Once in a while, the agents of director Nicholas McCarthy will pitch him on the idea of making a found footage horror movie. How does McCarthy respond to this seemingly reasonable request? “I’ll be like, ‘F— off!'” says the filmmaker.
To be clear, McCarthy has nothing against the found footage genre per se. But his own tastes run to a more rigorously composed visual approach as evidenced by his fondness for the films of horror maestros Val Lewton (Cat People) and Dario Argento (Suspiria) and his own debut move, The Pact. In the supernatural thriller Caity Lotz (MTV’s Death Valley) recruits the help of a cop, played by Casper Van Dien, after her sister disappears and she herself is attacked by some unseen force at the house of her recently deceased mother. “It is quiet and a little bit eccentric,” McCarthy says of his film. “But when I was growing up I saw so many films in multiplexes that were just that, that were unusual little horror movies.”
The low budget, Sundance-screened indie recently enjoyed a wide release in the U.K. where it grossed an impressive $4m, and is being unleashed here by IFC Films on Friday (the movie is also currently available on VOD). Below, McCarthy talks more about this directorial debut, why aliens would learn more from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Driving Miss Daisy, and the time he got fired for misspelling Jodie Foster’s name.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As someone who is almost exactly the same age as Casper Van Dien, I was slightly alarmed to see him playing a grizzled, albeit still handsome, cop.
NICHOLAS MCCARTHY: [Laughs] Well, I’m 40 years old, so I’m a grizzled movie director!
One of your first credits, according to IMDb.com, was a Starship Troopers making-of documentary, on which you worked as a production assistant. Does that explain his casting?
No. When I first moved to Los Angeles, one of the jobs I had was working for a guy who made those extras that go on special editions of DVDs. It was a job that I had for six weeks and I was fired from. But this guy would always put everyone that worked on these puff pieces on IMDb. So those credits — the one for Starship Troopers and then there’s a making-of thing for Silence of the Lambs — appeared on IMDb.
All of a sudden, I was on f—ing IMDb and it was the last thing I wanted on my resume as my first credit. I tried to get them to remove it and they wouldn’t because…It’s true! [Laughs] I think it’s kind of funny now. Because my first feature is a movie that has Casper Van Dien and there’s definitely an influence from Silence of the Lambs. So I’m okay with it.
Why did you get fired?
I spelled Jodie Foster’s name wrong on a fax.
Was it a fax to Jodie Foster?
No, it was to her production office, or something like that. Not it wasn’t to her. [Laughs] [The way Casper got involved with The Pact] was an odd thing. We were actually shooting but we had never cast that cop role because the film was made so quickly. So we pushed those scenes towards the end of our schedule. Those were the only auditions that I wasn’t present at because I was shooting the movie.
My good friend Sam Zuckerman who was [associate] producer on the movie came to set and said, “Casper Van Dien came in today to audition.” I was kind of blown away by that. Because there’s a lot of people in my generation that regard Starship Troopers as an important film. It’s one of the most subversive modern Hollywood movies ever made. So I met him and I really liked him. I knew, in a way, that the choice is a little bit left field because he’s so heavily associated with that role. But Casper really responded to this little part and I had a great time working with him.
How hard was it to cast the main role? Because that part really is the whole kit-and-kaboodle.
Going into casting we knew that that was the big question. We saw a lot of different young women for it. But when Caity Lotz walked through the door, it was apparent to me instantly that she was the one. We looked at 50 more people after that but at the end of every day I would say, “Caity Lotz, she’s the one.” And then I just prayed that she was going to say “Yes” when we offered it to her, because there was no second choice.
The Pact is based on a short film of yours. How did you go about turning that into a full-fledged movie?
I spent years making short films and always wanted to make a feature film. But it’s such a mystery how films get made. There doesn’t seem to be any one way. The Pact short was, like most of the other films I’d made, a character study. The difference is that I used a kind of horror atmosphere. But I never had any plans for it. And I think that in a way is what led me to my success. I made the film just because it was a story I wanted to tell, not because I had some scheme that it was going to get me a feature job. I’ve never thought about this in terms of it being a way to make money. Anybody who does that is an idiot. Because it’s not the most secure career.
We premiered the Pact short at Sundance and three days after the festival I had a meeting with a guy named Jamie Carmichael, president of the film division of Content media, a London-based company. He said, “I want to turn your short into a feature.” 40-something weeks later we were finished with the movie.
I understand you were commissioned to write some horror scripts which never got made. Given the awfulness of so many horror films — and I say that as a huge fan of the genre — it had never occurred to me that someone might pay for a script and then shelve it.
[Laughs] Well, you’re making the assumption that the good ones get made, which I don’t think is always the case. Yeah, horror is notorious for having the worst movies imaginable. But when the earth is destroyed and we’re long gone and aliens come down and start picking through artifacts of our culture, they’re going to find two DVDs. It’ll be like, whatever won the Academy Award in 1980-whatever, like Driving Driving Miss Daisy, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think one of those films will be more telling about story of humanity. I think horror films – the good ones, and even the ones that people say are not so good – they have a certain resonance because they’re about primal things.
What’s next for you? Have your agents suggested you do something which didn’t cause you to tell them to “F— off”?
[Laughs] That’s a good way to couch that question. Well, after the movie premiered at Sundance I went off and wrote another film. It was important to me to plunge ahead and stay inside that space that I was in with The Pact, which was small genre films. We’re going to shoot it in the fall and it’s going to be…terrifying. That’s really the space that I wanted to play in for a little bit longer. I think hearing people scream is almost too addictive of a moment for me. I want to do it one more time.
You can check out the trailer for The Pact below.