Thursday, April 27

From Black Q&A

Director: Thomas Marchese

Writers: Jessub Flower, Thomas Marchese

Producer: Kelly Frazier

Starring: Anna Camp, John Ales, Jennifer Lafleur, Travis Hammer

1 hr 40 m

Who hasn’t experienced loss? Loss, unfortunately, is inevitable. But what if you could reverse things? 

That question is the heart of the chilling new horror film FROM BLACK, premiering on Shudder on Friday, April 28. (Mark your calendar!)

I was lucky enough to run into writer, Jessup Flower; director, Thomas Marchese, and actress, Anna Camp at Phoenix Film Festival while I was trying to grab a glass of wine and they were gracious enough to set some time with me to chat about their film.

Below, not only will you a get peek into their creative processes, but you will very quickly see that this team is extremely down to earth, passionate, and one of the most tight-knit crews in Hollywood. Personally, I hope they all team up again soon.

Get to know the crew and then catch the magic they created in FROM BLACK.

Theresa Dillon (TD): How did the idea for this story/film come about? 

Thomas Marchese (TM): That's a funny one that for whatever reason, I don't know why, I haven't been prepared to answer. It took four to five years in making, we were supposed to start shooting right as COVID started, and then we started and stopped and stopped and started and, it just feels like so long ago. I think mostly the notion of loss and the fact that I was a homicide detective for 15 years, and I saw all kinds of awful stuff. 

And I just always thought it would be cool to take a story like that and, and inject some supernatural elements into it, and explore the notion of awful loss that I watched happen and the suffering and all that, but what if there was a fix? What if there was a reverse? And what would the price be? What would you have to pay for something like that? And that was the exploration that started the whole thing. Then it just got darker and weirder from there.

TD: Thomas, you got the audience award in 2017 for your documentary, FALLEN. Jessup this is your first film. Anna, you've done lighter rolls geared towards mostly women audiences but you've also done CREEPSHOW and TRUE BLOOD so you've you tapped into some of the horror stuff. And Kelly, you hate horror films. So what made you all decide we're coming together to do this horror film? 

Jessup Flower (JF): I'll start only because it started with me when Thomas and I connected and he really kind of pitched me the idea of the story. And his one sentence pitch that got me was “I kind of want to start out like TRUE DETECTIVE and then end up HEREDITARY.” And I was like, “Oh, man, that's so cool.” And then he sent me the pages that he had already written and it just really ignited a whole series of things that were exciting to me. We went back and forth and got along really well right from the get go. Then the story developed and it got darker and weirder, and in our opinion, more scary. That’s really what hooked me, and Thomas is a great guy to work with.

TD: Kelly, you're the one who doesn't like horror films, but I saw that you read it and you were blown away because it is more around psychological grief.

Kelly Frazier (KF): Yeah, it is. And I think Thomas was after me for two years to read it and I'm like, “I really don't like scary movies. I don't really want to do them.” Then I read the script and it was like “Oh, okay, this is this is not a typical horror movie.” For me, it was more how sad. Like, you can understand how this poor woman would end up where she ended up and why she would do the things that she did. 

It's the psychology of it. It's not a psychological thriller Thomas, I'm not going to say that but the psychology is what was fascinating to me. I thought, well, this is actually something I can sink my teeth into. It was the quality of the writing. And then when Anna read it and was into it, I'm like, “Okay, let's do this.”

TD: Yeah. And Anna, you were trying to win favor for the role of Cora actress because they were looking elsewhere and reaching out to you like, “Who would be good for this role?” and you were like “Me.”

Anna Camp (AC): So yeah, it was really funny because I had worked with Kelly on a Western and met her there and she started texting me and going, “What do you think of this actress?” And I was like, “Ah, they’re fine. Wait, what's going on?” She said, “It's, you know, for the role of a mother. I mean she goes through hell and back. What do you think of this person?” And I went, “Oh, hold on. Can I read this? What’s happening? What movie are you making?”

