From music videos to horror films, writer/director Gavin Michael Booth is making his mark in the industry one project at a time. His most recent film, The Scarehouse, is an independent feature that was picked up by a major Hollywood studio and has been gaining considerable critical and fan traction. Booth sat down with Carpe Nocturne to discuss The Scarehouse, indie film, and where he is headed next.
LinnieSarah: You’ve worked on everything from music videos to short films, and now, you’ve moved into the horror world with The Scarehouse. What has changed about your technique and style from genre to genre?
Gavin: Generally I just try to bring the sensibilities of each genre to the table. It is more of a feel than a specific technique. Sure, you’re going to have moodier lighting some times, other times call for handheld, kinetic camera movement to create the urgency. It really does vary. With The Scarehouse I wanted the haunted house itself to have a lot of atmosphere and then let the characters play inside that. Other than a few chase scenes, the movie is shot entirely on a locked tripod or on a slow moving dolly. We wanted to approach the film that regardless of how much suspension of disbelief is required to buy into the basic concept and over the top revenge plot, the characters are grounded, they could be people you know, they have morally conflicting thoughts. With that you want to make each frame about the characters and not so much about how cool everything around them may or may not look.
The Scarehouse is the first film where the soundscape that is present in 90% of the film was super important to me. The sounds of the haunted house, the sounds of the other patrons going through the haunted house. I wanted it to very much always be in the audience’s mind. Corey and Elaina are always one step from being discovered and very boldly committing these crimes within earshot of people that could discover them at any time.
Part of prepping for The Scarehouse and shooting in this location was the fact that I had already shot a half dozen music videos inside this building. I knew some of the lighting schemes I would want the DOP to employ. One of the videos I shot in there was a Grindhouse style zombie video for Emma-Lee (Shadow Of A Ghost) so in essence I had already made a horror film there and had a head start style-wise that I could carry over into this film.
L: The Scarehouse was produced on a relatively modest budget and received a lot of positive attention from studios. How did it feel to get that kind of love as an indie director?
G: $200K is not a lot of money to make a movie. Especially since our approach was to make sure we paid our crew better than a slave’s wage and we went with union actors, which sucks up a lot of an indie budget. We felt it was better to have people well fed and well paid and that would bring out the best in their hard work to give us their all in each department to get what we wanted on the screen.
The fact that Universal agreed to take the film on for the U.S. at script stage and that D Films here in Canada along with Telefilm Canada were involved right from my elevator pitch is absolutely thrilling. There is no better way to describe it. It’s the ideal for a lot of us struggling to “make it” as filmmakers, to have the major players that have released all of our favorite films get behind the projects we are creating. For me it is always about looking forward. We cracked this door open, we’ve released The Scarehouse in a big way for a little film and that is super exciting but what comes next? How can this opportunity propel this cast, this crew and closer to home, my next scripts, projects into a larger arena?
L: What inspired the idea behind The Scarehouse?
G: A very close friend of mine, Shawn Lippert, owns and operates a haunted house attraction in Windsor, Ontario – my hometown (directly across the river from Detroit, Michigan). I was taking a tour of his attraction during the daytime with all of the lights on. All of the scare magic was gone. I was fascinated learning how these “haunts” work. You only need a small group of people to keep changing costumes and leapfrogging through the building’s narrow halls and trap doors, changing costumes sometimes as they move, in order to make it feel like dozens and dozens of different people are terrorizing paying customers. Truly all smoke and mirrors.
I had been close to film a script I wrote called Four Shots which was a super edgy movie about student’s perspectives of being trapped inside of a mass shooting scenario in a high school at the time. I said to Shawn that day that if I was a disgruntled kid that had that evil streak in me, I wouldn’t storm a school with a gun, I would open a haunted house, invite everyone I felt I needed revenge on down for a special preview night and then take care of business inside the dark hallways. You would have a total home court advantage inside a maze you built. I half joked you could even hang the bodies on display in plain sight and other people coming through the funhouse would just think it was awesome make-up effects.
