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Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers #8: Christopher Denham Made a Horror But He Can’t Stand the Sight of Blood

Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers #8: Christopher Denham Made a Horror But He Can't Stand the Sight of Blood

Not a lot of people can stand the sight of blood, but it’s not very common to find a horror filmmaker who passes out at the sight of it. Director Christopher Denham, however, has found a way to get around his discomfort with gore in his terrifying film “Preservation,” which takes the scary, secluded woods setting and gives it new meaning.

Tell us about yourself. I’m from Chicago. I live in NYC (occasionally LA). I’m lucky enough to say my day job is acting. I cut my teeth as a theater actor and playwright in New York. Whatever I know (or claim to know) about directing I learned through acting. Through osmosis. Between takes, I would stick around set and see how Scorsese talks to Bob Richardson. I would see how he talks to actors. How he collaborates. I was basically taking notes, hoping something would rub off somehow. 

What was you biggest challenge in completing this project? Time (or the lack thereof) is always a challenge in independent film. As an actor myself, I want to give my actors all the time they need to explore and excavate. But part of the deal with a movie like this, on a budget like that, is we could only average 3 or 4 takes. That being said, Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton and Pablo Schreiber all have extensive theater backgrounds. We rehearsed before we started shooting. They were totally prepared and knew there were no wasted takes. It actually became a blessing in disguise. The frantic nature of our schedule served our story well. It put the actors in a manic mindset that translates on screen.

What do you have in the works? I’ve got a couple things cooking. On the acting front, I’m currently in New Mexico shooting the first season of “Manhattan,” a new WGN television series about the Manhattan Project. And I just finished writing a script for Jason Blum which I’m really excited about.

What camera did you shoot on? We shot on the Red Epic but I insisted on anamorphic lenses. Nicola Marsh (the DP) and I both wanted the empty frame space and depth of field that was so effective in Carpenter’s “Halloween” and Walter Hill’s “Southern Comfort.”

What films have inspired you? I have a weak stomach. My wife is a doctor so she finds it funny that I actually pass out when I get my blood drawn. I physically can’t stand gore on screen. I can’t stand blood and guts. Not for any puritanical/moral high-ground reason. I just don’t want to black out. Therefore, the movies I gravitate towards, the movies I want to make, are more about the power of suggestion. What you don’t see is scarier than what you do. Categorization is always kind of arbitrary, but people have called “Preservation” a “psychological thriller”. To me, psychological thriller basically means “a horror movie without the blood.” John Carpenter called “Halloween” a jack in the box. You know it’s coming. You just don’t know when. We tried to do the same thing with “Preservation.” How can we sustain the tension? How unbearable can it be? I heard this interview with Joyce Carol Oates. She said the power of storytelling is the power of dread…

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about
their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and
what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up
to the 2014 festival. Go HERE to read all the entries.

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