And I read it very fast. I think I read it in like an hour - it normally takes me days to get through scripts, because I have to put them down. It's such a slog but I read FROM BLACK in an hour. 

I think I called or texted Kelly immediately after. And I was like, I want this. I want this so bad. What do I have to do? How do I get this? And it's not a psychological thriller, but it is psychologically thrilling. I've been saying that to people lately. 

So they set up Zoom with me and Thomas. I've been typecast a lot in in Hollywood and I'm very grateful for the roles that I've gotten, obviously, because they've opened up a lot of doors and changed my life. But they aren't necessarily the things that I set out to do as an actor. As an artist, even though I love dancing and singing, I love all of those things, I have the best time doing it, those roles were not the things that I was fighting for when I got out of college. So this was something that I was like, well, this could be an incredible opportunity for people to see me, to see what I know I can do. 

I just was like, I'm going to sit down, and I'm going to talk to Thomas Marquese and I'm going to get this roll on Zoom. I think it went well.

TM: I was still in shock that you were into it. And I was a little bit deer in the headlights myself. And Anna was just like I have to do this. She was so adamant that it was exciting.

The way it all came together was really like amazing. I mean, my gosh, thank you Anna for reading it and thank you for not only saying yes, but freaking killing it.

TD: Yes, my co-worker is a big fan of you, Anna, and I told her “Oh my god, this movie is amazing. It's a very different role for Anna and it's horror.” And she's like, “I’m not a horror fan.”  and I'm like, “Just do it, Jenny. Watch it. You can get through it. It's so good. You have to see her amazing acting in this.”

AC: Tell her she can do it.

TD: Yes, I will. So this is a very well-rounded, very balanced film. Like the setting was beautiful. The acting was superb. It has a strong, unique story around grief. And you had some really, really good special effects. And all of this, I'm assuming on a smaller budget. So now that I have flattered you all, what were the hardest things to make this come together?

TM: Well, I would say day to day nuts and bolts wise, we certainly provided less and asked more of our art department and they really killed themselves in this movie. I'll let you guys start but it's a little bit different than the question you asked, but the performances for me are what sold the entire thing. Kelly you can tackle this.

KF: Well, on a low budget like this, the hardest thing is always talent. I mean, we went into this with Anna and John Ales, who I shot in my first movie that I ever got a producer credit on a few years ago. 

On a movie like this, the scary part is always who are we going to get? Between Anna and John, and Jennifer Lafleur and Travis Hammer and even the little boy Trey, we went in super strong. So then it was like “Oh my God, we've got to step up our game because our talent is so amazing. We can't mess everything else up.”

We also ended up in Natchez, Mississippi and it was like a little film camp, because the nearest airports are two hours away and we all had to stay there and were within a five-block radius of each other. 

When we weren't shooting, we were all hanging out together. Additionally, Thomas and our DP, who’s Duncan Cole, were so prepared, we were never waiting for anything. We never waited for a setup. We never waited for those two to discuss something. They were so super clear before we even started every day. We didn't miss a beat. 

We don't even have a gag rule because the talent was so prepared. I mean, literally, they hardly fumbled a line. So I think preparation was the thing that really helped. 

All of course it's still hard but it didn't feel hard because everybody that was there, was there for the right reasons. And it was so much fun. 

Every day is hard. But after that first day, I'm like, “Okay, we're good. These guys are awesome and it's going to be fine.”

TM: I would venture to say, I mean, Anna you can chime in, I would imagine that being in almost literally every single shot of the movie was pretty daunting. 

AC: Yeah, I mean, every day Thomas would be like, “This is the worst moment of your life. The actual worst moment.” So when I read the script I was more excited than scared by all of that. I was ready for all of it.

I did ask for a trailer to go in between takes and scenes to get into the right emotional mindset that I needed to be in. That was my one ask. I remember going, “I just need a little trailer. A place where I can just shut the lights off and go into my own world.”

