[Set Visit Interview] ‘Cassadaga’ Producer/Writers Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley

Cassadega

Having its World Premiere Saturday, October 22 at 4PM as part of the Screamfest LA Film Festival is Anthony DiBlasi’s Cassadaga, his followup to Dread starring Kelen Coleman, Kevin Alejandro, Louise Fletcher, Rus Blackwell, Hank Stone, J LaRose and Amy LoCicero.

Leading up to the premiere, Bloody Disgusting has been taking you behind-the-scenes of the production in our exclusive set reports. You can read part 1 here, with an exclusive interview with Anthony DiBlasi here. Below is the final piece to the puzzle, an exclusive chat with Producer/Writers Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley.

Devastated by the death of her younger sister, Lily Morel seeks solace at the spiritualist community of Cassadaga. But instead of finding closure, she contacts something else – the vengeful ghost of a murdered young woman. With her life crumbling all-around her, Lily races to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the woman’s death – a task that will bring her face-to-face with a sadistic serial killer known only as “Geppetto”. David Harley: So far, all you and Bruce have worked on are shorts; this is your first feature-length film. What inspired you to cross over?

Scott Poiley: Yes, we’ve done shorts and this is our first feature that we’ve produced together.

Bruce Wood: We haven’t done shorts together; we’ve done them separately.

Poiley: But this isn’t our first project that we’ve raised money for. Bruce and I first started working on projects while we were in grad school – an animated project. An investor got interested in our work and pitched us an idea where he wanted us to write a film for him, which was hard.

Wood: It wasn’t just the location; it had to be a screwball romantic comedy.

Poiley: So the investor hired us to write a screwball romantic comedy based on Easter Island.

BD: That’s a strange setting.

Poiley: (laughs) So Bruce and I were like, ‘Ok, let’s do this.’ It was very hard writing around the setting.

Wood: First, the investors said let’s do a movie around Easter Island for X amount of dollars, so I came up with an idea that was very much an “independent film” drama, and they immediately said no, they wanted a screwball comedy. And it was like why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?

Poiley: We sat down at the drawing board and created Queen of Easter Island – or Easter Island Queen. And then it became…

BD: Orgy of Easter Island!

Wood: (laughs) Which got shot down by the investors.

Poiley: And then it turned into what we currently have it titled. We went around to several different investors and we were able to raise half the budget for a $4 million dollar film. At this point, it had taken us…

Wood: When we started writing this, our budget was far less than $3 – 4 million. It wasn’t even in the ballpark at that point, but it kept getting bigger and bigger. At one point, we had a big time comedy director attached to it, and then at that moment, we essentially doubled the budget based on the notes he gave us for the next draft. Once we had him, it was like, ‘Wow, we should go bigger than this.’

Poiley: At this point, we had raised around $2 million, so we went out for co-production deals. We went out for three, which crashed and burned. Ultimately, we had signed for one, and once it came time for them to show us the money, they didn’t have it. So me and Bruce decided to shelve the project, and went through with our horror film. The investors liked the idea of a low-budget horror film without a co-production deal, so we sat down and talked about several different ideas. Bruce said in order for us to finish in the time we needed to have it done, he’d have to sit down and pump it out. In a good way. He hates it when I say that.

BD: Yes, that’s what she said.

Wood: (laughs) I basically locked myself in a room. In the dark.

Poiley: We got the investors’ approval of it – they liked it – and we’ve been keeping them in the loop during the entire process so they can feel like they’re a part of it and it’s fun for them. They visit the set, meet the director and see the town. And here we are.

BD: The film is based around Cassadaga, the town, which has quite the local reputation, as well as the distinction being the most psychic place in the world. Did you have a plot or idea that you decided to incorporate the town into, or did Cassadaga‘s notoriety spark the idea of the story?

Wood: Three elements really came together in creating the story, one of which was the location of Cassadaga. When I was a kid, I was really into mysteries like Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle, and Cassadaga. I was really fascinated with places like that, and horror in general. That’s how I was familiar with Cassadaga. When I moved from Miami to the Orlando area to work on our first project, I realized one day while visiting the manatees at Blue Springs that Cassadaga was close by, and it stuck with me. I looked on IMDb and saw that there hadn’t been a movie made about it or shot there.

BD: And for a town that has such a reputation, that’s surprising.

Wood: I mean, it’s well enough known that I knew about it when I was a kid. Then when we had the opportunity to do a horror film, which was the first thing I thought we should have done, I had a couple of other ideas aside from the Cassadaga project that could’ve been their own thing but they all melted together and were able to be plotted together into one film.

BD: A lot of those ideas are fairly unique judging by the footage I saw earlier, including one that makes me think twice about a certain Disney flick. How did you come up with some of the more gruesome aspects of the film?

Wood: Most of the ideas just come in moments where I’m in the shower, walking the dog, or at the gym… I just think, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting,’ and then I type it out on my phone real quick and flesh it out when I get home. I ask myself where the idea could go, and sometimes they go nowhere and I toss them out. But other times I think they could be good and could be incorporate in a certain way, and then two ideas merge into one and create a new super-outline.

Poiley: One of my favorite stories is when Bruce was like, ‘Hey, come here, I want to pitch you an idea.’ So, I’m sitting down and he’s says ‘What if the little boy in the beginning cuts off his own penis?’ I thought he was joking but he was serious. I thought that was amazing! At first, I thought it was a joke but that’s a scene right there. Nobody has ever seen a little boy cut off his own penis and it’s a great scene to introduce our iconic killer. I really liked it a lot.

BD: Is there one of them that’s a favorite of yours?

Wood: When I was at the gym and I had the idea of the boy cutting off his penis that Scott just referenced. I thought it was a crazy, weird idea but hear it out. That was the moment I found out who Gepetto was. Before that, it was a plot device and I liked the idea of him dismembering these girls and putting them back together. They were everything he wanted to be and he loathed them, but I wasn’t really sure why that was. But in that moment I saw him as a child, I knew this character and what motivated him. All the pieces of the story where I thought I was going through the story… all of a sudden, they had meaning and all the rest of the pieces fell into place. For me, that was the most pivotal moments for understanding these characters.

Poiley: My favorite moments change as I’m seeing them come to life. My favorite moment as of right now is seeing his ritualistic killing come to life. The hero moment we just saw play out on set is very impressive and disturbing at the same time.

Wood: And well lit!

BD: Was it exactly how you imagined it?

Wood: No, but not in a bad way; it’s just different. The intensity [name deleted for spoiler purposes] brought to the character… in my mind, it was more subdued and subtle and dark. [They] are mostly in the shadows, whereas the scene is bright; you can really see everything. I’m surprised they were able to pull of the marionette element being as fully lit as we are.

Poiley: That’s because of our amazing artist we were able to get on the project, Lee Grimes. He is just absolutely fantastic and an asset to the production; that and the combination of our art designer, Nicole Balzarini, and her department. The combination of Lee and her set decoration just came together to make a perfect moment. It’s a really nice blend of art.

BD: There’s actually two threats in the film, one being a spirit and the other a serial killer. How did you balance them out while writing the script?

Wood: Well, the spirit really isn’t one at all, but it does lash out in frustration. It wants our main character to do something for it, and when that thing is not getting done, it asks again in a much more forceful way. To me, this is a story about a girl who tries to start her life over under the weight of a tremendous burden of guilt and, by helping that spirit out, she ultimately gets closure with her sister and is relieved of that burden. So, in that sense, the ghost helps her complete her accomplish her dramatic needs. To me, the ghost isn’t a villain; it’s just a frustrated being that doesn’t intend any harm, but has to escalate the mean of communication to get her to do what she needs her to do.

BD: So, you had a script and the investors lined up… How did you come across Anthony [DiBlasi]?

Wood: We watched a lot of shitty horror flicks. (laughs) And some great ones. Once we got greenlit by the investors, we started watching a lot of horror films. I had a huge lead on Scott, since I’m a huge fan of the horror genre and consider myself to be well-versed. So, we started watching crappy ones looking for unknown gems and weren’t finding any. Most of the real gems were ones I was already aware of, and then I came across Dread.

Poiley: While he was writing, I was watching two to three horror films a day. I actually went through horrible, horrible ones, but there were also some great ones we came across that were low-budget. We did our research and we came up with some names and Dread, the one he just mentioned, was one of them he had just watched and said I should take a look at it.

Wood: It was one of those Eight Film To Die For.

Poiley: I thought, ‘Shit, this is really good.’ The only problem was that we didn’t know what the budget was and with all the films that we were researching, we definitely wanted to know what the budget was so that we knew what quality we were getting for what price when we were soliciting to directors. But, even though we didn’t know what the budget was, we both kind of knew what ballpark it was in judging from all the other films we had just watched and we were willing to gamble and send the script over to him. We actually got a call from a couple of directors that were interested in the project, and we flew out to LA to meet with them. In that process, we ran the gambit of directors. One director told us all independent films were dead and you can’t make any money in that, then he pitched us his own idea. We met with Anthony the next day and he said that he was impressed by the script and was inspired. He normally doesn’t direct projects that he doesn’t write, but he was interested. We met with another director that was great, too. Anthony was our first choice, but the other director had proven to be able to direct a quality low-budget film. But we really liked Anthony and we knew he had the vision that meshed well with our project, and that’s ultimately why we went with him.

