Interview with Andrew van den Houten
In the past ten years MODERNCINÉ has been dedicated to making high-quality, groundbreaking and edgy horror films avoiding clichés and complacency in favor of original ideas and memorable performances. Founded by Andrew van den Houten during his college years, Andrew began producing and directing a number of award-winning short films including the 2005 multiple award winning Headspace, MODERNCINÉ’s first full-length feature. Headspace began a winning streak for Van den Houten producing Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door and Home Movie (directed by Christopher Denham) which received favorable reviews at Montreal’s 2008 Fantasia Film Festival. Recently Sound On Sight had a chance to catch up with Andrew and discuss his recent release, Offspring.
1- Offspring is your debut feature. Aside from the practical challenges, how was working on a feature different than a short, in terms of creative challenges?
I have made six features and Offspring was my fifth. Working on a low-budget is always the biggest challenge, however, our company seems to do well at it. Making shorts is really no different than a feature. Just more money, a longer schedule and more pre-production.
2- I know Jack Ketchum appears in some films. How closely was he involved in the making of The Girl Next Door and Offspring?
I always have him consult when we make his films. He is smart and has a good sense of story and visuals. It’s nice to have the writer of the source material involved throughout the entire process. Ultimately, our directors have the final say when it comes to the films, however, they are always very interested in Ketchum’s thoughts. Good to have his blessings as you move forward!
3- I noticed MODERNCINE always uses the same cinematographer, WilliamM. Milller. Does he have a particular style that suits your work? In terms of The Offspring, did he share your vision of the novel?
He and I are always on the same page. He knows EXACTLY how to capture our director’s visions and he is able to work fast. The benefit of having a cinematographer who is also a producer is that you don’t have to worry about him being behind schedule. Bill is VERY organized and we always pick up at the same spot we leave off at from project to project. It’s really a great symbiosis.
4- Michigan isn’t necessarily known as a film production hub. What brought you to shoot in the state?
The 40% tax credit incentives have created a filmmaker friendly climate! The benefit Michigan offers supporting film is EXTREMELY attractive and very generous.
5- Would you say it is more difficult to direct than produce?
Personally, I am a natural producer, however, I love the creativity of directing. I started as an actor so directing comes fluidly, however, it is always a challenge!
6- How did you get to be involved with Home Movie?
Christopher Denham the writer/director starred in my first feature film that I directed Headspace. He sent me a script and after seeing his work as a writer and director of an off-broadway play called Cage Love, I signed up! It’s always easier working with people you trust and have a history with. Loyalty goes a long way.
7- Both The Girl Next Door, Home Movie and Offspring feature a fairly large cast of children. Was it difficult casting and working with so many child actors?
Children are fun to work with. The only challenge is not forgetting pay attention to their endurance. You have to make sure not to push kids too hard as they are physically more fragile. You don’t want them burnt out after the first week of shooting. Kids are fresh and natural. It’s actually easier to get sincere honest performances from kids more often than adults. The analytical mind can distract more developed, older actors to not stay in the moment. Children are usually their %100 of the time…of course you have to make sure to hire the right ones or your done for! We have a good eye for young talent.
8- The Girl Next Door is a fairly extreme film. Have you received much negative feedback regarding its violence and intensity? If so, how do you respond to it?
It’s funny because that film’s violence is mostly off-screen. You actually don’t see a lot of the actual physical violence on-screen, as it is suggestive. I am glad people react so strongly to that film. It was meant to provoke and wake people up so that they would start talking about how such terrible things can and do remain happening to innocent children.
9- Could you tell us a bit about Ryan Shore and his approach to
scoring Offspring, Home Movie and The Girl Next Door?
Ryan’s approach is different on every film, however, for the most part he works closely with the directors trying to heighten their vision through music and sound. When we did Headspace together, we wanted a live orchestral score. There is nothing in my opinion, more horrifying and suspense building than a live recorded string section of 30+ instruments. Offspring was a complete throwback to the 70’s films like Cannibal Hollocaust. In every movie Ryan works very closely to accomplish a sense of originality, while still heightening the purpose of the particular film.
10- In The Girl Next Door, the children seems to be influenced by peer pressure and authority figures. Home Movie, on the other hand, takes a completely different approach. The children are born evil. How would you define the actions of the tribe in Offspring? Nature or nurture?
Great question and very good observation! What you say is true about Girl and Home Movie, which is why I had so much fun doing those films back to back. The reality in Offspring is that the children are raised by an aggressive feral tribeswoman. I would say that in Offspring it’s a little of both nature and nurture. They aren’t raised on Park Avenue and they certainly don’t come from an aristocratic bloodline!
11. What attracts you to the work of Jack Ketchum?
He has a true voice and it is undeniably terrifying. I feel his stories stick with you for a long time. For me that is important because I want people to remember the work we do. It’s as if, with Ketchum, we are getting to bring light a voice that has been around for such a long time but has been a hidden secret. We are getting to uncover to a much larger audience a gem that nobody has seen until now…unless of course, you are one of the true Ketchum fans, who has been reading his books from the start.
12- In Offspring what changes did you have to make to the original story to bring it to life on screen? How do you think fans of the original story will react to them?
The ONLY real change that was major was the ending. I wanted to keep The Woman alive, as she is such an amazing character. I think fans will appreciate my decision to do so when they see what I have up my sleeve for her in the VERY near future! A MAJOR director in the genre is working with Ketchum and I to do something…more soon for sure!
13. What’s next? Do you have any other projects lined up?
We do! Ketchum and I have one VERY special one in the works. Also we are developing a mini-series and working on several other exciting projects in the genre as well as for our new family entertainment company. Rising Stars is our first family movie – somewhere between School of Rock and The Breakfast Club. We are having fun and now we can even show some of our films to the youngest members in our friends and family circuit. Offspring, although one of my favorites, will not be viewed by the entire family over the holidays…
14- It’s safe to say that the past decade of horror has been rather
successful. What do you think audiences will be looking for from the horror genre in the next ten years?
The genre HAS been successful! I think people are always looking to be scared. People are scared of what they don’t know as well as by other people. I think the genre will succeed as long as filmmakers don’t get lazy. The current batch of U.S. bred horror directors has been relatively weak that last few years. Asian horror cinema has been some of the most interesting and disturbing stuff out there. I think audiences want good work if they pay the ticket price, which isn’t cheap these days! I guarantee we are gonna keep making more films and will not compromise on story. Budget effects a lot of things, however, story doesn’t have to be one of them.