For years, the Covington forest has been shrouded in mystery, with a dark past as a final destination for troubled youths. Undeterred by the news of a classmate who recently took his life in those woods, five teens journey into the forest for an evening of flashlight games and ghost stories. But their plans go awry when the friends awaken a demonic presence, an unseen evil that will seize upon their deepest fears—and plunge them into a nightmare of absolute terror.
That's the description of Nightlight, a new horror film for 2015.
Take a peek at the trailer:
Moviepilot gave me the incredible opportunity of speaking with directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who also co-wrote the film. Here's what they had to say about their terrifyingly great time on set:
Taylor: What inspired your film? Was it based on folklore? Did you think of it yourselves?
Bryan: It was inspired by a few things, Scott and I, we actually grew up together in the midwest, we’re from Iowa, originally. And we met when we were in middle school, and at the time, it was just something you do in the midwest, I guess. [laughs] You just go out into the woods, and you play flashlight games. And we always remembered that feeling of how scary it was to be out there alone in the dark with nothing but a flashlight. So, what sparked the idea for Nightlight, was just wanting to capture that feeling. There’s just something so terrifying about that, we felt like if we could put that into a movie it would be, like, really terrifying.
Scott: And the other thing that partially inspired it is this, like, Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees in Japan which is this creepy, creepy place, you can waste and entire day Googling it, and it’s this forest where people go to commit suicide. It’s so creepy, there’s usually like, between 50-100 people a year who go there to die or they end up dead.
B: And no one really knows WHY people are killing themselves there, I mean, like every year they have to send a cleaning crew through the forest to not only pick up the dead bodies but like, but like pick up the belongings of the people left behind.
T: Yeah, oh my gosh, that’s crazy.
B: Yeah, so we kind of imagined an Americanized version of that forest where our characters find themselves.
T: That’s awesome, actually it sounds a lot more fun than what we do here in New York…so with films like Cabin in the Woods and Blair Witch Project around, was it hard for you guys to come up with a story about kids in the woods? Or was this something totally original that you felt really excited about?
S: Well, I mean certainly whenever we pitched a film that’s five kids in the woods, you’re gonna get some eye-rolls, and for us, that was more just the basis of the story, but certainly we inspired it from much more substance there, not just in terms of the characters and the backstory of the film but also the visual approach to it. I think one thing that, I feel like at first glance, Nightlight will be placed into the found-footage sub-genre, but we certainly made Nightlight as a reaction against that. I think a lot of horror fans are feeling the fatigue of those movies, and even though we’re huge fans of, like, the Paranormal Activity franchise or Blair Witch, Nightlight was an opportunity to take that sub-genre and do a new spin on it, where, in this instance, we’re making the film from the point of view of a flashlight.
T: Yeah, and that’s something that’s never been done before. I was really excited to see something like that.
S: Yeah, it was certainly a challenge to come up with the way of shooting it, in which case we worked with our cinematographer who was a great collaborator, and basically, he worked with Panavision to invent these brand new camera rigs that basically was like playing Legos as a kid, and trying to figure out how to bring that visual perspective of a flashlight to life.
T: That’s so cool!
S: Thank you.
T: What was it like writing together? Did you guys collaborate through the whole process? Did you have one person write one scene, one person write the next? Or did you do the whole thing together the whole time?
B: We kind of do everything together the whole time, it’s a very even division of work, which is awesome, and you know, what’s great about working with Scott is that we were friends before we were filmmaking partners and there’s absolutely no ego, for us, it’s best idea when, in a way it kind of becomes a metaphor for the filmmaking process, in general because filmmaking is very collaborative and we had an awesome team on Nightlight that we were constantly calling on to help make the movie better, whether it was our cinematographer, or our first AD, or the cast itself. It’s always best idea when, and we’re always looking for people to help us make the best movie possible.
T: Yeah, of course. So how did you guys know that you had the perfect cast to work with?
S: It’s funny, because in regards to the cast, Shelby Young, who plays Robin, she was actually the very, very first actor that we auditioned, so it was really wild. She came in and she nailed the performance to a T and we were like “well this day started off great, I’m sure everybody else is going to be up to this caliber”, and it turned out obviously that she just had, like, the magic touch and she really connected to the character first and foremost. But the rest of the cast, it was a weird assembly, because they all came from different backgrounds. Like Carter Jenkins, he was kind of the master of bringing this low-key energy, but also, like great improv to the role. And Chloe, she’s like a seasoned tv actress and film actress, and she just really connected with the character. The same with Mitch and Taylor, and Taylor wasn’t really that established of an actress before Nightlight and now she’s doing some great movies.
