Following the Miramax panel in Hall H at Comic-Con, I had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with director Troy Nixey of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. If you’re interested in learning more about the film (which looks terrific by the way) and/or just finding out just who Troy Nixey is, you’ll love this interview as he recounts the improbable series of events that led to Guillermo del Toro co-writing and producing his debut feature (not too shabby).
For more info on the film itself, check out Matt’s coverage of the panel. The film is based on the 1973 made-for-television horror film of the same name which, during the panel, Del Toro claimed was “for a time, one of the scariest movies I’d ever seen.” Hit the jump for bulleted highlights as well as a full transcript.
Here’s the bullet point recap:
Debuting the footage at Comic-Con
- Was a huge thrill, albeit nerve-wracking, as he has sat at a booth promoting his comics Jenny Finn and Trout to a far smaller crowd at previous Comic-Con’s
- Very thankful that people seemed to enjoy the footage as he believes that the people who will really appreciate the film are Comic-Con goers
Meeting Up/Working with Del Toro
- He sent stills from his short film (Latchkey’s Lament) to Del Toro’s public e-mail address and Del Toro responded with positive feedback
- Nick from CHUD sent Del Toro the finished film and Del Toro promptly called Nixey while working on Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and asked him if he wanted to direct the film
On the Film
- Thinks of it as a throwback to 70s and 80s horror movies
- Goal was to build three very strong characters
- Relies more upon the implication of gore than the visual expression
Here’s the full transcript from the interview:
Collider: So how did you initially meet up with Guillermo and become involved in the project?
Troy Nixey: Yeah, well Guillermo was familiar with my comic work, especially Jenny Finn, a project I worked on with Mike Mignola. So, when I started to make the transition from comics to movies, or what I hoped would be the transition, I sent him some stills from my short. He got back right away and was very encouraging, which was nice. About a year or so later, Nick from CHUD visited the set in Vancouver and everything had been shot and edited, the effects were being worked on as there was nothing in the film as of yet in terms of effects, but he loved it. He goes “You have to finish this, you have to show this to someone” and so when I got it finished he immediately ripped it, put it up on an FTP site, and made Guillermo watch it while he was in Budapest doing prep on Hellboy 2. So, I think he watched it with him on the phone even, and two days later I got an e-mail saying Guillermo loved it and I got a call two minutes later from Nick saying “It gets even better, he wants to talk to you.” So I was like, “Okay!” So he gave me his number and I called him, I didn’t get him right away, I called him back and once again he was very encouraging saying “I loved your short,” and then just said, “You know, I have this script that I’ve written,” I think it was ten years previously he had written it. He told me he had planned to direct it for himself at the time, but now he was looking for a first-time director and asked would I be interested in directing it. I was like, “Uh, yeah!” And so, it was a short conversation but then he sent this fantastic script along and then we just dove into it. But it was all based off of Latchkey’s Lament.
Speaking of Guillermo, what’s it like working with him? He seems like a “walking proverb,” he speaks with such an aura.
Nixey: Yeah, well it’s funny because you can’t help but love him. The beauty of it was that I was a huge fan of his before and he is obviously an incredibly talented man and very giving. So, to know that when I needed to, to be able to pick that brain and bounce ideas off of him gave me a lot of strength, just having that support. He and co-producer Mark Johnson were fantastic and surrounded me with amazingly talented people – a fantastic DP in Oliver Stapleton and a great production designer in Roger Ford – and so it became this nice collaborative effort because I was working with these really talented people that you just trust implicitly and so you can focus on what you need to focus on. Having someone like Mark and Guillermo behind, supporting you, was really a dream come true. It’s what you hope, when you’re getting into movies, that it will be like but you’re like, “No it will never happen like that,” so when it did it was crazy.
Being a comic writer/illustrator, what does it mean for you to be in Hall H, in front of this giant crowd, promoting your first movie?
Nixey: That was something, let me tell you, when I used to come to the “Cons” I used to just set up either at the publisher I was working with or at a table somewhere and just sell pages and sell comics and so you’re kind of stuck there. So you see the convention sort of living in front of you as it moves by, but I never really made it out to any of the big panels or anything. Obviously, going into something that size, it was an amazing feeling. They’re like okay, “We’re going to sit in front of 6,500 people and we’re going to show them the first glimpse of the film that anyone has seen.” It was really satisfying, and I was a little bit nervous I’m not going to lie, walking into that because if they’re not going to respond to it the way you hope they do then you’re sunk. The Comic-Con crowd, those are the people that you make these kinds of movies for, you know, they get this. So when we got that response it was so, I was like, “Yeah.” I don’t know if you saw me but I was like, “Yes!” It was great.
In regards to the project, can you give a more specifics about the plot and what fans can expect from it?
Nixey: Yeah, I think it is sort of a real throwback to the 70s and 80s and we were very conscious to create really strong characters in our three leads, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, and Guy Pearce. I think the dynamic is really strong and once you build a strong base of a relatable relationship where we’ve isolated this little girl in this big house and stuck between this relationship of a dad who is kind of driven and dismissive of her and his new girlfriend who she is meeting for the first time who is a little hesitant to take on the role of the mother, you can just introduce those scares and I think it really elevates it because you can’t help but feel sorry for this little girl’s situation. She unleashes these monsters and you know that she doesn’t really have anyone she feels she can turn to because of that. It’s great, just really scary stuff. Elevating those scares, every time, I mean you build on the next one and then you build on that one and so on.
I have one question left and it’s in regards to something Guillermo talked about in the panel. When he discussed working within any genre, in this case horror, he believes you have to either adhere to their conventions or turn them on their head and everything in between is ineffective/boring. So what would you say you’ve done with this film?
Nixey: You know, it’s funny because what works with those types of movies, why the first one resonated so strongly with the people who saw it, I think will resonate the same again. It’s that you are creating this dynamic with this person in isolation and then introducing the scares. Of course, you want to do it as well as you can and I think that’s what we took from the first one and added to this one. So my hope is that the things people really appreciated in the first one will be appreciated in the second one.
I really appreciated the subtlety of the footage that you showed.
Nixey: Absolutely, that whole opening sequence, because there was a lot of people who reacted really strongly to the film like, “It’s so gory,” but it’s not. It’s all implied. The strength of the human brain is to be able to create a much stronger painting of fear in their mind than anything you could ever show them. Implied stuff, I always feel, is so much stronger than visually showing it.
Again, I can’t speak highly enough of the panel, the footage, and Nixey himself. Honestly, I can’t wait to see the film. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark opens on January 21, 2011 and stars Guy Pearce (Memento), Katie Holmes (Thank You For Smoking), and the young Bailee Madison (Brothers).
For more Comic-Con coverage, click here.