During a year of global uncertainty, 2021’s Untitled Horror Movie dared to ratchet up the inherent fiscal risk of independent filmmaking to a thrilling extreme. Not only was the iHorror film shot remotely and entirely on the cast’s phones during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the creators decided against a traditional release model in favor of directly distributing the film to fans in a worldwide virtual premiere.
Directed by Nick Simon and co-written by Simon and Luke Baines (who also produced the film and portrays Declan), Untitled Horror Movie is a meta-horror-comedy centered on six actors who decide to film a horror movie by themselves. After finding out that their fantasy television show is about to be canceled, the cast throws themselves (sometimes literally) into filming a found-footage-style horror film. However, while bickering about the best plot devices to scare audiences, the cast inadvertently summons a demonic entity that’s beyond their control. In an interview with CBR, Baines spoke about the challenges and surprises of the production process, Wes Craven’s subtle influence on the film and his hopes for the project.
CBR: You co-wrote the film with director Nick Simon, so I’m curious to know: how did you pitch this film to your co-stars?
Luke Baines: By lying? [laughs] No, I pitched it to them, like, “Hey, I have this idea. It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of a comedy, it’s kind of horror.” I definitely buried the lede in terms of you have to shoot yourself. I was very much like, “You know, we have this movie. We’re gonna make it in quarantine. It’s gonna happen in lockdown. We’re gonna be able to get around any of the restrictions about having people in place. It’s all gonna work!” I didn’t really, you know, dive into the details until we had worked them out.
Originally, we were going to shoot this movie all through Zoom. And Nick Simon, our director, was worried about getting an HD film out there. And I was worried about all of us actors looking like we are shooting a home movie, which is what we did. [laughs] So, we got a [Director of Photography] on board, and he said, “No, we can shoot this. We can shoot it on phones in 4k. We can make it look good. It doesn’t have to look like you know, we shot it on a laptop. It is gonna require a lot more work and a lot more tech resources from everybody.” So that was kind of new information as it went on.
But I always said to the cast — even as I was saying it, I was like, I don’t know why I’m saying this — I was like, “Trust me, I’m not gonna put anything out there where you look terrible, or you look like you can’t act.” And I had truly meant that. So, as it kind of progressed, you know, it started obviously changing and becoming something else. I definitely don’t think I told them that they would be recording their own audio until maybe the night before?
[Laughs] “See that sound machine there? That is to record your audio, and you have to mic yourself and you have to, you know, call cut and upload that footage. Thank you!”
That’s a huge endeavor in itself, doing wardrobe, makeup, sound and shooting it! I know there were people consulting on the film, but still, there’s so much in your hands. What was the most surprising thing about this production process?
Captioning and subtitling was a whole mission unto itself that I had no idea about. And that was just… Even on the most basic level, it affects how you write a script. For instance, certain jokes don’t translate the same way, even if you get them through a translator. There are certain things that were very interesting for me to kind of run through on the production audio…
In terms of like the actual making of it, I think that actors are a lot more aware than anyone on the set gives them credit. And, you know, I’ve always noticed it over the years where I’ll see an actor go through the makeup chair, and then they’ll go into their own trailer and come out looking different. And you’re like, “Okay, you didn’t like what makeup they did, you’ve decided to redo your own. Good on you.” This was an interesting experience, where it’s like, “No, this is all you, so you do what you want. You make this character your own.”
Obviously, Nick had a lot of ideas on certain things, and how certain things would go, and I had some kind of stylistic ideas. But, essentially, we gave them a sheet and we said, “These are the seven different outfits you need. This is how that’s gonna work. Let us know you know what you want to do.” And we went through [it].
We had a Zoom tech day where we went through everyone’s houses and looked at the spaces they had, looked how we could light it, looked at what clothes they had and how their hair and makeup was going to be. We had a hair and makeup person who oversaw everything and advised on everything and dropped [makeup] pallets off to everybody’s houses and made sure the continuity was correct and all that sort of stuff. So, you know, the kids weren’t 100% allowed to run and play with scissors. It was done under heavy supervision. It’s crazy what people can bring to the table when you give them the freedom to do so.
You play Declan, who, to me, feels like this Evan Peters wannabe who’s like not really into acting and in it for the fame. Out of all the characters, why did you pick that one to portray?
I love that! I love the Evan Peters thing.
Okay, so, really, when we were coming up with the prototype for each character, I knew that I wanted them to be a Rat-Pack bunch of people. And I definitely knew that there were a couple of personalities that I had always wanted to write like the Kelly character — who is an amalgamation of like four different actresses I’ve worked with over the years, or friends that I’ve had — and is so specifically a person in my head.
When it came to Declan, I knew there had to be that character. I didn’t want it to be me, because it was very close to characters I played in the past. But I was, like, “If I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna wear 20 different hats, and I’m going to try and do a ton of different things, I should try and keep it in a wheelhouse that I know.”
Speaking of the way this film shows actors, I imagine that for other actors watching it, it’ll be very cathartic. It reminds people — which I don’t think a lot of people know outside of the entertainment industry — that actors are on contracts. It’s contract-based work. It’s super fun, but also super high risk.
I love that this film explored that. What was one of the things around that concept that you’re like, “I’m really proud of how we tackled like this.”
