck a movie into the shot that actually said iCarly on it as a reminder. We had a blast running the gag into the ground. People would drop it and then someone would bring it up again to keep it going and everyone would sigh and laugh.
Q: Who is your inspiration artistically?
A: I was actually inspired by A Nightmare on Elm Street at age seven. I’m really disappointed I never got to meet Wes Craven, but I remember wanting to watch it and my mom telling my dad that I better not have nightmares. I wasn’t intrigued with the gore and killing, but the practical effects and I really loved the character-driven nature of it. Nancy Thompson was this character you were rooting for in every scene and one of the reasons I love horror. I also remember my parents having friends over later and telling me to go play with their kid. The first thing I showed them was A Nightmare on Elm Street and I think it terrified them. My parents said it was fine if it didn’t scare me but stop showing it to other kids. I’ve since met Robert England and Heather Langenkamp and they’re terrific people. John Saxon read the script and loved it but couldn’t sign on due to some SAG conflicts. Besides that though, I actually turned hugely to Poltergeist when I wrote Intrusion: Disconnected. I love how you think the film is over and there’s an entire thirty-minutes of chaos. I looked to that film when writing the script. I didn’t want anyone to know how or when it would end. I’ve seen so many horror films, so I really tried to make the audience think they knew where it was going and do the opposite.
Q: How would you describe the production in a word?
A: Exhausting. As a producer it definitely takes a toll on you both financially and emotionally. It’s very stressful and even if you’re prepared for things like the weather, sick actors, props not working properly, locations falling through at the last second, or even blocking and lighting a scene; it’s all something you have to be prepared to make quick, last second decisions to fix. I’ve lost thousands on a couple of days because of things that are beyond anyone’s control. Also, people on websites are so quick to condemn a film just after seeing a trailer, or the first five minutes. Someone writes the script, but then you have it go into production and the studio or director might decide to change scenes or things could get cut in the editing room. You hope you have good actors, audio, lighting, sound, the right score and a good editor. Any of these things could completely ruin a film. We had a lot of issues on the first Intrusion and it was basically like film school and a learning experience. So much got changed it took me six months to decide if I even liked it. After finally having our first screening and huge applause I calmed down a bit and enjoyed the film, despite the flaws. For Intrusion: Disconnected, I got about ninety-five percent of what I wanted and my director, Kyle Cates, and I was on the same page most of the time. That and having the tremendous cast and crew I did.
Q: If you could go back in time to when you were an early filmmaker just starting out what advice would you give yourself?
A: Even if you’re just starting out and prepping to make a project start marketing yourself and growing a fan base. I’m still kicking myself for that to this day because I hate spending hours on social media and promoting constantly but that’s a big part of it. When I first started out I couldn’t get anyone to look at anything or give me the time of day. I had written a couple short stories and a novel and wasn’t really getting anywhere with them. I wrote Intrusion and went and got a loan. I ended up having to get two loans before I was able to shoot it. I hired a crew, found a cast and years later we’re getting rave reviews on this one and I’ve now written two features, produced three and worked on other projects, including one for Brad Pitt. Everything is a learning experience and networking. Once you start bumping into the same people at festivals they start to see your persistence and drive. That’s when they eventually want to work with you. People don’t become successful overnight and if you’ve actually made something that is a success, who if not everyone loves it. Somebody will always hate it. Making a film is without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I completely respect everyone’s opinions, but most of the time when I see the really crude comments, I’m actually thinking they should go try to make a film themselves. It’s harder than they think. Even if I don’t like a film, my hat is off to those people for finishing it.
Q: What is more important to you as a filmmaker an overall atmosphere, or a series of individualized moments?
A: I basically treat my scripts like book chapters. I typically start by having an opening and know how the film is going to end. I think an ending is the most important part and with a lot of films I really feel let-down by the third act and the ending. I also think it’s hard to get it just right. I think atmosphere is extremely important as well, but a lot of films have great atmospheres and not enough intrigue to keep the story interesting. I also think there are times where you’re pushing for time on set with budget restraints and not everything works out. Some of that can be fixed and made into a better atmosphere during the editing process by leaving stuff on the cutting room floor and a great score to raise the tension. Sometimes, the best things happen during editing just experimenting and trying different things. I owe a lot of the atmosphere in this one to performances and the score that David Obaniyi composed. I thought he did an amazing job.
