Trevor Juras on His Feature Debut ‘The Interior’
Trevor Juras’ debut feature The Interior follows James (Patrick McFadden), a man who abruptly quits his well-paying job to go live as a hermit in a forest on the other side of the country. It’s a slow burn of a horror film, but as I said in my review Juras’ unique approach makes The Interior one of the more interesting horror debuts in recent memory. With a lengthy prelude, frequent tonal shifts, excellent cinematography and some truly intense scenes in the film’s latter half, Juras quickly establishes himself as a young filmmaker to keep an eye on.
On the day of The Interior‘s world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival, I spoke with Juras about The Interior and his earlier short film The Lamp (which you can watch here). The Interior is currently seeking distribution.
How did The Interior come about?
I wanted to do a lost in the woods film for a long time, probably dating all the way back to when I first saw The Blair Witch Project. My first real serious stab at it was a few years ago when I wrote a script about a man and a woman in the woods, and it was kind of cliché. It was less of a horror film and more of a relationship film with some horror elements. That didn’t really appeal to me, so I shelved it for a while. Then I thought, “What if I tried to do something that’s just one person?” And that’s how it started.
When you were starting The Interior did you know from the beginning it was going to be a horror film?
The initial idea was to be as pure of a horror film as possible. It didn’t really turn out that way. The first 25 minutes are very different from the latter two-thirds of the film. That was a bit more of a conscious decision because so many horror films have 20, 30, 40 minutes of exposition before you get to what you’re there for. And I thought that if I’m going to have that kind of thing, then I want it to be as different, entertaining and funny as possible before I really shift gears to more of a traditional kind of horror feel.
Did you find it challenging to write about one character in solitude?
It was easier because I didn’t have to write a whole bunch of dialog. When two people are in the woods it’s probably non-stop talking and lots of conflict. With this, I was just trying to put myself in the situation, which was not too hard to do. I stayed in a log cabin for 10 days about a year ago and I’ve gone camping by myself, I have some experience being alone out in the middle of nowhere, so I just drew from that.
Both The Interior and The Lamp are disarming films in some ways since they can quickly turn into different films altogether. Are you drawn to making your films unpredictable like that?
Definitely. I don’t know how much of a conscious decision it is, but I love films where I don’t know what’s coming. Whether it’s a stylistic shift, a plot shift or a dramatic character shift, I just love not knowing what’s coming next. I kind of instinctively write from that angle.
Some sequences in The Interior reminded me of silent films.
That’s an interesting observation because I think it comes more from the lead [Patrick McFadden]. He seems like in a past life he was a silent film star. I worked with him on a couple short films, and I was aware of what his strengths are, and one of those strengths is his ability to emote very authentically without being over the top. You can really see what’s going on. He’s got a lot of drama naturally in his face, and he’s great at a kind of silent movie acting. I think a lot of it comes from him. I definitely tailored the part for him, it sort of organically came out that way.
I noticed that you had a couple of cast and crew members from The Lamp and your other shorts involved with The Interior as well. Would you say you work with a close-knit group?
It kind of turned into one. Shaina Silver-Baird, the actress from The Lamp, is in The Interior as well, along with Andrew Hayes who plays the boss. He was actually my colleague and then my actual boss. I had a day job in the casting world for a long time, and Shaina is someone I auditioned. I like working with people again because I can write a part with people specifically in mind. I didn’t do any auditioning for The Interior at all. I just assigned parts and didn’t even rehearse, they just showed up. I knew they could do it because I know them really well, and I was able to write something for them specifically, which is really fun for me.
Was it an easy shoot then?
It seemed like a pretty easy shoot. It was fast and furious, so all the stress came from how fast we had to shoot. We shot for ten days in British Columbia first, and then we shot three days in Toronto for the opening 25 minutes of the film. The three days in Toronto were pretty hectic because it’s a lot of stuff to cover in three days. We were running from location to location, sometimes three locations in one day. I’m pretty economical. I like working fast, I like having a little bit of pressure, but not to the point where I’m pulling my hair out. It really worked out, just being able to whip these shots off fast. I like just a couple takes. I don’t like to linger too long.
The cinematography is great, especially the way you shoot the forest at nighttime. How did you and the cinematographer come up with the look of the film?
Well, step one was the location. We shot on an island called Saltspring Island, which is part of a chain of islands between the mainland and Vancouver Island. I had gone there a year earlier on vacation and really fell in love with the look. It doesn’t even look real, it looks like something out of a fantasy film. And then for the nighttime shots, [cinematographer] Othello Ubalde and I were really adamant about it not looking lit. We wanted it to look as real as possible. We did have a battery-powered light out there, but we only used it for the dream sequence that happens later in the film. Other than that it’s just a high-powered flashlight. We were careful about where we were pointing it and where we had the camera sitting to sort of maximize the spread of the beam, but that’s all. We wanted to keep it really, really dark and really quiet and make it look as natural as possible. To me, that is the scariest thing. When you see a film that takes place in the woods and you can see other lights, it can look really beautiful, but it definitely doesn’t have that authentic [feeling], and that’s what we were going for.
It must be challenging in some way to make a film about someone’s largely internal conflicts. How were you able to communicate that information to viewers?
I think by virtue of it being only about one character who’s out there alone. That’s sort of the only way to go with it because he doesn’t have anyone to bounce his feelings off of or anything like that. That was probably the biggest challenge. A lot of that came together in the editing room. We shot, shot, shot, and then I had an idea of what the film was gonna be, but when I sat down in the editing room I really understood what I had and what I was doing. I find that happens a lot to me with my short films. I think I’m making one thing, and then it turns out to be something else, and almost always for the better.
You use a lot of classical music for the score.
It’s a personal preference. I love classical music. I almost think of what I do as very elaborate music videos. Often the music comes before the scene. The scene in Toronto where James sabotages his own career, [the music] came first. When I was listening to it I thought of the whole scenario, and surprisingly it came out exactly how I pictured it. I love using classical music and a big part of that is, well, it’s public domain. I have a friend who’s a world-class pianist, so he had some recordings that I used and we did a few recordings for the movie. Public domain music is some of the best music of all-time. It’s stood the test of time, and there’s so much complexity, drama and intellect in the music that I find it does a lot of heavy lifting. You throw on a piece of music like that, and you want to do justice to the music. It’s sort of the music that was in my head as I was conceiving the film.
Are you working on anything new?
Well we just finished the film over a week ago…
Yeah [Laughs]. I don’t remember the exact quote but the last 10% was like 80% of it. We did so much so quickly, and the last little bit was just agonizingly slow, just little tiny pieces that we had to get in place. I have started writing something new. I have three competing ideas, and one I like the most would be more similar to the first 25 minutes of The Interior, similar in that kind of tone. Definitely a character-driven piece. I have an idea, but as I finish writing it, it’ll probably be very different.
Do you want to avoid making something with genre elements for your next project?
We’ll see what happens. I do like genre films, but I love directors like Lars Von Trier and Paul Thomas Anderson and The Coen Brothers. I really love South Korean cinema. With The Lamp, I was surprised that it played genre festivals. I didn’t expect that, I thought it was more of a drama piece. I didn’t think a festival like Toronto After Dark would be interested. I submitted it on the advice of a friend and it got accepted, but the idea that I’m working on right now doesn’t have as much of a genre feel on it. There is horror, but it’s kind of a real world horror. A society gone wrong kind of horror as opposed to a horror movie.