Mac Eldridge is a rising talent to keep an eye on in the world of Horror. Carving a few more short film notches into his belt, you can bet even money that his designs for a feature film are well in hand. Mac speaks on his influences, his failures and triumphs, and more.
Blood on the Plain was an adventurous short film. I’ve heard rumors of a possible feature length film. Where does that stand?
Well, the rumors you’ve heard are true: we have every intention of making this short film into a feature. It’s the reason why we ended the short film completely wide open. Angel Esparza (the writer) and myself wanted to leave questions unanswered to show people that there is a bigger story to be told. I know we’ve gotten a bit of shit for it, but I’d do it the same way all over again. If we satisfied everyone’s appetite, the idea of turning it into a feature film wouldn’t be as appealing.
As of now, we’re playing the waiting game in regards to the feature. We made our short film, now we have to see if anyone will bite. The feature script is done and ready to be pitched, now we just have to wait and see if anyone wants us to pitch it.
What was the genesis of Blood on the Plain?
BLOOD on the PLAIN would have never gotten made if it weren’t for two people. The first is obviously the writer, Angel Esparza. While on one of my sets (something he co-wrote, in fact) he approached me about an opening he thought of for a horror film. Two guys would be chilling at a filling station, talking about nothing. Then, bit by bit, a third man would set down flammable objects to purchase between the two of them. When asked what in the hell he was doing, the third man would simply respond, “They hate the light.” That floored me. I loved it and that’s why it opens our short. Some may see it as mostly irrelevant to the short’s story, but I think it establishes the tone incredibly well. Also, now after shooting it once, I know how to make it even better for the feature. If someone gives me the chance, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
As I said, there were two people who made BLOOD on the PLAIN happen. That second person is Tom Dean, our DIT on the film. We worked together at DePaul University’s lighting stage and I pitched him Angel’s opening then showed him the first act to the feature for BLOOD on the PLAIN. Although I was in love with it, I thought it was too different and niche of a story for anyone outside of westerns to really enjoy, but Tom Dean totally changed my mind. He fucking loved it which made me think others potentially could as well. So, then I started handing the pages over to other people including my DP David Wagenaar. They all loved it too so then I decided I wanted to make it. Angel was a nice enough guy to let me do so and I can’t thank him enough.
What can you share about the creature design and the special effects from Blood on the Plain?
The creatures are a big reason why BLOOD on the PLAIN work and there are a few people I have to thank. The first one is Eric Berson, my sfx coordinator on Chemical 12-D. Without him, no one would have been interested in what I was up to. The special effects sold 12-D and he made me realize that as long as I had some kick-ass special effects, people would at least watch my movie. He made me realize how valuable special effects are, and he was also the one to introduce me to Anthony Kosar of Kosart Effects. To put it simply, Anthony is not just a special effects wiz, but he is also one of the most talented artists I’ve ever had the chance to meet. He can do everything, including making some awesome looking creatures.
One night Eric and I went out for drinks to discuss how to create these creatures and he was confident there was only one guy who can do this for me. He then called Anthony and had the two of us meet. I gave Anthony the script, walked away, and came back a week later to see what he had drawn up for concepts. And, my God, they were awesome. From there, we hired our lead creature, Lucero Less. He is a brilliant character actor and was able to do anything I asked of him. Anyway, Anthony life-casted Lucero’s head and made a mask for the creatures. From there, they were body painted and we cast two other guys with the same build as Lucero to be the other creatures. I wanted it to feel like there were 8-10 creatures in the gym, and I had to do it with three. Not sure if that worked out or not, but I feel it is chaotic enough.
As for the gore, that was pretty simple, actually. A pesticide sprayer and hidden tubes can get you far. You can find how to build and use those on YouTube. We had a couple of guys do that and the wound effects. I just wish we had more time to do more kill shots, but with a tight budget you can only do so much.
What particular challenges did you face to bring Blood on the Plain to the screen? What can you share about your budget, your script, your cast?
