The Shed has a great concept for a straight line horror flick, but director Frank Sabatella opted for more layered and resonant storyline. That gamble definitely pays off, and during our 10-minute phoner he talked about why, as much as he loved horror for horror’s sake, there are much more cinematic tools (pun intended) to be found in The Shed.
Stan (Jay Jay Warren) is saddled with an abusive grandfather (Timothy Bottoms) and is still heartbroken that his good friend Roxy (Sofia Happonen) has left him to hang with the more popular crowd. Dommer (Cody Kostra) is Stan’s best friend, and his life is burdened by several bullies who simply won’t let him be.
When Stan encounters a hungry vampire (Frank Whaley) in his backyard shed, he does his best to keep the creature trapped from civilization. Ultimately this monster can’t be held captive forever, and the small town where Stan resides may ultimately pay the price.
During the interview I asked Sabatella about the third act of The Shed, a sequence which, along with shooting on two locations, has a ton of moving parts involved. Along with the film’s solid performances and seamless storytelling (the bullying theme was handled sans a heavy handed touch), the final sequence reminded me of the ambitious set-ups director Brian De Palma employs in most of his films.
Coincidentally, Sabatella mentioned Brian De Palma’s classic feature Carrie as one of his favorite films. I’m just providing a bit of context before the Q&A, so here goes:
The Shed is a very layered film. Was it a straight ahead horror story that evolved into a more fully formed tale? If so, did it take a while to be finish the screenplay?
It actually took quite a while. The core of the story, the vampire trapped inside the shed, was an idea that my film school friend Jason Rice had come up with in a short story. I took his short concept and I expanded it to this present story that we have about the abuse and neglected teenagers and the revenge aspect and all that.
It took quite a few drafts before those layered elements of the story came together. The first couple of drafts, it was loosely there and the mood and the characters were there. It really took time and rewriting of the elements to really bring all that forward and get those striking story elements out.
Does it bring an extra layer of depth having tried and true vet actors like Frank Whaley (Swimming with Sharks), Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show) and Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Holes) on your film?
It was so awesome because, like you said, you have the tried and true veterans that are so familiar and helpful with the process and they’re so creatively involved. And then you juxtapose that with these young, fresh, ambitious and exciting actors that don’t have that level of experience but still have the heart.
And you bring that all together and you get something really cool out of it. You’re getting the excitement from the young guys that are doing it and then you’re also getting the layered stability from Timothy Bottoms, Frank Whaley, and Siobhan Hogan. It’s just really nice to have a little bit of everything on set when you are working.
Can you talk about not making your movie not just a horror, body count driven movie and infusing it with a more resonant tone?
Yeah. I did pure, straight ahead slasher/horror movie a few years back called Blood Night. It was a big body count film and we had a lot of fun with that. I didn’t want that to be the only thing I was doing. I wanted to do something that was still within the horror genre but I wanted meaning, depth, and intelligence. I wanted strong characters. I wanted people to think about the characters and I wanted to work with some of my writing skills to show that I can do more with characters than just make a body count horror film which, there is nothing wrong with that, but I had already done it.
I wanted to do something stronger this time around.
The Shed is also blessed to have a solid chemistry between your lead actors Jay Jay Warren and Cody Kostro. Did you know their dynamic would work?
Well I didn’t know how their chemistry was going to be together. But both of them, as soon as I saw their auditions, I immediately knew they were the people I wanted. When Cody Kostro auditioned for Dommer, I knew right away. I didn’t have to go back and watch his tape ten times and go “I don’t know, I don’t know.” As soon as he auditioned, I said “That’s Dommer.” As soon as Jay Jay auditioned, I (knew) he was going to be our Stan. They had not met before (and) I had not met the two of them together before we were all on set together.
Luckily both of them were so awesome and they personally clicked right away and their chemistry was amazing. You couldn’t ask for anything better, in my opinion. I think they come off so perfectly together, it was luck I guess.
I thought the final act, which was a visceral experience, was well done. How does one do that with an indie budget? Is there some kind of secret sauce to executing your final act?
It was really hard to pull off. I don’t know if there is a secret sauce other than me and my director of photography were very much on the same page. We were incredibly in sync. Me and him just meticulously planned our shot list and (planned) how we were able to movie within maximum efficiency. On top of that, we had a really great crew that was on the same page and understood our limitations but all wanted to work really hard to make a very cool project.
As you said we had a lot of stunts and we had a lot of effects and we didn’t want to get lost by eating up all of our time and not having the ability to have great shots, have great pacing, have great moments that all come together and give you a cool, memorable ending.
I don’t know if there’s a secret sauce. I think it was just good planning. A good team. And just getting everybody to understand and get behind the vision that I had for it.
My final question is an impossible one. Off the top of your head can you name one of your favorite films and why does it speak to you today?
That is a tough question and I have a lot of favorite movies. But I think what I’m going to go with for this particular call and because it’s relevant to The Shed – I’m going to say Carrie by Brian De Palma is one of my favorite movies.
I love his style of directing in that movie. The way he allows the characters’ performance to build the drama more than fancy camera work or anything like that. He’s very engaged in the performances of the actors and the content of what they are saying.
That’s something I wanted to do with The Shed. I think that the similarity of having this bullied individual so to speak, like Carrie White and how her rage becomes explosive and f**ks everything up, is a similar theme in The Shed. I think that it’s just a movie that’s always felt strong to me. The direction is phenomenal and part of what makes De Palma such an excellent director with that film is his restraint. You could go crazy and start doing cool camera angles and cut here and cut there. He restrained himself and allowed the story to unfold through character. That is what is most interesting about that film and hopefully I was able to do some of that with The Shed.
Thank you Frank. I loved your film and you just named my all time favorite director.
Thank you man. I appreciate that so much. Take it easy.
***The Shed hits theaters, Digital HD, and VOD on November 15.