That was it. I literally wrote it down on a Burger King napkin and filed it away. When there was interest from D Films I called Shawn right away. We worked out a deal to shoot the film inside his haunted house, which is called Scarehouse Windsor by the way! I was too lazy to think of a better title. It is a working titled that stuck. “Gavin what are you working on?” “Well it is this revenge story that we are going to shoot inside of The Scarehouse.” Eventually it just made sense. Shawn became our production designer and resident haunt expert. We used some of his exact set-up, built other custom rooms and we were off to the races. It was concurrent with scripting the movie. I would dream up a room or scenario and call Shawn and ask if we could make that happen for our budget. It was a really exciting project to work on from that perspective.
L: Canada has always churned out some amazing horror films (Black Christmas, Visiting Hours, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil) but never seems to get the respect it deserves. Why do you think that is?
G: That that old adage of if a tree falls… if a Canadian film is made and no one sees it, did it ever exist? There is a really sad fact that we have a hard time getting Canadians to watch Canadian films, so what chance do we stand with the rest of the world tuning in? There’s obvious factors like the American studio system and the big star system for movies dominating the public’s knowledge of what films there are to watch.
When I saw Black Christmas as a kid I didn’t know it was Canadian or American or anything. It was just a movie I rented at my video store. In December, I had an invite from Anchor Bay to see a 40th Anniversary screening of Black Christmas here in Toronto. Truth be told – until that invite I didn’t know the film was Canadian (nor that it was directed by the SAME Bob Clark that directed A Christmas Story)!
L: What are your favorite horror movies?
G: A Nightmare On Elm St. (actually I quite love the 3rd one too), The Blair Witch Project (mildly obsessed with well done found footage films having a few original ideas of my own), Child’s Play (it was my anti-Toy Story growing up – locked all my toys in the closet each night before bed) and Poltergeist.
L: Who do you consider your inspiration as a filmmaker, horror or otherwise?
G: Kevin Smith (mostly Clerks and Red State) – he was the guy that when I saw Clerks when it was first released on home video – I read about how he made the film for so cheap it clicked in my brain – “I can do that, I can save/raise 20k and go make a movie”. I think it was the first independent film I had ever seen. Why does it look so cheap? Why is it black and white? Why do I love this film so outside of the box even though some of the acting is pretty bad? It really was a defining moment for me.
Everything for me since then has been about not worrying about budget and finding away to get it done. My most successful music video with international praise and millions upon millions of views was made on a budget of $700.00. Tell the story with the gear and the crew and the access to whatever you have at the time. Make the story great, work on your script to tell a story people will want to watch and everything else is mostly forgivable by the viewer. I still love Clerks to this day as a film but more so it was my bible in the sense it gave me the religion I needed to believe I took could walk the filmmaking path of the almighty Kevin Smith. I do not mean that in terms of success or personal – just simply that I didn’t have to wait for permission from a studio or TV network or anyone to start making movies. There was this indie way to do it and the digital video revolution was about to happen so it was definitely the right time, right place for me.
L: What’s next for you: more horror or another genre flip?
G: Well, that all depends on what gets funded by a studio or independently next! I have a slasher film by a Toronto writer that I really want to make. It is really outside the box while staying inside a very familiar and loved horror playground. There’s some traction with that project. I have a soldier story that is close to moving forward and then on the opposite end of the genre universe I have a bank robbery comedy with a musical element to it.
Then there are more music videos. We just wrapped one for Gavin Slate that will come out soon and will be shooting the next Gavin Slate music video across America soon. I’m excited to get back into music videos again – I shot so few of them during the production and post periods for The Scarehouse.
Gavin’s Music Videos: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6CD2093B4B3E687B
Emma-Lee – Shadow Of A Ghost: http://youtu.be/7utJPmXOocs
The Scarehouse Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFe7FOSuX60
The Scarehouse Prank Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bf9HNpxvedo
Gavin’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gavinmichaelbooth?fref=ts
Gavin’s Twitter: @gavinbooth
Scarehouse Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheScareHouse
Scarehouse Twitter: @scarehousemovie