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Jesse Moss

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Still/Born

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Movie: Still/Born

Rated: R

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Release Date: February 9, 2018

Run Time: 1h 27m

Starring: Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson

Director: Brandon Christensen

Writer: Brandon Christensen, Colin Minihan

Reason We’re Watching It: We love horror films here at the TrunkSpace camp, but when the horror film covers a potential psychological nightmare… we REALLY love it! “Still/Born” is a movie that gets in your head, and you’re constantly second guessing your instincts and perhaps wondering if you were in the same situation, what would you do? Would you trust your instincts or think you’re going mad? It’s that type of scenario that had us on the edge of our seat, nervously shoveling popcorn into our mouths.

What It’s About: Mary (Burke), has both the happiest and saddest day of her life, all at once. She gives birth to twins, but only one of them is alive. While Mary cares for her only child, she begins to believe a supernatural entity is after her baby and will take him from her. Meanwhile, those around Mary are doubting her sanity and fitness as a mother.

Whoah! Rewind That!: We loved the suspense and veracity Mary brought to the scene where she is trying to bust down a door with an axe. Her performance and axe skills could easily stand up to Jack Torrance’s from “The Shining!”

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: Burke, who plays Mary, has also been in some of our favorite TV shows including “Supernatural,” “Falling Skies” and “Van Helsing,” to name a few.

And that’s why we’re giving it…

 

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Deep Focus

Brandon Christensen

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In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers, and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Brandon Christensen, co-writer and director of “Still/Born,” about his first feature directing experience, sharing the movie with an audience days after it was complete, and why his wife’s fears make for great plot points.

TrunkSpace: With “Still/Born” hitting the masses today, this must have been a very exciting week for you?
Christensen: It’s cool. We debuted at Overlook (Film Festival) almost a year ago and when you go through that whole process of festivals and then it kind of peters out, it feels like it’s over. It’s kind of like a renewed finding of the film again, for me, as things ramp up again to release. It’s really exciting. It’s nerve-wracking, for sure, though.

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, you’ve directed a few shorts, but this was your first feature. What was that experience like for you, not only creatively, but just in terms of going into the process and learning things that perhaps you didn’t know prior to doing?
Christensen: Yeah, this was my first feature film. I’d produced another one the year before with Colin Minihan, who was my partner on this one. He co-wrote it with me and was one of the producers. It definitely wouldn’t have been possible without him, just because he’s got a bunch of experience and he kind of brought me into the fold and he gave me a bunch of opportunities with this film that I don’t think I would’ve otherwise had, raising funds and things like that.

As far as first-time films go, I think I was incredibly fortunate to have someone like him, and my other producers, working with me because, when you think about that first feature film, most of the time it’s going to be filling up credit cards or pulling every favor in the book. I was really lucky that I didn’t have to deal with really any of that. I had this team close with me that was able to pull together so many great things for me. It was different. I’ve been around people that have gone through it the other way and I would definitely prefer my way because it was a much more comfortable experience for me.

It’s tough, though. I’ve got two kids of my own and a wife and when you’re making a film, when you’re doing a month of pre-production, a month of shooting, and then you’re in post for six to eight months – it’s really challenging just on that because you do have to kind of step away a little bit. You can still be there at the end of the day but your mind is so consumed with this project, that it can be challenging. My wife is really strong and she was able to fill in a lot of the gaps that I wasn’t able to during, especially, the first two months.

TrunkSpace: And there’s always so much that you can’t plan for. Long days tend to become longer days.
Christensen: Right, for sure. And we definitely had some strict rules in place. We didn’t want to do overtime. Budget-wise, we couldn’t. And one of the big things that was helpful on this was that we were shooting in one location for 15 of the 20 days, so with a lot of the set-ups and things, if we were like, “Oh, crap, we didn’t get this one scene,” we were gonna be there the next day, so we could pick it up. So, there wasn’t ever that scramble to finish at a location because we had to wrap out of it at a certain time. I think when Colin and I were writing the film, one of the concedes that we had was that we wanted to make it as achievable and as easy as possible to shoot, just because the budget was going to be low. We weren’t going to have a lot of extra time and stuff to play with.

TrunkSpace: Which always makes a lot of sense. We noticed that you also had a hand in the visual effects. Was that part of that same plan, not only minimizing where you could, but utilizing… in this case your individual skill sets?
Christensen: Yeah, definitely. I’ve kind of been learning VFX over the last 10 or so years and I’ve finally gotten to a place where I feel comfortable handling most situations. With this film, there’s so many instances where it does become a matter of, “I’ll fix it in post,” just because, otherwise you’re going to spend an hour trying to figure out a way to do it practically and it’s just not going to make sense for your schedule. So there would be a lot of moments where I was like, “Okay, yeah. Don’t worry about it. I’ll fix it in post. We can’t get that light. Move that light out of the frame. I’ll paint it out later.” It becomes part of the process, and it’s just become part of my process when I work where I’m able to at least see a frame on a screen and I can say, “Okay, I’m not going to worry about that right now because I know I can fix that.” And when you’re on hour 15 of a shot where you’re doing just one little thing, you totally regret it, but ultimately you’re saving yourself a lot of money.

