Now in select theaters and available on VOD is Eric England’s Contracted. The viral body-horror film follows a young woman, Samantha (Najarra Townsend), after she wakes up from a drunken night of unprotected sex infected with the STD from hell. Contracted also stars Caroline Williams, Matt Mercer, Katie Stegeman, and Simon Barrett. At a recent LA press day for the film I sat down for an exclusive interview with England. He talked about his favorite body horror films, casting Simon Barrett, creating convincing makeup effects on a limited budget, how he’s achieved so much as a filmmaker in so little time and more. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
ERIC ENGLAND: The film is about a troubled young woman who is at a party one night and meets a random stranger and has a sexual encounter, a one night stand if you will, and contracts what she thinks is an STD but turns out to be something much worse. So it’s kind of this weird story of her external and internal conflict kind of merging together to create this massive downward spiral.
Where did that idea come from for you and what made it something that wanted to pursue?
ENGLAND: A lot of unprotected sex that ended with rashes- no I’m kidding [laughs]. Really it started with- I’m a big lover of genre films and lately I’ve seen a lot of the same stuff just kind of churned out over and over and over. And my first film I’m even guilty of that [laughs] so I really wanted to do something that stood out, that was really just different and unique. I love the virus/infected subgenre and I hadn’t seen anything…I don’t want to say revolutionary, but just anything unique in a while and I wanted to do something that was in that world, but do it in a way we haven’t seen before. So I reverse engineered this idea. My favorite horror films are the ones I feel like I can relate to and I feel like sex is something that most people, for the majority of people can relate to in some form or fashion. So I thought it would be a neat device to use as a set up to a genre a film where this girl is dealing with these problems and then it’s just compounded by this extra layer that turns into a certain subgenre and takes it in that direction. Because if you take the horror out of this movie it’s still a unique, kind of interesting story that you want to follow.
As far as the subgenre that you’re working with here, the viral films and the body horror, what are some of your favorites and maybe some of the films that inspired what you’re doing here?
ENGLAND: If we’re talking virus and infected your head instantly goes to zombies and stuff like that. I’m a big fan of The Fly and David Cronenberg and stuff like that, but ironically I wasn’t really influenced by that going into this. I actually wasn’t as knowledgeable of Cronenberg at the time when I was creating this idea, as I started to formulate the idea and share it with people they were like, “Oh, that kind of sounds like a Cronenberg film.” So that’s when I started to do my research. But I’m a big fan of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later for that matter, Outbreak as corny as that movie can be sometimes. I like things that make me feel paranoid and there were elements of that in some of Soderbergh’s films, stuff like that. Story wise I was really looking to that with a little bit of Black Swan, because how we focus on this one character that starts to spiral out of control. So those were kind of the films that I looked to as references and Darren Arronofsky. Visually I definitely looked for that.
I’m curious about casting Simon Barrett in the film. How did that happen?
ENGLAND: Simon is a friend of mine. We met at the premiere of my first movie and I had actually been to the theater to see a screening of A Horrible Way to Die and I actually only met Adam the director, because you know, the genre is so incestuous and everyone knows everyone. So the producer of that had introduced me to Adam and the producer of V/H/S was like, “Oh you need to meet Adam and Simon, meet all these guys.” So I didn’t get a chance to meet Simon, but Simon actually came to the premiere of my film, and I saw him and he came up and had really nice things to say to me about the film and everything. We just kind of kept and touch because I realized that he had a good head on his shoulders and he was a very down to earth kind of guy. And I really appreciate that, especially in Hollywood where everyone can kind of be fake. So we just kind of kept in touch and grabbed drinks, talked movies, and talked a little bit of everything random.
He’s from Missouri and I’m from Arkansas so we kind of have this southern, Midwestern thing going on. When it came time to do the movie I had written the role and I wanted this Kevin Spacey in Se7en type vibe, where the guy could walk right in front of you and you’d have no idea who it is and Simon, even though he’s a really charismatic guy and has a lot of personality, he’s really good at blending in. He’s got the bald head and the stubble, he’s just a very nondescript looking person. And I knew I was going to shoot the character entirely out of focus so I was like, “I don’t really need [laughs] a thespian actor for this. I was like, “I wonder if I could just get a friend to do it, I’ll just ask Simon.” I emailed Simon and he was like, “yeah”, and it was great. He was so fun to work with and being a filmmaker he was always on the same level as me and if I needed to adjust my shot he knew what way to turn because he’s used to being behind the camera on his own sets. So he knows which way to turn and he had all these quick tips to help us. We need an apple box and he would just stand on his toes or something. He was just so fast and we worked so fluidly and it was great. When he wasn’t shooting he was over in the corner writing. So it was just a great collaboration.
You’ve mentioned sort of the incestuous nature of the horror scene and you know, a lot of those same guys work together time and time again, do you see yourself collaborating with Simon or one of those guys again?
ENGLAND: Yeah, I mean really I think it just depends on the project. I personally don’t want to see the same people in movies over and over and over [laughs], you know? That will get boring. I love the cast of You’re Next and I think You’re Next is a brilliant little movie, but it’s like you can only watch the same people in certain movies so many times. But directors are notorious for casting the same people, because you just become a family. I would love to work with Najarra as many times as I can. Katie Stegemen, who plays her girlfriend in the movie, has been in all three of my films. Matt Mercer was in my first movie. So I’m sure I’ll continue to cast the people that I love to work with and stuff if the part is right and everything. I definitely think you do what you know, so the more movies I make I’m sure you’re going to see people popping up like, “hey its so-and-so”.
