Recently I had the privilege to interview writer / director Richard Powell of Fatal Pictures about his latest short film HEIR which is a dark drama with practical FX, creatures, and a very Lovecraft like vibe. Check out the teaser trailer!
IA – What got you interested in the medium of film?
RP – It all started with me as a young kid going to the video store with my grandma. They don’t have them around these days but anyone in their thirties or older will remember having fond memories browsing video stores. You grow up watching movies and eventually you get interested in telling stories yourself. I also loved to illustrate things, I love to draw, and I loved comic books. I knew I wanted to be a comic book author or illustrator. I wasn’t the best at drawing so I traded in my pencil for a camera and decided to tell my stories visually through film. I started making little videos with my friends after school, and eventually decided to go to film school.
IA – Did you become a writer because you wanted to direct or did you always have a passion for writing?
RP – To me because I wanted to make comic books story always came first. Comic books are both a writing and visual medium just like film is a writing and visual medium. Because I was not as strong with my visuals in comic books film gave me the ability to have strong visuals with my story telling. If I were to consider myself only one thing I would say I’m more of a writer. My writing and directing is what tells the story. I’m not a visionary when it comes to visual storytelling. There are better visual storytellers. I focus more on the writing. You can’t direct every day to become a better director but you can write every day. I consider myself more of a writer who directs his own stuff.
IA – Tell me about the movie HEIR. How would you describe it in your own words?
RP – It started out as two film ideas. One with the protagonist being a child molester who meets up with another child molester and ends up saving the kids that are being held prisoner. That may seem like an odd choice but in all of my films the lead character is flawed. I really do believe that having a main character that is flawed or a bad guy is a much more interesting place to start. It gives you a lot of room to grow and go in different directions. The other was about a old man in a neighborhood where the kids keep getting sick. It turns out that the old man is parasitic and he is feeding off of the children and making them sick. In most films even if you have a very grey area character there is always something likeable in them. I like to start with a very dark character, then explore the light within them. It came to a point where these two stories I was writing collided because they were basically about the same thing. The creature in the old man story was a parasite that was using the children for his own gratification. When I put the two stories together I realized that it was something that I had not seen before. This is interesting and dark so why not do that. HEIR tackles a very serious topic. At its core is about child abuse but it also features things you would find genre films. There are monsters, there is a a little thriller element, at the same time it deals with a very serious issue. What I like about the more serious projects is that they deal with topics in a more realistic way. It’s not just fluff. In my film I tried to not make effects too realistic. I wanted them to be more monster movie-like to lighten the mood a little bit. I wanted to mash up this very serious thing with monster movie esthetics.
IA – As this film delves into some very serious subject matter what made you want to tackle this subject? Was this something very personal to you, or did it just come out of your imagination?
RP – It’s not something personal. I mean it’s personal in that everybody knows somebody that has a story like this minus the monster stuff. Some people very close to me have these type of stories. That’s what the movie is really saying. Just because someone doesn’t have tentacles and goo dripping off of them it does not make them any less of a monster. All of my films start with a character that is damaged in some way. I have a story that explores the topic of school shootings where the person that is planning to do the shooting is the teacher. I wanted to explore that. I have another where there is a family man that viciously hates his family and it turns into a body horror film towards the end. I like to start out with a character that is damaged, sometimes morally ambiguous, and sometimes straight up evil, and I try to find some kind of humanity in them. I try not to be judgemental. I just try to explore the world they live in, decide what they are going through, and try to find a kind of horror movie theme that would work best with that world. Horror movies can be very fun and thrilling, but they can also be very cathartic. They can tell you more about the world we live in. Even Though my characters start out in a dark place there is a glimmer of hope. Most films simply color their bad guys as unsympathetic monsters and that they can only be one way, but that is not true. The worst of us have some humanity left in them somewhere.
IA – As a person who was abused sexually as a child myself (not by a family member, but by a physician) your film spoke to me and felt very genuine. How did you capture the extraordinarily genuine tone of your film HEIR?
RP – I do read a lot of news stories about things that seem too strange to be real. When I was younger I had a fascination with criminals. There are a lot of storytellers that have a fascination with true crime. In the case of serial killers the common thread is that most of these people had been abused. I’ve always been interested in human nature. You start to get a feeling for that world. What people fail to see when they read about murderers, and abusers is that these people are human beings, that are motivated by urges and desires. I don’t approach my stories with a generalized abstract concept that these people are simply evil. Their stories are very cyclical. These are people with these repulsive desires, and urges that makes them human. It’s something that I am trying to understand with my films. I think it’s a big compliment that you felt that my story felt very genuine. That’s something that I did not consider when I made this film. I was just making a horror movie about a very real thing as a writer. I did not have that experience myself. I’m not sure if it’s bringing up bad feelings or if it’s spurring on the conversation about abuse.