BLOOD on the PLAIN, in my most humble opinion, was the most challenging project made by any undergrad (and potentially grad) student from DePaul University. We wanted to make a $250,000 movie for seven grand. Luckily, DePaul University was extremely supportive of the project because of my past work with Chemical 12-D. My production team and I were able to win the undergrad film fund of $5,000. That was great starter money so the first weekend of production we filmed all of the bar stuff, the townhall stuff, and the opening scene. From there, we crafted a teaser trailer to help raise the rest of the funds. We were able to do that and we stretched every dollar as much as we could. I really have to hand it to Kevin McGrail, Aric Jackson, and Angie Gaffney, my producers. They did everything they could to take DePaul’s money and turn it into something awesome. Without them and DePaul University, BLOOD on the PLAIN would have never been able to happen.
Another huge obstacle was how big the script was in terms of cast. It’s an ensemble piece because really, the short film is just a condensed version of the first act for the feature. I can’t remember how many exactly, but we needed over 100 extras for the entire short and also there were roughly a dozen speaking roles. So, my producers and Nick Schmidt (my casting director) really knocked it out of the park for me. The producers found the extras, and Nick did a ton of casting with me. He was great, he gave up so much of his time to help me find what I wanted. And all of these actors were non-paid, so you have to give them a big thanks to. All of the rehearsals, long days on set, all for no pay!
The same goes for the crew too. Without them I’d have nothing. Rob Davis and David Wagenaar especially stick out to me, because they’ve been with me since I was making really bad movies. Rob has an incredible ear for production sound and mixing. Without him, the short wouldn’t play right. Sound makes that opening scene and sound especially makes that gym scene. He is incredible. As for David, my loyal DP, he has no bigger fan in the world than me. He made the movie gorgeous. He made ugly look beautiful. We have a great working relationship. I draw my own boards, I then go over them with him, he figures out a lighting plan, then we make the movie. He does his homework unlike any DP I’ve been around. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
What are some of your favorite influences as a director? What do you like and dislike about the current state of Horror?
My influences run pretty far and wide as far as directors are concerned. As much of a horror guy I am, the first filmmakers that come to mind are the Coen Brothers. They taught my tone. Tone is everything. Look at No Country For Old Men. Tone sells that movie. Then, I’m a big Neil Marshall fan in a big way. The Descent is one of the scariest movies I’ve watched. It was nerve racking before the creatures even showed up. He taught me you can make a dope action sequence with no budget. When I was showing Chemical 12-D in Montreal, I got to meet him and watch his last movie, Centurion. Incredible how unnoticed that movie is, it is the epitome of a man’s movie. I loved it. Anyway, there is a huge fight sequence in the film and its awe inspiring given the fact that he shot it in three days. I can’t tell you how many times I watched that scene to study how he did it. Once I mostly figured it out, I applied the same rules to the gym scene. Watch Centurion then watch my gym scene. It is directly inspired from Centurion. I have tons of more influence, but as of lately I have been big on Ti West. The more and more I watch his stuff, the more and more I realize that young filmmakers can make what they want to make. He’s older than me (I’m just turning 23) but look at his movies. They’re fucking great and its because he got to make them the way he wanted to. He’s a huge inspiration to me because of that. I really want to get into my old school influences, but this interview is incredibly long already. I’ll just end it with this: I want John Carpenter’s career.
As for the state of horror… Wow. That’s a loaded question. I can say this: I’m pumped we’re out of the torture phase and that’s to say I’m glad America is out of the torture phase, and not just in horror film. I love horror film so much because its a great reflection of the time. It’s a reflection of our society’s biggest fears at the time. Look at the decades and look at the trends- it says something about us and what we’re scared of. So what is the current state of horror right now? We seem to be into this found-footage thing again. Okay, cool. I’m into that too. We’re living in a world where almost all of our actions are recorded and horror films are reflecting that. I was fortunate enough to see Paranormal Activity before its big release and before anyone had heard really anything about it. I saw it with a ton of people, including my DP and girlfriend. We all walked out shocked, my girlfriend crying, and me scared as shit. I love that. I’m into the found-footage thing, I have a feature that I can shoot that’s found footage. Other than that, I have to say horror is what it always will be (to me): a misunderstood genre with a lot of stuff I can care less about. There is a lot of horror films that don’t get my attention because I can’t relate to the fear. But when I can, I think horror film can strike a viewer unlike any other genre in film. When horror films get it right, they get it right better than any other genre.
If you had a choice which would you choose: to remake any Horror film or adapt any comic book? Why?