B: Yeah, Nightlight was one of her first roles, and Taylor, who plays the character of Amelia, we were actually on the ground in Utah a couple weeks out from filming, and we still hadn’t cast the role of Amelia. A tape came in, and it was Taylor, and she gave this beautiful, beautiful performance and we were like “that’s her! Thank goodness!” We were getting nervous. It’s a great process, it doesn’t always happen this way but this movie, everyone kind of bonded and became friends and we’re still close friends with the cast to this day, it was a really cool group of people.
T: That’s cool! How hard was it filming in the woods? Was it totally crazy?
S: Yeah, it was insane, because we were literally vampires for 5 weeks, we were out in the forest, we’re all alone, just our cast and crew, literally working with flashlights in that respect. And there were some wild sequences in it, you know, where we have cameras tumbling off cliffs, and we have cameras getting run over by trains, and so it was always an adventure every day going to set. I know we had some wild animals on the set, like the wolves, and even though they’re trained animals, they’re still wild creatures, and so there were a lot of things to keep people on their toes. So it was very much an adventurous movie, much in the respect of how the actual storyline plays out.
T: How was it working with that snake? I probably would have died.
(they thought this was hilarious…I just enjoyed the fact that they think I’m funny.)
B: The snake was definitely scary, you know, it’s a weird thing on this movie, because we had these very long tracking shots, and then at the end of the shot we need a live animal, at several points in the movie, to like come into closeup for us. And you can’t really direct an animal…so it’s funny. The shot of the wolf snapping at the camera lens, we were asking our animal trainers like, “okay guys, how can we get, like, a closeup of the wolf? The camera has to tumble down a long cliff and land in frame, and then we need a nice, juicy clip of the wolf.” And they were like “well, uh, we just throw a giant piece of meat in front of the lens…” like, we’re sitting next to the lens! That wolf’s gonna be right next to that!
S: Is he going for the meat, or is he going for the camera operator?
B: So it was, as Scott said, always an adventure. It was a super fun, experimental, fun movie to make.
T: It sounds like a lot of fun! You said it was 5 weeks?
S: Yeah, it was a 5-week shoot.
T: That’s a really quick amount of time to make a full-length film like that.
S: Yeah, it definitely was a challenge, especially considering a lot of the film is shot all in one take, and so you more or less have to nail the camera positions and the actor performances and all the stunts in one or so, so it was a challenge.
T: Without giving too much away…what was your favorite scene to film and what was your favorite scene in the film as a whole?
B: Well, one of our favorite scenes that really wouldn’t give anything away is the train game sequence; there’s this scene in the movie where the kids are kind of playing on the train tracks, and the idea is to run out towards this oncoming locomotive, and get as far as you can without, of course, getting run over by the train. It’s just a reckless game that teenagers play. And because we were shooting all in one take, our effects team got a real, live locomotive, and we had to just choreograph it with all of the cast, and it was very…it was very scary.
T: I can imagine!
B: Yeah, to not get run over, and have the stunt-girl Katie run out to the train and get as close as she possibly could, and we would do take after take, and after each take, all the department heads would kind of huddle up as the train rolled back on the tracks to reset into its starting position, and the department heads, the people who were driving the train, our first AD team, and our stunt team would all kind of talk and say “alright, are we comfortable getting the train closer to Katie as she runs out there? Everyone’s feeling good about this?” and we had these pow-wows to keep pushing and pushing to get closer and closer to her. Very scary, but a super professional team helping us pull that stuff off.
S: I kind of feel like some of our favorite scenes in the movie are actually ones where the camera stands very still, and it just kind of lingers on the darkness, because that’s always what the movie’s mantra was about in the first place: it’s not about what you see, it’s about what you don’t see. And when you have the horror genre, the idea is you can be looking at the darkness, and what your imagination is conjuring up is even more terrifying than if something were to jump out at you on-screen.
B: And hopefully the movie works on a repeat-viewing, if you go back and watch the film for a second time, we placed lots of evil omens in the background, and faces, and scary things, starting at 10 minutes into the film, so there’s a lot out there that’s hiding in the woods.
T: I’m definitely going to have to go back and watch for that, then. I know towards the end, they’re pretty out there, but I’m going to see if I notice anything the second time! So, what are your favorite horror films and why?
S: Great question. I mean, a couple that come to mind immediately…Aliens is certainly one of my favorite horror films, and I speak for Bryan also, and part of that is because for the first 40 minutes to an hour, you’re just living with the characters and there’s always this suspense in the background of what is actually going to happen.
T: Awesome. Are you inspired by any specific horror directors or producers or anything like that as far as your horror filmmaking goes?
S: Certainly John Carpenter; he’s worked on many different genres, but certainly horror…(I couldn’t hear what he was saying here) like Halloween is certainly inspirational, because, at the time, those movies were totally inventing what we now consider to be the cliches, and so he was always breaking new ground.