IA – Some filmmakers gleefully dwell on uncomfortable scenes to make the audience feel bad but your film seemed to simply show something as it is emotionally without dwelling on the bad things too long. It felt genuine, and I think it will give people a better understanding on what it’s like to be abused. What that does to a person, and how that abuse can be passed on. I find that very admirable.
RP – Thank you. The film is very honest in tackling a subject matter that people don’t typically understand. It tackles the mental state of the people it effects and the people that engage in these acts. It’s a human story, it’s about human nature, about why they do it. I’m just interested in human stories about human nature, I mean this is a very real part of human nature. It’s a weird thing to talk about. When you pick something you want make you don’t necessarily know why. You just think you have an interesting take on it. It says something, and I’m glad it doesn’t feel sadistic. It’s just an honest depiction in a very metaphorical way.
IA – In films like Silence of the Lambs you don’t see a lot of the violent acts. They get their reaction from the audience through audio. The violent scenes are mostly very quick so the audience does not dwell on the scene too long. Your film seems to lean more towards using audio for effect and not holding on the more intense scenes too long. Was that intentional?
RP – Absolutely.
IA – Where did you go to school for film?
RP – I went to a film school in Toronto called Trebas. It’s like a year and a half program. At the end of that you don’t get a degree you get a diploma. What Trebas was is a audio engineering school that kind of branched off into film. It wasn’t the best place to learn film. They best thing I got out of that school was partnering up with Zach Green. I feel like when I really started learning film making was after Tebas when we started slamming out these boards (storyboards). Every movie we do gets a little better leading to our eventual first feature film.
IA – From a technical perspective your film HEIR is extraordinarily solid. The writing, the camera work, the lighting, the editing, the pacing, the performances, and the directing were all perfect. I went into the film only having watched the teaser. I knew nothing about the plot. I had a lot of questions until I read the synopsis which made things much clearer. I’m glad I didn’t read the synopsis first because it would have spoiled the film for me. I like to go in blind so nothing colors the experience.
RP – I’m glad you enjoyed the film.
IA – It’s good to see creative people like yourself that really enjoy what they are doing, and tell genuine stories. A lot of small budget films aren’t as concerned with story.
RP – A lot of this stuff is unfortunate. Not everybody approaches film and story with the same intentions, or ideals. For me it begins from a very pure place. I grew up loving film so if you love something enough as an observer you eventually want to become a participant. I realized the natural progression was to try and make these things. You keep trying and you learn after each one you do. The movie HEIR came about through kickstarter. I told the backers it was a monster movie about a taboo subject matter, but I did not give them the full synopsis. This was to make sure people had a open mind about the film. So they could see it before they judged it. It’s not made the way most horror films are. It’s not going to play at fantastic fest in the draft house with the crowd losing their minds. HEIR is inspired by the kinds of films that I respond to. It’s concentrated on life, it’s not necessarily fun. I’m in competition with party filmmakers where everything is a joke with a five minute punchline, and here I come with a 14 min take on child molesters. It’s been very difficult but we’ve been very lucky. We’ve played at a lot of festivals and we’ve had a lot of good reactions to the movie. We’ve only had a few negative reactions where they would say we can’t watch this or we can’t program this because the subject is too sensitive. I think most people understand that we’re not trying to disturb you in any kind of impure way.
IA – You can definitely make a film that is both entertaining and poignant. Look at a film like Vulgar by Brian Johnson. It tackles a very sensitive subject matter and still has some playful elements, and is entertaining. You can still make a commercial piece that remains poignant and has something to say.
RP – Absolutely. That’s something I am striving for. That’s why in this movie there is a confrontation between the man and the monster. There is a monster in a suit, and there is some of those (more entertaining) things in there. There was a version of the script where there was no monster, but I realized putting in a literal monster would make it a little more palatable. By employing the monster, visually it says a lot more. I’m always trying to find that balance between art and commerce, and hopefully people dig it.
IA – Thank you so much Richard for taking the time to talk to me ab0ut y0ur film HEIR. You are an extraordinary storyteller and director, and I can’t wait to see where your career goes in the future.
RP – Thank you very much. I really appreciate that. We’ve got probably one more short left, then we are moving on to features. I even have a feature length version of HEIR that I want to write. We’ll see what happens.
IA – Where can people find you?
RP – We have a Fatal Pictures twitter account @FatalPictures and I’m on facebook with the Fatal Pictures banner.
If you want to know more about what I thought of the film HEIR check out the video review here:
If you want to see what the kickstarter campaign was like you can check it out here:
To continue the conversation follow me on twitter: @HtvImmortal