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Interview with Toby Poser, co-writer, co-director and star of The Deeper You Dig
By James Whittington, Friday 23rd August 2019
Showing on the Cineworld Discover Screen today at FrightFest, The Deeper You Dig is a tense and disturbing piece of cinema. We chatted to Toby Poser about this moving movie and what its like working with partner, John Adams.
How did you and John Adams meet?
TP:We met at a rock show in NYC. I recall asking this tall dude in a wife-beater tank top if he could see over me. (He was standing behind me and I felt this crazy energy and was like, Yo! I thought he might be a serial killer or something.) But then our mutual friend invited me to John's punk band show and I went (serial killer, be damned!). I realized he was a big sweetie - a bit of an oddball, and the one for me.
HC: When did decide that making movies should be your careers?
TP: The family was living in Los Angeles, and by my late 30s my acting career had significantly waned. John suggested we "make our own damn movie." And that's what we did. We set out in an old RV (Harvey the RV) and drove around the USA for close to a year; homeschooling Lulu and Zelda (11 and 6) at the time. We were incredibly naive. That was the perfect recipe for our first film (Rumblestrips), because we just started shooting (albeit a fictional story) around how and where we were living (in this case, deserts, coastlines, mountains, and lonely highways). And we've riffed off that recipe ever since. That first time, John was shooting the entire film (learning and editing as he shot) and we all helped work sound, but by the second film he'd begun teaching the kids and me to use the camera. Now we all love to shoot.
HC: Where did the idea for The Deeper You Dig come from?
TP: John and Z came up with the original idea. Then I shimmied my way in with some maternal angles, and we were off to the races.
HC: What is you writing process like and do you write with a cast (apart from yourselves) in mind?
TP: John is very spontaneous and has great active ideas. I tend to be an over-thinker. Often I'll anchor some of his ideas with Whys and Whens and What ifs.... I like to think about circles and arcs, whereas John can come up with great action. We balance each other out that way. I like to have a loose script for a scene, but it's a gamble whether we stick to it or not on any given day. We tend to cast friends or family we feel perfectly fit certain roles best and often they are not even experienced actors. My mom is in the film as the older woman my character hoaxes. And the two detectives were longtime officers. The store clerk is a great guy who actually owns the store. And the medium, Dell, is our dear buddy, Shawn Wilson, who is basically magic in human form. We couldn't have cast more realistic folks.
HC: How much research did you have to do about Tarot cards?
TP: I was a total novice. A friend introduced me to Sasha Graham, who is a world renowned tarot expert (and coincidentally a horror movie starlet from the 90s!). She turned me onto the wild and wonderful world of tarot; gave me a good foundation to run with, but beautifully revealed how tarot could be a springboard of possibilities. So we do focus on some of the traditional, archetypal values of the cards, but we had a ton of fun bending those symbols to our needs story-wise.
HC: The film has a lot to say about death, loss and false hope, making it far more than just a horror movie, would you agree?
TP: Thank you for that, yes, I like to think of our movie as a hybrid. It has strong elements of drama but with textures of horror and the supernatural.
HC: How tough was the shoot in the Catskill Mountains?
TP: Some winter days were pretty brutal! Like, did you get the damn shot 'cause my hands are going to crack off my body they-re so cold - that kind of brutal. Or one day we were shooting on a frozen lake, and the ice was cracking under us- you could hear the entire lake groan. I was not too jazzed that day. But mostly the mountains give us endless gifts. You just have to be willing to roll with Mother Nature.
HC: What's it like directing each other?
TP: After five features together, I think we've hit our stride as far as working together goes. We've learned how best to talk to each other, and I think we respect each other's visions more than when we started. Sometimes we disagree, but we always shoot things "both ways" and duke it out in the editing to see what works best. It's like a dance we're always getting better at doing together.
HC: The editing is excellent, that must have taken a long time?
TP: John is so lazy. I'm joking. He spends countless hours editing. I show up now and then and give my two cents from the comfort of our bed (we edited this film in our bedroom), while he is constantly at the computer. So I guess I'm the lazy one.
HC: The soundtrack, both natural and score adds so much atmosphere to the piece, how hard was it to get it so right?
TP: Sometimes Zelda or I will stomp on the floor above him to get the right effect he wants, but the sound is all John. (Z sings on end credits.)
HC: Do you believe that there's an afterlife and that people have a "gift" to communicate with the dead or predict the future?
TP: Oh, that's a good question. I believe in the idea of Soul - something energetic that is unique to each of us- but I don't believe that what happens to that energy after our bodies die is anything we can remotely understand. I'm cool with the mystery. And yeah, I guess that if I believe in the mystery, I might as well be open to some magic we can't explain. But I usually call it intuition.
HC: How nervous do you get when your work is shown at festivals?
TP: After putting so much time and heart into a film, and if I'm happy with what we've created, then I get more excited than nervous at festivals. There's definitely a protective attitude where I can take or leave what others think. Of course, it feels much better when an audience appreciates what we're presenting! That feeling is bewitching and flat-out fantastic. But I respect all the different perspectives and opinions out there.
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
TP: I'm working on writing a ghost story that takes place in 1850 in the American wilderness. Together we are working on another horror story that warps the idea of parental identity!
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