Interview: Mac Carter from "Haunt"
Director Mac Carter has definitely made his mark in the business as a director doing commercials for several large companies. He has taken his talents to the big screen and has made his first feature film called “Haunt” which has finally come out on VOD. “Haunt” is a beautifully filmed horror movie that will keep your attention, intrigue your senses, and scare the heck out of you. Here is what Mac had to say about his new film.
Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: I just got done watching your new film "Haunt". And it is now out on VOD.
Mac Carter: That's right.
MRR: So let's talk about this film. It was a really cool film. I really liked how you did it. First of all what sort of ride are you going to be taking the audience on with this new movie?
Mac Carter: What sort of ride? Oh boy! Well I hope that it's an exciting teen romance kind of, at the heart of a horror story. That's what I was into when I read the script the first time. Really fell in love with that part of it. I loved the idea of these two teens, kind of troubled teens that become these star-crossed lovers. I was talking to friends when I first got the script, and I was trying to describe. I was saying, "It's a little bit like 'Romeo and Juliet' meets a horror story," and then they convinced me not to use that cheesy term. So... But that was my initial interest in it, and I hope that's what the audience takes away from it first and foremost. Of course I'd like for them to also be scared, and we tried to put some scares in there.
MRR: Tell me about the house that you filmed it in. Was it someone's home that let you shoot there or what? 'Cause it was a pretty creepy house.
Mac Carter: Through the magic of movies, that is six houses. It's actually six locations that we used to build that single house. It's in Salt Lake City. We found that great exterior... Pretty much that shot you see of it when they approach, it's an old estate in the middle of a patch of woods and I thought it has such a great look. What you can't tell is it's about 10 feet deep. If you walked to the side of it, it's like one room deep. So we had to actually find a bunch of other houses to build it out and obviously that's great fun like going and finding a pool that fits into it or a stand of woods nearby that you can steady cam through. So it ended up being a bunch of different places that we cobbled together into one great haunted house.
MRR: You focused mainly on the house itself and what's going on in the house. There wasn't much that went on in the world around it. Which reminded me of a little bit of like what Hitchcock and those guys would do back with more classical movie.
Mac Carter: Right. The idea that it would be isolated was always part of it. Obviously, it's almost a sub-genre in movies nowadays to find these really contained stories, and that was part of the charm of the script. It's partly what makes them produce-able and this place kind of gave us a really good shot at that. I liked that idea too I mean they do get out about once when they go to find Janet Morello, but otherwise it mostly takes place right there at the house or maybe nearby at Sam's house. And that was always by design, that isolation. At some point we knew we were gonna have the Evan character alone in the home with Sam, that kind of fantasy teen weekend, and have it just be completely subverted by the horror that's going on around them.
The attic by the way, just as a side note, the attic was a build. We built that whole thing on stage. Again, a great fun kind of trying to set the production designer loose on designing that kind of creepy back room where this body can be tucked in under the floor... Oh no spoiler!
MRR: I've actually seen houses like that and you guys did a really good job at convincing me that it was a real house so.
Mac Carter: One of the very first conversations I had with the writer when I was telling him how excited I was about his script was he told me that this house exists for him somewhere in Connecticut. That he grew up in this kind of neighborhood and he actually had a relationship similar to this with a troubled girl in his neighborhood. That part of it is kind of plucked from his real life and I showed him some pictures. Because I come from the East Coast and he said, "That is exactly it man." And then we just had to find it out here. We ended up finding it in Salt Lake. Didn't expect to find it in Salt Lake but we did. The scout brought us out and we were just blown away. That that could be sitting somewhere in the middle of Salt Lake.
MRR: I was intrigued with the way you used color in the film. Can you talk about kind of how you wanted to showcase that, I guess? 'Cause it almost had a gray tone to it.
Mac Carter: Yeah, thank you. So the DP I worked with, his name is Adam Marsden, he is a guy I've done years and years' worth of commercials with, and it was a great fight to get him onto the film 'cause it's hard to be a commercial film maker and cross over. It's also very hard to be a commercial DP and cross over, but it's done. And I convinced them that this guy, Adam Marsden, whose won many awards in Canada for his work, would be actually a great choice to do a horror film 'cause he has such an amazing pastel-y look to his film. And another thing he does really well is he colors really well.
