Horror In Short: Interview with Drew Daywalt

Posted on May 21, 2011 by Deaditor

Brutal Talk: Chatting with Drew Daywalt
Interview conducted by Marc Patterson, May 2011

It’s always really awesome for us when we get to talk to figures in the horror community who we love, and whose work we admire on a personal level. Drew Daywalt is one of those guys. A talented filmmaker and director he has a distinct knack for creating twisted and horrifying vignettes, building suspense and fear without a second wasted. Very few modern filmmakers seem to understand, or can demonstrate, the underlying components of our base fears more than Drew.

I started watching his short films awhile back a couple years back and since have featured them several times in our Horror In Short site segment. We’ve chatted briefly here and there over the past years, but I’ve never gone for an actual interview. I finally got my ass in gear and asked him for a formal just that. In the true style of his short films, we kept the questions short, but packed for maximum effect and insight.

Brutal As Hell: Among nearly every filmmaker I’ve spoken to in the past five years that I’ve been doing this, you stand out as being highly fascinated by the components of fear, understanding what makes us tick so that you can craft short films that cut right to that dark part of us so quickly. Where does this fascination originate with you, and what do you feel makes a really good horror film?

Drew Daywalt: I think my fascination with fear originates in the same place it does with so many other people – in my childhood. I was the youngest of 6 kids and my parents purchased a massive, abandoned old stage coach stop from the early 1800’s and fixed it up for us to live in. Before my folks renovated it, it had sat dormant for a generation and was well known as the town’s haunted house. There were servant’s quarters, (my brothers got that room), a secret stairwell, a scary well out back, and the most terrifying raw stonework basement I’ve seen to date. It was creaky and drafty and dark with 14 foot ceilings and 6 bedrooms, it was overwhelming to me as a little child.

As far as what makes a great horror film? The same things that make a great guest – they show up with gifts, they fascinate with good story, and they don’t overstay their welcome.

BAH: You’ve cited Lovecraft and Poe as influences for your work. Are there any pieces they’ve written that you find particularly inspiring?

Drew Daywalt: Everyone knows The Telltale Heart, but there’s a segment of that short story that chills me to the bone and it’s not the part you might expect. It’s the section where the narrator talks about watching his master sleep, and moving so quietly and so slowly that it takes him hours to open the door just a crack. That freaks me out. The silent watcher in the darkness concept is something that scares the shit out of me.

BAH: So many of your shorts are perfect to themselves. I couldn’t imagine expanding them out into full features, but you must be looking towards that eventual feature length film? Are there any projects you’re working on in that regard?

Drew Daywalt: I just finished directing three episodes of MTV’s upcoming Death Valley which pits cops against monsters. It’s horror comedy and we had a blast doing it. The producers are Austin and Julie Reading and Spider One and Eric Weinberg – I’m honored that they’d involve me. We had a great time on it. The comedy is incredibly sharp, and when it gets creepy, it’s really creepy.

I’m about to start on two back to back features but I can’t talk about the details yet. Soon as I can though I look forward to telling you all about it.

BAH: I thought the piece your wife directed, and that you wrote – The Many Doors of Albert Whale, (shown at the end of this interview) was particularly stunning, and felt that if any short you’ve done to date could be expanded into a feature it would be this one. Any thoughts of expanding on this demonic universe that you’ve created?

Drew Daywalt: I’m so proud of Marichelle and her work on that one. She likes to let you see everything there is to see in a story, but still not answer all the questions, which leaves you wanting more, but not feeling like there’s something missing. I love stories about demons and black magic in modern settings, and we’ve had such a good reaction to that film that we might expand on it in the future.

BAH: What do you find most satisfying about working on shorts?

Drew Daywalt: Features can tie you up for a long time, often a year or more, and more often than not there are too many cooks in the kitchen. And in any art, when you lose singularity of vision – both the kind that comes from spreading the creation out over too much time or the kind that involves too many cooks who have different ideas about the menu – ultimately the art suffers. And even though this is a business, it’s still a business about art. And good films make money. And to make good films, there has to be singularity of vision.

In short films, you can also go from concept to delivery in a month or two, and that’s incredibly satisfying. So I guess my answer is that it’s a quick process and it’s always very personal, and I like that.

BAH: Because so many of your films are short vignettes, and not outwardly connected to each other, how many ideas do you go through before you find the one scene, or idea that makes you say “Yes, this is the next short film I want to make?”

Drew Daywalt: Ha! I actually have no idea. I just keep writing until something makes my heart jump. And when it does, I know I’m on the right track. I have about 40 un-filmed short horror scripts on my laptop and I can’t wait to get to them all!

BAH: So what’s up with horror right now? It’s not been such a great year for theatrical releases. You’re out there in LA in the middle of the action. I’m curious about your thoughts on where things are at. Obviously horror is cyclical in nature, but right now it feels like we’re in a bit of a creative slump, so far as studio horror is concerned.

Drew Daywalt: Here comes the ghost story. Next up in the cycle is the ghost/demon story. Looking at Paranormal Activity and Insidious in the mainstream, as well as what I’ve been doing online, it seems people re really responding to mystifying evil forces again. The ghost story is back and it’s about to kick ass for the next few years.

BAH: Well thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! We’ll be sure to keep our eye out for the release of Death Valley and, naturally your upcoming shorts.

Since we haven’t posted The Many Doors of Albert Whale previously, it only makes sense to give you all a look at it here. Check it out below.