Shawn and Michael Rasmussen made a splash on the horror scene in 2010 when John Carpenter chose their script for The Ward as his first directing project in almost a decade. The brothers have moved things up a gear by writing and directing Dark Feed, an eerie old-school chiller which is reminiscent of Carpenter’s own Prince Of Darkness. Movies In Focus had the chance to quiz Shawn Rasmussen about making Dark Feed (read the review), working with Carpenter and the horror genre. He also spilled some beans on The Inhabitants, another retro-tinged horror that Movies In Focus will keep you posted on over the next year.
How do you go about finding inspiration?
We’re often inspired by our own experiences, stories we read or hear about, and of course other films and filmmakers. Inspiration tends to find us. I think if you’re paying attention it’s easy enough to find. The challenge isn’t finding inspiration as much as it is then taking that idea and expanding it into a full-length story.
Digital technology has opened-up filmmaking how important was it in the making the film?
Dark Feed really couldn’t have been made without the recent advances in digital technology. We were trying to figure out a way of doing this project with limited funds when a friend showed us some footage he’d shot on a DSLR camera. It was amazing. We ended up shooting the entire film on two Canon 7D’s using almost nothing but practical lights. This would not have been possible a few years ago.
How did you go about bringing the film together?
Once we decided to use the DSLR’s, we managed to raise a small amount of money from friends and contacts that I worked with in high tech. The producer of Long Distance also came on board to help. He has always been very supportive of our filmmaking. We were also fortunate enough to befriend the art director on Session 9 and brought him on as our production designer. He knew a little something about making a film in an abandoned mental hospital and the pitfalls we needed to avoid. He also had a great network of New England crew who volunteered a lot of time, energy, and supplies. We then called in every favor we could. Our cast was from the local university and theater community in Boston. But it wasn’t until we secured a couple of locations used in Shutter Island that we knew for sure we’d be able to make our film. All the elements just sort of fell into place.
This is your directing debut, was it a logical leap from writing to directing?
For us, we had always written with the intention to eventually direct. We had originally hoped to direct both Long Distance and The Ward. That’s why both of those stories were so contained. Fortunately we were able to sell those scripts and even lucky enough to have a legend like John Carpenter direct one of them. That was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. But with Dark Feed we were determined to make it on our own.
How do you go about co-directing a film?
This question is always a hard one for us because it’s very second nature. We know each other so well that we just divide the tasks and do what needs to be done. We don’t try to analyze our roles too much. If I had to break it down, I’d say I’m more focused on the business side of things and organizational aspects while Michael is more focused on the creative. I’m the left side of the brain, he’s the right. It’s a good balance.
Is it much different from co-writing with someone?
They’re both very collaborative processes. However with co-writing it’s often just the two of us while with co-directing there’s the added element of the cast and crew.
Does it mean that there’s more compromise or is there just more creative choice?
There’s that old expression “two heads are better than one”. I think that’s true with this. It’s a huge help to have somebody to bounce ideas off and to help carry some of the weight and responsibility. I think it has also taught us the art of compromise. It’s a good skill to have because filmmaking is already a very collaborative medium. If you’re not open to hearing other people’s ideas then you’re probably not going to last very long in this business.
What made you get into the screenwriting game?
We had both been toiling away in corporate jobs after college and weren’t finding much fulfilment there. Michael had studied film in school and had always written scripts in his free time so I proposed that we start writing together. This was around the time of Project Greenlight and I think that kind of helped inspire us to take the leap. We were very fortunate to sell the first thing we wrote. And that success just kept us going.
You’ve had the experience of having John Carpenter direct your script – what was that like?
The whole thing was a very surreal experience. Here was a filmmaker we had idolized as kids. He helped create the modern horror genre with films like Halloween and The Thing. And now he’s sitting across the table from us discussing one of our scripts. It was just beyond belief. And what was even more amazing is that he’s a great collaborator. He’s such a down-to-earth guy which is really surprising with all of his success.
Dark Feed reminds me a lot of Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness –was this a conscious decision, or is it coincidence?
Is there an abandoned-building-that-oozes-some-mysterious-liquid genre? Because if there is, both films belong there. That film was definitely an inspiration. Not only in terms of story but also in the way it marked Carpenter’s return to his low budget roots. He had a story to tell and not a huge budget to tell it. So it forced him to come up with inventive solutions to do this. And we were doing very much the same thing with Dark Feed.
What can you tell me about The Inhabitants?
The Inhabitants is a throwback to some of those great ghost stories from the 70’s and early 80’s like The Changeling, Haunting Of Julia and The Shining. It involves a young couple who unknowingly purchase a haunted bed and breakfast and must contend with the wrathful spirits that inhabit the place. We shot the film in one of the oldest houses in New England. It was originally owned by Samuel Parris whose daughter was one of the accusers during the Salem Witch Trials. The current owner is convinced the place is haunted and I’m not sure I’d argue with him. We’re currently in post and hope to have the film finished early next year.
You seem very happy in working within the horror genre, are there other genres you’d like to dabble in?
We love horror. It covers so much territory. We could make a hundred films and not tell the same story twice. That said, we’re not above exploring other genres. I’m just not sure romantic comedies would be one of them. Seriously though, the horror community is such a passionate group of fans that whether they love your film or hate it, you can bet you’re going to hear about it. Michael and I really enjoy that feedback. I think it helps us grow as filmmakers and it’s not something you get in the other genres which is why we’re content to continue working in horror.