They were very nice and very accommodating. Because it was like I was going through grief, guilt and shame and doing it in front of people that I didn't know very well. By the end of the shoot, obviously, we're like a family, which was great. But in the beginning, you're really vulnerable. And you're showing stuff to strangers that you trust to take care of you and take care of you in the film and take care of your character. It was definitely intense but I trusted everybody and I'm so proud of the result.

KF: And it was so sweet that Anna’s one question was “I know it's on a budget, but am I going to have a trailer?” And that was like her big diva moment. 

AC: It could have been a van. It could have been a bus. I didn't care. I just needed to have a space.

TM: Yeah, and I've actually never asked you this myself and I've always been curious but I asked a lot of you from the get go and is that something that you just decide upfront? Like, “I'm going to trust this person” or is it a combination or element of earning that trust? Like how do you mentally attack that?

AC: Great question. I think it started at our first Zoom meeting. I was like, “Okay, who is this guy?” and you go in and I'm like, okay, he seems very smart. He seems very passionate about this. There's a vibe that I was like, he seems like a cool person. There weren't any red flags. 

I mean, I have meetings with directors all the time, where I'm like, “That guy is so weird. I don't know if I want this job.” 

Daily, there is trust built. On each scene, and in each moment, each conversation. At the midway point of the shoot, you didn't even have to sit with me. You could look at me, and I would know what you would want. And that doesn't happen every time with every director. So there was something really special about how we kind of got we got each other in a way that doesn't always happen. It's an earned thing and I was so sad to leave when it was over, so sad to say goodbye to Cora, because I love her so much. It was pretty magical. 

KF: That's amazing because on day three you were in the middle of the street screaming for your child. That was pretty intense early on.

TM: Yeah. And soaking wet and freezing. 

AC: And little Trey, he played Noah, was so emotionally invested. After that scene, when he's running to me, and he gets grabbed by Richie Montgomery, the kidnapper, Trey was crying because he was actually emotionally affected by the scene. It wasn't just like, “run to your mom and then cut.” He was in the moment and it was really beautiful to watch a very young actor, kind of have one of their first incredible acting, emotional experiences. Everybody was just really crushing it on top levels. 

TD: Yes, and that leads me to my next question - how do you keep the morale up on set when you cut so not everybody is in that dark place the entire time while filming? Because you need to have some breath of fresh air I would hope.

TM: I mean, I think a lot of people would say that it comes down to the director. For me, as the director, I think it has to do with the cast. Actors are going to have different idiosyncrasies. Some of them are really loose and light between takes some. Some are not. Depends on the scene. All I could do was just be positive. Positivity is the key more than anything, because if you're positive, and you're supportive of everyone, and everyone gives a shit, and they really care and they want it to be everything that it can be, then it's a positive environment.

AC: It was great. After each take or scene, Thomas, Kelly, everybody was so positive and either moved or supportive. I remember looking over the monitor at you, Jessup, and you were just like, “I have no words.” You were just like, “It's great.” And you could just see him, beaming you know, and as an actor being in a very supportive environment is so much more effective than a fear-based environment because I've worked in both. And when you have a director or a video village or whatever who is scared, you can feel the fear and the judgment. Nothing good creatively comes from that. 

But when you're in a place where you are supported, and it's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to flub a line, it's okay to try something weird, then the magic happens. That's why we don't have that many mess ups is because we felt so supportive that you just feel freer as an actor to try things. It just makes a world of a difference.

TM: We were so ready to let this cast come in and like, sprinkle their magic all over it. We were ready to have them bring something to it, because we had been sitting in a vacuum with the script for three years. 

JF: It's just amazing how you spend time in front of your computer, and you go through it in your head, and then you do go, “Okay, let's hear it come to life.” And that happens. But with this cast, it was the first time that I've ever experienced seeing, not just bringing it to life, but adding to it and just the depth that would come and, and even just when you're doing coverage, you would see somebody deliver a line that's the back of their head, but they're still killing it for the other actor, and just the support that they had for one another was incredible. And then when they would turn around and get their coverage, they would add even more. There were so many times that I was in front of the monitor, just crying. It was so awesome. And it was just because of everything that they added because their level of talent and craft that they dedicate their lives to. They just did their job and brought more than I ever expected.