I think there’s almost 200 VFX shots in this film. They’re mostly hidden stuff, but it’s kind of obscene.

TrunkSpace: Was getting the opportunity to direct “Still/Born” fulfilling a life-long dream?
Christensen: Yeah, definitely. When I was a kid, I was making dumb movies with my siblings. And growing up, I went to film school. I was kind of trying to do it that way. When Colin had read the script that he wanted do, it was a great opportunity for me to jump into a feature film and work with someone that’s done it before. I definitely have always wanted to do a feature. Before I did “Still/Born,” I was kind of leaning more towards television, like being one of those series directors who works on something like “Breaking Bad” or “Lost” or something like that, and just being with those longer stories. But during “Still/Born,” it definitely gave me a hunger to do more feature films because it’s a totally different art, just trying to encapsulate this entire story in a 90 minute period, which seems like a long time but it’s not. You get a hunger for it, so you want to do it again and fix a lot of the mistakes that you did the first time.

TrunkSpace: Film is a very communal experience, but especially horror. Did you sit in on any screenings and watch to see if the jump scares and uncomfortable beats you laced in there worked with audiences?
Christensen: Yeah, I had a chance to go to a few of the festivals. The first one though, Overlook, that was the first time I had ever done a festival before. We had just finished the film the week before we got the call that we got accepted. We were in Montreal doing the sound mix. It was a few weeks from that moment, so we had to finish the sound mix and I had to go do color in LA, and then ship off the DCP to Overlook. So we shipped it off, I think, five days before we screened. I didn’t really have a chance to watch it with a bunch of people. Going into that room was scarier for me than it was going to be for the audience, just because I’m watching for the technical imperfections and stuff. And when it started, the dialogue seemed a little low, so I marched to the back and I’m like, “Can you turn it up a little bit?” (Laughter) And they did. And again, I’m just like looking around, and I’m just like, “Can they hear this? Does this sound wrong?” And so I’d run to the back and say, “Turn it up a little bit more.” And once there’s that first jump scare with the monitor, once that hits, there were just shrieks in the audience and that made me a lot more comfortable because I realized, “Okay, everyone’s in this.”

It was a horror crowd because it’s a festival. They’re there to be entertained. Horror fans, I think, are the most gracious of fans out there. They’re so diverse, but at the same time they have a love for horror, that I don’t think fans of other genres really have, where they’re a little more picky or they have a little more of a critical eye. It was such a great experience, just to sort of feel the room move.

There’s nothing like watching it with a crowd because when those moments do work, it’s pretty amazing and it’s the reason why you get into this.

TrunkSpace: So as you look toward the future, do you see yourself staying within genre filmmaking or are you hoping to branch out and do other types of projects as well?
Christensen: I would love to get into something else eventually, but right now I’ve got a couple of scripts that we’re working on that are still horror. My wife and I are writing something right now, that we’re trying to get ready. It’s kind of an interesting experience to work with her because we’ve had kids together, we’ve been married almost 10 years now – there’s kind of a second hand language that we’re able to communicate with when we’re writing that it’s hard to duplicate. But what’s best, is that she’s just terrified of everything. so it’s great to be able to pick her brain. It’s like, “Okay, here’s the scenario. What’s the worst thing that could happen?” And typically she’s able to give that worst case scenario. I think that when you’re writing a genre script like this, it’s hugely beneficial to have these realistic, horrible scenarios play out just from the deep recesses of your wife’s mind.

Still/Born” arrives in theaters and On Demand today.

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Wingman Wednesday

Jesse Moss

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Photo by: Kristine Cofsky

Haley Joel Osment isn’t the only person seeing dead people these days. With the new Syfy series “Ghost Wars” set to kick off tomorrow, the entire population of a remote Alaskan town is about to be spooked on a massive scale. With a cast that includes Vincent D’Onofrio and Meat Loaf, as well as a trailer that would make Vincent Price’s iconic voice crack, Major League Baseball isn’t the only fall classic set to wow people this week.

We recently sat down with series star Jesse Moss to discuss the impressive “Ghost Wars” creative team, where the real horror lies, and why people are continuously drawn to the idea of being scared.

TrunkSpace: The “Ghost Wars” concept is great. The producers are powerhouses. The cast is stacked. And there’s a side of Meat Loaf! From a project perspective, this is a dream gig. What were your initial thoughts when you booked the job and what are your expectations going into the upcoming premiere?
Moss: This was one of those times when it took awhile from the initial audition to actually book it. To be honest, I had just assumed they had gone another way, so when my agent told me I had the job I was quite surprised. I was really excited to work with Simon Barry and Dennis Heaton again. Like you said, they are creative powerhouses and the shows they make are always amazing. Then I heard who else was cast in the show and my head exploded. Between the writing, the cast, and the people putting it all together, I think this show is really going to excite a lot of people.

