As a producer, Aaron B. Koontz has helped bring some of the most thought-provoking horror films to life in recent years. This past summer saw the release of Koontz's feature-length directorial debut, Camera Obscura, and Koontz and his Paper Street Pictures production company are wasting no time moving forward on their next project, Scare Package, a horror comedy anthology that he's overseeing with Cameron Burns. In addition to directing his own segment, Koontz is bringing together some of the most exciting independent filmmakers in horror for Scare Package, and we recently caught up with Koontz for our latest Q&A feature to discuss assembling the creative team and subverting subgenres in his new anthology.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Aaron. When and how did you and Cameron Burns come up with the idea for the new horror anthology Scare Package?
Aaron B. Koontz: Our last film, Camera Obscura, was a really dark and heavy psychological exploration. And while we are really proud of what that became, we also fully acknowledge that it isn’t the easiest film to digest and some will find it a bit depressing. So this was more about a palette cleanser to that. Something fun. Something unexpected.
The segments in Scare Package look to subvert horror genre tropes and expectations. What subgenres can horror fans expect to see in the film?
Aaron B. Koontz: We played with assigning a different subgenre to every director, but in the end, we wanted to allow a bit more flexibility to see what truly inspired them. And we are glad we did, because the scripts came in and blew us away. I can’t go into too much detail as of yet, but a few segments in the works include: zombies, werewolves, slasher, body horror, and a monster in the closet-type segment.
What can you tell us about the segment you direct?
Aaron B. Koontz: I am stoked to be working on a slasher piece. I grew up in an era with Voorhees, Myers, and Krueger as household names. This was my childhood. So the opportunity to recreate this world, paying homage to these things I love so dearly, albeit in a comedic fashion, is truly a dream for me. My segment will center around a laboratory where they have captured a Jason-type mega killer and are performing experiments on him. Things like how when he is within so many feet of a car, it somehow won’t start, or when he puts on a mask it somehow improves his peripheral vision. They are trying to understand how these tropes work and let’s just say that the experiment doesn’t go as planned. I cannot wait for folks to see this, it’s going to be a blast!
Scare Package features a really talented team of filmmakers. How did you go about assembling the right team for this project?
Aaron B. Koontz: We’ve made a number of shorts before Camera Obscura and that, combined with my time on the producing team of Starry Eyes, has allowed us to meet and become friends with a number of super talented filmmakers. So, as the years go on, that list has grown. We kept finding all these voices that we knew were special, but unless you were keenly aware of the short film festival scene, you might not have known who they were. So we set out to give many of those folks a platform. And think about it, who better to work on an anthology then these creators who truly excel at making short films?
And once we found the horror comedy and tropes hook, we knew we had something unique and jumped at it. Throw in a couple strategic directorial debuts, including good friend and collaborator Noah Segan and comedian and actor Baron Vaughn, and we found what we thought was the right mix to really give this a fresh take. And on that note, I’d say the toughest aspect of this so far has simply been how to narrow down our list of potential filmmakers. There just are so many other ideas and talented friends and colleagues that we are dying to work with but couldn’t quite squeeze them in here. So maybe if we are lucky there can be a Scare Package 2 and we can make that happen!
What are your shooting schedules like for Scare Package?
Aaron B. Koontz: All of the segments are currently in various states. Some are in post, others are about to shoot, and some are still in the script stage. And through that, it is important to us to not completely silo the work here, either. So the producing team is really acting like showrunners, specially curating the scripts and tone to effortlessly flow from segment to segment. We put in place a number of rules for the directors, while also giving them the freedom to explore the trope, if you will, of their choice. Add in the same sound designer, composer, and colorist to keep everything cohesive and we started to have a consistent voice and tone here for the film as a whole.
What are some of your favorite horror anthologies, and did any influence or inspire you while coming up with the ideas for Scare Package?
Aaron B. Koontz: Oh my, yeah, I am a massive horror anthology fan. Like I mentioned, I grew up in the ’80s where this really hit its peak. Creepshow, The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Darkside, and even lesser-known pieces like Cat’s Eye or Nightmares were hugely influential to me. And oddly enough, it was an early SXSW midnight screening of V/H/S where I actually decided to get back into filmmaking. Adam Wingard, as you know, was a part of that, and we went to film school together, and when I saw this and what Adam was accomplishing, it was one of the key factors that inspired me to get back to doing what I loved. That was the catalyst for the resurgence in anthologies and has really been perfected by the likes of Brad Miska and Roxanne Benjamin. Their work with V/H/S 2 and Southbound I think are two of the best anthology films ever made.
The horror anthology format seems to grow in popularity with each passing year. Why do you think anthologies resonate with horror fans so much?
Aaron B. Koontz: I’ve just always felt that the format lends itself so well to horror. The unexpected is what really is the scariest thing, so just as soon as you have something figured out, we are now finished and a new segment is starting. Combine that with a new era with so many great skits and web series that are consumed at such smaller intervals, and I think audiences today are more specially geared to resonate with something like this.
But I must admit, I was hesitant to make an anthology film because, as I mentioned above, I thought the space had seen such an influx of quality options in recent years and there wasn’t much left to be said that hadn’t already been done so well. But when I saw an opportunity to sort of subvert the anthology subgenre while also paying homage to it, we found a hook that got me excited. Then, to make those all horror comedies, something I’ve rarely seen, and combine that with a diverse group of filmmakers, I think the recipe is there for something truly special.
You recently directed your first feature film, Camera Obscura. What did you learn from that experience that you are applying to Scare Package?
Aaron B. Koontz: Well for one, I simply wanted to do something more fun. And not that I didn’t enjoy making Camera Obscura, it was a dream come true for me, but as I mentioned, it was a very dense film with heavy subject matter and I wanted the follow-up to be a true crowdpleaser that leaves you with a smile on your face.
In Camera Obscura, there is this one scene where Jack, played by Christopher Denham, encounters a peculiar hardware store employee, played by Jeremy King, and we really dip into the humor before evolving into a bit of an over-the-top They Live-esque fight sequence. This was so much fun to shoot and every time I re-watch the film I smile because I really loved what we did there, and many audience members seemed to as well. So with this, and we don’t want to give too much away, but there is a bit of a tie-back to that sequence in the wrap-around that most won’t immediately get, but has been a lot fun for us to explore. We are even bringing back Jeremy King to play a central part in that connecting piece, who is back to his ridiculous, over-the-top ways.
With production now underway, when can fans expect to see Scare Package on the big screen?
Aaron B. Koontz: Well, we definitely aren’t going to rush this as we want to take our time to make sure we are making the absolute best film we can, but on that note, I fully expect this to be hitting festivals sometime in 2018. The great thing about being truly independent is that we get to say when this is done. And our team here won’t be cutting corners to make that happen.
In addition to Scare Package, do you have any projects on the producing, writing, or directing fronts that you can tease? Where can our readers go online to learn more about Scare Package and your work?
Aaron B. Koontz: Oh, we are definitely keeping busy! I have three other features in the works with my company Paper Street Pictures. The first of which is a collaboration with my co-writer and producing partner Cameron Burns and another Austin-based writer, Farrell Rose on a really trippy sci-fi thriller called Dream Machine that we are pitching out to folks now. On top of that, we are also producing an unannounced sort of slasher-ghost story-teen-thriller that is definitely going to turn some heads, and lastly is a gritty noir thriller about an estranged sister suffering from spontaneous combustion called Where the Red Fox Lies from music video director Jeff Ray. They are three very different projects in some respects, but all have really fun genre ties that we are so excited to get started on.