Director Patrick Rea and his Gallery of Nailbiters

Patrick Rea is probably one of my favorite independent directors at the moment and while all of his films may not be home runs, he’s created a veritable gallery of short horror and darkly comedic films that have stormed the worldwide web and spawned a following of folks just waiting his newest yarn that always ensure surprise twists and turns, sharp storytelling, and top notch performances. Ambitious and enthusiastic about his art, director Patrick Rea first started sending us his short films after we began reviewing the shorts we discovered on the net and since then has remained a contact for Cinema Crazed.

In the midst of directing his new feature length horror film called “Nailbiter,” a film that’s remained under wraps and mysterious to most online entities, Patrick Rea took the time out from his hectic shooting schedule in scorching heat to indulge us in an in-depth interview to learn where Patrick Rea honed his skills and how he went from film school student, to Fangoria filmmaker, to co-founder of SenoReality Pictures. If you haven’t seen any of Patrick Rea’s short film we suggest looking for them as they present a keen eye for detail and dark tones while always ensuring a surprise or two that will leave you wanting more.

Firstly, for those unaware, what are you all about?
I’m an indie filmmaker based out of the Kansas City area. I’ve been primarily focused on making films that are within the horror/sci-fi, most of which are short films. In 2002, Ryan Jones and I formed our production company SenoReality Pictures. We’ve since made films that have screened and film festivals all over the world. We won a Regional Heartland Emmy in 2008 for our short film “Woman’s Intuition.” In 2004 we began production on our first feature “The Empty Acre” which we shot on an ultra-low budget and in 2007 it received distribution through Cinema Epoch. Since 2006 we’ve been making short films in collaboration with Free State Studios, which is a television studio / production company in Lawrence, Kansas.

When did you start directing films, and what inspired you to begin directing?
I started really making films when I was 17 in high school. My high school in Schuyler, Nebraska had a channel that broadcasted from the school to everyone who had cable in town. That was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn and once I started getting reactions from people in town, it was clear that there was only one thing I wanted to do. As far as being inspired to direct, it all started as a kid when I was introduced to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Star Wars” at a very early age. It wasn’t until I started sneaking around watching “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” that my primary interest became horror films.

Did you attend film school?
I attended film school at the University of Kansas. It was a great experience and though a lot of people will say that film school isn’t needed to make films, I’m still working with the guys I went to school with eight years later. Film School was very important in forming the friendships and professional relationships that have been pivotal to making my films.

Is it tough getting a short film off the ground?
It’s tough getting any film off the ground. The issue with short films is that a lot of people are not sure what your plan is with the film once it’s finished. A lot of the general public are not as familiar with shorts as they are full-length features. However, there is less risk involved with making a short and sometimes convincing someone to invest in a short is appealing because they get to make a movie without sinking millions of dollars into it. Plus, today there are a lot of venues for short films that weren’t available 15 years ago. I’ve found that with each short film there are different challenges that can be frustrating, but make the process all the more rewarding.

What is the normal budget for one of your short films?
Most of our short films are shot between $5,000 and $10,000. That’s to cover 4 days to 5 days of shooting. Since we are shooting the films in the Kansas City area, we are able to keep our budgets fairly low. A lot of that comes from the enthusiasm of everyone in the area who are willing to help be a part of the projects.

Where do you draw your influences from when you approach a horror short?
Well, I do draw a lot of my influences from the Tales from the Crypt TV show and some of the short stories I used to read by Stephen King. I would love to do a Stephen King story someday. I would say that the Twilight Zone has also been an influence on me. I’m also a huge fan of “Creepshow” which to me is the best anthology horror film.

Where do you fish for your ideas for your newest film? What’s the creative process there?
Well, it’s strange, because a lot of ideas will come to me at strange times. So, I always carry a pen with me and scribble ideas down. As soon as I’m home, I’ll write them down on the computer to make sure the idea isn’t lost. A lot of ideas come while I’m driving or listening to music. The scenarios will just come to me. I do think that a lot of it comes from constantly subjecting myself to all different kinds of films as well. Once I come up with an idea I try to hammer out the script. Once that’s complete, I polish the script and decide whether to forge ahead into pre-production. Pre-production is where I get very meticulous. From the completed script, I storyboard every shot myself before we head into production. For me, creating the storyboards gets a lot of the kinks out before we shoot.

What was the experience like in working on the Fangoria Blood Drive Contest?
I was thrilled that some of our early work was selected for the DVD. In many ways it was a kick in the butt and made me think we were on the right track. I had just gotten out of film school and being included on the DVD was a big thrill. I had been reading Fangoria since I was a kid, so it was a real dream come true. I think we’ve come a long ways from those early days. Both of the films included on the DVD were made while we were students at KU, so they are a little rough around the edges to say the least.

Is directing a horror short more difficult than directing a drama or documentary?
I would say that it is more difficult to be taken as serious as a drama. I think that horror tends to be looked down upon, which isn’t fair. There can be a lot of drama in horror, so one cannot exist without the other. I do believe that documentaries would be more challenging because of all the hours of footage that you have to search through to form the story, while making a horror short allows you to clearly layout the story.

Have you ever considered merging your horror shorts in to one compilation?
I would love to compile the recent films together. Of course the main reason for my hesitation is that some shorts were shot using better equipment and there is definitely a learning curve to the production value. We have one anthology out on DVD from Elite Entertainment titled “Heartland Horrors”. Some of the shorts on the anthology are pretty fun, but again there is a huge learning curve because some of the shorts were made in 2004 and some in 2007. Each short film is a learning experience, so sometimes it’s hard to put them all together without seeing that one is superior to the next. I would love to make a single film like “Creepshow” that has stories that intertwine and are shot over the same period, in order to maintain production quality.

Has your fan base grown since you began releasing your horror shorts?
It has, and I’m extremely thankful. We seem to have developed a little bit of a following with the shorts and some people have looked up some of our older stuff, and seen how far we’ve come over a short time. We’ve received a ton of press recently and continue to get support from Fangoria and sites like Dread With our recent short films, we’ve also had a lot more views online. We’ve also developed a lot of great relationships with other filmmakers and horror fans through screening our films at film festivals and conventions like Cinema Wasteland or the Weekend of Horrors.

What directors have influenced your work since you’ve started?
Well, being born in 1980, I would be lying if I didn’t say Steven Spielberg or even George Lucas, but over the years my influences have mainly come from directors like John Carpenter, Sam Raimi and David Lynch.

What is your approach toward the horror genre? Are you a proponent of in your face gore and splatter, or are you about leaving it up to our imaginations?
I’m a big fan of horror films with lots of gore if it’s done in a way that’s satirical. I love the films Dead Alive and Return of the Living Dead. As far as showing gore in a more serious way, I find that using it at the right time and in moderation is more effective. Most of my films don’t have a lot of gore, because I like to create atmosphere more than throwing buckets of blood at the audience. Plus fake blood tends to leave stains on the carpet at our locations. (laughs) But seriously, if you look at films like The Shining, The Exorcist or even the original Halloween, there isn’t very much gore. It’s left for the audience’s imagination and leaves a greater impression on them. Plus there has been this recent trend of creating CGI gore, which I think looks really cheap. I’d like to stay away from that as much as possible.

How has the festival scene been for your short films?
Well, it’s been great. I do tend to aim my horror shorts specifically at horror-themed festivals and I’ve found that you start to meet a lot of the same people at the events and it becomes a real community of supportive filmmakers and fans. We’ve played at fests like The New York City Horror Film Festival, Shriekfest LA, Fright Night Film Festival, A Night of Horror Film Festival and Eerie Horror Film Festival and our experiences have all been super positive. I’ve formed a lot of professional friendships through these events. These film festivals are also just plain fun.

Your shorts seemed to be heavily in the vein of Rod Serling, is that coincidental?
I never really pointed at Rod Serling as a direct influence. It just happened that our films were in that vein. I do point more toward the Tales From The Crypt TV series as a direct influence, since that was the show I would watch as a kid when I wasn’t supposed to. A lot of people have suggested that our films do have a Twilight Zone vibe and it’s a huge compliment. And once again, I would like to point out that Stephen King was a huge influence and his book of short stories titled “Night Shift” is one of my favorites.

I notice in most of your shorts, you seem to get a kick out of twisting the story with a slick surprise ending or morbid tongue in cheek joke, where did this routine arise from?
It started in film school when we made a short film called “The Walls”. It’s basically a story about a guy who is hammering framed photos onto his wall, and the wall reacts to the pain of having the nails pounded into it. People were a little weirded out by it and I was thrilled. So my film school buddies and I started to make short films constantly, almost every weekend, all with either a strange ending or a surprise. So over the last 8 years, it’s developed into our shtick. The stories have become more three-dimensional over the decade, which I’m very proud of. I do think we’ve strayed from this style on some of our films, such as “Paint Shaker” which was a nice step outside my comfort zone.

My favorite of yours so far has to be “Get Off My Porch,” Where did the idea for it come from?
I was an Eagle Scout and would constantly have to go to people’s houses and ask them to buy stuff. I never enjoyed that aspect of Boy-Scouting, however, I love Girl Scout cookies and found them very addictive. I could eat an entire box by myself, so I wanted to do something creepy with it. I wanted to do something that played with idea of having a creepy kid trying to sell you cookies that you can’t resist once you start eating them.

What can you tell us, if anything, about your upcoming “Nail Biter”?
It’s a straight forward horror feature film. It does have a nice sprinkle of dark humor, but for the most part it’s played straight. It’s been a tough project to get made. The film has been made on a very low-budget and it involves nasty weather in Kansas. The basic premise deals with a mother and her three daughters who are on their way to the airport to pick up their father who has just returned from the war. Along the way, they get caught up in a tornado and are forced to take shelter in the cellar of a cute-Kansas-y house. The storm knocks a tree on the cellar door and traps the four ladies. That’s when the film changes gears and becomes a monster movie. The film has been in production since last year, and like any low-budget film we shoot when we have the funds. I’m hoping the film will be completely done by the end of the year. We have 90% of it complete.

Which of your films would you say is your favorite to date?
My personal favorite is “Now That You’re Dead” only because I think it strikes a nice balance of dark humor and horror. I’m also partial to “Mrs. Brumett’s Garden” since my late grandmother was the inspiration for the story.

Where can indie movie lovers look for you next?
Besides having “Nailbiter” out there soon, we have another short film titled “Time’s Up, Eve” which we are very close to having done. It is set in the 40’s and was shot in black and white. It mixes supernatural elements with a film noir. I’m also planning my next feature is a scifi suspense film titled “The Mirror Watcher” which is best described as a blend of science fiction with Hitchcock’s Rear Window. I’m hoping to get that off the ground next year.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers out there anxious to get a short off the ground?
My advice is to just go out and do it. Find a story that gets you excited and find a way to make it. There are so many different ways of getting a film shot these days with the technology more readily available. You just have to find the right people to collaborate with and make the film a reality.

Finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a director?
Always be prepared. Do your homework before you’re on set. If you know what you want and have communicated that thoroughly to the crew, then it should be smooth sailing. There will almost always be something that happens that you don’t expect and it will throw you a curve ball. The more prepared you are with storyboards, shot lists, lighting diagrams, the less likely that a unforeseen problem will cause you to lose control.