THE MAKING OF ‘DARK OF WINTER’
I never set out to make a horror film, or a psychological horror film, or a psychological horror thriller, or whatever you would call my second feature, Dark of Winter (DarkOfWinterMovie.com). I was trying to make something more along the lines of a European art film, something like Michelangelo Antonioni would have done in the ‘60s. I was watching his first color film, Red Desert, which I hadn’t seen since film school (the film school that I later dropped out of) and I was enthralled by it. The cinematography was even better than I remembered and I was immediately inspired by the sparseness of it: the images, the plot, everything. Red Desert captures space and isolation in an amazing way and I desperately wanted to try something like that.
But then I started writing.
As the words came out I found myself back in the cinema of violence that I tend to gravitate toward. Bad people doing bad things. I go there a lot because it’s simultaneously repulsive and fascinating to me. But this time I tried to resist. I honestly did. I made a real attempt to take all the guns out, allow the characters to live and work things out without kicking the crap out of each other, and try to write a story about how people’s lives disintegrate under terrible stress.
And that’s when it got even more violent.
So I resigned myself to it. And the themes that I often explore came rushing back in. A character consumed by revenge. Confusion. Loss. An attempt at redemption. These are some of the things that interest me and I try to work through them on film. Thus, my characters got put through the ringer, pushed far into hell with no turning back and no way out. It was an almost shocking epiphany that I had, while editing the film, as to just how brutally cruel I am to my characters!
Dark of Winter took shape on the page, the blood began to flow, and I began to incorporate other loose ideas I have had through the years into the picture, bits I had always found to be perversely funny. The main character is dealing with some serious issues and, as a side effect of the stress and his constant drinking, begins to vomit blood. Disgusting, right? I thought so. If you’re doing a horror film of any sort I believe you need to tap into the fears of your audience and who wouldn’t be afraid of throwing up blood? That can only mean bad things when it happens, so I thought it appropriate for our film.
As I drifted away from Antonioni, I found myself gravitating toward David Lynch. Lynch’s style gave me the courage to lean towards the abstract and stay away from certain, concrete details. The picture would give the audience all the clues and tools it needed to work with, but it was up to the audience to fill in the blanks. A completely risky move, for sure, but one that I felt oddly confident about. Upon talking it over numerous times with my lead actor, Kyle Jason, I found that we were both on the same page about the approach and it bolstered my confidence even more.
Now, even though there is a healthy dose of violence in the film, there are also a lot of quiet moments in between. In fact, there actually isn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the movie. This was, of course, intentional, primarily as an exercise to push me as a visual story teller, but also because the story warrants it. And I love these moments, as they are some of my favorites in the picture. Kyle’s performance is exemplary and I’m so glad that he was up to the challenge of internalizing his emotions. It’s all in the eyes, all inside, and it lends the film a uniqueness not usually found in the typical horror fare. Perhaps I wasn’t straying as far from Antonioni as I thought!
But we do have blood. Lots of blood. My practical effects supervisor, Joe Davis, equipped us with a gallon of the stuff and we used almost all of it. We shot the film primarily at my apartment and I am still finding fake blood in odd places. It keeps showing up, over a month after we wrapped shooting, as some strange reminder of the making of the film, on walls, on doors, in corners, under the sink. I thought it annoying at first, but now when I find it I just laugh in disbelief.
Dark of Winter came together quickly as a “down and dirty” project that we could make on the cheap. Not that it looks it, as I am a firm believer in putting your money and production value where it counts: on the screen. When you are shooting low budget, though, you have to move fast and keep moving. The key to accomplishing this is to have a dedicated, focused cast and crew. If they are down for the cause then you have already won half the battle. Feed them and treat them with the utmost respect. This also means that you may have to listen to a thousand suggestions of ideas that won’t really work, but that’s a small price to pay for the (usually) free labor that you are getting in return. And, perhaps, it is quite possible that one of those crazy ideas actually will work and the film will be better for it. But get them all on the same page and the work will get done. I speak only from experience.
In between scenes one day, Kyle and I were talking and he said to me that he had never envisioned himself acting in a horror film of any kind. And I told him that I never set out to make one. But there we were, knee deep in it and grinding away, putting our imaginations to a visual record that we hoped would get people thinking and creep them out at the same time.
And then, if I recall correctly, I directed him to throw up some more blood for me…
Check out the trailer for Dark of Winter at www.DarkOfWinterMovie.com and sign up to receive exclusive updates and a FREE soundtrack sampler from the film!
Youngstown, Ohio born David C. Snyder started using film and video cameras at ten years of age. After years of making short films with his brothers and school friends, David began to direct low-budget videos for independent musicians. The work that he did for the SLAMjamz Records group THE IMPOSSEBULLS (which he co-founded and produced) brought his directing skills to the attention of legendary Hiphop icon Chuck D who appointed David the head of the burgeoning SLAMjamz video department. From 2004-2008, David directed over 100 music videos and short documentaries for the SLAMjamz label, including videos and concert films for Public Enemy. He was given an Honorable Mention in the category of BEST DIRECTING for his short film Still at the 2008 48 Hour Film Project in Pittsburgh. His debut feature film, The Quiet Arrangement, received the award for BEST FEATURE at the 2010 2380 FilmFest in Akron, Ohio. David returned to the Pittsburgh 48 Hour Film Project in 2011 with the short South of the City, which took honors for BEST FILM, BEST DIRECTOR, BEST SOUND DESIGN, and an AUDIENCE CHOICE award.
David’s most recent feature is the psychological horror film Dark of Winter.