B: And we certainly love, you know, there was a great period of horror in the ’60’s and ’70’s, we talk a lot about Night of the Living Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers…these are films that were incredibly well-made and and well-performed and they were great, original stories but they also had a social consciousness. They were also about something. Night of the Living Dead had terrific social commentary about racial issues and Invasion of the Body Snatchers was about Communism, and so the horror genre is not only great at launching directors’ careers, but also having something to say about how we as people feel about the world that we’re living in.
T: Do you see yourselves making another horror film any time soon? Do you have any projects in the works that you can tell us about?
S: Yeah, there’s certainly a bunch of horror films, scripts, that we’ve been working on, but one of the projects that we’re attached to that we hope comes next, is a film called XOXO, which is kind of like Fatal Attraction for the 21st century; and the writer behind it is Mark Hayman who wrote Black Swan and Darren Aronofsky is one of the producers on it, along with Michael London who produced Nightlight. So it’s very much in the great tone that kind of Black Swan lives in, this sexual thriller, and so we hope that comes next. But there are certainly a few films in the horror genre that we’re working on.
After chatting with Scott and Bryan, I was also given the opportunity to speak to Chloe Bridges, who you may know from The Carrie Diaries, and episodes of 90210...but her list of experience is ongoing. She plays Nia in the film. Here's her take on the experience, plus some fun tidbits of information you may not know:
Taylor: What was it like filming Nightlight? I just watched it recently, and it’s very, very different than most horror films. It has that brand new perspective, and I actually just spoke to the director and producer about it. They were really excited to have you in it.
Chloe: Oh, good! You’ve seen more than me, I’m seeing it for the first time this weekend.
T: Oh cool, no way!
C: Yeah, I’m really excited.
T: So how was it filming a horror film?
C: It was good, we had a great time, because we were in Utah, we were all the same age, we were staying in a hotel, and we had rooms next to each other, and you know, that creates that whole summer camp situation where you’re hanging out all of the time.
T: That sounds so fun.
C: Yeah, exactly. Like, you know, other than sleeping, we were basically with each other for like a month, and you just get really close and we had a great time. And yeah, we were shooting in the woods from, like, sunset to sunrise.
T: Yeah they [Scott and Bryan] were saying you guys were basically like vampires for 5 weeks.
C: Yeah, exactly.
T: So when you read the script, what was your first reaction?
C: My first reaction…I’m not, like, a horror fan; I liked the fact that it was more of a suspense-thriller, and I liked that, you know, it had these real-feeling high school characters with these real-feeling relationships, and I liked that my character was kind of the catalyst plot of it in the sense that, you know, her emotional life and her jealousy and her sense of being threatened by the character Robin kind of drives her to want to be in the woods in the first place, and kind of, in a way, humiliate Robin and make her look like an idiot in front of the boys they like, etcetera. So you know, I really like where it starts out with the characters, and then it obviously turns interesting from there.
T: So when you played Nia, what put you in the headspace to play such a strong-minded character, kind of with an attitude? She’s very spunky.
C: Yeah, actually, this was in 2012 and I had actually just shot the Carrie Diaries pilot, so I was kind of already in that headspace, because on Carrie I play kind of the the mean girl character, so it wasn’t a huge jump to Nia, because Nia, you know, she’s not necessarily the cliche “mean girl” but she definitely has an air of superiority about her, and she definitely thinks she’s entitled in a way, and she’s not afraid to purposely humiliate people and to be that strong person. So…do I agree with all of Nia’s actions? No, but yeah, she was fun to play.
T: What made you decide to pursue that role as opposed to a Robin or an Amelia?
C: Hm, I don’t know if I was the one who made that decision. I’m trying to think if I read for Robin; I don’t think I did. I was called in for Nia.
T: So it was kind of handed to you and it was like “oh, perfect! It fits!”
C: (laughs) Yeah.
T: Do you feel like any of your past experience prepared you for a role in a thriller or a horror film? Or was this a brand new experience for you?
C: It kind of was a new experience. Like, they would make fun of me on set because I’ve seen, like, no horror movies, and I have not had any weird past experiences, thank god, knock on wood, so I don’t think anything in my life necessarily prepared me for it. I was just excited to do something different.
T: Yeah, that’s awesome. So how much fun did you have playing Nia, especially towards the end…I don’t want to give too much away…but did you have fun playing that kind of antagonistic character?
C: Yeah, yeah, it is fun. Not necessarily a role model, but definitely fun to play. It’s always getting to play the evil ones that’s more fun, I think.
T: Yeah, you have to be the nice one in real life, and then you get to do this for fun.
C: Exactly, exactly.