So we talked about the palette early on and we decided that there would be this kind of heavy de-saturation throughout the opening of the film, and then slowly color would kind of creep into it in the flashbacks or in the moments with the ghosts and then eventually with the kind of savage murders at the end of the movie. That was the strategy anyways. But coming from commercial film making where you have to have a look, to have a voice... One of the things that I've always been kind of very conscious of is controlling the look of film. So to the degree that I could, we tried to do that here.
MRR: I think you guys did a really well job, and it's almost like EQ-ing with music. Subconsciously people wouldn't think about it, but it's there and they can recognize if it's good or bad, you know what I mean?
Mac Carter: Absolutely. I mean we all know what bad films look like. They feel a little bit out of control. And sometimes that's fun, like when it's Willy Wonka. But when you're trying to control a tone and a mood, you also have to kinda control the look, 'cause that's gonna end up informing the tone and the mood. So we really tried to be conscious of that in everything, the wardrobing, the locations, how would we repaint the walls for a room if we were gonna shoot in them. Every step along the way, we were super conscious of that.
MRR: It's so much to think about.
Mac Carter: It barely scratches the surface, man, if you're talking about color.
MRR: Well you also pull of very convincing special effects, which can be kind of the Achilles heel for movies in this genre. Did you know how good they were gonna be while you were filming?
Mac Carter: Well, let's split it up 'cause there's CGI and then there's the practical. And we knew that it was gonna be a blend of the two. Always knew that. But primarily, we knew that the presence in the house was gonna have to be achieved in a practical way. The producers, the really great producers on the film, already had this relationship with Weta going back to "District 9", which they did. And they had been in contact with them on "Elysium" 'cause they were involved with "Elysium" as well. So we called up New Zealand and we got them on the phone and we talked to them about what we need and they said "Hell, yeah, we wanna do a horror film." They did a whole bunch of concept art for us and sent it out and we found kind of the presence we were looking for.
And then they did the outrageous, and they sent us a team. Sarah Rubano and Joe Dunckley, and they came out to set. And it was one of those six hours in the morning to get the makeup on and to put the whole costume together, and then you a day working with this great actress, Kasia Kowalczyk, who is the actress who plays the presence. We had about a day with her, and then she'd spend six hours getting out of it all. That was amazing, that was an amazing experience and I knew in the hands of those guys, in the hands of this really accomplished Weta team... I mean they've gone on and done "Spiderman 2", they did "Elysium", they do "The Lord of The Rings" "Hobbit" films. I think right now they're in Toronto doing another film with Neill Blomkamp who did "Elysium" and "District 9". I think they're doing "Chappy" right now.They're very, very accomplished and I knew in their hands, that stuff was really gonna be great.
And then also what happens is you end up taking that into your post production process, and we worked with a really great company at how to go in and color the practical effects so that they felt more grounded within the scenes. So that was the practical effects and that was great. The CGI was... That was anybody's guess 'cause obviously we're on a really super tight budget, but the post production supervisor knew a bunch of artists in LA And he just went out to them piecemeal and said, "Look I need a shot where the veins crawl up his face," or "I need a shot where his eyes go black." Or... And we would just do those one at a time and keep going back until we got it to where we hoped we could get it. And that was just a look that felt as consistently sophisticated as the rest of the film. I think we got close to that. You know?
MRR: I'm glad to hear that there's still a lot of importance for make-up departments and practical effect departments these days.
Mac Carter: Oh see, I mean these are the guys that do... They did the Green Goblin for "Spiderman 2". They put the Exo suit on Matt Damon for "Elysium". I mean you're talking the top of the top. We just happened to catch them in a sweet spot where they wanted to do a horror film.
And they were so amazing and they worked so hard and they worked around the clock doing this. It wasn't like they were mailing this in as a favor. They were so in love with doing this character for us.
MRR: Well, it definitely pays off in the film.
Mac Carter: Thank you.
