Interview: Zachary Donohue from "The Den"

Photo Credit: Bernard Hunt | © 2014 - IFC Midnight
March 21st, 2014

Director‭ ‬Zach Donohue has taken a leap of faith with his new horror film‭ ‬“The Den‭”‬ as it is shot completely‭ ‬from the perspective of a‭ ‬young woman's computer screen.‭ ‬These sort of found footage horror films have really‭ ‬made an impact on the genre over the past several years,‭ ‬and now the‭ ‬Internet is the playing field.‭ ‬Zach was kind enough to sit down with us here at Movie Room Reviews and talk all about his new film‭ ‬“The Den‭”‬ which is now out on VOD.

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews:‭ ‬Congratulations on your film coming out soon.‭

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Thanks a lot,‭ ‬man.‭

MRR:‭ ‬It's a long time in the works,‭ ‬huh‭?

‬Zach‭ ‬Donohue:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬about three years.‭ ‬I'm excited to get it out there.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬it came out March‭ ‬14th and t's a unique movie in a lot of ways.‭ ‬We'll talk about that in a minute.‭ ‬But can you first tell our audience a little bit about what the film is and the story of it‭?

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Yep.‭ ‬The movie is a found footage thriller all told from the perspective of a young woman's computer screen.‭ ‬She goes on a Chat roulette-esque website and witnesses a murder.‭ ‬And from there the killers basically target her and her loved ones,‭ ‬and it turns into a sort of game of cat and mouse.‭ ‬And so,‭ ‬I usually pitch it as‭ "‬Paranormal Activity‭" ‬meets‭ "‬Friday the‭ ‬13th‭"‬.‭

MRR:‭ ‬It reminded me a little bit like the‭ "‬Blair Witch Project‭"‬.‭ ‬Do you think movies like the‭ "‬Blair Witch Project‭" ‬started films like this or what‭?

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬certainly.‭ ‬And I think,‭ ‬Blair Witch did it,‭ ‬and then for some reason found footage movies didn't quite take,‭ ‬right after that.‭ ‬You would have thought that there would have been a renaissance of‭ ‬them,‭ ‬but then,‭ ‬it wasn't until‭ "‬Paranormal Activity‭"‬,‭ ‬which was like the game-changer.‭ ‬I remember seeing that in the theater and just being blown away.‭ ‬And I wanted to take the realism that was in‭ "‬Paranormal Activity‭" ‬and instead of ghosts,‭ ‬replace it with a human threat and just kind of take that and run with it.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬for people that haven't seen it yet,‭ ‬you shot it in a very unique way.‭ ‬It seems like it'd be tough to get all the shots that you wanted because it was basically...‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬you can explain it to us.‭ ‬How did you shoot the film‭?

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬it was a challenging movie.‭ ‬A lot of times you're seeing two things at once.‭ ‬You're seeing her,‭ ‬Melanie,‭ ‬our lead actress on one side of the screen,‭ ‬and then you're seeing another person.‭ ‬And yeah,‭ ‬it felt like we were shooting two movies at once essentially,‭ ‬because we were constantly going around to different locations and grabbing these web chat simulations.‭ ‬And the third component to the movie is the desktop screen.‭ ‬And just the mouse is a‭ ‬character in the movie,‭ ‬her email is a character,‭ ‬and it all just kinda came together in the end with the VFX.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬you co-wrote the film‭?

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬I wrote it with my writing partner,‭ ‬Lauren.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬did you have the basic story written down‭? ‬How'd you go about that‭? ‬Did you let the actors kind of improv some‭? ‬Is that how horror movies usually work or is it mainly what's on the page is what's said‭?

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬with this movie we weren't really allowed to do a lot of improv because of the way we shot it.‭ ‬A lot of scenes would be Melanie reacting and acting to a pre-recorded video of what you're seeing on the other side of the screen.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬we had to basically shoot that person first,‭ ‬film that,‭ ‬edit that while we were making a movie,‭ ‬give that to Melanie and then she would act off of that and there really wasn't a whole lot of room for her to improv because she was acting off of a pre-recorded performance,‭ ‬and if she improv'd,‭ ‬it wouldn't have worked properly.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Since you filmed it a little bit differently,‭ ‬what aspects of film making were you able to cut out and what ones did you have to kind of spend more money and time on‭?

