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The Director of ‘It Follows’ Talks Inspiration, Easter Eggs, Modern Horror and More

A funny thing recently happened to It Follows, the best American horror movie in recent memory. It opened in a small handful of theaters around the US on March 13, with a plan that it would then expand to VOD platforms not long after that, as is often the case with indie horror movies these days. But the response to the movie was so strong at the few theaters it did play in, distributor Radius-TWC decided to push back those VOD plans and give the movie a wide release starting tomorrow, March 27.

This is great, great news because as much as we are fans of embracing VOD release plans, It Follows is a movie best seen on the big screen. This isn’t like other, modern horror movies. It’s not found footage. The camera doesn’t constantly shake. This is a smart, crackling story about a sexually transmitted haunting that is lushy photographed, meticulously paced, and a wholly engrossing, and often terrifying, experience.

We spoke to writer-director David Robert Mitchell a while ago about the movie, but now that It Follows is finally about to go wide, we’re able to share it with you. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here. This is going to sound more accusatory than it probably should, but do you like contemporary horror movies?

David Robert Mitchell: [Laughs] I do, but honestly I probably just watch older horror films more than new. But I also just tend to watch older films than newer ones in general. I try to watch as much new stuff as I can, and there’s some great new stuff. For me I’m really drawn to are things that I would view as classics. If I’m going to try and model or be inspired by something, that’s what I’m going to look at. The reason I ask is that one quality of modern horror movies is often a sort of contempt for their own characters in that they have to be tortured and punished just for existing. It Follows seems to make a concerted effort to not do that at all.

Mitchell: That’s just totally doing a different thing. And those kind of movies can be cool. Some I like, some I don’t. It just depends. They’re having a different kind of fun instead of scaring, and that’s just not what I was trying to do. Is this a project that began entirely after Myth of the American Sleepover?

Mitchell: I had the idea way before Myth, but I didn’t write it until after Myth. I wrote this in 2011 and at the time I was in the middle of trying to put together a different film, a drama about a young woman in her 20s, that I had planned to make as my second film and I just could not get the money for it. I think it’s really good and a lot of people loved it, it was just hard to put together. At that point I just felt like I needed to set that aside and in my head I moved what I’d planned to be the third film up to make it my second. This was a film I was always going to do, I had just planned to do something else that I’d written before it. So much of It Follows is visual and amplified by what the audience is seeing, that I’m curious as to how you as a writer communicate that in early screenplay stages. How meticulous were you in writing out what the audience would be seeing and when?

Mitchell: Generally I’m trying to write as a shorthand for me so that when I’m on set I can remember what the hell I was planning to do. It puts me back in the place to feel the things I felt when I wrote it and to remember what that intention was even if I’m not feeling it in that moment. In this script I was very specific, though. It is tricky. You have to do it in different ways. I think I’d do things like describe the end of a scene and if there was something in the distance, I’d just say it was something the characters don’t see and the audience may or may not see.

If it’s just an Easter egg in the background, I’d usually include it in the writing. And then for some scenes, like the school scene, I believe I wrote it explaining it’d all be one shot. I haven’t looked at the script in a while, but I believe that description was in there. Are there Easter eggs that the audience may not have picked up on?

Mitchell: I don’t know. That’s hard to say. I think that some things that are obvious to some people won’t be to others. It just depends. I think in terms of understanding the back story or how things work between certain characters, the film doesn’t make direct links but makes a few suggestions. It’s tough to say what people are and aren’t seeing, though. Do you have in your mind a backstory for each of the representations of It? And at any point did you have a nickname for It, kind of like how Michael Myers was initially just called The Shape?

Mitchell: We just called it The It when we were labeling it. So we’d just talk about, say, The It on the roof. And then I’d just describe the appearance, whatever it was. Speaking of the man on the roof, did you actually film him that way or was that a composite shot?

Mitchell: Oh no, we actually filmed him that way. That’s a practical shot. You didn’t get any neighbors freaking out?

Mitchell: No, thankfully I think everyone was okay with it. But is funny how many people think that must be an effects shot. Nope, it’s real. Another seemingly simple thing that makes a big difference in It Follows is that there’s a genuine sense of geography. You can look out one kid’s window and see their friend’s house, and it all feels like a connected world.

Mitchell: The truth is we searched and searched and it was very important that we find real, practical locations that would work for all of that. So much of it is about the interaction between interior and exterior. Yes, it can be cheated, and sometimes that’s okay, but it felt important to me that we not do that. Was your score available during editing or did you temp score the movie to anything in particular?

Mitchell: Our score wasn’t ready until literally three weeks leading up to us playing Cannes. The film got in and we had to lock picture and then finish all of that in a very short period. Up until that point, we’d temp’ed with a certain amount of Disasterpiece’s cues in certain parts, but I used some Carpenter, some Cage. I can’t remember everything, but it was temped with a ton of different composers. It’s amazing that in a year that’s already filled with great horror scores, It Follows manages to even top the rest. How did you guide Disasterpiece to the final score?

Mitchell: Oh, man, it’s been such a good year for scores. And obviously I’m biased, but I really, really love what he did. It’s one of the reasons I asked him. I just thought he was profoundly talented and thought he could do something special. Our conversations would alternate between being very specific and very vague. He’d often surprise me with things, and then we’d just go back and forth on reworking things. The only difficult thing was our timeline. But there was also something kind of cool about that, because I don’t think I slept at all during those three weeks. It was just non-stop talking and dealing with all aspects simultaneously. And I know for him, it was many days of hard work and he still did some stellar work.

It was never about mimicking a Carpenter movie. There’s certainly homage to that, and I’m not denying that, but it was never about just mimicking what Carpenter would do. If I were pitching this movie to a friend to get them on board, the simplest way I’d boil it down is that it’s like Halloween meets The Ring. But I’m curious what your simplified pitch was to anyone you were trying to get on board.

Mitchell: You know, I really should have said that. I think some people said things like that. Some people said it was a reinterpretation of Nightmare on Elm Street when we were at the script stage. But I don’t know that I had a quickie, catchy way of hooking people. I had the script and put together a really nice look book suggesting the imagery of the film and hinting at the tone, and I think I’m just lucky that my producers and financiers all had some faith in me and really liked my first film. I think they felt that maybe, hopefully I would know what I’m doing. What are you working on next?

Mitchell: I have one that I’m really working hard to make as the next thing. And there are some other things that could happen. There’s a bunch of stuff in the works, but there’s one I’m really pushing for. It’s a different genre. It’s hard to explain in this moment. Is it the one you were originally going to make before It Follows?

Mitchell: No, though I am still planning to make that! It’s totally different. Very different from anything I’ve done before. But there are a few tonal similarities, so people will hopefully still be able to see that it’s something I’ve made.

It Follows is in theaters now, and will hopefully be playing a theater even closer to you starting March 27, 2015. We highly recommend you go check it out.


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