With more than fifty directing credits, multiple feature films including the recently released Arbor Demon and the intense, cult storm thriller Nailbiter, filmmaker Patrick Rea’s range of storytelling runs from very intense to darkly dramatic to silly fun but always personal. A complete filmmaker, he is craving an island out in the vast ocean of content and filmmakers. Rea continues to redefine what tension and fear and how they affect our reality, choices and actions. In one of his latest short films Justice Served, we witness the confession of a man on trial for crimes he may have committed. Powerful, honest and intense, Rea weaves horror into the judicial system that makes us ponder the intent of those who live in the shadows and the motives of those who roam in the light. Rea took some time out to speak with Jay Kay about this short form film which is touring film festivals and receiving acclaim.
Horror News Network: Thank you Patrick for taking the time out to speak on your latest short film Justice Served. First, talk about where this idea came from?
Patrick Rea: I’ve always wanted to make a short that turns the justice system on its head. I’m a big fan of the Twilight Zone and courtroom thrillers, so I wanted to blend the two in some way that felt fresh and fun. I also wanted the film to be an analogy for how sometimes the wrong people are made to suffer by the justice system. This short film takes that idea a few steps further into dark satire and social commentary.
Horror News Network: What makes the legal system such a stage for horror?
Rea: I think that horror has always directly connected with the trial setting. We have grown accustom to the media glamorizing trials and presenting them as spectacles, especially if they involve celebrities or high-profile murders. There are entire channels dedicated now to shows that take place in courtrooms or deal with heinous crimes that received massive amounts of television coverage. Ultimately, I wanted to use the courtroom setting as a way to establish an alternate universe where evil has become the new normal and the act of morality is seen as a punishable crime.
Horror News Network: Where did your idea for the demons come from?
Rea: It was several drafts into writing the short when I decided to introduce the ‘demon’ element to the story. At first, I was reluctant to infuse this ingredient for fear that it would push the story way too far into black comedy territory, but I had to remind myself that it was a satire. From the initial concept, I knew that the ‘others’ needed to be shrouded in mystery, but I decided to go one step further and give them a more devilish persona.
Horror News Network: Did Justice Served begin as a morality tale? How personal was this short film for you? What was the writing process like inserting the dark humor and honesty into examination?
Rea: The story was always going to play with the idea of a world where moral acts are seen as criminal. But I knew I had to have a direct opposition to it. If there isn’t some form of opposition, the world would just tear itself apart, so I wanted to establish that there were characters who were good in nature, but have to go along with a facade in order to survive. I didn’t necessarily feel like this story was that personal, but I knew it was something I felt passionate about. The story seems very far-fetched but there are elements of truth to it.
I wanted the film to have a healthy dose of dark humor to lighten the bleak circumstances. The idea of having a world where morality is a crime has an inherent element of satire, so I felt it best to fully embrace the ridiculousness. I found that the cross-examination scenes were my favorite to write and shoot. I tend to find humor in even the worst scenarios, so the dialogue for this short was a joy to create.
Horror News Network: What went into casting for the leads? Specifically, Jason Curtis Miller who plays Mr. Wrenson whose character just hooks you as he plays the prosecutor?
Rea: I had written the short film specifically for Elisa James who plays the defense attorney. So, I always had her in mind from day one. I had worked with Jason Miller on several other short films, and I have been consistently impressed in his ability to make each character unique. He came to the first rehearsal using the voice you hear in the film. I knew he had nailed the tone I was going for. The supporting actors Tom Sutton and Jennifer DeRock were perfect to play the witnesses, since both of them have a very ‘wholesome’ quality to their demeanor. When you hear Sutton’s character describe the ‘horrible acts’ he commits, it really adds a memorable layer of black comedy to the movie.
Horror News Network: What direction did you give to each witness to tap into the dark and wicked pleasure of doing wrong? How many takes did it take to get the proper reactions?