BD: Judging by the footage I saw earlier in the editing room and from what I’ve seen on set, there are a few different influences I can see in Cassadaga. What films or filmmakers really inspired you while writing?

Wood: Well, I’m kind of curious. You seem like you have a few guesses, what do you think?

BD: The serial killer stuff has a Silence Of The Lambs vibe, and the spirit coming back to cajole the living into helping solve the mystery surrounding its death reminds me of Stir of Echoes, The Sixth Sense, The Changeling, etc.

Wood: To me, the most seminal work in the supernatural thriller genre of our generation, as in 90s and beyond, would be Stir Of Echoes, which is an unheralded classic. I don’t think it got the respect it deserved because of it being released around the same time as The Sixth Sense and it was another ‘guy who sees ghosts’ film. Not to take away from The Sixth Sense because it does have great performances and that mindfuck of an ending, but if people had seen Stir Of Echoes first, I bet it would be ther other way around. The thing is, though, that I can watch Stir Of Echoes once a year, and I’ve seen The Sixth Sense maybe twice and that’s all I’ll ever need to see it.

BD: I completely agree. It’s a movie built around a twist.

Poiley: Exactly, and it’s because it’s such an amazing twist that people really loved it.

Wood: You watch it that first time, and then you have to see it again to see all the foreshadowing and how the twist really stands out. With Stir Of Echoes, those are characters I really care about and I want to revisit. It’s a shame Stir Of Echoes 2 wasn’t good. To me, that would be more of a supernatural thriller, except the ending of Stir Of Echoes reveals that it was an accidental thing by a non-threatening entity, the neighbors. Granted, they’re trying to cover it up, but in this, the ghost doesn’t lead the main character to an accidental death. It leads her face-to-face with a scary, menacing, sadistic killer. Once she solves the equivalent of the mystery in Stir Of Echoes, you’re thrown into the third act which is pretty terrifying in and of itself.

BD: What do you think about the state of horror right now?

Wood: I think there’s been a lot of great horror in the last few years, especially French horror like Martyrs, Inside, and High Tension. I really liked Funny Games, too. I think there’s some good stuff out there but they’re not getting theatrical releases stateside and, for the most part, they’re foreign films. I think piracy is a big issue, but Hollywood can’t really make mid-sized low-budget films or they’re afraid to make them because of marketing costs. It’s a huge gamble for them, so they’re sticking with sequels, reboots, and remakes.

Poiley: There’s a lot of clichéd horror films out right now, and it’s the ones that have unique ways of telling stories in the genre that people are getting excited about. Or when I see something old told in a new way, I get excited about that too.

Wood: The state of the Hollywood machine right now is that they know they have a built in audience for the remakes and reboots, and it’s proven that they’re successful. It’s worked for them before, so they have a fear of putting low-budget films in the theatre. Granted, a lot of the remakes lately… take Night Of The Demons, for example. I don’t know if they expected the remake would get a theatrical release; the original wasn’t a big hit, it’s a cult classic. The only people that know about it are horror aficionados and even the average person had never heard of it, and it went straight-to-DVD without much fan-fare. Some movies have their DVD releases hyped, but that one just went straight to Netflix.

BD: The main character in Cassadaga is deaf. What sparked that?

Wood: I liked the idea of what she actually hears; she hears the supernatural. The ability is something we all take for granted but for her, it’s absolutely terrifying. I thought that was an interesting concept to explore, and I hadn’t seen done before in a horror film.

Poiley: That was another moment where Bruce was like ‘What if the main character was deaf?’ At first, I wasn’t sure about it but I thought about it, and I’ve never seen a horror film with a deaf girl that utilizes the concept of what we were talking about… her regaining her hearing is terrifying. That gave a new characteristic to our character.

BD: After Cassadaga, what’s next for you?

Poiley: Our goal is if this does well, we do a sequel. Once we do that, if there’s a sequel or prequel that comes organically, we can do that. Regardless, we want to do at least one more low-budget genre film and eventually, I’d like us to get back to our screwball romantic comedy. I think it’s great and really funny, and I’d love to get to it. It’s set at a great location that not many people get to see. We have a couple of other projects we have been developing, but our brass ring is an animated family-oriented film. Our goal is to establish ourselves as producers and writers, and then attach ourselves to the animated film.

Wood: I’d happily stay in the horror genre if we find success there. If we never did that romantic comedy because we’re tripping over our success in the horror genre, that for me would be the dream.