KF: At the table read, Thomas, Jessup, and I were in tears at the very first at the table read, you know. They killed it at the table read and that's where we were like, “Oh my God, I think we have something really special.”

TM: We had gone through a lot of casting iterations and a lot of script changes so by the time we were there, at that point, we were so excited to have this cast, like I can't even because there were so many times where there were question marks – were we going to find the right person, were we not going to find the right person, we were going to have to settle in one area. And we sincerely showed up in Mississippi. Like, ridiculously confident that we had not settled in a single part, like we were just so over the moon. 

So once the cameras started rolling, we couldn't help but just be all positive with as difficult as it is. Because making a movie is hard. It's hard. It's difficult. And it's, you know, there's egos and there's personalities, and there's all kinds of things to balance, and then there's nuts and bolts and dollars and all this stuff. It’s certainly not just showing up in a room and making art like you would love it to be. It’s  balancing all that and taking all that into consideration. Looking back on it, man, it's pretty much nothing but great memories. It was just a really incredible experience for me.

TD: That's awesome. This is such a fun Zoom call for me because it’s obvious you guys really like each other and enjoyed making this and there was so much passion in this film. 

So jumping into film specifics, how many different concepts of the demon (Seeker) did you have before you settled its final appearance? As a horror fan, I think it’s very hard to get those supernatural elements to hit just right and you guys you didn't overdo it, you didn't do the whole jump scare attack, and then when you finally see the Seeker you're like, “Whoa,” and just get chills.

TM: That was basically Greg McDougal and I, our effects guy. Just such a great man. We spent probably, I don't know, four, five or six weeks going back and forth with designs and drawings.

The first iteration of the horns, I didn't like it and we completely redid them because they weren't quite right. And I wanted them very like ram like and then I had the idea of a helmet sort of feel but then he added the cracked, stone weirdness to it. He just brought so much experience and I love that kind of depth. He's worked on HILL HOUSE, WALKING DEAD FOREVER and he just really knows his stuff. 

And then this isn't necessarily the demon but along those lines of the effects, John Ales sold the scene with the stuff in his mouth. John dove into and was just shoving the blood and bones and spitting them out and just take after take, that whole evening was pretty crazy. But the effects, we were really happy with.

I knew early on that I wanted it to be pretty much all practical and I didn't want there to be any kind of like CG looking stuff. The little CG that there is in the movie, I was adamant that it had to look real or it wasn't going to go into movie. It just had to look tactile, and I think we got there. It was a huge win on our budget. 

We had great people. We got really lucky to punch way above our weight like all across the board with the cast, and effects people, and our lighting department. Our gaffer like, oh my god, he had his hands full. But Joseph was a magician. And then like Kelly said, I have to mention Duncan Cole, he is just an absolute wizard. And you know, talking about preparation, I mean, he and I spent probably 20 hours over Zoom - he lives in New Zealand.  I storyboarded the movie myself, and he and I storyboarded it together. Then when he got here to the states, we took a whole week and physically walked every single location and we storyboarded it a third time. So we didn't ever have any days where we would show up and were like where are we going to put the camera today. There was never any of that. 

KF: You know, it was just an absolute dream with this team. They were incredible. And that's what's fun for me in this business is seeing it all come together and out of Jessup and Thomas's brain. Thomas was very specific on what he wanted. And then Greg brought this and then Thomas was like, “Oh, I love that but let's do this.” And just to watch it shape and turn into the Seeker that we ended up with was just so much fun to see. 

JF: Now we just want to see if there's any Seeker costumes for next Halloween. 

TM: My only regret is that, because of time and money, and it might’ve been a JAWS kind of thing and it might’ve been in our favor but I am a bit bummed we didn’t shoot more of the Seeker at closer, different angles. But you know, that's a pretty good regret to have.

