Saturday, 18 August 2018

The Rotting Zombie Interviews Billy Ray Brewton

It has been a fair few months since my last interview, but after being given the opportunity to interview writer, producer, and director Billy Ray Brewton I jumped at the chance. I reviewed his cleverly made horror film Show Yourself last week and loved it, so I was interested in getting some of his thoughts on the themes of the movie, as well as how he went about creating it.

While there are obvious horror elements to Show Yourself would you class it as more of a drama due to the protagonists issues he has to face?

I've always referred to SHOW YOURSELF as a 'dramatic horror film'. I understand that the final 15-minutes sort of ascribes the 'horror' label to it, and that's okay, but if people go into it expecting a straight up horror film, they're going to be disappointed. I was far more interested in the character of Travis and his personal struggle than I was about the horror elements - UNTIL it's time for the horror elements to take the stage, and then it becomes ALL about that. I looked to THE DESCENT in terms of its structure, in that respect. 

Often when you have a movie focused on just the one character it can be hard to sustain interest for the run time. The use of laptop and the mobile to connect Travis with his network of people helped negate that issue. Was this a conscious decision to prevent the character from being completely alone which could risk the solitude becoming a negative?

Yes, it was a way of having him both be alone and absolutely not. I loved the contradiction of his going out to the woods to 'get away from it all' and finding every reason under the sun to stay connected with the outside world. This was also a way for me to buck the trope of phones not working and communication being blocked. In this world Travis has no trouble with any of that. I mean - it's 2018 - who doesn't have a phone charger?

While Show Yourself has a small cast there wasn't a single actor who felt ill suited to their role. Was it difficult to cast the roles, or did that come about easily?

Casting was a dream, but I set it up that way. Ben Hethcoat, who plays Travis, is my best friend, and I wrote the role for him, simply because I wanted to see what he could do with a lead role in a feature. As you're aware, he did not disappoint. The rest of the cast was built around him, made up of his close friends and people he'd worked with before. To get the sort of authenticity I wanted, I needed those relationships to feel 'lived in' and real. Stephen Cone was the only actor Ben didn't know, and that works for that relationship. I have always prided myself on strong casting, and that's 75% of your directorial battle right there.

From the inception to the finished piece how long did it take to make? What was the biggest challenge you had to face?

From the day I finished the script to the day we premiered, it was about a year and a half. Post-production was definitely the most difficult aspect, primarily because I had a hard time seeing the piece as a whole. Luckily, I had an insanely talented editor - Eric Ekman - who really helped shape the finished product. For example, the home video footage used was never in the plan - it was an idea Eric came up with that ended up changing the entire emotional tone of the film. Surround yourself with amazing people - ALWAYS.

I really enjoyed how the plot played out, how clues to the past are drip-fed to the viewer both by conversations and the video clips played. It leads to something that is shown to have layers to what initially seemed a straight forward situation. Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?

I don't like easy answers in film. I like some ambiguity. Not so much that it becomes a slap in the audience's face, but enough to maybe spark a conversation. I liked the idea of an audience thinking they knew what a relationship was about and then subverting it in small, honest ways. Nothing crazy or outlandish, but simple, subtle storytelling. Some people don't respond to that, which I understand, but it's what I felt this film needed to be.

Staying on the subject of the plot I liked that it was never 100% certain that what happens is actually real or conjured up from Travis's mind (at least that was the way I saw it). Do you have a definite answer on this or do you prefer to leave it up to the viewer's interpretation?

I have my idea, and I don't mind sharing it because I don't think it should inhibit anyone else from believing what they want. For me, "Paul" was a trickster - a spirit in the woods that was taking Travis's grief and negative energy and feeding off it, manifesting itself through Travis's grief. So, for me, it was never Paul, but was definitely something real Travis was facing.

The plot is quite personal to the character and is quite focused on the topic of grief as well as guilt. Where did you come up with the idea for the film?

Unfortunately, I've experienced my fair share of loss and grief over the years, and it always fascinates me. How people react. How it changes people, for the good and bad. A lot of what I deal with, as an artist, is laced with that sort of thing. But I wanted to write this because I saw THE BIG CHILL and thought it would have made an excellent horror film, and then started thinking about all the things I wanted to see Ben (who plays Travis) do in a feature. The rest just sort of spilled out.

I admit I haven't seen any of your previous work, but was impressed with the way Show Yourself was created. Do you have any plans for future films in mind?

Definitely. I've got a fun and bloody little script called SEASONS OF BLOOD which is ready to go if we can find the financing. It takes the characters from the musical RENT and places them in a summer camp in the 1980's with a masked killer on the loose. It's a musical horror comedy and a raunchy time. 

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