After a career as a film critic (he’s the creator of Arrow In The Head), writer and actor, John Fallon has made his directorial debut with indie horror movie The Shelter, playing at this year’s Film4 FrightFest. It’s a dark, moody chiller about Thomas (Michael Paré), a homeless man who’s lost everything, who stumbles upon an empty house during a particularly bad night. Food and shelter aren’t the only things waiting for him…
We spoke to Fallon about the challenges of low-budget filmmaking, taking a gamble on a project you believe in, and why the best horrors can be found outside the multiplex….
Where did the idea for The Shelter come from?
I was coming back from a hockey game and there was this homeless man sitting there on the street. I gave him some money and I walked on home, and as I was walking, three questions came to my mind: who is that man, how did he get there and where’s he going? So once I got home I wrote those three questions down, and that was basically the seed that started the whole process in terms of coming up with the story and writing the screenplay.
You’ve been a critic, screenwriter, actor…was directing always something that you wanted to do?
Directing’s always been my Holy Grail, if you will. I started off going to film school, and after film school I went to theatre school for three years and then graduated from that, and then entered the business mostly as an actor and as a script doctor fixing other people’s scripts. Directing was always something that I wanted to do but life goes the way it goes, and when The Shelter came about I knew that was going to be the one. I would fulfil my Holy Grail.
I had other scripts that I wrote that I came close to directing, and other people wound up directing them, but The Shelter was so personal and weird and had so much to do with my own individual spirituality that I knew that there was no way somebody else could direct it but me!
There’s quite a specific, dreamlike tone to much of the movie and at other times it’s quite grounded. Did you always have a very clear idea for the feel of it?
Yes, definitely. I always knew The Shelter was a risky project in the sense that it wasn’t mainstream. It had elements of mainstream but it wasn’t on the whole, which is why I tried to shoot it for as low a budget as possible in the name of making my money back. But I figured, if you can’t take chances when making independent films, if you can’t try things, whether you succeed or fail, in the indie scene, then where you can try these things?
It’s also not a film that feels the need to explain everything to its audience.
Yes, I took a bit of a nod from David Lynch. I love Lost Highway, it’s one of my favourite films, I’ve seen it 20 times and I’ve seen it with friends and we’ve debated it, what it means to them and what it means to me, and I think who you are as a person, how you were raised, the nature of your own individual spirituality will define what you get out of the film. And when I wrote The Shelter I wanted to make something similar. I know what The Shelter means to me and I have found it incredibly fascinating when people have seen it and tell me what it means to them, and that’s the type of film I wanted to make.
And you spend the time to develop the character, too. We really get immersed in Thomas’ world before the horror kicks in.
Definitely. I don’t want to sound pretentious or anything, but there’s a struggle between being honest with yourself as an artist and also understanding the film industry and the business, and knowing what’s going to sell and what’s not going to sell, especially when it’s your own money on the line. I knew that for the first 20 minutes or so, it’s basically a straight drama, and that could turn off a lot of people who are used to a quicker pace or whatnot, and it could also turn off buyers, people that distribute the film and don’t have the patience to watch past the 20 minute mark.
But I decided again, you know, if I’m going to make a low budget independent film and one that takes chances, well, I’m just going to make it the way I feel is right. I’m going to fully embrace the art card, being honest with myself as an artist, and fuck the commercial stuff. I’ll deal with it later. That was my approach.
How was the experience of finding people who understood what you were going for?
Well, Michael Paré was definitely a big key for me in the sense that when I wrote the screenplay, the character looked like Michael Paré in my mind. I had met Mike on the set of Eric Red’s 100 Feet in 2008 and I always found him very charismatic and the camera simply loves that guy. When I was writing The Shelter he was in my head but I never thought for a second that I would get him. And down the road I finally wound up sending him the script and he totally got it, totally loved it, and I wound up flying to LA, we negotiated and I got him and that was it. It was very important that people understood what I was trying to do, be it Michael Paré, be it my DP, but my DP Bobby Holbrook and I had such an effortless relationship. We were reading each other’s minds, it was beautiful. It could have been the opposite, I know that! [laughs]
You’ve written on your blog about the challenges you faced while making the film. I was wondering if there was ever a point where the thrill of actually directing a movie for the first time went away?
No! [laughs] I really felt zero stress or zero insecurities on the first day of shooting and onward, I felt very much in my element. I think one of the reasons for that is, the day before we were to shoot, Michael Paré’s flight got cancelled because of a snowstorm. It was an incredibly stressful moment because I couldn’t afford for the shoot to start late and I needed my lead actor on set. I was starting to grow my beard just in case I had to play the role. And all the stress got poured out through trying to fix that process with my producer Donny Broussard. By the time I got to shooting I was very relaxed and very prepared, very focused, I had good people around me. So the shoot itself was smooth. I did have a couple of moments where Mike would be doing a scene and I’d kind of forget I was directing, and I was so taken by the performance that I was just standing there, mouth agape and forgot to yell cut because I was really engaged! People were just looking at me, “John…” “Oh yeah, cut! Mike, that was great, let’s move on!”
How does it feel now, with the film about to play at FrightFest, and having the chance to show it to people?
Very exciting! It was a very long road to get to this point, we spent nine months in postproduction, I actually had more obstacles in postproduction than I had during production. It was fight, fight, fight, obstacle, obstacle, obstacle, so now, not that I’m sitting on my laurels because I still have to lock distribution on the film, but I am allowing myself to actually be happy now! [laughs] I’m going to FrightFest, I’m really excited, I’ve never been there before. So far the UK press has been really great with me and the film, so yeah, I’m allowing myself to be happy and after FrightFest I’ll go back into full-on business mode.
Do you have another project on the horizon?
I’ve already been working on setting up my other film with my producer, we’re talking to a studio, it’s something bigger, something more mainstream, but yet still pretty bold. I can’t really talk about it yet, I have this thing, until the money’s locked, what’s the point, I’m not going to talk about it. I definitely want to keep pursuing this path as a film director, I really got so much out of it and loved the process and can’t wait to do it again.
You’re still active as a critic at Arrow In The Head, what do you think of the state of horror right now?
Well, personally I get fulfilled as a film fan through the indie scene. Movies like The Guest, I’m seeing Goodnight Mommy soon and I hear really good things. So the indie scene, thank God, because people take chances and go outside of the 1-2-3 mould. Studio pictures, and especially in terms of films like Ouija or The Gallows, I don’t even know how that shit got made! But for me, from what I’m seeing, being that the new audience is less demanding, the studio films are denser, but that’s just my perception, what do I know right? [laughs] It’s exciting to discover films that I don’t know everything that’s going to happen because I watched a trailer that revealed every plot point. I like not knowing what I’m in for. A film like Ouija, I know exactly what I’m in for, and when I did see it I’m like “Wow, this is actually stupider than I thought it would be!”
Are you looking forward to catching some horror films at FrightFest?
I really want to see Night Fare. I’ve heard really good things. I’m definitely going to FrightFest as a filmmaker. Arrow In The Head is still going strong but myself, I’m slowly but surely stepping away from it just because it doesn’t feel right for me to direct films and criticize other people’s films in the media. In terms of FrightFest, I’m just going as a film fan, man, I’m looking forward to it, to be able to watch a movie and not have to write about it afterwards! In terms of The Shelter screening, I’m bringing some postcards, I’m bringing some hats, and the FrightFest people told me “Hey, it’s your show, do what you want!” So it’ll be a lot of fun.
The Shelter is playing at Film4 FrightFest on Friday 28 August and you can get tickets for the screening here. Find out more about The Shelter at:
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