The following is an interview with Patrick Meaney (director) and Jordan Byrne (producer) regarding their recently released horror film, House of Demons. In this interview, Fanbase Press President Bryant Dillon chats with Meaney and Byrne about their creative backgrounds, the origins of House of Demons, the influence of comic book icon Grant Morrison, and more!
Bryant Dillon, Fanbase Press President: Can you tell us a little about each of your creative backgrounds and how it led to you your work on the horror film, House of Demons?
Patrick Meaney: I’ve been making movies for years, ever since I was a kid. I studied film at Wesleyan University and after graduating started making a webseries called The Third Age, and doing a lot of independent production stuff with House of Demons producer and DP Jordan Rennert. I wound up pitching comic book writer Grant Morrison on the idea of doing a film about him, and wound up getting the greenlight to make my first feature, Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods.
I met Jordan Byrne (a.k.a. JB on set) at San Diego Comic Con, after a panel on the Grant doc. He wound up being a producer on Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts and helped get a Warren Ellis muppet made and all kinds of other wacky things.
After that, I made several other comics docs, but was working on narrative stuff in the background the whole time, and eventually got the funding for House of Demons and was off and running.
Jordan Byrne: I also started making movies as a kid in my high school’s video production class. My friends and I produced about 30 short films on glorious VHS. We all acted in those movies, and I also did a lot of acting in our high school theater program, community theater, and a performing arts summer camp. I wanted to continue to pursue my love of acting with my love of filmmaking and brought those passions with me to Northwestern University, where I worked in both the theater and film departments, as an actor, prop master, stage hand, producer, editor, & director.
After graduating, I moved to Los Angeles and did a variety of freelance work in many sectors of the film industry: jobs such as set PA, office PA, assistant visual effects coordinator, casting associate, assistant editor. I wanted to be as familiar with as many aspects of the business as possible. For a long time, I’ve been working as a video editor. I edited hundreds of episodes of various programs for the former G4 network, I was the video consultant for a small talent management firm, and have continued to edit a wide array of promotional videos for a wide array of clients. I also completed editing a feature documenatry film called The World Is My Country around the time that Patrick was prepping House of Demons. After spending almost 3 years working on that doc, I was hungry to get back to my first love of narrative filmmaking. The timing was perfect. Patrick needed some extra help on his movie, and I was looking for a project where I could lend my various talents and experiences and prove my ability as a producer.
You could say my biggest aspiration since I caught the acting bug at age 8 was to learn how to make movies, so I could cast myself in the movies that I made. And since I play a small role in House of Demons as one of the cult members, I can say that I’ve legitimately fulfilled a childhood dream!
BD: For those who are unfamiliar with the film, what can tell us about the plot of House of Demons?
PM: The movie is a supernatural thriller about four friends who drifted apart after being in a tragic car accident that left their friend paralyzed. They wind up getting forced back together for a wedding and stay in a remote house that used to be home to a Manson family-like cult. Charismatic cult leader Frazer was a former government research scientist, and used the cult members for strange experiments in blurring space and time. Those experiments collapse space and time in the house, and our characters in the present day soon find themselves forced to confront visitors from another time, as well as increasingly disturbing manifestations of their subconscious fears and traumas.
Over the course of one long dark night of the soul, they will either overcome these traumas or be destroyed by them.
JB: I couldn’t have said it better myself. The way in which space, time, memory, hallucinations, and dreams overlap and converge in the film is particularly fun to watch.
Taking on a feature film can be an extensive and sometimes exhausting undertaking.
BD: For each of you, what made House of Demons a story that you wanted to tell?
PM: I love movies that combine genre elements, particularly weird and trippy stuff, with strong characters. I knew that the script would give the actors a lot of meaty material to work with, and that’s what I love to work on.
JB: I definitely share Patrick’s love of the weird and the trippy. And there’s plenty of elements in the film that deserve those adjectives. But the characters that Patrick created is what really attracted me. He conceived of interesting and relatable characters that are confronted with supernatural forces, which in turn makes those supernatural forces more interesting, relatable, and believeable. I love movies really let the audience suspend their disbelief about the supernatural and the fantastic.
BD: Are you both horror film fans? What are some of your personal favorite horror films?
PM: I do like horror a lot, particularly the new wave of “elevated genre” films like It Follows or The Guest, as well as classic horror like The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby. Some of the horror I love the most is more on the weird or out there side than the jump scare or gore variety. So, David Lynch might not traditionally be seen as a horror director, but he’s making movies that are scary and thought provoking which is what I hope House of Demons will be, as well.
Ultimately, I think horror as a genre allows you to represent the subconscious on the screen in the most compelling way, so it’s incredibly fun to both watch and create.