Q: When having a killer or villain who is a constant threat, how do you think is the best way to communicate that to the audience?
A: With the first Intrusion I really went for the normal guy next door. I originally was thinking about big and intimidating, but that’s been done to death. My wife and a friend actually said how serial killers don’t look like horror villains. They’re tall, skinny and look like the guy next door. I thought that was a lot more interesting to show this realistic version of a man and how he becomes a killer. With the sequel, it’s all about that grey line between good and evil. You have a heroine, Holly Jensen, played by Katie Stewart who is suffering from PTSD and mentally broken from the beginning of the film and the killer, Raymond Hummel, played by Lee Haycraft, now realizing his true nature and having this God-like complex. He’s much more calculated and manipulative in his actions. I think it’s scary that given the right circumstances something can send someone into madness and down that dark path. I wanted to tap into that more, along with some similarities between Holly and Raymond as people. In the original Intrusion, Raymond found out his girlfriend was cheating on him and killed her. Holly comes home and thinks that her boyfriend Peter is cheating for a moment. I did that on purpose. They’re both people with the circumstances they’re dealing with. The question is when given that hand, which path does the person take. I think that’s a lot more disturbing, the films that stick with you afterward and keep you thinking about things that make you uncomfortable. We all have this dark side. Most of us choose to be good people. The people that do not are definitely a threat.
Q: Future plans and sequel ideas?
A: Right now I’m actually in the process of revitalizing the book that I wrote years ago. It’s this love story that actually starts with tragedy in a small town with four characters surrounded by a lot of different dark issues in their lives. Not sure if it’s going to be a re-release since I own the rights again, or a possible film, but it’s something I’ll eventually put out there. I would love to do more projects with my cast and crew. They’re all extremely talented, but that’s going to depend on the success of Intrusion: Disconnected. I spent 25K on the first Intrusion and 80K on this one. I can’t do that again. If I get financing or funding for it I would love to keep doing this. I would love to do a creature-feature with Katie and Lee. Could be a lot of fun, but I love the drama genre. I definitely want to do something in that realm before going back into horror again. I have no plans to do a third Intrusion film but if a studio wanted to more with that world, I have a pitch for a T.V. Show that could be fun, but I doubt that will happen. I only did a sequel to Intrusion because we used it as a springboard for a more interesting, fresh idea. I think that’s the problem with sequels. If they’re made, they need some time to breathe and a better idea.
Q: How would you describe the state of modern horror?
A: I think the state of modern horror is great. It’s definitely thriving again both in a nostalgic way and with a lot of original films. A few years ago slashers started to disappear, and it was leaning more toward found footage and then a lot of paranormal films. Now, you seem to pretty much have your pick, and slashers are definitely on the rise again. Some people hate combining comedy with horror, but I think we have enough films coming out it’s great that everyone is trying to do something fresh with them. I just recently saw Spontaneous and thought it was brilliant. It was a love story about kids suddenly exploding, mixed with sci-fi, drama, horror and comedy and it worked perfectly. I think balancing different genres can be tricky and don’t always work, but I also think that it’s great people could make something and put any spin on it they want.
Q: If you ever won an Oscar who would you thank in your acceptance speech?
A: I would definitely thank my cast and crew. Without them, especially with this film, it wouldn’t have been possible. A couple of them went out of their way to make sure this was a reality. More than anyone though, I would thank my wife. I try hard not to bring my stress home with me when making a film, but that’s nearly impossible. She has been there from the beginning with me and picked me up a few times. I’ve also put her through Hell sometimes and things I still have a hard time forgiving myself for. We talked about having kids years ago and I put my career first and she gave up a lot of her dreams to let me achieve this and to let people see this. I had one day when I was on set out of state and she lost her mom. I had just seen her mom and they gave her about six months to live. My wife supported me to shoot the film because we were already prepped for it and everyone had cleared their schedules. During the shoot, got the phone call that she was going to pass away early after only weeks after we found out. I focused and was able to get through the shoot, but we took a break after that because I wasn’t there emotionally and even though my wife didn’t blame me it’s something I really hate myself for. I know her mom was asking for me minutes before she passed. That alone is heart-breaking and one of the many sacrifices I’ve made for people to be able to see this. Even when you achieve success it’s never this perfect way you imagine it. It comes with demons.
I hope you have enjoyed this interview, be sure to check out Intrusion: Disconnected now on Amazon Video and be sure to join me again for other interviews, features and reviews.