Horror-on-Sea interview with Triggered writer-director Chris Moore
Director: Chris Moore
Writer: Chris Moore
Stars: Meredith Mohler, Jesse Dalton, Sam Furman, Keni Bounds, Arian Thigpen
Two teenagers fake an attack by a legendary serial killer for a little attention, but the plan backfires when this triggers the real killer to resurface and go after them.
Date & Venue: 13 Jan 2019 at 12:30pm
Park Inn by Radisson Palace Southend-on-, Church Rd, Southend-on-Sea SS1 2AL, UK
Triggered is a clever new horror-comedy film from writer-director Chris Moore, which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival. I got a chance to ask Chris Moore a few questions about what we can expect from the film.
Q. The award-winning horror Triggered will be playing at Horror-on-Sea, what can we expect from the film?
I think you can expect to laugh and think and maybe jump a few times. I just want people to have a good time and a chuckle.
Q. There is often social commentary with your films and this time it is cultural appropriation. What made you decide to incorporate this into the main story?
I’d been working on something different – a supernatural screenplay – and it wasn’t really working. I’d seen this article about a college getting in trouble for serving sushi in their cafeteria because it was deemed as cultural appropriation and something about that just made me laugh. I started thinking about what kind of person would take the time to make a case out of something like that and, pretty soon, Callee was born. I ended up finding a lot of similar articles, blogs, videos, etc. written by or about people like that and some of the things I discovered were so bizarre and funny that I couldn’t wait to get started on it. It was like the gift that kept on giving.
Q. You have developed a unique look and style for your films, but who are your main influences when it comes to filmmaking?
I really appreciate that. I’m never really conscious of a particular style really. I just try to serve the story if I can. I’m inspired by probably every film I’ve ever seen. Every VHS I rented at the video store as a kid has absorbed its way through my brain and is just a part of me now whether I like it or not. I’m not usually conscious as to why I feel a shot looks good or why that light should hit the left side of an actor’s face instead of the right. It’s a strange instinct. Still, there are definitely times when I’m playing with colourful light gels that I think “oh, I guess I’m pretending to be Dario Argento tonight” or using a split diopter or split screen and saying, “this is my Brian De Palma shtick.” I definitely tend to borrow more from the 70’s and 80’s aesthetic more, because I do think films had more interesting looks back then. There was usually more colour and more interesting shots. Not everything had to be so sterile and crisp.
Q. Where there any elements of the original script which were adapted during filming?
There was one scene which is a big chase scene midway through the movie involving a bunch of characters that had to be adapted from a high school at night to a suburban home instead. That kinda low-key broke my heart. I’d planned on it being an homage to those great high school slashers like Prom Night (1980) and The Slumber Party Massacre (1982). It was an idea I’d had in my mind since I was in middle school and seeing these films for the first time and planning what it’d be like to shoot a movie like this in my own school. Where would people hide, where would they run to, etc. It was unfortunately going to be too cost prohibitive to try and find a school to use. I’d contacted the film office months before the film was set to start filming and asked if they could help secure schools, but they never followed through with any leads and I was left to my own devices. Also, early on, I’d toyed with the idea of the finale of the film taking place in a giant indoor playground on grad night like a Chuck E. Cheese or Discovery Zone, but that seemed even crazier than trying to use a school. It made more sense to make the ending a bit more intimate. Besides that, I want to say the script stayed pretty faithful to the original draft. There was line we had to change in a scene where Gloria confronts Callee and Zac that was moved from the principal’s office to the exterior of the school where Gloria writes each one of them detention slips. Callee comments that she spelled her name wrong and Gloria says “no, your mother spelt it wrong, honey.” It just made me laugh, but we had to change it, because it wouldn’t make sense for her to have those slips on her at that time. I’m still kinda sad about that, because it made me laugh.
Q. What makes Triggered stand out in the horror genre?
I think it’s definitely funnier than most typical horror movies. It’s not your usual body count movie either, which might turn some people off. I have a problem bringing in characters just to kill them off five minutes later. I don’t know why, but I always like to get to know my characters a bit first so that, when they’re killed, it’s more impactful.
Q. Meredith Mohler plays the lead in the film and due to her actions is not the most likeable character. Were you ever concerned that the audience may find it difficult to connect with a lead who they may not naturally resonate with?