JB: I’m also a big fan of the films Patrick mentioned, including David Lynch’s work. David Cronenberg and John Carpenter also had a huge influence on me, particularly with Videodrome, The Fly, Existenz, The Thing, and They Live. I also love movies that combine and remix horror with other genres. Ridley Scott’s Alien is often referred to as a haunted house story on a space ship, making it “horror-sci-fi.” Event Horizon is another fun example of that. I’d classify James Cameron’s Aliens as “action-horror.” I think Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China is a delightful example of an “action-horror-comedy.” On television, I became obsessed with what Bryan Fuller and his writing team did with Hannibal. It was sublime gothic horror updated to modern times, with equal parts elegant gore and piercing psychological terror.
I hope audiences will enjoy House of Demons, because of its combination of horror and conventional drama tropes.
BD: What type of horror or genre fans do you think might enjoy the subject matter in House of Demons?
PM: I think it will appeal to a bit more of the arty horror audience. If you like Twin Peaks, or books by Neil Gaiman, this is the kind of horror you’ll enjoy.
JB: Definitely fans of Lynch and Gaiman. But I think the appeal is even wider. I hope any fans of psychological and traditional horror will find something to enjoy in our film.
BD: Do you mind telling our readers more about the cast of characters in House of Demons?
PM: There are two main groups of characters in the film. One is a group of four friends from the present day. Gwen, Spencer, Matthew and Katrina grew up together and stayed friends through college, but a few years back they got into a car accident that left their friend Dave paralyzed.
The incident caused a lot of internal trauma for the group, and they’re all suppressing a lot of ill feeling and suffering from arrested development as they try to grow and move forward in their lives. The events of the film cause them all to have to really examine themselves and face the feelings they’ve been burying.
The other major group is a cult from the 1960s. Led by the charismatic ex-scientist Frazer, they’re a disparate group of lost souls who gathered together to do experiments in consciousness with the hopes of making the world a better place. But Frazer has been pulled in a dark direction, and become very dangerous. Maya, the co-founder of the group, is trying to pull him back from the dark, but his dangerous lieutenant Samantha will do anything to help him achieve his goals.
JB: I found it very compelling to compare and contrast these two groups. They’re both variations on the theme of intentional family – the family you choose, rather than the family you’re born into. In a way, both groups are looking for a way to heal from their respective pain. Frazer and his cult seek to heal through dangerous psychedelic compounds and bizarre rituals, while the group of friends have been dealing with their pain by suppressing it and drifting apart from each other. As the events of the film unfold, the characters are confronted with the fallacies of their previous choices, and discover more appropriate ways to heal and overcome the traumas of their past.
BD: Can you tell us a little about the performers you cast in the film and why you chose them?
PM: Many of the actors were people I’ve met in the course of doing the documentaries, and they’re fans and personalities in the geek world. I interviewed Amber Benson for my documentary on Grant Morrison, and was lucky enough that she agreed to be in the film. You might know her from her iconic work as Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Tiffany Smith was in the doc I produced, She Makes Comics, then we did a short film together called Tenspotting, that also featured Chloe Dykstra, Taliesin Jaffe and Jeff Torres.
Then we also did casting, which JB can tell you more about.
JB: Fortunately, I’m friends with a lot of talented actors! I never recovered from the acting bug, and continue to act whenever I can. For the past few years, I’ve been concentrating on voice-acting, but I’ve also done some recent work on stage and screen. Continuing to act myself, plus my time working as a video consultant and casting associate for a talent management firm, gave me experience with the casting process that I brought to the House of Demons production.
The casting process was like putting together our own intentional family! Patrick was already friends with Amber Benson and Morgan Brown, and had previous worked with Chloe Dykstra, Tiffany Smith, and Jeff Torres. I had introduced Patrick to Taliesin Jaffe years ago, and since then they’ve worked on two short films. I invited my friends Kaytlin Borgen and Paradox Pollack to read for roles. It was Taliesin who suggested auditioning Whitney Moore, and we soon found out that she had previously worked with Morgan on Contracted: Phase II. Shortly after meeting Dove Meir, we found out Amber had directed him in her short film, Shevenge! And many of the smaller, supporting roles were friends of mine or friends of Patrick. It made the set a lot of fun. And because everyone was friends, everyone trusted each other and encouraged each other to do their best work.
I’m so impressed with our cast. Dove totally nailed the charisma and subtle menace one expects from a cult leader like Frazer, while maintaining a thread of sympathy. Kaytlin brought both great strength and vulnerability to her performance as Gwen. Whitney and Morgan’s portrayals start off with their characters having built up these impenetrable emotional facades at two opposite ends of a spectrum – Spencer as the rational, skeptical doctor, and Whitney as the new-age believer, only to be transformed by the events of the story. Jeff also does an amazing job playing a lost soul who finds a path to happiness over the course of the story.
Paradox was the perfect fit for the Demon character, because of his experience as a creature actor and specialty movement director on big studio films I Am Legend, where he played one of the main zombies, Star Trek, where he designed and directed background aliens, and Thor where he developed movement styles for the frost giants, as well as Thor and Loki. Beyond his work in film, he has almost 30 years in experimental theater and circus and is a student of mythologies from all around the world. He’s devoted more time to thinking about how monsters, aliens, and gods move and behave than most, and it shows!
