Sundance Q&A: SpectreVision's Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller

SpectreVision - H 2014
<p>SpectreVision - H 2014</p>   |   Tony Rivetti, Jr.
The producers of hot Sundance midnight movie "Cooties" sat down with THR to reveal why "horror" shouldn't be a dirty word.

Elijah Wood may be best known for his iconic portrayal of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings movies, but if this Sundance has anything to do with it, he will soon become a big name in the horror community --- as a producer.

Wood runs the production outfit SpectreVision with partners Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller, and the company made its debut with not one but two movies at this year's festival. The movies couldn't be more different.

Friday saw the premiere of Cooties, a mass-appeal horror-comedy that sparked multiple bids and this week got picked up by Lionsgate, while SpectreVision unveiled A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a black-and-white vampire Western made in the Farsi language, on Sunday.

Wood partnered with Noah and Waller in 2010 when the trio met to discuss a nonhorror movie project. When they discovered a mutual love for the genre, that movie fell by the wayside and a company was born.

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Like a knife in the hands of serial killer, SpectreVision isn't staying still. Even as their movies are being screened, the producers are prepping The Boy, the first of a horror trilogy that will shoot in Medellin, Colombia, in February.

The Hollywood Reporter sat down for breakfast with Wood, Noah and Waller to talk about the company's plans, Cooties, and the state of horror.

What is the engine that drives SpectreVision?

Daniel Noah: When we started this company, one of our core principles was that we never wanted to let commerce and commodification guiding us. We wanted to react to what genuinely moved us and figure out how to make it work financially, as opposed to the opposite. So to commit to that wild experiment over the last few years and then to be here and see it work is an incredibly profound experience.

But Cooties is still a commercial movie.

Noah: Well, it's not to say that we are against commercial filmmaking. [Everyone laughs.] But what excited us about Cooties is that we never saw it as a breakout commercial success. It was the idea of pushing the envelope of a blend of comedy, horror and drama at the same time, and also tackling a deeply forbidden taboo, which is directly addressing tension between children and adults. The fact that it's being seen as having a commercial upside is fantastic. But that was never the thing that we responded to.

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It started out as a serious, hard-edged idea, right?

Elijah Wood: We thought, "If Cooties was actually a virus, how would it manifest itself?" We wanted to take that seriously. We wanted to make a genuinely serious movie about killer children. An influence for us was Who Can Kill a Child, which is this wonderful rarely seen Spanish horror film. We sat down with Leigh Whannell, and we were so excited that he was interested, since he did Saw and Insidious. And then he pitched us a comedy. "And it's going to he hilarious!" he said. And we were like, "Oh, we didn't see it as a comedy." And he was like, "Guys, c'mon, it's called Cooties." And to a certain degree, he was 100 percent correct.

Between you three, there's an actor and two writer-directors and you're just starting out on a producer path. What is SpectreVision's approach to producing?

Josh C. Waller: Because we are artists first, we come at it from a different angle. Our experiences having been in the trenches of making films is a great asset to us. We constantly have this conversation of, "How can we be the kinds of producers that we always wished we had?" And those are the people who prioritize content, who understand the creative process and protect it, who side with art over commerce. And one of our goals was to be producers that people want to do repeat business with.

You mention art, but many people don't associate horror with art.

Wood: I've always loved horror. My attraction to making a company based around horror films was being frustrated by the poor hand that is always dealt to the genre and how many misconceptions there are. You're right that it's not associated with art, but I couldn't disagree more. We reference Let the Right One In a lot. One of our benchmarks is that if you remove the horror, do you still have a movie? With that movie, if you remove the genre elements and it wasn't about vampires, it's still a story about two young kids who become friends.

Noah: It's frustrating that a lot of talent has anxiety about doing "horror," which can be a dirty word a little bit. It's unfortunate because people have been investing themselves emotionally and spiritually into supernatural tales and literature as long as we've been on this planet.

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Will you make movies other than horror?

Wood: It's important that given our initial mission we primarily concentrate on horror. Our thinking is that we'd like to establish that as a focus, at least for the first number of films, but I think we will eventually branch out. One thing we want to do is push the boundaries of what one considers horror. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an example of that.

Horror movies have rarely been the domain of the studios, in fact they thrive as independents. But that has always meant they are tough to see. Today, though, there are plenty of different platforms like VOD or smart phones to see them. Does that affect how you'll be making your movies?

Waller: A lot of people are watching movies on their iPads, on their phones. We're not making movies to screen on iPhones, but a lot of people are watching them that way.

Wood: You can't turn back time. Obviously theatrical is the preferred experience. There's no better experience to watch a film, sitting in that big dark room with other people.