ENGLAND: Yeah, thank you.
You bet. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like to deal with on a daily basis?
ENGLAND: The makeup effects were brilliant. They were done by a super talented makeup artist named Mayera [Abeita] and she was just our lord and savior really on the movie, because we literally had no money for makeup. We’re like, “Hi, we’re going to give you some pennies and we kind of need you to make this look like a really big budget makeup job.” And she was just so down and gung ho. She never once said, “I don’t know if we can pull this off.” She was great. She got so crafty and we found creative solutions for everything. She and I worked really closely on what things were going to look like and how they were going to be executed, and it just turned out so much better than I ever could have thought. Because I was very detailed when I wrote the script of what was going to be happening, what I wanted to see, and what the evolution of certain things were going to be like, because I wanted it to be as detailed as possible. So when it came time to start creating them it was so cool for her to start sending me makeup tests and all these things. It was cool because she started doing that without me even asking. I remember getting a picture of Najarra’s face as they were testing the makeup with the contact lenses in and I was at a party or a movie or something and I was like, “Holy shit.” So it started to get me excited and then we started to enhance that.
Logistically it became a nightmare because you want to get creative and it’s like, I want her fingers falling off, but that’s going to take two more hours. The makeup we had on her looks extensive, but it really wasn’t. It was just very detailed. Even that minimal amount, because we didn’t have prosthetics, we had very minimal stuff towards the end. For the most part it’s just all makeup and even that took like three hours. It was just so extensive, the makeup we were doing, so to even compound on top of that we would have been losing days. You know what I’m saying? We shot the entire movie in fifteen days so there’s no way we could have- we fit in this weird, perfect bubble of everything we needed. But it did start to become a problem with the makeup, you want it to look so good, but you have to find that balance of alright it looks just good enough to where we could pull it off, but if we keep going we’re going to start losing time. So that was really the balance. For [Najarra] finding the appropriate performance, acting through the makeup, because it’s not like she’s wearing a mask, but essentially she is. She has sunglasses on for a lot of the movie so it’s taking away her eyes. She really had to act with her body, which I think she did a brilliant job of, but the contact lenses took away her vision. It was just so tough, and then when she puts the glasses on she could see, but then I see myself in the reflection of her glasses so it was just a logistical nightmare whichever way we turned. It felt like we were constantly in this maze where we were trying to find ourselves out, but I think we did a good job.
ENGLAND: Thank you.
What have these last five years been like for you and how did you get to a place where you’re sitting on three feature films?
ENGLAND: They’ve been a whirlwind really. I come from the south, Arkansas, where you’re very true to your word. If you say, “Hey I’m going to borrow something. I’m going to bring it back.” You bring it back. You do what you say. So when I told my family, “I want to move to LA and I want to make movies” that was my main focus. Day one of film school I was like, “Great, what do I do? How do I make movies?” And I knew nothing about it. I didn’t touch a video camera really until I was like eighteen years old and I didn’t touch a real movie camera until I was like nineteen or twenty. Then I made my first movie, technically my first movie, at twenty-one. Then Madison County, my first official movie, was made at twenty-two. I’ve always been one of those people that if I’m passionate about it, I can’t get enough of it. I’m like hard-core OCD so it’s like picking a scab, you just can’t get enough of it. So I just wanted to immerse myself in everything and learn as much as I could and learn by doing as much as possible. But I wasn’t one of those people that was like- I didn’t want to waste my time with shorts too much, because I’m just not a master of the short medium. I can do it, but I always knew that I wanted to be a feature film director and I thought the best way to do that was to make a feature film.
So right out of film school at twenty-one I self-financed my first experimental feature film called Hostel Encounter and I spent like $3,500 on it. I shot it in five days and we shot it on a road trip across like five different states. It was a film school after film school and I learned so much more on that film than I ever did in film school, because there’s so many things they don’t teach you. After that my DP was like, “Hey I can get you some real money to make a movie that we could sell and potentially get distribution behind.” So that’s where Madison County came in and then after Madison County people were like, “Hey what’s your next movie?” and I was like, “I get to make another one? Can this happen?” I was really big on- I read something from Robert Rodriguez once where he was like, making your first movie is tough but making your second movie is just as tough if not harder because people want to see if you’re a one hit wonder, if you can do it again, or if you can do it better. So the plan was always to just kind of keep going and keep pushing along. And it’s tough, because living in LA with the amount of money it takes, not just that, but just finding a time and the resources and everything. It’s definitely a juggling act, mentally, and it’s exhausting. So it’s definitely not an easy task, I like to tell people that it’s not easy to make movies, but it gets easier when you have no money [laughs]. There’s no one that can tell you no.
ENGLAND: Yeah, I have a movie coming up called Hellbent that we’re looking to shoot next year that’s kind of a bigger film for me. It’s the first one I haven’t written. It’s from a writer TJ Cimfel and I’m really excited to get behind it. We have a casting director, Lisa Fields, who does Ti West movies and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes films. She’s casting it right now for us and it’s looking to be kind of a higher profile film, so I’m excited to hopefully have a little bit of a budget to play with and do something bigger. I’m gearing up to shoot another film here shortly that’s more of a horror comedy in the vein of Evil Dead and American Werewolf in London. It’s going to be just a whacky, just crazy fun ride and I’m really excited to kind of show that side of things.