TD: I know what you're saying but I think it was almost better the way that it was. It just felt a little bit more balanced. And sometimes when you see too much of the demons or the monsters, it kind of takes away some of the magic and the scariness that's kind of already in your head as a viewer. The Seeker was this threat that wasn't going to physically be there but he wanted you to carry him and you're just going to feel him and have that cost on weigh in on you at all times. And I think you really hit it hard by not showing too much of him.

So how or where do you go to do research? Especially on a film like FROM BLACK that feels authentic but isn’t tied it with a specific religion. And Anna, how did you really get into your role? I did some research but I wasn't going to be a creepy stalker, but for you to get into the role of Cora, how did you start to get your head in the right place? Sorry, that's a big question. 

JF: I mean, this is probably telling but there wasn't a whole lot of research. We really did just kind of make it up. I mean, I know that that sounds terrible but we've just basically referred to the fact that it was Mesopotamia and stuff like that. But we like the ambiguity of it. 

This is one of the old school jokes that they say, but it's like, “Why say that the force is made up of midichlorians? Let's just keep it the force and make it cool.” And that's kind of what we did. The only thing that was important to me, when we were going back and forth with the mantras, was I really liked the fact that they had to repeat each other - that they were taking themselves out of, like a spiritual covering. And that basically, like, here we go, we're walking into the wild west of the supernatural, and we don't have anything to protect us. That to me was the most vulnerable part of where they had to go.

TM: What I think is cool about it is everything and what I was really happy with was everything they recited felt old but what I think what sold it and kept the mystery was all the chanting and inaudible kind of murmuring that John would do. Because that kept mystery in it, right? Because you don't know what the hell that is? Or what language it is or anything. And John really sold that. Anna, did you have anything? Because I want to hear what you're going to say?

AC: Oh, I'm just going to answer your question about experiencing grief and loss and putting myself in Cora’s shoes. 

I'm not one of those actors that uses substitutions. I'm not someone that's like, “I'm going to think about my dog right now and then I'm going to, like, do it.” That's not something that I do. 

The most emotional scene for me was the group therapy session scene. That was something that I really thought I needed to get just perfectly right, because it sets the tone for who Cora is and what exactly is going on here. How does she feel about it? How does she feel about herself, and the first time she's cracked open, I think, for her own life in a long time, but also in the movie. It’s like the crack open for the character. 

When I had scenes with Trey, I looked at him like, he's my son. I found things that I loved about him, you know, whether it's his big blue eyes, or the way he talked to me or the way he held my hand. And then I would think about him just being gone. Like not here anymore. And what I would give to see him one more time. And if you really, really, really think about the person that you've talked to, and that you've seen them not being here anymore. For me, something clicked in automatically. 

And I have definitely experienced, you know, grief and loss in my life. I've also experienced similar things to Cora of not feeling good enough and always feeling like you have to prove yourself in some way. So that combination of things really led me. I just felt like that was Cora for me. I don't know if that answered your question.

TD: Yes, it does. That's fantastic. I know it's kind of a tough question.

AC: It's hard sometimes for me to talk about acting because sometimes it's so specific for each role. But that's what I did for her.

TD: Well, that's fantastic. So these are kind of more fun questions kind of towards the end here. Have any of you participated in a séance before and did anything happen?

TM: No, I played with a Ouija board quite a bit when I was a kid, but that's about it.

AC: I have two Ouija boards. I have a story about both Ouija boards but I think the story is too long. Like it's one thing that happened over the course of like, a couple years in my life and it all tied in together. I don’t know that you have time for this.

TM: You're definitely telling us that story at dinner.

AC: It's real. Crazy stuff happens to me. Crazy. So I have a vintage Ouija board and a new Parker Brothers one. So anyway, it's real. Yes, I do seances. I'm into it. I can't believe I never told you guys.

TM: I want to hear it all Anna.

KF: And I want to talk about your dream you had.

AC: Oh, yes. This is pretty wild. So we were on set and we were doing the levitation scene with me in the white dress. You know, I'm normally blonde and I had dyed my hair dark for this role. 

