interview

A quick chat with Michael Costanza, director of The Collingswood Story.

By Antonio Pasolini

Horror movies don't come more realistic than the The Collingswood Story. Made on a shoestring budget of US$10,000, the film uses as narrative axis the webcam chats between a couple living apart when the girlfriend moves to New Jersey to attend college. Then a good dosage of believable supernatural is introduced via the character of an online psychic who puts the horror into this naturalistic film. Suitably, Kamera had an online chat with director Michael Costanza as the film is released on DVD in the UK.

How did the idea for The Collingswood Story take shape?

I was actually preparing to make a film entitled Puff, a dark coming of age drama, but I couldn't arrange the financing. I previously directed a couple music videos and some Sundance shorts, one of which was shown in the Official Selection at Cannes. I've always loved the horror genre so I set out to make a very low budget horror film with a very limited crew.

How did you conceive of the film's internet hook? What were the difficulties posed by often losing most of the screen space in order to emulate a webcam screen?

High tech, quirky devices have always fascinated me and I thought it would be interesting to have an entire film centered around this technology. I also wanted, from a visual standpoint, to shoot a concept that really hadn't been seen before. Collingswood... is basically a love story gone to hell but this time around the events unfold over the internet through each character's webcams. In terms of the difficulties posed by emulating a webcam screen, I fortunately never lost any screen space. During post I resized 90 per cent of the footage and dropped it into the video phone software the graphic designer had created. In certain shots I would intentionally lose the software and go to full screen during key dialogue or for emotional impact and used it almost entirely throughout the third act.

Mainstream horror cinema often relies on pantomime. The tradition of naturalistic horror your film belongs in seems to be more hard-hitting because it can create stronger audience identification on the back of its realism. Would you agree with that?

I appreciate you referring to the film as 'naturalistic horror'. That's quite a compliment. I knew I wouldn't have a budget for special effects or gore but there really was no need. What we have is a very intimate story that really alIows the audience to become involved and I think 'naturalistic horror' is all the more personal, all the more terrifying.

Were you consciously inspired by any films that came before yours?

Just to name a few: Halloween, Psycho, Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Blair Witch Project continue to inspire me. As we know Blair Witch had no name talent or a huge budget and yet it generated such an incredible response all based on the filmmaking and the acting. And to the indie filmmaker that's what it's all about, creating memorable sequences, getting great performances with as little as you got.

Do you think the internet will potentially become a horror film sub-genre?

With technology advancing as rapidly as it is, I believe it's halfway there. The good thing for all of us is that there's lots of territory to explore. We've just barely scratched the surface.

Horror movies often have a link with sex or perhaps a focus on the intimate aspects of a relationship. Any theories on that?

As a rule horror movies are supposed to shock and arouse and showing sex in horror movies definitely goes hand in hand. However, in Collingswood... I wanted to bend the rules a bit. Whether one uses explicit visuals or not it's all about striking a chord with the audience, giving them situations they can identify with and characters they can relate to and care about. I believe this is vital to a film whether it is made for 50 million dollars or whether it is made on virtually nothing.

The Collingswood Story DVD is out now. Please follow link provided to purchase a copy.

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