BD: How would you describe your creative processes when it comes to tackling a film like House of Demons?
PM: I think the key is to have a clear intention for what you’re trying to create and do everything to make the best version of that.
For me, it’s all about figuring out how to bring the characters and their experiences across in a compelling way. On the writing end, that means getting a lot of feedback on the script, absorbing what people say, and using what they’ve said to refine the script. Some feedback is more about creating a different project that particular reader would want to see, but every piece of feedback has something you can use.
On set, it’s about being collaborative. You want to be clear about what you’re looking for, but be open to input from everyone and take advantage of the ideas and unique perspective of the actors and other crew members.
And in post, I would do a cut, then we would talk about it with the producing team, and try to do what the majority of people felt best.
JB: Patrick’s collaborative spirit was a great advantage. Some of the best scenes in the movie were the result of improvising on set or re-working & re-sequencing scenes during editing. Patrick was always ready to listen to other people’s ideas, and our people had plenty of ideas to share.
We had a very long post-production! It was almost a year of Skype conferences and sharing pages and pages of notes on Google docs. It got exhausting at times, but it feels worth it when we watch the film and see how much that back-and-forth made the film better in the end.
BD: Have either of your creative styles been influenced by any specific idols or creators?
PM: For me, the two biggest influences are Grant Morrison and Wong Kar-Wai. Grant Morrison’s work has an amazing blend of being very out there with wild concepts and strange ideas, but still being emotionally grounded. That really appealed to me, and his work also demonstrates the power of fiction. Most people who were actually alive in 1938 are long dead and largely forgotten, but Superman is stronger than ever. So, who’s more real?
Most films we watch are very narrative driven and tell their stories in a fairly conventional way. Wong Kar-Wai’s movies are structured around the images and moments. I was hugely influenced by Chungking Express and Fallen Angels in particular, and how they used very experimental cinematography and great music to bring out the emotions of a given moment. The story was second to the experience of the moment, and the dreamy, drifting quality is something I’m hoping to bring to my own work.
JB: I continue to be in awe of the work of Stanley Kubrick and Steven Soderbergh. Both of their bodies of work traverse multiple genres and in many cases sought to re-invest and re-invigorate those genres. There’s something to be admired in how carefully, meticulously, and slowly Kubrick worked in both the development and production of his films, as well as the incredible speed Soderbergh works. I’ve also admired Soderbergh’s interest in exploring new technologies and platforms to see what’s possible, whether it’s making one of the first feature films shot on DV (Full Frontal), shot on an iPhone (Unsane), or experimenting with interactive storytelling (Mosaic). He’s also supported a lot of products as a executive producer, lending his clout to emerging filmmakers. I’d like to do the same – to direct my own films in addition to producing films for other worthy collaborators.
BD: Can you each give us one reason why our readers simply MUST see this film?
PM: It’s about a time traveling cult doing black magic experiments with space and time that create demons, and a heartfelt story about four ordinary people trying to get their lives together. Don’t you want to see how those two things work together?
JB: I sure did!
BD: At Fanbase Press, we love to find out what creators are fans of. What are each of you currently a fan of? It can be anything you choose, but what are you enjoying that you can share with our readers?
PM: In terms of movies, I would highly recommend taking a look at Mother!. I know it was a majorly divisive film when it came out, but I think it’s one of the most visceral and surprising films I’ve ever seen. You might love it, you might hate it, but you have to see it.
JB: I also loved Mother!. There’s also an amazing time travel series on Netflix called Travelers that not enough people are talking about. It gets my highest recommendation.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects you’re working on that you’d like to mention before we wrap up?
PM: Just released on the documentary front, I have a film about X-Men creator Chris Claremont called Chris Claremont’s X-Men. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon, and VOD. Chris wrote basically every major X-Men story, and in the film you get to see the individual creative choices that led to the building of this now massive franchise and piece of pop culture mythology.
Beyond that, I have a new horror project called The Contribution, which you’ll hopefully be hear more about soon.
JB: The documentary I edited, The World Is My Country (www.theworldismycountry.com), should be widely available later this year. Paradox Pollack and I are developing a sci-fi script that we want to shoot this summer, and I’m in the beginning stages of directing a documentary about the life of my friend, artist and anarchist, James Mathers, and his 30+ year career. There’s also a couple of scripts that I’d like to just produce, including Patrick’s The Contribution. You can also hear me in the indie video game Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock (available on Steam and PlayStation Network), voicing the character of Markus Thoon.
BD: And, finally, where can our readers find out more about both of you and House of Demons?
PM: You can follow me on Twitter at @patrickmeaney and get more info on all my projects at www.patrickmeaney.com.
JB: I’m on both Twitter and Instagram at @mrjordanbyrne.
And House of Demons is @houseofdemonsx on Twitter and Instagram and www.houseofdemonsmovie.com.