When a medium budget indie horror film gets media coverage through several Moviepilot contributors, on Dread Central, Horror Society, 1428elm, The Best Horror Movies List, and even on Reuters in just two weeks it kind of raises interest amongst the horror fans. The Arctic Circle based Rage: Midsummer's Eve is getting press coverage just like any of the bigger films coming up this year, and that is good news for all indie film makers, and for the horror genre in general.
Brooklyn girl, an American-Finnish female director, Tii Ricks is the director behind Rage: Midsummer's Eve which is set for release on March 6, 2015.
Filmed in the Finnish Arctic Circle and in full daylight, during the white nights when the sun shines bright even during the night. Rage: Midsummer's Eve gives us a new twist in horror - where do you hide when the day is as treacherous as the night?
So tell us Ms. Ricks, how did it all start – how did you become a horror director?
Tii Ricks: "Well, to understand the basics of it, I got to tell you a little story. I was born in Germany. My mom is Finnish and my dad is African-American. We moved around a lot from one US Army base to another, due to my dad working for the US Army. Yeah – I am an “Army Brat.” So, during our years in Europe, I never really got the chance to make significant childhood friendships which would have lasted, so I basically spent all of my childhood watching movies. I remember taking VHS cassette tapes from a cabinet that belonged to my dad while he was at work - which he specifically told me never to watch – and I was only like five or six years old at that time... those films were slasher type horror films. I remember watching them secretly, over and over again. They were so scary. I don't recommend horror films for any kid under 15, but yeah, that's how I watched my first horror films and I became a big fan immediately. I can still recall it like yesterday."
Who are your influences, whom do you look up to as a film maker?
Tii Ricks: "Now that is a tough question as there are so many, but if I have to pick a few then I would definitely mention directors such as Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola, Rob Zombie, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, Gore Verbinski...maybe that’s enough for now."
What makes a good horror film in your eyes? Is there anything that scares you anymore?
Tii Ricks: "I have been asking myself that question for a long time and that is a hard one to answer because we are all afraid of different things. For me, a really good horror film is when it’s something you cannot see that is after you. It’s that feeling that something is going to grab you by your ankle from under your bed while you're on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or something standing behind you but when you turn around there is nothing there. That it until you fall asleep and wake up to a demonic face staring at you.
I love a really well-thought through sound design. Sound for me is a huge factor. Knowing where and what kind of sound, or music to use is crucial. Also where to use really simple sound design like hearing nothing at all except for heavy breathing when no one is there.
In my opinion horror is one of the most difficult genres there is to produce and I know this might sound like a cliché, but in horror it’s really all about psychological factors. That’s why I wanted to play around with daylight in Rage: Midsummer’s Eve.
I mean horror and the dark go hand in hand, but horrible and scary things also happen during the day. So I wanted to see how scary I could make the day seem.
Some of the best newer horror films I have seen in a while are films like At the Devil’s Door and The Pact directed by Nicholas McCarthy, The Babadook by Jennifer Kent, and I can’t leave out the first Paranormal Activity directed by Oren Peli. There are many more I like, but these are the ones that really freaked me out, and me being scared takes a lot."
You write your own stories, you direct them and you also edit them by yourself. Do you think it has given you an advantage when it comes to bringing your vision onto the screen?
Tii Ricks: "Well, yeah – I mean, of course it's always a good thing to know every aspect of filmmaking. When I studied to become a filmmaker I was glad that my studies covered all the processes of filmmaking. I have worked in the prop department, I have worked as 1st Assistant Director, and when I got my first job in the industry I started as a full-time Avid Editor. I have literally edited hundreds of TV programs and documentaries for YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, which is a counterpart for PBS in the United States, or BBC in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful that one of the teachers I looked up to in film school told me that a good director knows all the steps in filmmaking, but a great director knows how to put it all together in the editing room. This is the piece of advice that has stuck with me more than any other. So knowing how to edit your own film is a huge plus – but it also can lead to becoming blind and not always seeing where to ‘kill your darlings,’ so it’s always good to have a second editor working with you to also challenge the director's vision. When we are filming, I see the rhythm and all the editing already in my head and I cannot wait to sit down in the editing suite to put it all together.
As a director and screenwriter I am still learning every day. I graduated specialized in screenwriting, but we never used Celtx or Final Draft in school. These new cloud based screenwriting softwares are great. They really let you dig deep into the story. I often find myself just writing scenes and ideas by using keycards and just looking for that final rhythm for the script by using those as additional help really."
Tell us a little bit about Rage: Midsummer's Eve. Horror website Bloody Disgusting referred to it as an opposite of 30 Days of Night - is that what it is?
Tii Ricks: "Kind of. That is a clever way to put it. Let me start from the beginning:
My family and I moved from Brooklyn, New York to Finland where I went to high school and eventually studied filmmaking. We moved to a town called 'Tampere,' which is one of the biggest cities in Finland, but it only has just over 200,000 people in population.
Many times it felt like an isolated place considering coming from New York City, but the worst part is when the summer starts. There are literally millions of summer cottages in Finland and during June millions of people just leave the city and visit their summer cottages, some for a month or two. This means that the cities are almost like ghost towns.
During Midsummer's Eve that’s when you really realize how the town center and suburbs go super quiet and you barely see anyone, even most of the restaurants in the capital of Helsinki are closed, or they are just empty. I once walked in the streets of Helsinki during Midsummer's Eve and there was literally no one there. Absolutely no one. That was scary enough, but it was nothing compared to being in the middle of nowhere in the strangely calm Finnish countryside during night time in Midsummer. Think about it... it is in the middle of the night and the wind has calmed down. The birds and animals have gone to sleep. But the sun is still up and it’s as light as daytime because the sun never goes down. The sun, which is not as high during the night hours as it would be during the day, makes everything feel very eerie. It kind of lurks behind the trees in the horizon creating a very scary and creepy feel. For me, that’s much more scarier than dark forests, or evil creatures you often see in horror films.
So the atmosphere of those white nights was one of my inspirations when I wrote the film. I also wanted to make my first horror film as a tribute to all those great horror films I saw when I was growing up. The fun thing about the film is you can also make a nice drinking game out of it. How many references can you find to other horror films? Just as a hint...they can be something someone says, what they do, or it can be - for example - a composition of a shot. And, of course, I also wanted to have that traditional set up for an American horror film, where a group of people travel somewhere distant and end up in a cabin or isolated village. Rage: Midsummer's Eve is my tribute to all the great horror films out there."
Rage: Midsummer's Eve premieres internationally on VOD in March 2015. In the United States the film will also be released in Selected Theaters.
Cast: Holly Georgia, Michael Vardian, Johnny Sachon, Greta Mandelin, Christian Sandstrom.