Friday, August 31, 2007

Interview with "Little Erin Merriweather" Director David Morwick

David Morwick wrote, directed, edited, produced and acting in the recently released film Little Erin Merryweather (read our review). Little Erin Merryweather is a very different kind of horror film, combining a slasher storyline with a fairy tale feel. It was made independently and impressed us with its different approach to the slasher subgenre.

Fatally Yours was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with David about himself and this wonderful and unique horror film he created.

Fatally Yours: David, thank you so much for this interview opportunity! I enjoyed Little Erin Merryweather very much! As I understand, this was your first feature film. Beforehand you were most well-known for your modeling, even though you are a classically trained actor. What made you want to switch to filmmaking?

David Morwick: First of all, thank you for this opportunity. I am so glad you enjoyed the film. I’ve been at this a long time going back to when I was a little kid doing theater in Boston. It’s funny, my family is a big sports family and I myself participated in a lot of sports growing up but secretly I loved acting and movies. So after my soccer games, my Mom would take me into the Boston’s Children’s Theater. Living in Massachusetts, the modeling for me was the closest thing I could get to being in front of a camera plus my Mom had done modeling. I eventually started landing roles in independent shorts. So it wasn’t so much a switch as it was a progression.

FY: Why did you decide to do a horror film as your first film?

DM: Actually, horror wasn’t my first choice. I love films of the 70’s, classics like American Graffiti were a great source of inspiration to me, because it is so character-driven and all about the acting. Great performances, especially from Richard Dreyfus and Cindy Williams. Richard Dreyfus went on to do one of my favorite horrors of all time, Jaws and Cindy Williams obviously went on to huge success and fame with one of the most historical TV sitcoms of all times, Laverne and Shirley. But it’s great to see her in some of these old classics like American Graffiti or Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. So, it wasn’t so much horror films that inspired me but films of the 70’s. I think my film is probably a throwback to that decade.

FY: You had acting experience before Little Erin Merryweather, but how did you handle the tasks of writing and directing? Had you any experience with those two elements?

DM: I have. Growing up, I used to write a lot of short stories. I think if one is a writer, they are also part director. In other words, you have to see the scene in your head first before you put it on paper. When I was writing this script, I would get on my feet and act out all the parts. So in a sense, I was directing as I was writing.

FY: How hard was it to direct AND act…as well as being the writer, editor and producer? How did you juggle all your roles?

DM: Well, I think a lot of actors are directors. In fact I think some of the best directors are also actors, e.g. Robert Redford. Let me say that you have to be one determined, tough cookie to take on something like this which I am. But writing the screenplay and visualizing the whole thing beforehand helped out a lot.
To be honest with you though, the tougher part for me has always been dealing with people in the movie industry. My parents brought me up to be a nice guy. I wish I could say the same for people in this industry. (laughs)

FY: Little Erin Merryweather is like a cross between a slasher and a fairy tale. It has a very whimsical feel combined with a mysterious story. Can you tell us what inspired the story?

DM: Yes, so many of these horror films have too many twists and turns and you mentioned earlier, these kind of silly Scooby Doo endings. I wanted something straightforward and creepy. If anything, the movie is sort of a sad fairy tale. I never set out to make something horrifying like The Exorcist. I just wanted to tell a unique story about a troubled girl and have it be classy. I always wanted the audience to know who the killer was from the beginning. Too many of these films are about “who did it” with a lot of blood thrown in and not enough about a character and his or her backstory. Keep in mind this is all from her point of view which I thought was different.

FY: Even though the film is very high quality, I understand it had a limited budget. How did everything come together for you to be able for you to make this film?

DM: The simple answer is my family, a few solid friends who believed in me. My Mom, Dad and my three sisters are an incredible gift to me. And even though we had a limited budget, I never thought that was an excuse not to aim high. Keep in mind, if you really look at this film, it is much more than a slasher. People that are looking for blood and T & A, this will go right over their heads. But, I think enough people out there get what the film really is.

FY: All of the actors do a fantastic job in the film (yourself included). How did you find them and what was the auditioning process like? Was it always assumed that you would play the lead character?

DM: Well thank you for saying that. I agree. I think for an indie horror, the performances are strong. Usually in these types of films, there is usually no character development just girls with their shirts off. (laughs) I made sure that all of the actors, including me, had theater backgrounds. Vigdis, myself, Brandon, Marcus, Liz and Jillian were all trained on the stage. So I stuck close to New York and Boston for casting the actors. I actually didn’t plan on playing the lead because most of the roles I have played have been much more menacing and dark. But, for the character of Peter, I wanted him to stand out from the other guys and have him be more sensitive and layered. I saw that as crucial for him being the protagonist. I also wanted him to be blonde where the other guys had a darker look. So physically, I was better suited for that part and emotionally in the end, I knew I could pull it off the best.

FY: I loved how you featured a female killer as opposed to the typical male killer. Why did you decide to do this and how did you pick Vigdis Anholt to play Erin?

DM: Great question! If there is one thing I am not crazy about in the horror genre, it would be that unfortunately I find a lot of these films to be anti-female. I have heard theories defended by fans that these women are really heroines in these films. Frankly, I think that’s a lot of bull. A lot of these women seem to be tortured, punished and the usual “they had it coming to them”. They are almost always exploited particularly with nudity, blood and gore. So I may have pissed off a lot of male viewers by not engaging in any of the latter. I am glad that I wrote a great part for a woman who is front and center. Vigdis Anholt is a brilliant actress who I trained with in New York. I always had her in mind for the role of Erin.

FY: I really dug the Red Riding Hood theme the story focuses on. Of all the different fairy tales out there, why did you pick this one to focus on?

DM: Well, all these films have a man with a hockey mask or a nylon stocking on his head, etc. I wanted to create an iconic getup for a female. Little Red Riding Hood was the perfect way to go given that character was so sweet and unassuming.

FY: The illustrations that show Little Erin Merryweather’s story are very well done. Tell us what inspired you to include the “tale within a tale” and a little about how you came to work with illustrator Kelly Murphy.

DM: Kelly I had actually gone to high school with. She was and is an incredible talent. When I was writing the script, I thought it would be really different to write a story within a story. The book that the killer is making is actually the movie unfolding itself in front of the audience. I thought this would be very creative and original to do.

FY: How did you come up with the rhyme that accompanied the illustrations?

DM: That was tough. Both Kelly and I worked on that. I wanted all of the rhymes to have a metaphor/double meaning, just like most fairy tales. Most fairy tales/nursery rhymes concentrate on the number three (3). Three little pigs, three blind mice, etc. The three guys in our film were viewed as three wolves to her (Erin). One was too gullible and the first to go, the second was too proud, therefore he was the next to go and my character lives in parallel with the fairy tales – he’s the sensitive and smart one, the one that’s paying attention.

FY: The film looks amazing and there are some very visually stimulating shots, like the opening scene with the college student being stalked through the woods or the finale in the library. You and your DP Michael Marius Pessah did a great job. What influenced the look and feel of your film?

DM: Michael Pessah is a very gifted DP. He wanted that red cloak to jump off the screen and look vibrant. He really gave the film a European look in places. He really knows his stuff!

FY: The isolated, snow-covered college setting of the film gives it an even eerier feel. What made you pick this particular setting for the story?

DM: I thought New England with its white picket fences, stone walls and woods is made for a fairy tale. I envisioned all of my locations while I was writing the scenes.

FY: The film was completed in 2003 but hasn’t seen a wide release until recently. Can you tell us a little about how you found a distributor and why the film took so long to get released on DVD?

DM: Well, the internet is a mixed blessing isn’t it. What I mean by that is that technology has moved so fast that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. The film was actually completed in 2005. We had a very rough cut screening in 2003. The film wasn’t even finished but I wanted to get some audience reaction. So the film was far from complete in 2003 contrary to what is portrayed on some web sites. Like most indie films, you can expect to take a good five to six years to make it. In some cases, even longer. Melanie Backer is one of the best producers reps in the business and she sold the film for us. Foreign distribution, TV and cable are on the horizon.

FY: What were some obstacles you had to face during the production and how did you overcome them?

DM: Raising money of course was the major obstacle and a lot of people came and went. I think they might regret it now, since the film has been sold. (laughs) But really, my parents, sisters and my dear friends, Jim, Vigdis and Jon and Jason, got me through this.

FY: What is your favorite memory from making the film?

DM: My Mom watching Vigdis and I act in the diner scene. This scene is one of the best in the film, one of the most intimate. It was great just having my Mom watch Vigdis and I do what we love best, ACTING.

FY: Do you have any advice for independent filmmakers?

DM: Don’t listen to anyone, just trust yourself. I had more people who supposedly knew what they were talking about in regards to filmmaking and the industry, trying to give me advice. A lot of that advice didn’t pan out (laughs). I had so many obstacles to overcome. It’s amazing how many people want to see you fail (jealousy, etc.) or will try to discourage you. So if you are an independent filmmaker, you need to develop a tough skin. Don’t take this industry too seriously.

FY: What are your plans for the future? Do you have any other projects you can tell us about?

DM: To get involved in quality projects, no matter how big or small. That could be film or theater. My interest is not in being a “star” and never has been. A lot of that has very little to do with the craft of acting and filmmaking. I guess that is why in a lot of ways I prefer theater. No matter what, I love to work so I know I will be busy in both.

Thanks so much for this opportunity, Fatally Yours!

FY: Thank you David, and we look forward to whatever is next for you!

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