Interview with Derek Mungor
The You Are Not Alone director answers some questions for us...
At Haddonfield Horror we do love our indie films and one that has been on our list for a while is You Are Not Alone. We were lucky enough to get the director Derek Mungor (who was gracious enough to spare some time) to answer some questions - @TigersMS78 asked him...
What is your story - how did you get into film?
I've always been fascinated by film. When I was a kid, I grew up watching a lot of things I probably shouldn't have - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Night of the Living Dead (1968 & 1990), etc. - along with the original Burton Batman film. My family had HBO and it was around the time they were still showing shlock genre films (late 80's/early 90s). I would stay up late and watch the Tales from the Crypt series. All of those left a strong impression on me, but it wasn't until I was in high school and I caught a Halloween marathon on AMC that I really seriously considered making them. I inevitably made the decision to go to film school hoping that I would find a more realistic job or career in the field outside of directing/producing. Over those couple of years, I realized that I was A.) terrible at the more sustainable film jobs and B.) still keenly interested in directing and producing, however ludicrous it seemed. So, saddled with an absurd amount of debt, I was well on my way. I co-directed a feature, Desolation Wilderness, that was released in 2012. It was a nice trial-by-fire experience and garnered the interest necessary to get You Are Not Alone produced.
What is You Are Not Alone about?
You Are Not Alone is and always has been two separate narratives, one part slice-of-life indie film and one-part 70's slasher. The story itself is about a college graduate, Natalie, who returns to her hometown during the 4th of July. She's going through a break-up and decides some time away from her current situation would be best. She reunites with old friends and family. The usual small town summer happenings populate the background and Natalie is pulled in different directions depending on who she's around. However, there is news of a spree killer on the loose. It's peppered throughout the story until the more aggressive horror narrative derails the freewheeling nature of those earlier scenes and it becomes a full slasher film. Natalie spends the remainder of the film being stalked and ultimately fighting for survival.
How did You Are Not Alone come about?
The film came about in different ways over a period of a few years. I've always had a strong affinity for the original Halloween and I've always wanted to do something in that realm, but the struggle was to do something interesting that hadn't already been done. A good portion of what eventually came to be the first half of the story was something that actually happened to me the summer after I had graduated college. I was living in Florida at the time and I came back to my home town, Walnut, IL (which is actually the town that we shot You Are Not Alone in). It just before the 4th of July as well. There was a spree killer on the loose and I was hyper-aware of it happening and how surreal of a feeling it was. There was actually that newspaper you only see in movies with "KILLER ON THE LOOSE" in the giant block font. It actually felt like I was living inside of a horror film. Nothing like that happens in these rural midwestern areas so everyone was sort of reacting as if it wasn't really happening. I went to a party at a friend's house and walked back home alone and a little drunk. I walked inside my parent's house (which was dark and empty because my parents happened to be on vacation). A friend called to tell me that the killer was spotted by the police on the edge of town near my parent's house. Luckily nothing happened (and hence why this isn't labeled a "based on true events" film), but all of that stuck with me. My co-writer, Chris O'Brien, and I had been trying to think of a project we could do with a micro budget for about a year and the concepts normally veered towards a genre film set in a house or single location. That event along with many other things were eventually filtered into this weird amalgamation and we spent about a week in a cabin in the woods writing what became the film.
Was the decision to make it a POV film made whilst writing the script or did it come about after?
Weirdly (or maybe not weirdly) enough, the POV side of it was one of the initial thoughts we had. It was something that I had only seen done a couple of times in the past. There is a really fantastic coming of age film from Germany, Pixelschatten, that explored that perspective in an interesting way. I also have to give a lot of credit to a friend of mine, Raki Giannakouros, who had mentioned for years that the POV angle would be great for a suspense film. It is definitely a story-telling element that enhances certain aspects of this type of film, but until you actually make one, you don't realize how much of an obstacle it is from a logistical perspective. Some of those issues you're able to troubleshoot in production. Luckily we had the good fortune of working with a terrific cinematographer by the name of Ryan Glover and our lead actress/camera op, Krista Dzialoszynski who consistently offered up ways around issues you don't normally encounter in a narrative film. Chris O'Brien really fleshed out the ideas that inform the first half of the film. While writing, we were always focused on how to engage the audience as a character while not losing the character of Natalie. I think a lot of credit has to be given to Krista for realizing Natalie's character and providing something that walked the line of defined as well as offering up a canvas for the audience to project themselves onto when it was necessary.
