A huge thanks to the Platform Media Group for being so kind as to arrange for the writers and directors of the absolutely fantastic horror movie, Yellowbrickroad, Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland, to take time from their busy schedules and answer a few questions for us.
First of all I would like to thank you both for taking the time to answer some of the questions I have concerning your absolutely wonderful film, Yellowbrickroad. Being a fan of horror movies I was so pleased with your tale of a group of researchers who unwisely in this case decided to write a book on the mysterious disappearance of the town of Friar, New Hampshire in the 1940’s. The only way I can put it best into words is that the general slew of horror films out there are merely fast food while after viewing your film I felt I had just been treated to a gourmet meal! How did the idea for the story of Yellowbrickroad come about?
Thanks for the kind words and we’re so glad you liked our movie!
Four years ago, we decided it would be really scary to be walking in the woods and hear music. And it was that simple: music as ghost, and what that might do to the psyche. Eventually it grew into a cautionary tale about ambition, but we began simply with what we knew would scare US, at least. And we wanted to take a stab at the slow-burn, character-driven style more often applied to horror in the 1970s. Our primary goals were to keep it cheap so we could do it ourselves and to keep it scary. We invented a back story that, as it turns out, is pretty similar to some actual historic events, but we didn’t know that at the time. We worked on the script for two years, had several readings, listened to as many people as we could.
You can do a lot of waiting in this business, and YELLOWBRICKROAD was designed to be something we could see through from start to finish. We had a ton of amazing help in getting that accomplished, of course – we knew some very talented people, ones who were willing to go on a pretty wild adventure with us. So that’s the other thing about the story that’s maybe useful to aspiring filmmakers – it was written to be scary but it was also designed explicitly to be something that took advantage of our strengths and the resources we knew we had at our disposal.
What started you on the road to filmmaking?
We’ve both wanted to tell stories for as long as we can remember, and we’ve also been good friends for a long time, ones who share a similar taste and a similar vision. We both come out of theater and between us have written and directed several plays. That gave us the chance to get a lot of practice in storytelling and working with actors and designers, although in the back of our minds we were always scheming a transition to film. It was going to take the right moment and the right script, and that turned out to be YELLOWBRICKROAD.
Meanwhile, we were also both working in post-production to make money (Jesse in motion graphics and Andy in sound design), so we were unknowingly also developing the skills it would take to finish YELLOWBRICKROAD when we got back from set with the movie in the can, but no money left.
Being from a small rural town, I could relate to the private and withdrawn from the world feel of the town of Friar, where was Yellowbrickroad actually filmed? I assume the Rialto where the character of Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) meets Liv McCann (Laura Heisler) was not at the same location?
YellowBrickRoad was filmed exactly where it was set, in the northern tip of New Hampshire, 20 or so miles from Canada, four hours from the nearest airport. The whole experience was like how one imagines shooting a movie in the 70s would be, as there was no cell phone reception and barely any internet. Though we weren’t quite allowed to just shoot anywhere we wanted, the community was very welcoming, and one family in particular – The Sylvestres – let us shoot on their many-hundred acre farm for over a week. The Rialto movie theater is actually an hour and a half south of where we mostly shot and slept – the only theater around for miles and miles.
I felt while watching the film that you two have quite a bit of love for the magic of cinema and I’ve always felt that it is an odd thing that more horror films are not centered around movie theatres or the films shown there, in fact I can only think of the 1991 cult classic Popcorn as a prime example. Could you tell us what your most cherished movie theatre experience might be?
ANDY: I saw MULHOLLAND DRIVE with Clark Freeman (Exec Producer and Actor in YBR) and some friends at a derelict, terrifying theater somewhere in the bowels of LA. When the last shot ended (“Silencio!”), the projectionist cut the power and the movie just ended, no credits played. I’m still not sure I didn’t exit that theater into an alternate reality.
JESSE: Seeing PULP FICTION on opening night in Times Square, Manhattan. I’ve never experienced an audience that packed in attention that rapt. I tried to open a package of Sour Patch Kids and got “shussshhhed”. Rightfully so.
I’m ecstatic that Yellowbrickroad is being shown as part of the Night Terrors series from the Collective, AMC Theatres, and Bloody Disgusting Selects. Though I’m envious of those that will get to experience your film in the theatre proper, sadly none of the AMC’s in my neck of the woods are participating. I cannot stress how intelligently you used sound in your film, not to cause jump scares like some other horror films, but to plant the beginnings of what at first is just something peculiar that then becomes a terrifying presence. How did you two come up with the the 1940’s serenade in the woods idea? Or is the answer just simply, that would be a scary thing to hear while you are alone in the woods?
Absolutely that simple, yep. And we tried to make every decision we could to support the experience of sound and it IS awesome that folks will have the chance to hear it with stadium 5.1 surround sound in state-of-the-art theaters. A key choice we made is that, except for a few occasions in the film, we don’t use musical score. You’re in a dry, natural world for the beginning of the movie, so that when you hear music you understand that the characters are hearing it, too, and you really feel that contrast. The challenge was making it sound like a whole catalogue of music is playing when actually we could only afford three authentic tunes. The rest were written by Andy and longtime friend Brad Swanson and recorded to sound like actual 1930s songs. Given millions of dollars, we would have probably filled it with music from the creepy old Disney movies, like BAMBI and DUMBO, there is music in there that’s so scary it should never have entered children’s ears. Listen to “Pink Elephants On Parade” and tell us we’re wrong, we dare you!
Dan Brennan and Soundtrack NY joined us after we were accepted to Slamdance and were rushing to finish the movie in time, and that was a game-changer. I think together, we all understood that the most common pitfall in horror movies is an OVER-use of sound and music. We wanted to put a little faith back in the audience that they didn’t need to be cued by musical score on when to feel tension and when to feel scared. So we were very patient with our build through the first half and as a result, all in the name of earning the right to do some crazy shit in the back half.
You have a very talented group of actors in Yellowbrickroad, did you have an open casting call? Or do they happen to be actors you’ve worked with on other occasions?
This was a benefit we reaped from coming out of theater. W had a number of relationships with actors who we trusted, shared a common language with, and wanted to work with again. We’re very lucky to be friends with Cassidy and Clark Freeman, who leant their talents both as actors and executive producers. The only newcomers were Anessa Ramsey, who we saw in The Signal, Laura Heisler, who came to us via her serious off-Broadway rep, and the great Lee Wilkof, who was able to take time of from performing as the Wizard on the national tour of Wicked. But Andy directed Michael Laurino in several plays – I directed Tara Giordano in Macbeth – we had both worked with Sam Elmore before as well, and Alex Draper currently teaches at our alma mater, Middlebury College. So we were able to cut the cost of a casting agent from our line budget.
Thank you again for your time and patience in answering my questions. I very much look forward to what you two have in the works, so I guess that should be the last question…what are you currently working on now?
We’re putting the finishing touches on a new script we call THE FOREVER NIGHT. If YELLOWBRICKROAD is our original spin on the Haunted Forest Movie, this is our take on the Haunted House Movie. And inside the walls of our house, elements of time are disturbed and warped. It’s designed to be scary, but also amazing – we’re going to keep our (hopefully) original edge, but we’re moving our references up from the 70s to the early 80s and films like POLTERGEIST and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
Thanks again, it was fun and we completely love your website.
A huge thanks again to Andy and Jesse for this honor, remember to get out and see this movie at your participating AMC Theatre!