Just last week we brought you the first screenshots and posters for Billy Ray Brewton’s debut feature SHOW YOURSELF which is all set to debut this Friday at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival.
Heavily inspired in classics such as THE CHANGELING or HOUSE, SHOW YOURSELF follows a successful art-house actor, Travis (Ben Hethcoat), who heads to the woods with the ashes of his longtime friend Paul to bid one last farewell. Attempting to grieve his friend’s untimely death on his own terms, curiosity turns to horror as Travis finds himself in the middle of nowhere and face-to-face with something that doesn’t seem all too keen for the letting go process to run as smoothly as hoped.
Promising such a unique spin on ‘cabin in the wood’ tropes, we caught up with Brewton to discover just what kind of backcountry chills audiences can expect…
Terror Time: At its core, the film deals with the protagonist’s struggle to deal with grieving in his own particular way. What inspired you to center the film around grief?
Billy Ray Brewton: I think every project I write has something to do with grief or loss, to some extent. I went through a period in my life when I lost of lot of people who were super close to me: friends and family. Over the course of five years, I lost more people than I can count on my fingers and toes. It affected the way I am as a person, and the way I treat the relationships in my life. It also made me fascinated with the ways in which people deal with loss, and the ways it can manifest itself. One night I was watching THE BIG CHILL (one of my favorite films that also happens to deal with loss in a very real way) and thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if THE BIG CHILL were a horror film?” Then it was off to the races. I mean, ORDINARY PEOPLE is my favorite film. I’m just naturally drawn to those themes. I can’t escape them. I guess death follows me a little.
TT: As the film centers on the lead character, Travis, was it a tough decision deciding who to cast in the role?
BRB: Not at all. I actually wrote the role of Travis for Ben (Hethcoat). He and I were close friends at the time and I thought he had a lot of untapped potential as an actor. He’d primarily worked in short films and had a predominantly theatrical background, but I just get feelings about actors – always have.
Most everything I write is written for someone, so I wrote Travis for Ben and built the rest of the cast around him, made up of people he knew. I figured he’d be more comfortable working with friends, especially in a role that is so emotionally taxing. And I think he did such a wonderful job in the film. I find Travis to be extremely relatable in both his vulnerability and his selfishness, and I think Ben’s the reason all of that works. Hopefully this will lead to him getting other roles because I think he’s got a whopper of a performance in him just waiting to break out.
TT: The supporting cast were fantastic and, even though most appear ‘virtually’ via the magic of Skype, they all have great chemistry with the lead. Did this require a lot of rehearsal time and was it a challenge to use so many scenes with actors not physically on set with the lead actor?
BRB: Man, oh man – the challenges. For starters, Ben was never acting with his fellow actors. With the exception of Robert Longstreet (at the beginning) and Paul (Clancy McCartney), it was Ben acting opposite me sitting three feet away reading the other roles. So, when you congratulate us on how natural it seemed, that means a lot. It means my actors were kicking ass and taking names. It means my editor (Eric Ekman) knocked it out of the park. It means I knew how to read all those other roles with some sort of consistency.
As for rehearsal time, we had zero rehearsal time. We ran each scene a couple of times before we shot it but that was it. I normally love rehearsal time, but it just wasn’t a luxury we had on SHOW YOURSELF. So, yeah, that compliment means a lot because it was something we were worried about from day one and tried super hard to combat.
TT: Using so much technology in a ‘cabin in the woods’ film was a refreshing change. Was it your intention to go against all those films were there is never any phone signal?
BRB: That was ABSOLUTELY the intention. With SHOW YOURSELF, I wanted to take as many horror tropes as I could think of and subvert each and every one of them. What’s the one that always comes to mind? Phones not working – technology dead zones. I wanted my protagonist to be surrounded by means of communication. He could call, email, instant message – anything he wanted. I wanted him to never be without a way to communicate. To me, technology can be just as isolating as the lack of it, and we really wanted to try and convey that as much as possible. I didn’t want my leading man straying too far to investigate strange noises. I didn’t want my leading man making stupid decisions. When he hears something, he runs. I feel like horror becomes more real when we can actually relate to the people we’re watching.
TT: The film works all the more because of the very palpable and relatable dialogue and chemistry. Was that your intention and was much improv involved at all because the conversations really come across so realistically?
BRB: The film is actually, as is, about 98% scripted. The only bits of improv come in the scenes with Lane (Barak Hardley), who’s the pseudo comic relief of the film. So, yeah, all of the conversations are scripted and performed pretty much as written. That’s definitely a biproduct of casting folk who know what they’re doing and know how to nuance the shit out of my lines. I love writing dialogue – it’s something I’ve always considered my greatest strength as a writer. But with actors like this, you really get off easy. If I put Robert Longstreet and Ben in a room and give them the PORKY’S II script, they’re gonna make it sing. I’ll take the credit for birthing it into this world, but my cast gets the credit for sending it to an Ivy League school.
TT: Aside from taking this film onto the festival circuit, are there any future projects you are working on you can tell us about?
BRB: I’m gearing up for my second feature, a family drama called MIDNIGHTS AT THE SAD CAPTAIN, which we’re shooting in the Chicago/Michigan area. It’s a throwback to the big studio dramas of the ’80s and ’90s like ORDINARY PEOPLE, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and RUNNING ON EMPTY, back when studios weren’t afraid of material that lacked explosions. We’re assembling a pretty incredible cast (including Robert Longstreet, back again) and I’m working with my friend and producer, Shane Simmons, who produced HENRY GAMBLE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY. As for horror, I’ve got a terrific script called SEASONS OF BLOOD which is a musical/comedy horror flick that takes the characters from the musical “Rent” and inserts them into a summer camp a la FRIDAY THE 13th. I also have a script for a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequel that takes place after FREDDY’S DEAD called THE SPRINGWOOD SLASHER. I wrote it on a lark and am pretty damned proud of it.
We’d like to thank Billy Ray Brewton for talking to us and we urge you to catch the movie when it screens at Bruce Campell’s Horror Festival this Friday, August 19 at 10pm, after a special preview screening of the Season 2 premiere of “Ash vs. Evil Dead.”
You can grab your individual tickets or $100 festival passes on the festival website NOW.