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Interview with Cameron Macgowan, director of Red Letter Day
By James Whittington, Friday 1st November 2019
FrightFest 2019 exposed a lot of new talent in the movie industry and one of the stand-out pieces was Red Letter Day from Cameron Macgowan.
HC: Where did the idea for Red Letter Day come from and did it take long to write?
CM: I have long been a fan of the 'Humans Hunting Humans' subgenre of film (Battle Royale, The Running Man, Hard Target, etc.) and was inspired to set one of these films in what many people consider the 'safe' location of the suburbs. Suburban communities feel like the perfect setting for a horror film as you can walk for miles without seeing a single soul all while knowing that you are surrounded by many people. This mixed with a desire to satirise the current socio-political climate was the main genesis for Red Letter Day. The film took a year to write with rewrites and edits happening constantly.
HC: Was it a hard movie to cast?
CM: The film was extremely difficult to cast as we didn't have the budget for a casting director or for big name talent. My fellow producers and I held roughly twelve days of auditions and were extremely lucky to find performers that were perfect for the roles. During the auditioning process, we were blessed to discover that Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning (a personal favourite) actress Tiffany Helm lived nearby and was still acting so rewrote a role specifically for her.
HC: You've taken the theme of suburban paranoia, added a satirical slant and really ramped up the tension, is the short duration key to these themes?
CM: I wanted the film to feel as though the events were unfolding in real time all while slowly ramping up the tension, so the intention was always for the duration of the film to be relatively short (76 mins). I feel that audiences can become overstimulated with tense films and you to run the risk of losing their attention from wearing them out, so it was decided early on to keep the film lean and mean.
HC: The effects are superbly realised, did they eat up much of the budget?
CM: We didn't have a large budget for Red Letter Day but as horror fans ourselves, we knew that we needed to prioritize practical effects to please fans of the genre but also because I personally love practical gore set pieces. In my short films, I experimented with many similar effects that ended up in Red Letter Day so was able to write them specifically into the script knowing how we would attempt to pull them off during production. Stacy Wegner and the make-up team blew me away with their hard work and I am in love with the results.
HC: The film really delivers, if you pardon the pun, and it makes the audience really care about the characters, you must be happy with the end product?
CM: Thank you for the kind words! Myself and a small team of dedicated oddball Canadians worked our butts off to make a movie that we as fans of the genre would want to watch ourselves. The main goal for myself when making Red Letter Day was to make a film that combines some of my favourite aspects of the films that inspire me with themes and characters that are extremely close to my heart. I personally love the film (even after having seen it over 100 times) and look forward to showing it to my children one day in hopes that it will inspire an appreciation of the horror genre.
HC: This is your first feature as a director, what lessons in directing did you learn whilst in production?
CM: The biggest and most important lesson I learned during the making of Red Letter Day was that as a micro-budget production, you need to use everything that you shoot (as the schedules are tight and the production days are even tighter) so to always be rewriting and constantly picturing the final edit of the film in your head during the entire process so that nothing is wasted. The second biggest lesson I learned during Red Letter Day is that practical effects will often go 'wrong' but with the right camera angles and performers, those accidents can result in beautiful cinematic moments.
HC: Are you a good neighbour, for example would you take packages in for people who aren't at home?
CM: I am honestly the worst neighbour. I usually have too much going on inside my head and don't have patience for meaningless pleasantries. This is something that I am actively working on as I just had my first child and don't want him to turn into an anti-social weirdo like his father.
HC: Canada is becoming a hotbed of creative talent, who else should we look out for?
CM: Oh man, there have been so many great genre films out of Canada lately! It feels like a real horror boom is occurring in my country and I could be more happy. I personally cannot wait to see anything that Panos Cosmatos, Robert Eggers and Jason Eisner make next. As far as up-and-comers Rob Grant's Harpoon blew my mind and Trevor Anderson makes some of the finest short films in the world and will likely create a feature film that will have everyone talking in the next couple of years.
HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?
CM: I am raising our first child Arthur Campbell Macgowan (2 months old) with my lovely partner Heather while working on my next script - A rock 'n roll giallo! We are also finishing up the special features for the Blu-ray release of Red Letter Day which should be available from DREAD in November 2019.
HC: Cameron Macgowan, thank you very much.
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