It's something most sleep-deprived parents can relate to: their child wakes them up in the middle of the night with the insomniac claim that there's someone in their room. Thankfully, usually it's just a figment of the imagination, but for the mom and dad in Nicole Taylor Roberts' short film Go To Bed Raymond, it's a frightful fact that they'll soon come face-to-face with themselves.
Part of last year's 20th Digital Studio’s Bite Size Halloween celebration on Hulu, Go To Bed Raymond recently screened at the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, and I caught up with the short film's writer, filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski (whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at Overlook), to discuss collaborating with director Nicole Taylor Roberts, seeing an audience's reaction to the short film, plans for a feature-length version of Go To Bed Raymond, and more!
Below, you can read our full Q&A with Casimir Nozkowski (who also wrote and directed The Outside Story). We also have a look at a poster that Casimir made for Go To Bed Raymond, and you can now watch Go To Bed Raymond on Hulu:
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Casimir, and congratulations on the new short film Go To Bed Raymond! How did you initially come up with the idea for this short film, and how long did it take you to write the screenplay?
Casimir Nozkowski: Thank you! I’m a parent of a six-year-old and one of his favorite things to do for a while was to hover near my wife and I’s bed in the middle of the night until the feeling of a presence in the room JOLTED us awake. He’s shed this heart-attack-inducing habit recently, but after the 20th or 30th time tucking him back into bed, I thought that a horror film based on this dynamic would be a really creepy one to explore. After meeting Nikki Taylor Roberts—GtBR’s director—at the Almanack Screenwriters Lab in 2021, she very generously invited me to pitch horror films with her. I wrote the actual screenplay in about a day because I had basically been living the concept off and on for a year. I knew vividly what that sleepless feeling was for the parents and just had fun writing what I hoped would be a believably unnerving mythology for the child in this film to unemotionally recount to his parents about who it was that was stalking them.
There are some fantastical moments of horror in Go To Bed Raymond, but it’s also very relatable for parents who have had children who don’t want to go to sleep. How important was it for you to ground the horror elements of this story within a very realistic family dynamic?
Casimir Nozkowski: I wanted the film to be as relatable as possible and instantly recognizable not just to parents but to any human who was once a kid and woke their parents up to share a terrifying nightmare. I certainly woke up my parents and screamed gibberish at them a few times during some sleepwalking episodes. Good times! Also, Nikki is such a fan of grounded horror—with a firm foothold in this world—that she just absolutely knocked it out of the park tonally. And also how she directed the actors. She, along with casting director Stephanie Holbrook, populated the film with such a convincing, talented cast—Adam Blackstone Jr. as Raymond and Carvens Lissaint and Siovhan Christensen as his parents—that the family just felt completely realistic and familiar. Nikki and Jack McDonald, our DP, along with Becca Morrin, the production designer, also really crushed it visually—the landscape is clearly tense and gives horror vibes, but it also feels so lived-in and makes you question whether Raymond is telling the truth or just a normal kid having a bad dream.
Nikki Taylor Roberts did an amazing job directing this short film. What was it like collaborating with Nikki to bring your screenplay to life?
Casimir Nozkowski: I totally agree. "Amazing" is the word. I feel very lucky to know Nikki and to have worked with her on this film. She’s such a clear, creative, and confident director—I just so enjoyed watching her bring the film to life. We had a lot to get done on a no-margin-for-error kind of schedule, and she just piloted the plane so smoothly. One example is our ghouls in the film: they’re children who had to wear some pretty extensive makeup. Nikki guided them so compassionately and safely into visceral performances that were TERRIFYING, bringing to life both her vision and the practical effects put in place by our brilliant makeup artist, Kelly Harris. Working with our composer Peter Lam and Tom Ryan, our sound designer/sound editor, she had such a feel for what the film should convey, it was honestly one of the best collaborations of my life, and I hope we get to work on a lot more together.
There’s a great reveal near the end of the film when we see one of the faces of the children from the woods, and it’s a moment of pure nightmare fuel. How did you come up with that haunting visual for viewers to experience?
