The directors of The Nursery (released in June via Uncork’d Entertainment), Christopher A. Micklos and Jay Sapiro, talk us through their beginnings, their unique new horror film and their next film.
When did your film career kick off, gents?
SAPIRO: I’d say that, technically, our film career kicked off in early 2016. That’s when we seriously started working on the movie concept that would ultimately become The Nursery. However, an argument could be made that our actual film career began when we decided to cast for the movie. That’s because, until then, it was somewhat academic. While Chris and I – and our third business partner and fellow filmmaker, Glenn Chung – had every intention of seeing this ambitious endeavour through, things became quite real when our efforts shifted from ideas on paper to associating actual people with the characters we created. I guess if I play that thought process out even more, then maybe our careers started when we finished editing the film and had about a dozen offers from distribution firms. The fact that others wanted our film to be viewed by the masses, sort of took us to the “film career” level. No matter what, I hope this is this is the start of a long film career for the three of us, and that we keep making films together for many, many years.
MICKLOS: Honestly, the idea that we’ve now begun our “film career” is sort of mind-blowing to me, considering that it’s been a lifelong dream of mine. I would say that after we shot The Nursery, my wife started introducing me as a “filmmaker”…and I’d kind of roll my eyes and dismiss it. Someone would ask me what I do, and I’d say I’m a consultant or partner in a small business or however I’ve talked about my career to this point. And Amanda, my wife, would interrupt and say, “And he’s a filmmaker, as well. He just finished shooting his first film!” And I’d just sort of poo-poo it. Now, though, with our June 5 release date just around the corner and the film set to premiere on so many diverse platforms and us just having secured our first international sale…I’m starting to warm up to calling myself a “filmmaker”. I kind of like it, actually!
When did the journey on “The Nursery” begin?
SAPIRO: Glenn, Chris, and I own a media firm and have been business partners for more than two decades. Over the years, we talked quite a bit about creating a feature length film. We had a couple of starts on other movies, but nothing really materialized. At one point, late 2015 or really early 2016, we simply agreed that it was time to make it happen. After that, things just clicked for us. We made the film a priority. We scheduled regular meetings about it and set deadlines just as we would for any of the projects that we work on for our clients.
MICKLOS: Yeah, really, the process of actually making the movie—once we really set our minds to it—was just more than a year. We worked on the script in the spring of 2016, locked it up in about June, and then finished editing and sound and effects and such in the summer of 2017. Then, we spent some time working on film festivals and hunting for a distributor…and that process really didn’t end until the end of 2017. And now, about six months after that, we are set for release!
It’s a film that’s hard to label as a straight-up horror- and that might be because it’s grounded in realistic performances and a structure that isn’t over-the-top. Was it important to you that the film be realistic?
JAY: That’s a great question. I think a lot of micro-budget films look and feel like a micro-budget film because of the cast. If the performances aren’t good ones, then the audience won’t engage with the film and care about the story. If that happens, all is lost. The same is true for the structure. Sure, the premise for The Nursery might not be the most realistic – though those who study paranormal activities might argue with you – but how the characters deal and interact with what’s happening to them in the moment, is based on how we though people might honestly respond. That gets us back to engagement and doing our best to give the audience an experience that they’ll remember for a long time.
MICKLOS: When you think about effective horror movies, they are the ones that do the best at enticing their audience into that wilful suspension of disbelief, right? And in the horror genre, that’s a pretty tricky proposition, because that leap you’re asking the audience to take is usually a big one. There are vampires, OK, and the most powerful one is named Dracula, and here is the mythology of what he can do and what can harm him. Now, go! Or, there’s this massive, gigantic shark feeding on the swimmers in the ocean off of Amity Island, and even though no shark in the history of the world has ever had a rational thought, this one can outsmart the experts who have set off to hunt him down…and he and his friends and family—in the subsequent sequels—can identify specific humans that they want to suffer and exact revenge upon. Now, go! So, my philosophy is, one you ask for that wilful suspension of disbelief from your audience—no matter how small or large it may be—you must respect it and operate within the universe and the rules you’ve created. And the things that will violate that unspoken agreement are, as you say, unrealistic performances, characters that do dumb things, and so on and so forth. With The Nursery, our performances are just terrific, and we feel that we’ve created a universe where the characters and the plot developments stay true to the environment and the rules we have set.
And I suppose it takes good performers to also evoke that sense of realism? How important were those main roles?