T: What was it like filming in the woods super late at night? Was it freezing? Was it terrifying? They were telling me about how you guys had the animal trainers on set, so tell me about that.
C: Yeah, that day was crazy. That was probably the scariest. The woods themselves, I felt pretty safe. I feel like the characters in the film feel less safe because they don’t have a whole camera crew around them, so when we’re shooting it, we have tons of people with us, we have cameras, we have this and that. So the woods themselves aren’t that scary, but we…that night, when we had the animals…those animals could definitely eat us if they wanted to. Like, this is real!
T: Yeah, they were telling me about the scene with the wolves.
C: The wolves were beautiful and so cool, but they were like “don’t get to close, this wolf could for sure eat you…”
T: Yeah, they were telling me about how they had to drop a piece of meat in front of it and they were like “either the wolf could go for the meat or for me…it’s a toss-up.”
C: Yeah, yeah, that was real. That was interesting, for sure.
T: It sounds like a lot of fun. They were telling me a lot of the shots were pretty hard to film because it’s from the point of view of the flashlight, did you ever feel like it was hard to get used to that?
C: Yeah, there was definitely a lot of maneuvering. I mean, it’s such a different process than anything I’ve done otherwise, because, you know, TV cameras are pretty much just sitting out in front of you. Especially Robin’s character, Shelby’s character, she kind of had to shadow our DPs for a lot of the film, like literally just be attached to the hip with them. So it fell less on me, that process, but it was definitely different and it was definitely interesting.
T: So if you were to play flashlight games with your friends, which character would you prefer to be? Like of the group that was there, which do you feel that you are in your group of friends if you were going to do it?
C: Well, I hope I’m not Robin, because Robin is the least experienced…I want to be one of the characters that’s played before, and who knows what they’re doing and is therefore less terrified, so I guess I’d be Nia! Or…any of the four characters that aren’t Robin. One of the ones that’s confident in the game.
T: Do you see yourself doing more horror films in the future? Is this something you could see yourself doing again?
C: Yeah, I think so!
T: I mean, it seems like a lot of fun, I can imagine like your throat hurt from yelling and running around and all that but…
C: Yeah, it is a lot of fun. I mean, we had the best time shooting this.
T: With the demon entities that they threw it towards the end, were those people that were on set, or did you pretty much have to be terrified of something that wasn’t actually there?
C: A little of both. One of our PAs got dressed in the shadow entity costumes a few times and would actually be moving in the background, but then there was, also, if I remember correctly, a lot of “pretend it’s over there!” and so the acting and stuff is there.
T: How hard is it doing that where you have to react to something you can’t even see?
C: It’s interesting…I feel like a lot of auditioning is like that, actually…a lot of it is creating a lot of eye-lines where they aren’t any.
T: That makes sense.
C: But on set, I guess we have a little bit of experience with that from auditioning as actors. But on set it’s definitely something interesting to line up each other’s eye-lines and make sure we’re looking at the same thing.
T: Yeah, absolutely. So…what is your biggest fear?
C: Hmm…weirdly tornadoes, I think.
C: Yeah, because I don’t have any real experience with them, but in the 6th grade we had to read a book that was about like 6 tornadoes hitting this town, and I haven’t gotten over it.
T: It was traumatizing!
C: It was so terrifying. I don’t know why they make kids read terrifying books in school! Because I never got over the terrifying books!
T: It’s funny, because some people would dispute that they should ban these books like Harry Potter and the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, and then some kids are like “you should have left that, it’s the coolest thing ever!” So I guess it just depends on the kid, but-
C: I think it does depend on the kid. I mean, everyone is different, right? So like, natural disasters are scary to me, whereas magic might be scary to someone else. I was not scared by Harry Potter at ALL. Harry Potter was my jam. I was obsessed with it. I read it a million times, I was not scared at all, but any time we had to read a book about a natural disaster I would think that was terrifying. Like, who’s to say what the kid is going to be afraid of?
T: It’s like when people tell me they’re afraid of clowns; I don’t get it. I always thought going to the circus was great as a kid.
C: Yeah, I didn’t even know clowns were a fear until nearing my adult life. We’ve all got our thing.
T: Do you have any projects coming up in the near future that you want to tell us about? Anything you’re working on?
C: Yeah, I have a recurring arc on this MTV show called Faking It…this is our first season and we don’t have a premier date yet so I don’t know when it’s going to be on MTV, but hopefully soon.
I had an incredible time talking to these guys about their experience with Nightlight. It's in select theaters and on VOD on March 27th, and I can't wait for all of you to see it!
Thank you to Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Chloe Bridges for taking the time to chat with me about their cutting-edge horror film.
Stay tuned, I'll be posting my review of the film on Friday!