TrunkSpace: A lot of ghost-related series take a more comedic approach tonally, but this looks pretty damn frightening. Would you say the series as a whole is strictly horror, or does it have other genre elements blended in?
Moss: This show will definitely scare you, but it’s more than just a horror. It’s really about the relationships of the people in the town and how they deal with the events that are happening. Some believe that these ghosts are punishment for past sins, so there is a religious point of view, but there is also a science fiction aspect where some believe science can explain the afterlife. There are actually a lot of funny moments in the show as well. With all the darkness it’s important to have those moments of light.

TrunkSpace: In watching the trailer, the show gives off an us (the living) versus them (the dead) type of vibe, but is it more complicated than that? Do the people eventually turn on each other?
Moss: There is definitely an us versus them theme in the show, but the politics in the town were already divisive before the dead show up. As things become more intense, that divide only grows.

TrunkSpace: Where does your character Deputy Norm Waters fall into things, and without giving too much away, is it safe to say he’s in for a couple of rough days on the job?
Moss: He has a couple of rough days on the job to say the least. Particularly because it’s a job he doesn’t even want. At the start of the show, Norm is not especially heroic or courageous. Being a cop is just a job to him, and it being such a small town, a job he thought would be easy. When events force him into a position of responsibility, Norm has to overcome his fears and learn things about himself he never knew.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, did taking on Deputy Norm allow you to go to places that you have yet to visit on-screen with other characters? What was it about him that drew you to the character?
Moss: Without giving away any spoilers, I definitely go places I’ve never been or ever expected to go. Things get pretty crazy. I think the best part about playing Norm Waters was the arc of who he was to who he becomes. It’s a pretty epic journey with a lot of highs and lows.

TrunkSpace: In recent years you have done a number of Hallmark films, which tonally couldn’t be any further from “Ghost Wars.” As an actor do you purposely set out to create an environment for yourself where genre and character diversity is at the core of what you’re doing and the choices you’re making?
Moss: It’s always nice to have diversity in your career. I think one would get bored playing the same character over and over again. I wouldn’t say, however, that I purposely go after it. I go where the work takes me.

TrunkSpace: “Ghost Wars” has the feeling of a show that could very easily amass an impressive fandom, something that Syfy shows are known to do. From the perspective of someone who knows the project better than most, are the ingredients there to build a fan base that will make it the next, let’s say, “Supernatural,” a series you actually appeared in a few seasons ago?
Moss: I think the show is solid from top to bottom. From the script to the cast to the way it looks, I don’t feel like there’s a weak link. People are gonna love it. One can only hope that the show reaches a “Supernatural” level of fandom, and this show has as good a shot as any.

TrunkSpace: We’re suckers for some “Supernatural” here, a show that is brilliant in the fact that if you know it, you love it, and if you don’t, you’re not even sure if it is still on the air. In a lot of ways, it feels like a secret club. As someone who has appeared on the show, did it give off that vibe to you as well… in that now that you’re a part of the universe, you’re a part of the fandom?
Moss: “Supernatural” fans are some of the best fans in the world. They really love the show and know everything about it. When you are a part of the show, you feel like you’re a part of a family. They really welcome you with open arms.

TrunkSpace: In doing research for this interview, our fingers literally locked up scrolling through your extremely impressive film and television credits. It is packed with projects. As you look back over your career, what roles stand out to you in terms of those that not only meant the most to your career, but at the same time, to you personally?
Moss: The TV series “Whistler” was a big one for me because it was my first real lead on a series. I learned a lot on that show and I think I really grew as an actor. I not only learned what to do, I learned what not to do. “Dear Mr. Gacy” also stands out as a role that really allowed me to stretch as an actor. It challenged me and pushed me to places I didn’t know I could go.

Moss in Tucker and Dale vs Evil

TrunkSpace: We’re about to hit our stride for our month-long Trunktober event, which is basically our celebration of all things horror. Outside of “Ghost Wars,” you have also appeared in a number of memorable genre films, including “Final Destination 3,” and of course, “Tucker and Dale vs Evil.” As “It” has proven, people continue to love horror. In your opinion, what is that keeps people going to the movies looking to be scared?
Moss: I think people are fascinated with death. Watching a horror movie allows you to experience aspects of death from the comfort of your own home. Getting your adrenaline pumping and experiencing that thrill while knowing that you’re safe is very appealing to people. It’s the same reason people ride roller coasters. Although that didn’t work out so well in “Final Destination 3.”

Ghost Wars” premieres Thursday on Syfy.

Featured image by: Kristine Cofsky

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