SAPIRO: Without our fantastic cast, The Nursery would be a very different film. As I’ve mentioned, for the movie to work, the audience has to be engaged. If the acting is too sharp, over-the-top, or just off, then that engagement won’t happen. Chris and I explained the tone of the film to the cast and shared our vision relative to how the character development and exploration would take place on the screen, and we were thankful that we didn’t have to work any of the actors over when it came to getting a performance that we thought was effective, realistic and met our expectations. The cast truly understood that acting for the screen is different than acting for the stage, which is notable when you consider that none of the cast members had ever been in a feature length film before.
MICKLOS: I really love talking about our cast, because they were everything we could have ever hoped they’d be. My favorite moments during production—and there were lots of them—were when someone in the cast would step up in a given scene or moment and really put their mark on the film. And I really believe that each and every one of them had a chance to do that at some point and totally seized the moment. Maddi Conway, who plays the lead role of Ranae, really anchors the film, even though in many ways her role is far less showy and more internal than any of the other roles. Maddi recently won Best Actress for her performance in The Nursery at the Twisted Dreams Films Festival, so we were incredibly happy for her. But all of the primary cast—Maddi, Emmaline Friederichs, Carly Sauer, Claudio Paronne, Jr., Monica Bahr, Nadia Horner, and Marco Lama—all of them did a tremendous job. Even though their styles varied and they all approached their characters and their performances in different ways, they were all terrific. And I’ll also mention David and Deanna Sapiro—Jay’s brother and sister-in-law, actually—who only have one scene in the movie…but they sort of set the table for the whole thing. So it was essentially that they get us to buy in immediately, and they totally do. We were so incredibly lucky from top to bottom of our cast!
Was there anyone in the cast that truly surprised you?
SAPIRO: I was so impressed with our entire cast. The surprise was their commitment to making a great film and being so professional. That’s not to say that we thought our cast was going to miss shoot dates or not care about production; we knew that we found a great team. I was just struck at the how intensely each of the actors cared about their character. They thought deeply about the type of person they were playing, what would motivate them, and why they would respond to situations the way that they do in the film. I remember Maddi Conway, who Chris mentioned plays Ranae in the film, telling us about her interpretation of the movie through the lens of her character. I was pleased with her good thinking and creative approach, but I was overjoyed that she cared enough about the movie and her character to dedicate the time and energy to that type of exploration.
MICKLOS: At the risk of repeating myself, everyone in the cast surprised me in one way or another, and usually there was a moment or two that really stood out in their performances. But beyond that, it was the commitment and the dedication to the movie…as well as the sheer force of will that each of them demonstrated despite long hours and tough conditions, etc. There’s a story I love to tell about Carly Sauer, who plays Grace in the film. She had one very, very bad night on the production: really long night after working all day, a prop malfunction that we really struggled to workaround, and some really unpleasant practical effects that left her—come 2:30 a.m. or whenever we finished up—cold and sore and completely miserable. Completely miserable. And when I watched her go that night, I legitimately though that maybe we would not see her again. I thought there might be a chance she just wouldn’t come back. So, the next production day, her call-time is about mid-way through the day, and when I got there at the start of the day, there was Carly, having coffee with the rest of the cast and just hanging out. And I was just staring at her, and she asked me what was wrong, and I told her that I didn’t think she’d come back after what she’d just been through…much less HOURSs before her call time! And she just laughed and gave me a hug and say that she just loved to be there and didn’t want to miss anything. And though the circumstances were not always so dramatic for the rest of the cast, each of them showed the same commitment and affection for what we were doing…and that just meant the world to me.
Tell us about working with babies? Difficult?
SAPIRO: It was painless. I’d say more, but I don’t want to give too much away!
MICKLOS: Agreed. I’ll just say that we had absolutely no difficulty whatsoever working with babies on The Nursery.
What’s next for you?
SAPIRO: We had a feeling that we’d want to continue making feature length films, so the three of us started a new company called Three Tortured Minds. The Nursey is that entity’s first movie. All of our future film-related work will fly under that banner as well. We are working on our next film right now, and the concept, in my opinion, is a great one. If we can stay on schedule, we’ll start principal photography late summer/early fall this year.
MICKLOS: We are getting pretty excited about the next production from Three Tortured Minds, but in the short-term we’re pretty focused on the upcoming June 5 release of The Nursery. We’ll be available throughout North America on June 5, on platforms ranging from iTunes to Amazon Instant Video to Google Play to Vudu to Dish Network to inDemand and more. So, we’re really getting wide, wide digital release—which is beyond our wildest dreams—thanks to our terrific distributor, Uncork’d Entertainment. And the folks at October Coast, or PR partner, and fans and reviewers and journalists like you guys are really doing a great job helping us get the word out to a potential audience…so we’re really grateful for that. This all really is a dream come true, so we’re going to savour it at least for a little bit!