The writer/director talks about his creepy feature film debut
First time feature writer and director Nicolas McCarthy has had a hell of a year – gaining enough interest from his 2011 short at Sundance to have a feature version of the same story ready in time for the 2012 festival. The Pact is now getting an international theatrical release and we spoke to the filmmaker about his interest in horror, promotional campaigns and working with Starship Troopers’ Casper Van Dien!CLICK: I know The Pact is based on a short you made a couple of years ago – did it deal with the same story?NM: Well yes and no. The short film was made in late 2010 and that was a movie that was really made not to get a feature film made it wasn’t like a trailer for a longer movie. It was just a story that I wanted to tell and the short is much more of a character study that uses this horror atmosphere. And what happened was I made the film, it was submitted to Sundance at the very last possible moment, like a minute before the deadline! And it got into the festival. So I finished the short and it premiered and then three days after the festival I met a company called Content Media Corp and they said ‘let's make a feature’! And about six weeks later I had finished the script for the feature.CLICK: And they always wanted a feature version of The Pact?NM: Yes. There’s a guy named Jamie Carmichael, who’s the executive producer of the movie and he just happened to see it at Sundance and he really became my champion. And when I had that meeting after Sundance. You know, then you’re trying to get movies made and you live in Hollywood you have lots of meetings that don’t go anywhere, meetings where someone just wants to meet you because they think you have something and years down the line they can say that they met you [laughs]! So I frankly thought it would be one of those meetings. I went there completely clueless and within five minutes he said, ‘let's make a movie’ and he was very specific. He said we’re going to make it for this amount of money, we’ll shoot it the summer, you’ll have it ready for Sundance in the fall, it’ll get in to the festival and we’ll sell it there for a lot of money. And all of the things that he said came true! So… I owe Jamie Carmichael!CLICK: Was there a moment of panic then because you suddenly needed a script?!NM: I think if maybe I was a little bit younger it might have been panic but I had spent a few years just writing screenplay after screenplay. And 90 per cent of the time not getting paid to do that. But I had developed a skill I think as a storyteller. So in that meeting with Jamie when he said ‘so there’s a feature script, right?’ I said ‘yes, absolutely there is!’ And I told him I had to do another draft! So I just went to a coffee shop the next day and began this process. And it took a couple of weeks to figure out what the story should be, writing an outline, and then a month to write the actual screenplay. And the movie was made so fast that we basically shot the first draft of the script [laughs]!CLICK: What was the auction process like; did you see a lot of girls?NM: We did see a lot of young women and I enjoy the casting process, its fun to meet people. But what I’ve discovered is that almost always the people that really are best for the movie you just know them right away. And it was that way with Caity [Lotz, the lead actress]. She was one of the first people we saw and I just knew as soon as she started speaking she was just the one for that role. And it was the same with the girl who played the psychic Haley Hudson; there was just something about her presence that you just can’t write that. She’s just a peculiar kind of soul that you have to just let that magic work for you.CLICK: There are some interesting effects in the film which all look like they were achieved practically. How were they accomplished?NM: Well I’m glad you noticed that they were done practically because that was kind of aesthetic decision. I’ve always felt it’s better to be able to look through the camera on the day and see what you’re shooting, instead of leaving it to the vagaries of a computer. And also maybe because I’m not 15 years old the idea of using too many computers generated images… I always think of Song of the South, you know the Walt Disney movie? Where they animated birds over people!?CLICK: The one you can’t get anymore?!NM: Yea, you’ll probably have to go on eBay or something to find it! A lot of times cg imagery is like that when it’s like a cartoon on top of the image. And I’ve never really been a guy whose into cartoons [laughs]! So on set there are a few of these sequences where the actresses are pulled around. And technically it’s called wirework. When they make The Matrix it’s called wirework, when you make The Pact it’s basically tying the actress up with ropes and throwing her to the floor and hoping that she doesn’t break her neck!CLICK: There’s also not much violence but it’s very well timed, was it a budgetary concern or just a case of serving the story?NM: I think it just has to do with sensibility. I’ve always watched movies that I guess would be called low budget films and maybe that’s the style I like. But I also feel like with violence, since it is one of those things that people expect from nearly every kind of genre film, except for romantic comedy [laughs], that those moments should be treated specially in some way. I think it was Quentin Tarantino who said that violence in an action movie is the same as a song in a musical and I like the idea of treating those moments very specifically. I also like the idea that people are maybe convinced at some point that there’s not going to be any blood and then an hour in we surprise them [laughs]!CLICK: And how did Casper Van Dien get involved?NM: Casper came in to read for the part because his manager had told him about. And we’d actually already started shooting the film and hadn’t cast that role! So I wasn’t present in those auditions and… one of the producers came to me on set and said ‘Casper Van Dien came in to read for that part’ [laughs]! And I did this double take and thought - the Casper Van Dien. Then I met him and liked him so much we decided to do this thing together. He was only on set for a few days but it was this real thrill because he’s had this really interesting and strange career and he’s worked with some really incredible people and he’s married to this woman who’s royalty. So between takes I would ask him about, he did a scene with Robert Mitchum in a movie [1997s James Dean: Race with Destiny], so he was just great.CLICK: The film is going straight to Video on Demand in the states but cinemas here. I’m sure you’d prefer people to see it in a theatre if they can?NM: Oh absolutely. I mean I guess there are some movies that might work better on video. But the experience of seeing The Pact with an audience has been so amazing. When we did the screening the other day there were a couple of people who work for some of the companies that produced the film that came to see it theatrically and had already seen it on video. And they were astonished at what it was like to watch with a crowd. Because people get really quiet and then they scream and laugh and talk amongst themselves as they get more and more nervous! It’s just an amazing thing to be a part of.CLICK: After a couple of years are you ready to move on from The Pact?NM: This whole process has been such a whirlwind that I think there’s lots of filmmakers who would probably. I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to make something this fast again. But I already have written what I guess will be my next film and it will probably be going into production sooner rather than later. It’s another small and incredibly creepy movie because I’ve enjoyed being in that space and I just want to explore it a little bit longer. I’ve always had this love of horror films that’s has never gone away. That said I do like all kinds of movies and I do watch everything, I don’t discriminate. But maybe it was that experience of watching The Pact with an audience that made me want to do that again. I want to make people scream again!
The Pact is in Irish cinemas from the 8th of June, read our review here.