We were shooting and I went wait a minute, I had a dream that I was doing this like years ago. I remember I went online and I found a painting that reminded me of my dream and I took a screenshot of it. So I was scrolling though my phone to show them the painting that was of a girl floating in a white dress with dark hair.

I was literally doing what I had dreamt about. It was crazy. Chills. 

KF: And it was a year and same month that Thomas was stabbed in the line of duty and almost died. At the same time that this was happening in Thomas's life, Anna has this random dream. 

AC: Levitating in white dress.

KF: I'm going to send you that picture Theresa. It’s pretty amazing.

TD: That would be fantastic. So Anna, you have a quote on IMDb saying “I think the audience wants to see women being put into real situations where they can relate to them rather than seeing some glamorous woman in a Bond film” which I couldn't agree more. And you really obviously put yourself out there with this film. So which characters that you have portrayed have been the hardest and which has been your favorite?

AC: Oh my goodness. I'm going to say right now that Cora is my favorite and Cora was the hardest. But if I had to pick a second favorite, I would definitely say Sarah Newlin from TRUE BLOOD. I love her so much because she was absolutely a psychopath. I mean, to go from a Southern Christian vampire hating preacher's wife to like seducing Jason Stackhouse in the tub to them thinking that she was a Buddhist and trying to convince everyone she was a Buddhist. I mean, the writers on that show gave me the most incredible, funniest, most twisted and most messed up things to do. I love her more than anything and I miss that character. 

And she's still alive. So as far as we know, she's still tied up in the basement of Fangtasia. She's curing all the sick vampires.

JF: It is a travesty that that character did not appear on WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. 

TD: That would’ve been great. I also really loved your character, Jane from GOOD GIRLS REVOLT because there was something about Jane. I'm a little bit of a goody two shoe, rule follower, but at the same time, I want to fight back and it was so empowering to see Jane be like, “I'm in this square” and to finally be like, “Fuck the square. I'm out. Like we need to do better than this.” That was really empowering. I think there are a lot of girls out there that feel that way and to see Jane do it was really cool. 

AC: I am just now like getting to a point in my own life where I feel like I don't have to please everybody. I don't have to be nice to literally everybody and especially if people are making me uncomfortable. Why have I felt for the last 20 years of my life I needed to make them feel comfortable about making me feel uncomfortable? It's such a wild thing. I mean, I'm a Southern woman, myself. I grew up in South Carolina, my parents raised me to be very polite. And I think that in a way it was good, but in a way, it held me back from really being authentic to who I am and being a strong and confident, powerful woman. I was so upset that GOOD GIRLS REVOLT got canceled. 

TD: Oh, I was so pissed at Amazon. 

AC: And you know why it was cancelled? It was the head of Amazon at the time that said it was too feminist of a show. 

TD: I knew all of it. I was livid.

AC: He got fired for sexual harassment. Right after he canceled our show. That was like 2014, maybe 2015. It was right before the election. I remember that because we all thought Hillary was going to win. And then Trump did and our show got canceled, and we were like, no, no. 

I felt like Jane was just starting to find herself.

I think they tried to shop it around but with all of the change, it just it didn't find a home again, but people still love it. So thank you for saying that. You really responded to that character because I love her.

No two characters have ever looked different. Jane Holland and Cora. 

TD: Exactly. But the way that you've been able to portray them both is such a testament to your ability as an actor. 

Well, one last question for you all. What is your favorite horror film? Or for you Kelly, your favorite film since horror is not your favorite? Unless you want to just count this one right now.

KF: I mean, FROM BLACK for sure. Although I did like THE WITCH too. Thomas turned me on that one. And I just saw a trailer for a movie called THE DEEP HOUSE. Have you guys seen that? Oh, my God. That looks terrifying. 

AC: I don’t think this is really horror but I love PSYCHO. I mean, it's so good. I feel like I’ve watched it like six times. I love it so much. I don't know what that says about me. 

JF: Old school JAWS.

TM: It’d be ALIEN for me. Or THE THING. Or THE SHINING. And on and on and on.

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