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬The stunts and the scares are always kind of like a little bit more of a costly element and also locations.‭ ‬Some of our scarier locations also are costly.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬with a movie where you can't cut away to a separate angle,‭ ‬it sort of makes the gag of the violence,‭ ‬it makes it trickier to pull off and a little bit more expensive.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬we found creative‭ ‬ways to work around it but I think,‭ ‬because we couldn't cut away,‭ ‬we had to definitely make sure that our gore effects worked,‭ ‬essentially.‭

MRR:‭ ‬I didn't even think about that.‭ ‬When I was thinking about that question,‭ ‬I was wondering what you'd say.‭ ‬And now it totally hits,‭ ‬like an old Hitchcock movie or something where the camera pans away and the person gets murdered,‭ ‬where you don't even see it.‭

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Yeah.‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬it's really funny because I was watching a lot of movies when we were doing it and‭ ‬we were referencing throat slitting scenes or scenes where people get hit in the head with a hammer.‭ ‬And a lot of movies it's just sound design,‭ ‬and I was actually surprised to see it when I was looking for movies for inspiration as far as how the effects‭ ‬were pulled off.‭ ‬It's just amazing how far sound design can trick you,‭ ‬but really you're always editing away from the gag,‭ ‬and in this movie we couldn't edit away from the gag.‭ ‬We had to make sure that the gag lurked,‭ ‬and that was a fun challenge.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Now besides the horror with the violence in the film,‭ ‬what kind of psychological horror do you think lies in this film‭?

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬a lot of this movie was inspired by the YouTube message boards or just message boards in general,‭ ‬and how there's just like a nastiness that trolling inspires.‭ ‬And we really wanted to tap into that idea of just what it is to be on the Internet these days and while we are connected and all that,‭ ‬there is still very much just like a nastiness to the Internet more than ever.‭ ‬And we wanted to expose some funny things about the Internet and memes and just going off with those kind of funny,‭ ‬over-the-top ideas.‭ ‬But at the end of the day,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬that's that.‭

MRR:‭ ‬As I was watching it,‭ ‬especially‭ '‬cause it involves a chat room,‭ ‬what would normally seem funny like when you see these people and what they're doing,‭ ‬it just seems so creepy in this film.‭


‬Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬it's funny‭ '‬cause when I've watched the movie with other people I always laugh at certain moments that are meant to be funny,‭ ‬but because it's presented in such a voyeuristic way,‭ ‬it does really play pretty creepily,‭ ‬and a lot of times people are pretty nervous to laugh,‭ ‬which I think is kind of interesting,‭ ‬that I didn't really think about.‭ ‬But yeah,‭ ‬the movie is meant to be like as much it is like a scary kind of fun house thrill ride,‭ ‬it's also meant to have a thought provoking theme,‭ ‬but it's also meant to have some funniness in it,‭ ‬and it's okay to laugh.‭ '‬Cause Internet is absurd.‭ ‬So we really just‭ ‬wanted to have a conversation about all of that.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬Elizabeth in the film,‭ ‬how did you want to portray her‭? ‬Did you want her to be this helpless hot chick or where you trying for something more‭?

‬Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬we were going for realism.‭ ‬That was the goal from the get go.‭ ‬We really wanted a character that the audience would identify with,‭ ‬but we didn't want it to feel like a stereotypical Hollywood horror movie.‭ ‬We wanted someone who had personality and who was interesting even when she wasn‭'‬t doing that much.‭ ‬Someone you could watch,‭ ‬which sounds so creepy,‭ ‬but yeah someone who just brings a presence to the role.‭ ‬She had like a real energy to her,‭ ‬towards the end and she makes a lot of those scenes really intense in my opinion.‭ ‬She's got that final girl energy about her that I like.‭

MRR:‭ ‬That was probably a lot of pressure on Melanie huh,‭ '‬cause she was the make or break for the film.‭

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Yeah.‭ ‬I mean she's in pretty much‭ ‬95%‭ ‬of the movie and it was definitely a unique experience,‭ ‬and like I said there was a lot of scenes were she was very close to the camera and it's kind of like a very vulnerable position to be in,‭ ‬but she trusted the vision that I had,‭ ‬and I think we got something pretty unique out of her performance,‭ ‬and I'm excited for people to see it.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬this is your biggest film to date now,‭ ‬coming out.‭ ‬Tell me about what you've learned as a director from doing this and a little bit of how you got into film.‭

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬There was a lot of trial and error,‭ ‬and I guess I've always loved horror movies as a kid and making this movie just kind of reaffirmed that I want to continue making more movies.‭ ‬You know,‭ ‬not necessarily found footage horror movies,‭ ‬but just whatever the story calls for.‭ ‬As far as like my background in horror I was exposed to a lot of great horror movies from my father as a kid.‭ ‬He showed me Dario Argento and all the great slashers.‭ ‬I have a pretty broad taste in terms of horror movies.‭ ‬I'll watch‭ "‬Critters‭" ‬one day,‭ ‬and then I'll watch‭ "‬The Shining‭" ‬or something the next day.‭ ‬I'm down for any kind of horror movie.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Well thanks so much for talking with me today.‭ ‬The film,‭ "‬The Den‭" ‬is out now for people to see.‭

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬on VOD and most Internet platforms and limited theatrical.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Cool.‭ ‬Well thanks so much,‭ ‬man.‭ ‬I really appreciate you talking with me.‭

Zach Donohue:‭ ‬Thanks a lot for having me,‭ ‬man.‭