VIFF 2017 Interview: DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE LIGHT director Jason Rostovsky
By Jason Whyte
Posted 09/30/17 01:36:18
"A strange young girl who is viciously bullied at school meets a supernatural friend that lives in the lights, and helps her find the strength to fight back against her bullies and a horrible monster that visits her at night!" Director Jason Rostovsky on DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE LIGHT which screens at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?
This will be my first VIFF experience and first time in Vancouver! Very excited for the festival and the cold fall weather; we don't get to wear many sweaters in Los Angeles!
Tell me a bit about yourself and your background, and how you got into the whole filmmaking business.
Short and sweet, right? I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and am probably going to die here too, which isn't half bad, I guess. Horror movies are what really drew me to filmmaking in the first place. Since I was like five, I was hardcore into zombie films, slashers, and odd Canadian horror like CUBE, all things you would find in the genre section at Blockbuster, may it rest in peace. I am attracted to the way that horror forces me to face death repeatedly and I can sort of imagine myself as this inextinguishable mind, desensitized to my own mortality. Although I think second grade me probably just thought the blood looked cool or whatever.
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, exchanging many hours in the principal's office for penning graphic horror stories and unauthorized SCREAM sequels during journal time at grade school. But I really found my footing in screenwriting at Chapman University, where I went for undergrad. While there, I wrote and produced several shorts, all with an eye and mind toward creating something weird, something funny, or something disturbing.
Since stepping into the real world, I have been lucky enough to call some stellar places home, including Blumhouse Productions and most recently The Gotham Group. It wasn't until very recently that I developed the desire to direct, which led me to the awesome and totally terrifying adventure that was, and still is, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE LIGHT. And well, now I'm here.
So how did DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE LIGHT come about?
I wrote the script while still in school, actually, and it did a little lap around some screenwriting festivals, so I thought it had lived a full life and buried it away on my computer. But while at Blumhouse, a year-ish after graduation, I was really inspired watching all these horror films come together, I decided I would give it a shot. The first person I hired was Lydia, my producer, who kept me grounded (and caffeinated) while we casted and got our funds together. Moving forward, there was this really magical synthesis of our core team.
Our cinematographer, Daniella Nowitz, replied to an ad we had posted online. We met her at a Starbucks and were really impressed by her. She showed us a brilliant short called ELLIE, directed by Allison Eckert and starring Charlotte, which she had shot at AFI, that absolutely blew us away. Before it even ended, I turned to Lydia and said, "That's her; we need Charlotte. No one else." With Charlotte, came Allison, who joined as our superhero AD, and our little family was born. The three of them, having worked together for a while, had this beautiful shorthand, which really saved my life.
From there, everyone else pretty much just fell into place. Rachel Walker, our other badass producer, joined the team and brought our UPM Bryce along for the ride. Our costume designer extraordinaire, Claudia Adelina, was a good friend of mine, who by the way, is impossibly fun to shop with. I had previously worked with Caitlyn, our makeup and fx artist, and knew she would kill it. So much went into developing the look and function of the monster, and creating the suit which I actually have sitting on a rocking chair in my room. The hardest role to fill was actually our production designer. I had a very specific world in my head, that made it difficult to lock in someone who I felt could accomplish it. Luckily, we found Francesca.
Once all of our stars were aligned, and we were about a little over a week out from shooting, everything just sort of fell apart. We lost our school location, which set off a chain reaction, delaying production for a few months. During that time, I met Erik Bernard from Have Not Films, who partnered with us, and helped us get the ball rolling again. We finally shot in the fall, and then moved into post.
We really took our time with post, since it was one of the most enjoyable parts for me. My Blumhouse post family was a group of amazing talents, who were all excited and eager to help out, including Zach Medow (A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, INSIDIOUS 3, THE BAD BATCH) who was our color wizard, and the peerless Paul Hackner (IT, THE HUNGER GAMES) who did our sound.
While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively? How much coffee are we talking about here?
Red Bull and bagels. And knowing that once it is over, I can sleep. Creatively, I try to write once I get off set. It keeps my mind open and forces me to think critically. Whether it's a scene for the next day, or just the few thoughts I have left in my dying brain, it helps me get centered and keep chugging along. As for coffee, if I can't feel my cells vibrating and hear other people's thoughts, it's not strong enough.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was by far pushing our shoot. It was such a huge hiccup, I was afraid we wouldn't recover from it. The whole thing felt impossible. Especially to realign schedules and go through pre-production all over again. I was pretty hopeless about it, and wasn't sure if the film would ever come to fruition. During the break, my roommate and friends dragged me to the Spartan Race, up in San Francisco. I thought agonizing exercise would take my mind off of everything, you know? That was my moment of truth; if I could not vomit while jumping over walls and running thousands of bleachers with a sandbag on my back, I knew I could finish this film. I know, so cliche!
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
We shot over my birthday, and my entire family showed up at our lunch with this grotesquely huge cake; I was surrounded by a group of thirty plus people that I had grown so close to over the week, singing me happy birthday in the twilight of my sleep deprived goldfish stuffed delirious state. Yeah, that was pretty cool. It also led directly into one of the worst moments, when the cake turned my actors' mouths blue and I thought I was going to die. But you know, still worth it.
For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film!
My DP and I were very close. I trusted her with everything, and we had a really nice symbiosis of creativity. We shot on an ARRI Alexa, since we knew it would accomplish the style and atmosphere we were both conjuring.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences here at VIFF?
I'm looking forward to weirding someone out. If I can make at least one person in the theater jump, or even gasp, I think I'll feel pretty satisfied.
Where is this movie going to show next? Any ideas of how you would like to distribute the film?
Right now our only plan for exhibition is Vimeo, after we have done the festival circuit. But who knows?
If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?
I would have to say the Arclight Sherman Oaks. It's my childhood theater and it's only a ten minute drive. Planes scare the hell out of me.
Movie theaters are the best place to see a movie, but sometimes they can be distracting! What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?
Honestly, I would be too shy to say anything. So let's hope they're saying something good about the film. Or complimenting my shoes, maybe.
There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews for inspiration. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?
I would say take every opportunity you can get to be around what you love, even if the path isn't clear. Internships really helped me learn and make connections, even though they seemed menial at the time. Be nice to everyone. And if you ever feel like giving up, go jump over a wall or run a mile, whatever it takes to remind yourself you can do it.
And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen?
I haven't really been to enough film festivals to say, so I'm going to go with all time favorite movie NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 28th to October 13th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to www.viff.org.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte