Any movie with the word "closet" in the title holds a special place in our hearts. And Mel House, director of Closet Space, was kind enough to invite us into his closet to chat about his upcoming film.
What's Closet Space about and why should horrorheads see it?
Closet Space centers on five graduate students searching for their missing professor. At first they have no idea where the guy went to - he's just gone. When the students get out to the "site" (which is a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere), they discover a door that opens up onto a seemingly endless, lightless pocket dimension. The laws of nature and physics are merely the first layers to be peeled back and discarded as the group continues their inexhaustible search for their mentor—which leads them deep inside the ‘Closet Space.’ But…there are things that live inside the vast emptiness. Horrible, hungry things. With tentacles.
First of all, I think horror aficionados should check out Closet Space because I think we succeeded in making a dark and gruesome picture. Too often these days you see people making horror flicks just to "cash in" or whatever, because the genre is a proven moneymaker.
The people involved in Closet Space actually love the genre. It's not a joke to us. We are in this for the long haul. In addition, what we tried to do with Closet Space was make a low-budget horror movie...without all the trappings of low-budget horror moviemaking that you see so often these days. Every new horror flick on the shelves seems to be some 10th-generation slasher rip on Scream, or worse yet, a horror-comedy. Then, if you're suckered into a rental by some (probably misleading) box art, you get little to no delivery on the special effects front. Compounding that, what little FX gags you do get treated to are really, really bad CGI. Fortunately, just about all of our special FX on Closet Space were done practically (by the extremely talented guys at Oddtopsy FX), and what little digital stuff we have is being handled by Visual Odyssee, who are masters of their game.
You started a blog to convey the trials and tribulations of guerilla moviemaking. Can you give us a rundown of those challenges while bringing Closet Space to completion?
Yeah, the blog's gotten me into some trouble in the past - but no more than my mouth has, I guess. I have a notoriously short temper and it comes through in the virtual world as well. Sometimes I hop on there and just vent all my frustrations with no filter or remorse - but it gives me an outlet. As a direct result of that, I don't think I've actually yelled at anyone on set.
Oddly enough, the most challenging thing for everyone on the Closet Space set was adjusting to a real movie shoot. Most everything everyone had worked on before was your usual student film, shot in the backyard stuff. A couple of us had worked on other, more ambitious films (Necrophobia comes to mind), but this time we had a pretty large crew, a special effects team, various mechanical and makeup FX gags, set construction, soundstages (of a sort), on-location shooting, and tentacle monsters.
It took a while for things to gel and for everyone to realize that making movies on a serious level isn't about hanging out, drinking beer, and catching a shot once in a while...it's real work. And it got pretty grueling on set pretty often - we all have day jobs, so we're shooting on the weekends two hours away from home, in a house that's 30 minutes away from any kind of civilization, and we're all actually sleeping there as well (roughly 20-30 people)...it wore us out pretty quickly.
Of course, money always becomes an issue on a low-budget production, but it wasn't really that pronounced of a problem on Closet Space. As I said, our FX team was phenomenal, so they gave us some pretty amazing stuff on limited means and time. I'm positive that if I had given them twenty bucks more, they would have given me a life-size latex Kraken. I'm saving that for the sequel, though.
We also managed to stretch other things quite a bit - when we broke down sets, we were careful and reused almost all the materials each time we built a new set or moved location. We had three main builds - at the house in Ledbetter, Texas, where we built the "dimensional entry" portion, then we broke that down and moved back into Houston, where we built some minor sets at Phobia Haunted House. After that was done, we rebuilt a hallway and a dark stage in our carport (a.k.a. HouseWalker Ranch). Of course, that was all harrowing work at one time or another, and there were usually only 3 or 4 total people helping out (myself included - I do get my hands dirty from time to time), but in the end it saved a lot of time and money. In addition, if I need pickup shots during the edit, I can just walk outside and get them anytime I want (I also own all my own equipment), so it's convenient.
Why do you do it? Are you a masochist?
Definitely to some degree, yeah. More importantly - I believe in the genre. The fact that the term "horror" has become ghetto-ized and almost an insulting tag to place on a movie drives me to attempt to prove otherwise. Horror is important to me. My wife and I had a horror-themed wedding. She came down the aisle to "Tubular Bells" and I took off the garter with a Freddy glove. I've loved the genre since I was a kid, and they are the main reason that I make movies now. Sure, Battleship Potemkin is cool, but A Nightmare on Elm Street made me want to pick up a camera.
What post-productions activities have been challenging?
Right now, the edit is going pretty smoothly, and things are looking good, so I haven't hit any brick walls yet. I can tell that the ADR will be a little hairy when we get to it...there were a lot of windy moments when we were shooting outside at the location, and then back here at HouseWalker Ranch we're in the middle of Houston, so you can hear sirens, horns, and Spanish church services on some of the tracks. Not kidding about the Spanish church services.
Which directors and horror movies inspire you?
That's a long list. Horror movie wise, A Nightmare on Elm Street is number one for me. Coming in closely after that are: From Beyond, Halloween, Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, 28 Days Later, The Shining, Poltergeist, Ringu, The Thing, In The Mouth Of Madness, Cronenberg's The Fly, Psycho, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Dead/Alive, and Session 9.
Non-horror films I love include the entire Alien series, Requiem for A Dream, Oldboy, Donnie Darko, The Untouchables, Infernal Affairs, Burton's two Batman movies and Batman Begins, Hard Boiled, The Killer, and any Hitchcock, David Cronenberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Takashi Miike, Bryan Singer, or Orson Welles movie. Speaking of Welles, Transformers: The Movie is an integral part of my psyche.
These are not movies that I consciously try to rip-off or "borrow" from, but I watch them so much that I'm sure an influence seeps through organically here and there. I never try to pay homage to anything or steal shots - sometimes it's cool (The Untouchables Odessa Steps riff comes to mind), but more often than not that's a sign to me that you were too unimaginative to think of your own way to handle the material. To paraphrase Jim Rome: Have a take. It may suck, but at least it's your take.
What advice can you give to aspiring horror film directors?
Don't take the easy way out and think that you have to make yet another slasher flick with stupid kids that get naked and die. If you have some dark, weird, crazy idea then go for it. With the technology available today, you can bring life to any sick fantasies that you dream up. All it takes is imagination, dedication, and perserverance. Hell, if you live in or near Texas - I'll come help you put your crazy horror script up on the screen.
What future projects are in the works?
Jason Stewart (Closet Space's writer) and I are prepping a script for Closet Space 2 right now. We're trying to have a first draft done by January 2007, and my plan is to use the spring and summer of 2007 for pre-production, and then go into production this time next year. I also have a couple of other things I've written on the backburner (a zombie script and a ghost/haunted house thing), and I'm working on a pitch for a relatively high-profile franchise. That last one may be a pipe dream, but you never know. Plus, I'm having fun writing it. All the material is horror (or at least horror-related), of course.
What question have you been dying to be asked, but no one has asked it? And what's your answer?
Q:"Mr. House, this is Bob Shaye at New Line. Would you be willing to make the new Nightmare sequel?"
Thanks Mel for spending time with us. Make sure to go to the Closet Space Myspace for the latest news on why walk-in closets can be very dangerous!