Another tough question but I have to say I would remake a horror film. Don’t kill me or judge me harshly because of that. That also isn’t a slide against comic book movies. I know a lot of people have issues with them, but I can’t understand why. They’re all incredibly enjoyable, so what’s the problem? Is it really that big of a deal that there is some sort of source material?
But, the real reason why I want to remake a horror film is because I’m a huge fanboy at heart. I love the genre more than any other, and because of that, I want to get my hands into the Alien franchise in a really bad way. There is no reason why anyone should remake Alien, including myself, but I want to do it just so I can say I was a part of that franchise. I know your readers are probably getting their pitch forks out, but isn’t that why we got into film in the first place? To make things that inspired us? It’s selfish of me, but its true.
Between Chemical 12-D and Blood on the Plain, there seems to be some tragic things that happen to the youth in your films. What should your audience take away from this?
You know, I never made that connection nor did I ever realize both of my last two shorts hurt young people. I’ll say two things about it. 1) I made Chemical 12-D because I wanted to make something that would hurt parents. Your kid being captured and killed is as horrific as it can get being a parent, so that is where that concept came from. It also came from the fact that I’m deathly afraid of surgery (as you can tell by watching the short). 2) A horror film scares an audience because the audience has some sort of connection with the prey. I only have a short amount of time to do that, and I’ve always felt I can get an audience to embrace a younger person faster than an adult. There is something innocent about them.
What is it about the Horror genre that draws you in? Do you have a favorite sub-genre of Horror?
Horror draws me in because, simply, I like being scared. I like the adrenaline. I think being scared beats out any other emotion I can feel at a movie theater. Also, as a filmmaker, I really like it because of the added responsibility of special effects. I know that not every great horror film has special effects, but a lot of horror films rely on top notch sfx (mine do, at least). I think its a whole other beast for a director to juggle special effects. You have to know how to handle them and incorporate them into your story. It’s another department on a film set to collaborate with. I love it and I really respect what they do. Plus, as I already talked about, I think a horror film film reflects on the times better than any other genre in film. As for sub-genres, I really like creature features. They’re just a blast to watch and also a blast to make. What scares me more than anything though are the more so realistic horror films. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Funny Games, for example, have scared me more than anything I’ve ever watched.
How did you get your start with Water Cooler Productions? What do you have planned with them next?
Water Cooler Productions is actually something David Wagenaar and I started up several years back when we were in high school. We needed a brand for people to identify us with and Water Cooler Productions was the result of that. It’s really there just to say: get ready, you’re about to watch a film from the minds of Mac and David. We also have done some paid work under the name, but really it is a brand for people to identify us with. Because of that, we teamed up with Dynamite Film Productions (Kevin McGrail’s production company) to help us produce the short. As I’ve mentioned, BLOOD on the PLAIN doesn’t get made without him or my two other producers.
We want to make the feature for BLOOD on the PLAIN. We have written and optioned a few other features, but BLOOD is really what we want to do more than anything else. Angel Esparza gave us an incredible story, and we’d like to finish telling it.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to take on their first short film?
I can keep this bit really short, because its worked for me since I was about 12. Back then, I wanted to make music, so I sent my Uncle Spencer a few tracks I recorded. To put it simply, he told me he didn’t like what I had done. For whatever reasons he told me then, he wasn’t into it and that shocked me. Until then, I never really failed at anything that I put my mind to. But he let me know that I did. He then told me something that I still live my life by today: We learn nothing from our successes, and everything from our failures. I live by that! So what advice do I have for people wanting to make their first short? Fail! Fail hard! Do things you’ve always wanted to do and have no caveats! Be proud of your failures! There is nothing wrong with failure because that is what we learn from. I think it was Tim Burton who said he learned more from the bad movies compared to the good ones. Chemical 12-D was the first well-rounded short I made and I was making movies for 2 years by that point. Bit by bit you’ll get better, and the only way to get better is to fall down sometimes. Figure out what works, what doesn’t work, and keep applying those thoughts to whatever you produce next.
I also love talking to fellow filmmakers, especially horror filmmakers. Feel free to email me at Mac@watercoolerproductions.com if you ever want to show me anything or bullshit about film making. It’s what I live for.
Many thanks and best of luck to Mac Eldridge. Check out Water Cooler Productions.