November 1, 2006

A Cult-like Following

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Even though Halloween has officially passed, the spirit of horror films is still in the air. I got a chance to chat with independent filmmaker Seth Landau, whose horror film, Brian Loves You, has already started to receive substantial media attention despite its low budget.
Daze: Why don’t you start by telling us a little about the plot of Brian Loves You?
Seth: The movie is about the story of a cult that takes over a town in Arizona. There’s a central character, Jonathan, a recent transplant from New York, who goes to the town looking for work but notices that things start looking kind of strange. He and a couple of friends start documenting what they see with a gift from Jonathan’s uncle back east — a camcorder. It’s kind of an inauspicious gift because once Jonathan starts poking around, he begins to disturb the foundation of the town. People become out to get him, and the question becomes: “Can Jonathan survive the mental and physical torture or will he become like everyone else in the town — corrupted by the system?”
Daze: How is Brian different from the plot of conventional horror films that have come out in recent years?
Seth: For me, the story is really personal, so in that sense, it’s different from a lot of horror movies. It’s based on a lot of my experiences, such as growing up one of the only Jews in rural, homogenous Arizona. I felt very much like an outsider — almost afraid of my environment. My sister, my mom and I were a novelty to the townspeople, like we were almost not even real. In Brian Loves You, not only is Jonathan poked and prodded and eventually assaulted but he is also forcibly admitted to a mental hospital. This actually comes out of a personal experience — a quack psychiatrist convinced my parents to put me in an inpatient facility because I was being oppositional and not doing enough chores at home. In Brian, I personalize the movie by combining all these eerie experiences, like what it was like to be trapped and feel imprisoned. Plus, the movie is done in this “recovered-footage style” — the viewer is not supposed to know whether the events occurring are real or if it is staged acting.
Daze: Tell us a little about the “recovered footage” — is it done in the same vein as The Blair Witch Project and, if so, how important was that film to the creation of Brian Loves You ?
Seth: I’d say that that Brian is similar to Blair Witch in the style of shooting. I remember seeing Blair Witch in Houston in 1999 at one of the only art house theatres, The Landmark. Because the movie had so much buzz, there were literally lines around the block, and the experience of seeing Blair Witch was really influential because it was one of the most communal experiences I’ve ever felt in the audience. People were so freaked out by what they were seeing that there was this universal nervous laughter in the theatre – people were trying to use the fact that there were other people around them to make them feel more comfortable. So, I think it was the way I saw Blair Witch that influenced me as far as creating a film where people didn’t know how much of it was fiction and how much was reality.
Daze: Your trailer was recently leaked on the Internet, and there’s been a lot of buzz and rumors going on about your film that culminated with Brian making “Page Six” of The New York Post last month. How have you dealt with all of this hype?
Seth: One day, when I was staying at one of the hotels in Phoenix, I did a Google search and found a story in The Arizona Republic that ran that day that said that my movie was calling for extras and that everyone should come down. This really made me a combination of worried and angry — since this is such a small-scale production, I’m usually aware of everything that goes on. I ran and got a hard copy of the paper and saw that they had printed a blurb in the “Valley and State” section, which meant that everyone from Flagstaff to Tuscon could read this. It basically said, “Here’s the movie, here’s the time, here’s the producer’s email, Go!” and that we were looking for “cult members” and “crazies.” Those are the words that I wanted to keep out of the paper because I wanted to avoid controversy — I wanted to wait until after we were done to get that kind of attention. The Republic ran a bunch of corrections and as it turned out, everyone on the movie handled all the mass e-mails really well. I think that any time you are making something that someone objects to, you are going to face situations and hurdles like this.
Check out to learn more about the film. Brian Loves You is set to release Halloween, 2007.