THE SHORT CUT (Halloween Edition): An Interview With ‘The Sleepover’ Director Chris Cullari

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The Short Cut is a new column on Under The Gun that showcases the careers of short film directors. Shorts are often overlooked when it comes to the entire spectrum of film, and by including interviews with the directors themselves and information about their creative efforts, this column will highlight the work of some of the category’s dignitaries that we feel deserve your attention.

“Nothing would please me more than coming face to face with something totally, undeniably supernatural and having my brain melt outta my head.”

I was very surprised, and ultimately thrilled, to be approached by director Chris Cullari with the opportunity to view his brand new short film, The Sleepover. With just the right amount of horror and comedy fused, The Sleepover is a hybrid that blends perfectly into this holiday season.

Primarily creating videos for MTV, Fuse, Nuclear Blast and companies of the like, Cullari transitioned into the short film medium beautifully and his expertise shows in this gem which recently won Best Super Short at Shriekfest in LA after previously being recognized at Fantastic Fest with a runner-up mention.

Chris Cullari took some time to speak with me about short films, his creations and how influential Jurassic Park has been to his career, so read through and get the scoop with a talented up-and-coming director in this special Halloween edition of The Short Cut!


THE INTERVIEW

For those that may be unaware, can you state what it is that you do?
I’m a writer/director currently doing a lot more writing than directing. At this stage in my career, writing means being paid and directing means funding my own projects. It’s a balance and I’m lucky to enjoy both sides of the equation.

What first inspired you to get involved with film-making?
Jurassic Park. I went in as a budding, seven-year-old paleontologist excited to see some dinosaurs and came out with a whole new plan: I was gonna be Steven Spielberg. I started watching everything I could find with his name on it and read every biography of him at every library my mom was willing to drive me to. At some point it dawned on me that this guy didn’t make all the movies so I branched out to some of his contemporaries like George Lucas, Joe Dante, and Tim Burton. Around the same time, my dad showed me how to use our camcorder, my mom brought some film scores home from the library, and I started making my first videos. I was hooked.

What do you enjoy about the short film medium that differs from your other creative outlets?
Writing’s awesome, but it’s so much less tangible than having a finished film an audience can watch and enjoy. I love the whole process of putting a film together: planning shots with my DP, working with actors on set, going over cuts with an editor, working with a composer and trying to get everything in my head onto the screen. It’s also fun working with my absurdly talented writing partner, Jennifer, in a different context on set. We’re locked into the same vision, so it gives us the freedom to play on set and try new ideas without talking them to death.

Looks like you’ve made some drastic moves to different big cities in your life. Have these moves and new areas had any specific effect on your work?
Oh man, yes. I spent my entire pre-college life in the same tiny town, and by eighteen I’d grown equally fond and fearful of living out the rest of my days surrounded by woods and farmland. Even after I’d decided to go to Emerson College in Boston, I hadn’t really considered the idea that I was going to have to live in a city or how different that would be from the life I knew. I was so excited to pursue the dream of being a filmmaker that Getting Out just seemed like The Thing I Had To Do Next. Same when I moved to LA four years ago – I woke up in my apartment one morning and it hit me that, “Goddamn it. My entire life is three thousand miles east of here and I don’t have a job.”

Anyway, the effect of all this is that most of the stories I want to tell reflect that conflict in one way or another: growth vs. stagnation, who someone is vs. who they want to be. It’s also left me with a not insignificant obsession with small towns and terrible secrets.

So is The Sleepover your first short film?
The Sleepover is the first short I’m almost one hundred percent happy with and am proud to show people. I made a handful of shorts in college that are floating around the Internet, and they’re okay, but they were practice.

What inspired its plot and how did you go about making the film?
The Sleepover is actually an introduction to the world of a script that Jennifer and I are hoping to do as our first feature. We wanted to make something that would not only get more people to read the script, but show potential investors that we have the chops to put together a film that is scary and funny in equal measure.