Casimir Nozkowski: I have to give the majority of the credit to Nikki, Kelly, our costume designer Lucyanna Randall, and our casting director Stephanie. They really brought these kid-creatures to life in a way that exceeded my expectations. I do love dreaming up monsters and trying to find something that hasn’t been seen before. I used to draw monsters of all shapes and sizes when I was a kid and I think for this film, they had to come across as both SCARY AF but also able to communicate with a child in a convincingly not-scary way. They had to look like kids from one angle but also in the right moonlight as monsters. So let me also just give a quick standing ovation to the kids who played the roles of the bad kids: Sha’Kiya Mitchell, Aaliyah McDowell, and Miia Stabrovskaia. They had such a great rapport with Nikki and were absolutely troopers on set.
Go To Bed Raymond was one of the short films selected to screen at the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans. What was it like watching this short film with a crowd and seeing people react to it in a movie theater?
Casimir Nozkowski: It’s the best feeling. It’s why you get into this business. And it’s also easy to forget when you’re working on a laptop for so long. To be amongst such a horror-loving audience and feel like we put something on a big screen that freaked them out was an absolute honor. Plus, you need to see what you make with a crowd so that its truths can be revealed to you. There were a half-dozen moments that got laughs or gasps which Nikki and I hadn’t clocked previously. It’s such good data for what works that it feels essential to have this experience, and I was enormously grateful to the Overlook Film Festival for selecting it. If you are a horror fan or filmmaker, you MUST attend this festival sometime. It was one of my favorite festival experiences.
Do you and Nikki have plans to expand Go To Bed Raymond into a feature-length movie? I think there is so much more of this story to explore in a feature-length version, especially the mythology of the children in the woods and the backstory of the family in the house.
Casimir Nozkowski: Thanks for saying that. Short answer is YES! I think Nikki and I had such a great experience making Go To Bed Raymond that we’d love to see the story continue and build out the world of the film. 20th Century Digital and EP Valerie Steinberg have been so supportive and so inspiring to work with on the short and have such an awesome track record developing their shorts into features that it’s hard not to dream on the possibilities. Please tell your readers to run to Hulu and check out 20th’s new features Clock and Appendage (and more coming down the road in the near future, too). They’re such brilliant extensions of strong shorts, I have been so impressed by their visions and their passion for the horror genre. There’s a lot of fun ways to take Go To Bed Raymond and flesh out the past and future of the family and their bad kids antagonists that it would be an absolute delight to plant the seed and watch it grow.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from Go To Bed Raymond?
Casimir Nozkowski: I think ultimately I’d love for people to be scared. In a fun way! I think kids say the darndest things and by that I mean, they say the most liminal, ethereal, and dream-like things that I think there’s real poetry in their unfiltered, earnest take on the world around them. I remember my son at a very young age talking about how he could remember what it was like to be in his mother’s stomach, describing it in otherworldly detail (that’s a whole ’nother horror film). Or I can think of a dozen parents who have relayed absolutely foreboding messages from their young children—almost like they had a connection to either a past life or another dimension unseen by our adult eyes. I love how they vocalize their imaginations without any kind of screen, and I hope viewers of Go To Bed Raymond are just inspired to listen to their kids’ stories.
With Go To Bed Raymond now streaming on Hulu (along with your feature film debut, The Outside Story), what other projects are you working on that you can tease for our readers, and where can they go online to keep up to date on your work?
Casimir Nozkowski: Thanks for asking and for mentioning The Outside Story. That was my first feature and starred Brian Tyree Henry, Sonequa Martin-Green, and Sunita Mani, and I just feel so lucky to have gotten to direct that film. Besides dreaming on Go To Bed Raymond’s future, I’m working on a new feature right now about an unconventional band that I’m aiming to direct in Upstate New York. I co-wrote that one with Alexander Trimpe. Frank Hall Green is producing it. I have a sci-fi comedy feature script which has a personal connection I want to explore. And I have another microbudget feature that touches on the workplace and technology and claustrophobia and is not a horror film but definitely has horror notes in it. You can find my past work at casimirnozkowski.com and follow me on Instagram (@casimirn) and TikTok (@casimiracles) for more upcoming film projects—both short and feature.