Isn’t she excellent? I hit the jackpot with this cast. We made a very conscious choice to not soften her up. Most actors would want to do that. It’s a natural instinct, especially for actors, to want to be liked and it’s tough to play a character who’s so unredeemable, but Meredith was so brave to just go there and not worry about vanity or what people would think about her. The thing is – I like Callee. There’s a lot I respect about Callee. I can’t write a character if there’s not something I like or admire about them. I have to feel empathy for them in some way. I sometimes, wish I could be as outspoken as she is. she’s a person who hurts deeply. She wants, so badly, to feel like her life matters or that she’ll make a difference in the world and, if we’re being honest, there’s not a single one of us who can’t relate to feeling like that. We all want to think that we have a purpose on this earth and that people won’t forget about us a day after we’ve been put in the ground. Hopefully, people can find that part of Callee relatable. We certainly tried to give her a few moments of genuine humanity.
Q. The film has some genuinely funny comedy moments, especially with an eccentric performance from Keni Bounds as a former scream queen. Why did you decide to incorporate so much comedy into a horror film?
Keni’s freakin’ hysterical. If you want the lines you’ve written to get the laughs you intended and then some, call Keni Bounds. I swear, she could make a basket of dead puppies funny. I’d written the role with her in mind and given her the script and, without even telling her what role I’d written for her, she said Beverly was her favourite character and she wanted to play her. I thought it’d be fun for Callee to have a mother just as self-centred and lost as she was. Obviously, they’re both very different, but they’re both so needy and self-destructive. I find people who don’t know how ridiculous they’re coming across to be incredibly funny. Lack of self-awareness is hysterical to me, but there’s also great sadness in it, too, and I love to skate that fine line. She was sort of inspired by this soap opera actress who made this hysterical self-help tape in the 80’s called Welcome To My Home where she just parades around her house in these crazy fashions and says things like “Fashion is something that is acquired by looking at a lot of different fashions.” It’s so daffy and she has no idea that it’s just coming across like shameless self-promotion for herself. I like adding comedy in, because it’s hard for me to make a movie totally straight faced. I can’t take anything seriously enough to do that. Sometimes, in life, we switch genres from minute to minute. We go from laughter to terror to tears to laughter again, so it makes sense to sprinkle it in where you can.
Q. Talking of scream queens what was it like to have Amanda Wyss involved in the film?
It was a joy! Once she said she was interested, I beefed up the role a bit, because I’d just seen her in a fabulous movie called The Id where she acted her socks off and, frankly, I thought she deserved better than what was originally written. Her role was initially separated into two different roles – the principal and Gloria, the teacher who survived the initial Jackson Ripper Massacre 30 years prior. She was only set to play Gloria, not the principal. I’d kept trying to figure out a way to get Gloria into the movie earlier, because, in the original drafts, she’s kinda only talked about in hushed whispers like some sort of reclusive freak until her diner scene with Callee midway through and the finale. One day, I realized how great it would be to just make Gloria the principal as well and it had the added bonus of making her a lot more complex and interesting and giving Amanda a lot more to play with. The thing that drives me crazy is when people hire icons like Amanda and give her two minutes of screen time. I see it so much and it bothers me, because if you’re lucky enough to get someone like that in your movie, give them something substantial to do. She, of course, rose to the occasion and gave such a beautiful performance. Gloria and Ian are the two most grounded characters in the film, because they’re not larger than life like just about everyone else around them. The audience has to identify with them and, if they don’t, you’re doomed. Amanda has that great quality where you just like her right off the bat. She has a natural warmth built into her. She also had to memorise an insanely long monologue and that’s not easy, y’all. She deserves props for that alone.
Q. What was one of your favourite scenes to film?
Definitely the finale. We shot the entire last 10 minutes of the movie on the first night we had Amanda and I was so incredibly nervous and just praying that everything would go well and that we’d have enough footage to make everything work and get out of the location in time. It was stressful and, yet, I’m more proud of what we shot that night than anything else in the film. It was magical, and all the actors were on fire that night. I remember watching the dailies and grinning from ear to ear, because it exceeded all my expectations.
Q. Do you have any other projects which you are currently working on?
There’s always something brewing in my head. I try to write five pages of something every day. It can be anything – a play, an outline, a screenplay, a monologue, etc. I just finished a play and I’m working on outlining another one at the moment. There are a few film scripts I’m working on that I’m really excited about and they’re all really different and things I’ve never done before. I’m covering stuff from V.C. Andrews-esque dark family sagas to Easter bunny slasher films to school shooting survivors and gay conversion therapy.
Q. If someone was looking to write a horror film, what advice would you give them to get started.
Write what you’d want to see. The odds are, at least a few other people probably want to see the same thing, too. Don’t write what you think people will want to see or what’s “hot” right now, because that’ll get you nowhere. There won’t be any passion behind it and there’s nothing worse than a story told without passion or interest. Disregard all of this advice if someone’s offering you a million bucks to write something for them, but if you’re writing to truly entertain and communicate with people, you have to write what you want to see on screen.
You can find out more about the feature films playing at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and details of tickets on the website.