I’ve always been personally curious about this but I’ve never had the opportunity to ask someone; how does the process work with parents and such to have a child use strong profanity in a film?
I was pretty nervous about it, but everyone who auditioned was sent the script in advance so they knew exactly what they were getting into. Josh and Gus’ parents were awesome and I think they understood that we were trying to capture something honest about childhood, which, especially for little boys, involves swearing and being gross. Still, it’s totally weird saying, “Okay, great, let’s do that line where you call him a “pussy” one more time,” to a ten year old when his mom’s standing there.

Are you going to continue showing The Sleepover in festivals and other events?
Yes! We want to get as many eyes on it as possible. With the success of the short at Fantastic Fest, we’ve been approached by a handful of festivals about screening and we’re still waiting to hear back from Slamdance as well as a few of the festivals we initially submitted to. We hope to make our international debut early next year.

What’s distribution going to be like for the film? Any specific release date or home for the movie?
It’s really, really hard for a short film to find a life beyond the festival circuit, but we’ve been approached by some awesome people about a potential home for The Sleepover. We should be able to announce the plan officially in the next few months.

Who/what are your most important influences when it comes to your work?
I think I have to do this in list format and no particular order: the Loch Ness Monster, life, music, my childhood, Goosebumps, Dave Barry, Stephen King, mosh pits, great coffee, great beer, Bill Watterson, Rod Serling, David Cross, Weezer’s Blue Album, The X Files, my friends, George Carlin, loud music and chocolate covered espresso beans.

What are you going to be for Halloween this year?
Still not sure. I’m open to reader suggestions.

What was the best Halloween costume you ever had as a kid?
Probably the year I wanted to be Michael Myers so badly but I couldn’t afford a replica mask, so I tried to make one by wrapping my head in plastic wrap and covering the resulting “mold” in some sort of white fabric or something. I should dig up a photo – it’s super creepy looking.

That, or when I was Darkwing Duck and my mom made me a beak out of yellow paper plates.

Has anything truly scary ever happened to you? Anything supernatural, paranormal etc.?
I’ve seen/felt/heard a couple weird things over the years, and was completely convinced the house I grew up in was sitting on a portal to hell, but I’m a total skeptic buzzkill at this point in my life. Of course, nothing would please me more than coming face to face with something totally, undeniably supernatural and having my brain melt outta my head.

Do you watch a lot of short films? What are some of your favorites?
I just saw a brutal adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Survivor Type,” at Shriekfest this year. Hands down one of the best King adaptations I’ve ever seen, all built around a single actor and location. Totally horrifying.

Do you plan to make more short films in the near future? Sticking to the horror genre?
Yes and yes, for now. I’m trying to find funding for the feature version of The Sleepover, but knowing what a battle that can be I’m also making plans to do another short next year. Little higher budget, little more complex, also attached to a feature, hopefully with some familiar faces. It’s not so much that I want to only make horror films, but I love genre, I love symbols, I love exploring familiar concepts and seeing what they look like through my own lens. It happens to be that these concepts are a little cheaper and easier to tackle in horror than in action or western or space opera. I think that’s why you see so much horror in the indie world – besides the fact it’s easier to market and sell – it tends to be very personal, small scale stuff. Monsters and demons and killers and ogres and vampires are more frightening when they’re antagonizing small groups of people in confined spaces.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career for you so far?
Making our world premiere as part of Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX was really the coolest thing ever. I started reading Ain’t It Cool News, Corona Coming Attractions, CHUD and the like in middle school, so I was familiar with this magical, mystical Alamo Drafthouse somewhere in Texas but I never thought I’d actually get to go, nevermind screen there. It’s like being in a band, writing your first EP, and playing Coachella or something.

What goal do you hope to achieve as a film-maker that you haven’t had the opportunity to thus far?
All of them. All the goals. I’m just getting started.


Under the Gun Review will be showing The Sleepover exclusively before our screening of iwrestledabearonce’s A Beary Scary Movie in Somerville, MA at Somerville Theater on November 7 so if you’re in the area, be sure to come out and take advantage of the opportunity.

Written and conducted by: Brian LionFollow him on Twitter

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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