Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Elysia Rotaru and Stephen Sawchuk, the brains behind “FWD,” the new horror/comedy hybrid that is giving us a serious hankering for ’90s nostalgia.
We recently sat down with the creative duo to discuss embracing the camp, being scared to scare, and why they owe a lot of favors to a lot of people.
TrunkSpace: First and foremost, how did the creative partnership between the two of you come about?
Sawchuk: Elysia and I have known each other for nearly a decade now so it’s been a long time in the making. People always warn you not to get into business with your friends but I think what clicked for us is that we share a lot of the same creative instincts and work ethic. When we decided to pair up, Elysia was acting at the time and I was producing reality television, and we were both eager to sink our teeth into something new and different where we could flex our creative muscles a bit more.
TrunkSpace: Many of us believe in love at first sight, but does the same apply to creativity? Can two people share a like-minded creative POV right out of the gates, and if so, did you both find that in each other?
Sawchuk: We’re both creative people but that’s not to say we agree all of the time, which is a healthy part of the process. What works well for us is that Elysia brings her extensive acting and coaching background to the table, and as a producer I’m heavily involved in the day to day of both the creative and logistics, so we clicked and our skill sets complement each other and we push each other into new territory.
TrunkSpace: We love that “FWD” is ‘90s based. (Big ups to the chokers and the Skeet Ulrich reference!) Was the setting itself sort of necessary given the premise, which is based around a chain email that brings about unspeakable… wait for it… HORROR?
Sawchuk: Totally! We’re both huge fans of the 90’s slasher genre, and wanted to embrace the camp and ridiculousness of that era… Y2K fear and killer emails!
Rotaru: You remember those, don’t you?!
TrunkSpace: Speaking of horror, as filmmakers, do you feel like you kind of come into “FWD” having a built-in audience knowing how passionate the horror audience is for all things within the genre… even if there are different subsets within the larger horror umbrella?
Rotaru: The horror audience is very savvy, so it was actually a little scary (no pun intended) creating a film in the genre. It’s one thing to have a built-in audience, but another to have them actually enjoy your film!
Sawchuk: As newcomer filmmakers to the genre we wanted to make sure our first project had the elements of a horror film, but that it didn’t take itself too seriously.
TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that coin, is the horror audience difficult to please, because in a lot of ways, it feels like a genre where each project has to keep upping itself in terms of gore and twisting plot points?
Sawchuk: Absolutely! There’s a lot to live up to in the genre, and during the brainstorming process for “FWD” I kept asking myself “what can we do differently?” And that’s a super tough question to answer because I think people kind of feel like “it’s all been done before” in terms of the slasher genre. So my challenge was to tell a contained story in less than 10 minutes that wasn’t just a guy with a knife stalking two young girls. We hope we accomplished that with a unique setting and era and a twist ending in the final scene.
TrunkSpace: In creating the short, do you see this as your complete vision, or is the hope to take the concept and turn it into a full-length feature?
Sawchuk: There were a ton of things we wish we could have done differently with the short, but we did our best with the time, money and resources we had available.
Rotaru: And we knew we just needed to make the film! It sounds cliché but it’s true – if you wait around for the perfect moment to start, you’ll never start. So there were a lot of things we wish we could’ve done differently with the short, but we’ve been developing a feature-length film based on the short that we’re really excited about!
TrunkSpace: Was there anything that you had hoped to accomplish with “FWD” that you had to revisit during production because of budget or time constraints?
Sawchuk: We made the movie on a buck and a half (kidding not kidding) so we really had to stretch every dollar and beg, borrow and steal. Any filmmaker in the genre will tell you that funding resources are super limited… a lot of the organizations ignore or disqualify horror altogether which is disappointing, so you have to get creative with how you’re going to make it happen. We self funded and set up an Indiegogo page and the film wouldn’t have been made if it weren’t for the support of friends, family and fans of the genre. We also had a crazy talented crew who worked on the project simply because they liked the script and the people on the team. So basically we owe a lot of favors back! Looking back, I wish we could have used some different camera gear and upped our special effects/gore game a bit, but we did what we could with the resources we had available. I think every filmmaker gets that “woulda shoulda coulda” feeling.
TrunkSpace: As we said, the film is based in the ‘90s, but there’s also a great ‘90s horror vibe to it as well. Were the return of slasher films like “Scream” and “Urban Legend” an influence in “FWD” coming into fruition, particularly given the comedic tone that it strikes at times?
Sawchuk: Totally! The opening scenes of the “Scream” movies really inspired us. Those scenes are usually five to 10 minutes long but they immediately rope you in and keep you engaged until the title card comes up. Our challenge was to try to have a similar impact on an audience, but tell a contained story that had a pay off by minute seven. I could watch the openers to the original “Scream” and “Scream 4” on loop! The way the “Scream” movies infused comedy into the genre was game changing. Nobody did the horror-comedy spin better than Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.
TrunkSpace: What did the two of you take from the experience of bringing “FWD” to life that you’ll apply to your next project and each one after that?
Rotaru: Follow your instincts, honor your vision and have fun throughout the process. Filmmaking is so collaborative, which can sometimes mean there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so it’s important to stick to your gut.
Sawchuk: We were lucky to work with a really great, supportive and talented cast and crew and honestly we wouldn’t have been able to make the film without them. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who share your passion is really important. Another key takeaway from working on our first project together is to not take yourself too seriously!
TrunkSpace: What’s next for you two as far as your creative partnership goes?
Sawchuk: Our second screenplay is ready to roll!
Rotaru: It’s another horror-comedy called ‘Daddy Issues’ that we’re both really excited about, and it was written with feature film potential in mind. We’re still in development but hope to take it to camera before the end of 2018.
Sawchuk: We’re still working on the treatment for the feature-length ‘FWD’ as well!