I think that’s a really great question. I think that I’m proud of the fact that we have taken the veil down a little bit, in the way that we live in such a social media-obsessed, coveting, jealous world of looking at other people and thinking that they have absolutely everything. And I think in just a very, very small way, people will get to look behind the curtain a little bit and see that actors have all the same problems everybody else has. They need to pay their rent. They need a job. And people either like them, or they don’t like them.
And so I think that that was one of the things that I — aside from, you know, let’s make a movie that’s funny and scary and entertain people and does all those cool things — on another level, it makes me laugh. And it makes me look at actors a little bit differently. Knowing that, yeah, they might be there on Instagram and taking a great photo and having a million people like it, but then they have to hang up that coat and then they have to go put a wig on and put a funny voice on and shoot themselves in their bathroom pretending to be slammed by an imaginary ghost. You know, this is it. No matter who you are in the industry, it’s like these are still things that people have to do, you have to put tapes down, and do auditions or chemistry reads. And it is always as fantastical and crazy as pretty much what we did in the movie.
And this movie is distributed directly to fans, and then later, it’s going to be sold for VOD. What’s something that you hope people will take away from watching you all choose that distribution method? I think it’s really radical and pretty cool.
[Laughs] I can feel the wave of anxiety.
Thank you. Ask me in a year’s time, whether it was worth it? No, it’s one of those things where you are right. And there were many parts of making this movie, and having this movie released that seemed radical to people and to industry. Something as basic as naming the film, Untitled Horror Movie, that went through a lot of people and a lot of discussions for us to keep that name. I think that film and cinema have obviously played such an important role in society, and it always hasn’t always will.
But, I think that people are looking more now at not just being able to go and see a movie, but having an experience. I think that’s really what it’s about… We’re bombarded with so much content, you can literally see anything ever. Right now. You know, it’s not like 10 years ago or 20 years ago where you would have to wait for a rerun of a movie. If you to watch it, you go to a DVD store and get something. It’s so easy and it’s so simple to watch things. I think the thing that people want now is is an experience, whether it’s time with the actors of the movie, or whether it’s merch or a Q&A or having some sense of community.
One of the cool things about the live premiere that we’re doing is the ability to watch it with five of your friends and do a live chat. Or there’s a photo booth function in there. So you can take a photo and upload it. So we were just trying to think of something that we could do to make sure that the fans know that they’re valued because I think that’s one of the things that I noticed on Shadowhunters. [We had] this incredible international fan base. And, you know, if it doesn’t work for advertisers in the U.S., then people don’t really care. They’re not going to put any effort into it.
I was like, from the beginning of the discussions around distribution, I said, “It has to come out the same day.” We were adamant has to come out the same day everywhere. We have to give fans, no matter where they are in the world, the opportunity to watch this movie, to be a part of it and to experience it. And I am hoping that that was the right move. And I guess there’s no way of knowing. There’s definitely a part of this that is an experiment and we’re hoping it works in our favor.
You had the opportunity of working on the last film that Wes Craven was a part of in 2015’s The Girl in the Photographs. I was just curious if you had any time with him on set and, if so, what was he like? That’s just such a rare experience.
It’s really funny because I grew up as such a huge Wes Craven fan. Scream is still a top-five movie for me. And I’ve thought a lot, actually, about the very small interactions I had with Wes. He mentored Nick Simon. So he has a lot of great stories. But I remember what he was saying to us during the table reads for The Girl in the Photographs. He was like, “If anyone ever tells you they’re doing a good movie, they’re lying. Because no one knows.” He was like, “You could have an incredible script, incredible cast, incredible [Director of Photography], incredible director and film studio behind you, a marketing machine, whatever, and it could all fall apart there. At any moment, it could fall apart.”
And I remember thinking about that because it really does feel like the truth in the way that film is such a collaborative effort. There are so many different parts that go into making it something, and that’s something that, moving forward, I will never be able to watch a film again and just be like, “Well, I didn’t like that movie.” Because I’m like, “Someone made that. That is someone’s child.”
But, going back to Wes, he had a really wonderful comedic sense of horror, which I feel like there are so few people who can strike that balance. And I really wanted to kind of, you know, bring that fun side of horror back a little bit [in Untitled Horror Movie]. It’s not something that should be taken so seriously all the time. It’s something that is self-aware and humorous. I know that Nick, having been a long-time collaborator of his, I know that he is really proud, I think, of what he did [in this film], in that way.
Directed by Nick Simon and co-written by Simon and Luke Baines, Untitled Horror Movie stars Darren Barnet, Baines, Tim Granaderos, Claire Holt, Katherine McNamara, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Kal Penn, Aisha Tyler, Kevin Daniels, Lesly Kahn and Sohm Kapila. The film debuts directly to fans on June 12 via untitledhorror.com. The film will be available on VOD June 15.
The creative team behind Untitled Horror Movie has also teamed up with NFT analytics leader CUB3 to launch a series of NFTs that can connect fans with digital art, movie posters, movie-related art created by AI artist Huxley and props from the movie’s set, which includes Chrissy’s prop sword, Declan’s tie-dye hoodie and the haunted pendulum used in the movie.
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