Was it difficult to gather financing?
We had some funding (mostly personal), but not enough to get us through production so we launched a late kickstarter campaign to see production all the way through. With that said, it's still a micro-budget film which is what we intended to do after some larger budget projects never got off the ground. We raised the official amount needed about a week before shooting began. It wasn't exactly the calmest pre-production, but nevertheless we were successful thanks to a lot of people who believed in our project.
Did you have a hand in casting?
Yes, co-producer Jonald Reyes and I oversaw the casting process. We had Krista in mind when things started to take shape so she was cast initially. A few people here and there we had some ideas about, but we held a majority of casting in Chicago. We had access to a lot of talented people in improv and live theater who were looking to do film. Some of the cast I knew beforehand and some I've become friends with since. It's hard to imagine other people in those roles because everyone really embodied the characters so well and brought a massive amount of their own ideas and improvisation to the film. Krista Dzialoszynski, David O'Brien, Keenan Camp, Nikki Pierce, Mary Mikva and everyone in the beginning of the story really carry the film. The one thing that a lot of people who see or review the film mention is how natural it feels and I think that is mainly the cast.
How long did it take to shoot the film?
Principal photography took approximately 14 days. Not having multiple setups like you would in a traditional narrative film allowed us to expedite production considerably. We had days with a lot of blocking and little shooting and other days where we were loading up cards with massive amounts of footage. We were trying to give ourselves as much footage to work with knowing that the post-production process would be closer to a documentary where you "find the film" in the editing bay. There were a couple of reshoots after that initial production period. We tested the film in front of an audience in a theater near the town we shot in and learned a lot. The edit of the film went from 2 1/2 hrs to 2 hrs 15min to a final run time of just over 1hr and 35min. There is a lot of material that was scrapped to make the film's pace as accessible as possible without loosing what made it unique. So while the shoot was abnormally short for a feature, the post process has been grueling to say the least.
What are the lessons you took from making the film?
I think the biggest lesson taken from this experience is that you have to plan absolutely everything ahead and that includes marketing. We focused on production and post-production, but we now live in a time where indie filmmakers have to be just as adept at utilizing social outlets to get people interested in the project from day one. It's always a lot easier said than done. No one will care about your film outside of family and friends unless you give people a reason to or actively seek out that audience. It's difficult, especially in this genre, to be noticed and get a film in front of people despite the fact that right now is the easiest time in history to produce and distribute.
What films inspire you?
I will never turn down a chance to watch a horror film. Good or bad, horror films are like comfort food. With that said, I have a semi-eclectic taste in film and it's nice to use a wide range of things to inform a project even if it technically falls under a specific genre. I'm a huge fan of Charlie Kauffman in particular. I really love early Robert Altman films like Brewster McCloud and Secret Honor. I think the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre gets a horrible rap as this standard slasher when it's one of the most affecting pieces of cinema I've ever seen. A lot of people tend to think of things like the meat hook or the chainsaw scenes, but that film is a total nightmare in the best possible way. The dinner scene is stunning. Even something as small as that shot of the daddy longlegs in the corner of the abandoned house in the beginning. It's a flawless piece of filmmaking. Even if the acting is spotty here and there, it never takes away from the film. Nicolas Winding Refn mentioned something to this effect when they screened it for the 40th Anniversary and I think he's 100% spot on. I'm also a huge fan of John Carpenter and his scores.
What is your goal for You Are Not Alone?
Ultimately, we want to get the film in front of everyone who wants to see it. We've been touring the festival and market circuit with our distribution rep, DC Medias. Finding the appropriate home for this film has been tough because you want to make sure whoever is handling and presenting it to a potential audience understands it. Seeing the film in a packed theater, seeing and hearing the reactions was one thing and then to have had it screen across the globe has far exceeded our initial expectations. This film has been a huge step forward for all of us and we hope that it allows us to produce other projects soon. Establishing yourself is one of the most difficult things in independent film. I hope that everyone who enjoys You Are Not Alone continues to follow the trajectory of everyone involved and supports our future endeavors.
What does the future hold for you?
Chris O'Brien and I are currently writing our follow up to You Are Not Alone which can be described as a slacker noir with a cult, monsters, a kid's soccer team, and pizza. Stay tuned.
Look out for Haddonfieldhorror's review soon.