Rea: Basically, I had to remind the actors that they are living in a world where good and bad are flipped. How would you present yourself in that world if you didn’t agree with those ideals? They also needed to be mindful that their characters are putting on a front to fool the prosecutor and jury. They needed to ensure the prosecutor that they were indeed evil people, until their true do-gooder personalities were exposed. I encouraged all the actors to watch any film that contained intense courtroom scenes. We did quite few takes of each moment with the witnesses since I wanted to find the right balance of humor and suspense to give me plenty of options in the editing room.
Horror News Network: What has prepared you more as a filmmaker, the work on your features or your short film work? What do you pull from each on a more serious piece like Justice Served?
Rea: The short films have prepared me more, since that is where I started. I learned from my mistakes on them and took that knowledge into making features. One thing I tell new filmmakers is to start with a short before moving into a feature length endeavor. Learn how to improve your storytelling skills, how to direct actors and work with a crew so that when you are on set for a feature you aren’t making novice mistakes. With each project, I spend a great deal of time in pre-production so that when the unexpected challenges happen on set, I can properly address them. If you are still worried about where to put the camera at the beginning of the day, you will feel overwhelmed when an unforeseen hurdle presents itself. You will always have something that happens, whether it be a prop that doesn’t work, an actor who suddenly gets sick or bad weather that forces you to rethink your shooting schedule.
Horror News Network: Can you talk about lighting throughout the short film and how it creates such tension and atmosphere? Speaking of lighting, can you talk about the shading of each witnesses’ face on the stand?
Rea: I wanted the lightning to be very much a contrast and low key in order to give it a sinister tone. I also wanted the judge and jury in complete silhouette. Hanuman and I discussed the lighting in great detail before shooting. The goal was to establish a mood with the lighting and maintain that tension throughout. It was important to keep certain characters in shadow, so not to reveal their true selves.
Horror News Network: What went into the makeup for the demon’s transition?
Rea: I wanted the make-up to be very minimalist. I didn’t want it to be over the top and silly. My make-up artists Colleen Coffman and Philip Spruell did a fabulous job. The final touch was a digital effect to their eyes to make them yellow and demonic. My Arbor Demon VFX artist Ron Hurley did amazing work adding this effect.
Horror News Network: Working the DP Hanuman Brown-Eagle, what did he bring to this project and the camera angles, framing as well as the movements? How important was the space and distance between characters in the court room?
Rea: Usually when Hanuman and I work together I create storyboards for him to go off of as a guide, which include the camera moves I want to see. We followed it fairly closely. Because of the budget restraints we weren’t able to get too wide in the courtroom, but this enhanced the feeling of claustrophobia for the witnesses and the defendant. During the cross-examination scenes, we had to keep the lawyer and witnesses in close proximity because we didn’t have a believable looking wall on the opposite of courtroom set. The framing on the witnesses tightens as Mr. Wrensen questions them, which maintains and builds upon the tension.
Horror News Network: What did composer Julian Bickford bring to the project?
Rea: Julian Bickford is extremely talented. I’ve been working with him for a decade now on various short films. He also composed the score to Nailbiter. I basically show him the final cut of the short film and explain the tone I’m going for. I used some music by John Carpenter from In The Mouth of Madness as an example of the feel I was going for. He took it in a direction I loved.
Horror News Network: What does the support mean from your wife and family especially being connected to many of your projects?
Rea: I keep my family heavily involved in my projects. My wife is sometimes involved with the production design. My daughter is starting to catch the acting bug and recently had a speaking part in a local commercial. It’s definitely become a family affair. Support from my family is what inspires me to keep going.
Horror News Network: Where can we see and find out more about Justice Served? How has the release of the Arbor Demon been? What is the status of Nailbiter 2?
Rea: Justice Served is beginning a festival run. It will be showing at the Austin Revolution Film Festival in Sept, along with several others in the coming months.
I have been fairly pleased with the reach that Arbor Demon has received since its release. The film is now streaming on Hulu. The film was recently released in the UK under its original title Enclosure. I’m happy its finding an audience.
As for Nailbiter 2, I have a script and have started looking at shooting sometime next summer. The trick is always finding the financing, but I am moving forward with it. The original film seems to have built an audience through its repeat airings on the Chiller channel.
Horror News Network: Thank you for your time!