MRR: Now this movie, it combines a psychological thriller with kind of a gorish, murder-ish, kind of flick. Which film do you find to be more terrifying, the psychological thriller or the slasher type flick?
Mac Carter: I personally don't watch a ton of slasher films. I kinda stay away from them. They kinda get to me.
MRR: Yeah, me too.
Mac Carter: I love haunted house films. I have since I saw "Something Evil", Spielberg's TV film a million years ago. Scared the hell out of me, and I've loved horror films ever since. I've watched everything. I mean I love those kinds of movies, and I dissect them, and I'm just a huge fan of that portion of the genre. I'm a huge comic book nerd. I'm one of those guys.
Mac Carter: Slasher films, I don't really dig them, man. I've got some daughters, and they just get to me in a bad way. So I really just don't like to subject myself to them. What I love are really thoughtful horror films. I see a film like "Let The Right One In", and I'm blown away because I care about those characters. I see a film like "The Orphanage". I care so much about those characters. I watched "Mama" again yesterday. I really care about those characters. I'm kind of weepy and cheesy like that. At the end of those films, I just care about those characters. And that was probably the number one thing for me to get right.
I felt like if I could get the audience to buy in to that relationship, some of the family, the family was kind of it was there and then they're not there. So, I only thought that we're gonna be able to exploit that portion of the story so much. But if I could get people to buy in to the relationship between Evan and Sam, then I could get them to care about it. If I could get them to care about it, then the horror will land at the end. And even though yes, it's kind of subversive and it goes pretty far in the end, hopefully it delivers a kind of bittersweet story.
It doesn't hurt to have these great actors, Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato are incredible rising stars. Harrison is just about to come out in “Need For Speed” and Liana is in a bunch of these films. She's up for every one of those Y films that goes down the pike. And obviously Jacki, having Jacki Weaver in the cast, and Ione Skye. I mean those are huge helpers to me to getting the audience to relate to the characters, having such great actors. But that was the number one thing for me, get that story right. Call it psychological, I just call it getting an audience to relate to your characters in the story, the ride they're on. I felt like if I could get that right, the film was gonna be okay.
MRR: My last question for you is making these kind of films I'm sure can get to your head, so what would you do to go off set and relax, would you go and watch an old Simpson episode or something?
Mac Carter: I wish I had time to watch a Simpson episode. [chuckle] No. The day would wrap and I would be on to create the shot list for tomorrow, stay up looking at dailies. You're right. One of the big surprises for me when I made the movie was how scary it could actually be to be on set. Some of those scenes get pretty graphic and they get pretty intense, and I'm probably too earnest a guy. It's like I get very swept up in those scenes and also, I'm very sympathetic to what the actors have to go through and where they have to get themselves. So frequently I'd be like tearing up on set with my actors like, "Oh my God. That was amazing."
I just can't help myself. I get caught up in that. And sometimes it can be scary. Like there's that scene where the kids go to talk to Janet Morello, and she reluctantly lets them into her apartment. And she starts saying, "You can't fool around with that stuff. You can't... " And then she screams. Well, Jacki hadn't told her that she was gonna do that. And the whole crew s&^% themselves when she did it. The sound guy tore me a new one because you can't scream into a microphone unless the sound guy is ready for it. And that's what she did. And we were so immersed in the moment in the scene between Jacki and these kids that when she screamed, we all just kind of lost it.
So, there really is this almost like you're living the movie on set while the action is playing out. I hadn't expected that. Yeah, probably I had a beer occasionally at the end of the day to kind of unwind. I might have done that, I might have done that.
MRR: I just couldn't imagine all that was going through your head and I'd be like, "Man, I need some sunshine right now."
Mac Carter: That's what my wife said. She's like, "You've gotta go take a walk." I'm like, "Sweetie, when? When am I gonna go take a walk? I don't have time. I barely have time to get four hours sleep." That's just the nature of these movies, making these movies. But it was great fun. It was amazing.
MRR: Well, thanks a lot, Mac. I really appreciate it. I enjoyed the movie, and hopefully everyone checks out “Haunt” on VOD.
Mac Carter: Thanks a lot, Nick.