What if you received a letter in your mailbox ordering you to kill or risk being murdered yourself? That's the question at the core of Red Letter Day, the feature-length debut from filmmaker Cameron Macgowan, and with the movie out now in theaters from DREAD and coming to Blu-ray and VOD on November 5th, we caught up with Macgowan for our latest Q&A feature, and we've also been provided with an exclusive clip to share with Daily Dead readers.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, and congratulations on Red Letter Day, which features a compelling and unsettling “what if?” question at its core. When and how did you come up with the idea for this film?
Cameron Macgowan: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me! Red Letter Day was born from the anxiety caused when people in power draw lines in the sand to separate folks into tribalistic Us vs Them mentalities, which results in a lack of empathy for your "neighbor" and causes folks to behave in frightening ways. This has been happening for many years and is a theme that was explored in some of my favorite original Twilight Zone episodes. With Red Letter Day, I was inspired to create a modern satire which explored the universality of this theme in a fun and entertaining way.
Where did filming take place, and how many days did you have in your shooting schedule?
Cameron Macgowan: Filming all took place in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which has had a recent horror boom with genre fare such as Harpoon, Still/Born, and Black Summer coming from here in recent years. We had 15 days to shoot the film with a hardworking team of local filmmakers, then myself and cinematographer Rhett Miller spent an additional two days shooting a few establishing shots and two cell phone video montages.
When you think of neighbors killing each other, The Purge comes to mind, even though the setup for your film is definitely its own thing. Were you influenced or inspired by The Purge franchise or any other movies or TV series?
Cameron Macgowan: Oddly enough, I have only watched the second Purge film, which I found extremely entertaining but wouldn’t say I was inspired by. With Red Letter Day, I took inspiration from the "Humans Hunting Humans" sub-genre of films, which includes some personal favorites such as Hard Target, Das Millionenspiel, Death Race 2000, Series 7: The Contenders, and Battle Royale. I find this sub-genre extremely fascinating, as it has the audience think, “What would I do in this bizarre situation?” while also allowing for outrageous concepts that lead to surreal visuals.
I decided to set the film in suburbia, as I’ve always loved the contrast of violence taking place in a peaceful location. I personally miss the dark comedies of the ’80s that satirized the utopian idea of suburbia, and thus Red Letter Day is also inspired by films such as The ’Burbs, Parents, and Beetlejuice.
You have experience writing and directing short films, but Red Letter Day is your first feature. What did you learn working behind the camera on your feature-length debut?
Cameron Macgowan: I have been making short films for over 10 years with the goal of bettering myself in hopes of having the opportunity to make a feature film and I feel extremely privileged that the good folks at TANDA Films and the Calgary Film Centre invested in me as a filmmaker. The biggest lesson that I took away from the production of Red Letter Day is that it is a luxury to be in the position of making a feature film and one that should never be taken for granted. During pre-production, I worked myself up to a point where I was likely unbearable to be around due to the pressures of wanting this film to be as good as possible, but only during production did I realize I was being my own worst enemy and to just enjoy the ride. Once I remembered how much fun I have making movies, the rest of the experience was more rewarding.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Cameron Macgowan: Honestly, I fondly think back at every single day on the production of Red Letter Day. A bond was formed between myself and the cast and crew that I will forever cherish. Each day we felt united in the shared goal of creating a kooky and fun Canadian genre film. Even on the “worst” days, I would think, "Imagine telling this problem to the 15-year-old movie geek that could only dream of being in this position," and think of how ridiculous you would sound complaining about being in a situation that you once only dreamed of.
Your cast for Red Letter Day features a lot of actors who are relatively early in their careers. What was it like to bring new faces together to tell this story?
Cameron Macgowan: Due to budgetary limitations, the entire film was cast out of Calgary, but luckily for us, there is a great crop of performers in this city. I wrote a couple of the roles specifically for people I had previously worked with or friends of mine and we held an open casting call for the other roles. During this casting process, we hired the three main leads, as they felt perfect for the parts and all had fearless mindsets, which are essential when making a film such as ours.
During the production of the film, the Edwards Family all settled into their roles so nicely that I unintentionally stopped referring to them by their real names and couldn’t help but call them by their character names. They truly felt like a real family to me and I am slightly tripped out when hanging out in person these days, as I have been with the film for so long that a part of me only knows them as the Edwards Family.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from Red Letter Day?
Cameron Macgowan: I wanted viewers to have a good time watching Red Letter Day, while thinking about what they would do in this situation and perhaps acknowledging some of their own prejudices that they should work on. We could all do with more empathy in this current social-political climate and should all strive to be better people. I also want folks to think about how cool it is to have a middle-aged mother taking charge and kicking ass on screen in a role that is typically portrayed by gruff dudes.
What has it been like to partner with DREAD to release this film to the masses?
Cameron Macgowan: I have been a huge fan of the work done by Epic Pictures and was thrilled to see them launch their own horror label DREAD launching with some very impressive films that I had seen on the festival circuit: Nina Forever, Terrifier, and Director’s Cut. It has been an absolute honor to work with them on the release of this film and the creation of this Blu-ray. As a collector myself, we put loads of work into creating informative, candid, and entertaining special features that us as horror fans and filmmakers like to see. I can’t wait until I am an old man looking back at my life and can pull this dusty old disc from my shelf and reflect on the great times we had creating Red Letter Day and sharing our accomplishment with the world.
With Red Letter Day now in theaters and coming to Blu-ray and VOD November 5th via DREAD, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers follow your work online?
Cameron Macgowan: My partner, Heather, and I have just had our first child, Arthur, who is the most lovable little dude, but has been occupying all of my time. However, I have been finding time to write and am currently on a Rock ‘n' Roll giallo that I am quite stoked on and am also working on potential ideas to continue the Red Letter Day saga.
You can watch most of my previous work at awkwardsilencio.com
NSFW Exclusive Clip: