Back in 2010, friends and horror fans Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller started a new company dedicated to telling unique horror and genre stories. Since then, SpectreVision has produced memorable modern horror films Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler. In just a few months they will release Transference, their horror VR game collaboration with Ubisoft.
In advance of their upcoming appearance on The Core, Shudder’s original series (co-produced by Uproxx) about all things genre filmmaking, we talked to Wood, Noah and Waller about all things horror — and its surprisingly warm and fuzzy community.
So, how did you all find each other?
Daniel Noah: We met on a project back in around 2010 or so that I had written and Waller was directing and Elijah was attached to star in that never got off the ground. But we became friends and discovered that we all shared a profound love of genre films, horror in particular. And at that time a lot of the films that we loved in that space had been made in the 1970s or were being made in other countries but there wasn’t really a movement at that time in the United States to make artful elevated horror films in English and here in this country. So we decided to try and create an entity that sort of specialized in that kind of thing. At that time I remember we spoke specifically about Let the Right One In and Martyrs and The Orphanage as being three examples of the kinds of very elevated horror that we loved that wasn’t being made in the US. So you can’t get around that idea but also around the idea that as artists we had often struggled to find producers that we felt really understood our process and what it was to be a filmmaker that weren’t just transactionally driven. So those two principles were, forgive the pun, the core of how we came together to pursue this crazy dream.
Elijah Wood: I think also to support filmmakers’ visions that we believed in. Oftentimes we’ll see kind of early on in the process starting companies with filmmakers and the creative community that have these passion projects that nobody wanted to make, and those were the things that we really wanted to get behind. Things that were a little bit more difficult, more obscure.
Wasn’t that was a main focus of SpectreVision, that it was largely made up of scripts that had already been passed over?
Wood: Not as a mandate, no, it just happened to be that occasionally we’d come across by reaching out to film directors and asking if they had any passion projects in that sort of genre horror space but it wasn’t the mandate of the company or just looking specifically looking for things that had been passed over.
Noah: Things that are unique are often scary. And it just so happens that the very kind of material that we were driven to engage with was the kind of material that typically was still available because no one had the courage to take it on. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a great example of that. This was a film that was in black and white, in another language, a sort of horror film that isn’t scary from a totally unknown filmmaker and we read that script and immediately identified that as a thing we wanted to engage with. And people thought we were all nuts for wanting to make that film. But time has proven it’s now considered a contemporary classic. It’s entirely Lily’s vision; we were just lucky enough to be along for the ride.
Do you find that the films you’ve been a part of have a running thread, something that that you find really special about all of them?
Wood: Always a sort of slightly indefinable thing as we’ve discussed in our company and trying to articulate to ourselves something that is clean and simple. It’s really a gut response that we have to material and ultimately the filmmakers that determine if it’s something we want to be a part of. More often than not, the guiding principle is we don’t want to make films that everybody else is making or that other people have already made tonally, we’re trying to look for things that subvert what is familiar.
Noah: Something Waller always says that is very true is the three of us we have common interests but we’re cut from very different cloths in terms of the kinds of movies that we all lik. And now we’ve got our fourth partner Lisa Whalen as well, so we don’t take anything on unless we’re unanimous in our passion for it. And because we look for different things, if all four of us are excited about a project, it’s probably pretty special. It ends up being very organic screening process for taking on new projects.
You recently expanded to form Company X, of which SpectreVision is now a subsidiary. What led to that decision?
Wood: Along along the way we found that to a certain degree there was a specificity in regard to the kind that we would engage with for SpectreVision and we were very protective of that house and the films that would be produced under that banner.But we would encounter material and scripts and filmmakers that we really want to work with that just didn’t quite fit that criteria. They weren’t genre films, but we loved the movies. But because we were essentially a genre/horror company and we couldn’t engage. The idea of Company X was to establish a sort of overarching company that allowed us to engage with with other kinds material but it didn’t have sort of really specific criteria that we have for SpectreVision. It just sort of allows us to have the freedom to make other kinds of movies outside of the genre and horror space.
And is that where the gaming part came in as well?
Wood: The gaming kind of fits underneath the SpectreVision banner. That just came out an organic conversation. We’re all big gamers and loved the medium and we were also having a growing interest in VR specifically as a means of storytelling, especially in the horror and genre space. Out of our own internal conversations, we ended up meeting organically with Ubisoft at E3 they were interested in joining forces and having a larger creative conversation about how a collaboration could work, which we sort of jumped at the chance to be involved. Again, being big gamers ourselves, and with their having established a VR division we were really excited about what we could bring to the table, and collaborating the company that we really loved.
How did you come to be on The Core?
Wood: We’re good friends with Sam Zimmerman and a lot of the folks at Shudder and Mickey Keating. So we’re just you know we’re really supportive of everything that Shudder is doing and we really believe in the platform as essentially sort of the Netflix for horror and genre. The programming is so good and it really is curated so beautifully, so we’re kind of always looking for different things to do with them anyway that when they started this incredible reconceptualized version of a talk show, Sam reached out to us amongst others that it was something they’d be interesting in having us be part of it, we jumped at the chance. We’d never really seen anything quite like it and Mickey’s so awesome, we were just honored to be asked.
It’s so nice to hear this idea of a close-knit horror community. Is that something that you’ve kind of experienced? It just seems very supportive.
Wood: It really is. It’s interesting to extrapolate on why that is, but it is very supportive. I think part of it’s due to its size, it’s relatively intimate. Everyone tends to know each other or have met each other, largely at film festivals and genre film festivals, and there tends to be this support for each others’ efforts and a shared and mutual inspiration from everyone as well. Horror and genre fans are some of the most supportive that any of us have ever encountered, and they’re not myopic. They’re relatively broad cinephiles, and that’s really clear amongst the filmmakers and producers within the community.
Noah: I remember Waller once making the comment that genre fans can tell you all about Kurosawa but Kurosawa fans can’t necessarily tell you about genre. It’s obvious people love cinema and we love each other’s work.
Is there anything big that you’re working on? Are you primarily focused on Transference right now, or is there more in the pipeline?
Josh Waller: We’re finishing up two films. One of them is Mandy, that’s one shot in Belgium after years of development. That’s going to be opening up the midnight section for Sundance this year. So we did that and then we have another film that I can’t reveal the title at this moment because it’s a work in progress. It’s a comedy we did. I kind of want to say it’s a darker comedy but it’s not super dark; it deals with dark subject matter. We’re wrapping those up.
Noah: And Transference is in high gear. That’s coming out in May so we’re heavy in production. Video game production is just a whole different animal.
The SpectreVision episode of The Core premieres December 28. Head to Shudder to watch every episode.