What was the impetus for writing this fantastically creepy story?
Ritual came first and foremost from my desire to just make a feature without having to wait around for anybody to make it for me. I've always been intrigued by films that are relatively simplistic in their setting, so that there's a lot more space to create complex characters and make the most out of every plot point. I always had it in the back of my mind to make a horror film set in a filthy motel room - it just seemed like the right kinda place to make a really scary movie in.
As one of the youngest feature film directors out there, how did your movie end up in the hands of After Dark Films?
It's something that I feel very lucky about because I've always been a huge fan of After Dark and have been so impressed by their output of original and daring horror films. So maybe it was just luck and perfect timing? But we also had a great sales company called Continental Media who repped the film. It's run by a couple of super energetic dudes who supported us, even when it was just a script by some 22-year-old kid fresh out of college. It was definitely cool to have them by our side throughout production because it motivated me to make something that I wouldn't want to apologize for later. Still, I'm pretty thrilled that things came together the way they did.
Who are some of the filmmakers who influenced you most in writing and directing Ritual, and why?
The film comes from so many different places that it's kind of hard to pick one, specific influence - it's literally a thousand film references stitched together! Writing wise, I was definitely inspired by films like Race With the Devil, Richard Linklater's Tape, Barton Fink and Blood Simple by The Coen Brothers, and Hard Eight by Paul Thomas Anderson. I wanted the film to visually mirror something closer to those pulpy but artistic B-movies that were so unique to the 60's/ 70's. Films like The Pyx, Bogdonavich's Targets, Straw Dogs, and God Told Me To. But, then again, I was also really into Robert Altman at the time as well, which adds to a bit to the overlapping dialogue and looser camera movements.
What were some of the biggest unanticipated challenges of making your first feature film?
I think I was pretty lucky in terms of the actual production. We shot the film in an absurdly small amount of days, so we never really had enough time. I covered my bets by storyboarding everything beforehand, so I knew exactly what we needed to make our days. We shot in the dead of summer, so when we blacked out all the windows and the lights went up in that motel room, it got to be easily over a hundred degrees before the end of the first take. I will say though that, with any film, it's most important to stick to your guns and have a very clear vision of the film you want to make before you make it - it'll make any of the bullshit that ensues much easier to deal with!
Sound design and music are some of the most important parts of a compelling horror film. How did you go about creating such a successful score and music selection?
I was more than lucky to have met the composer Giona Ostinelli. The dude is a total genius and one of the most talented people I have ever met. I think that I've always been extremely interested in unpredictable, ambient soundscapes. I feel like so many films now are afraid to be aggressive with their audio! Most horror scores these days have become so on the nose, that you can spot the scares coming from a mile away. I think my biggest inspiration came from the video game series Silent Hill. It's constantly changing, breathing, and on it's own terms, that you're always on the edge of your seat because you never know where and when the scares are going to hit you! It was super important to me to find a way to capture that essence and use it in our film.
What's next on the horizon for you? Any films in development?
Yes! Prolific filmmakers really intrigue me, so I'm already in pre-production for my next project. I totally admire Woody Allen's career and his manic output of films, so I'd love to emulate that. I want to be the Woody Allen of horror.
And don't miss Mickey's guest post for us: 8 Great Horror Films You Probably Haven't Seen