A deadly shapeshifter takes what it means to be human away from his victims in the new movie Lifechanger, and with the new horror thriller coming out soon in the US from Uncork'd Entertainment and in Canada from Raven Banner, Daily Dead caught up with writer/director Justin McConnell for our latest Q&A feature to discuss the movie's inception in 2014, the cinematic influences pulsating in the movie's DNA, and the massive practical effects scene that took the combined efforts of 10 people to pull off.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, and congratulations on your latest film, Lifechanger. When and how did you originally come up with the idea for this movie?
Justin McConnell: In 2014 I was getting frustrated with not being able to get a couple of larger films—The Eternal and Tripped—made. So I started brainstorming an idea that could be done on a very limited budget. The idea sort of came to me naturally. The tone of it was shaped by my mindset at that time, which was full of self-reflection, existentialism, and, to be frank, depression.
How long did it take to write the screenplay for Lifechanger, and did the story take any unexpected directions when you were writing it?
Justin McConnell: The first draft, from initial notes through to full script, was about a month. But that was back in 2014. By the time we began to shoot we were on draft eight, I believe. It went in lots of directions through re-writes, but the core beats of the overall story stayed very similar. It was mostly refining the little things, making sure it worked thematically. The current ending came to me in the second or third draft, so I suppose that’s an unexpected change.
Where did filming take place, and what was your shooting schedule for Lifechanger?
Justin McConnell: We shot for 20 days and two pickup days in November and December, 2017. It was mostly shot in downtown Toronto, with a few days heading out to more remote locations in Southern Ontario. Canadian through and through.
Do you have any favorite movies that inspired you while making Lifechanger?
Justin McConnell: The favorite movie question is never an easy one to answer, but there is definitely DNA from other films in the body of Lifechanger. I didn’t set out to directly homage anything in particular, but I’ll admit there are pieces of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, The Hidden, The First Power, Fallen, The Borrower, and even Heaven Can Wait in there. If you dig deep enough, probably a lot more I’m not even aware of. It’s difficult not to lean into your influences when making a film.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or funny moment that stands out?
Justin McConnell: There’s an effect early in the film that is basically animatronic, full of bladders that pulsate under the skin of its face and neck. The whole thing required about 10 people to operate correctly; one person to work the basic movement of the head and facial features, and everyone else blowing into air hoses to trigger the various bladders. So it was all-hands-on-deck, with a chunk of the crew volunteering to play with a practical effect, many of them never doing anything like that before. It was so fun to direct them all, and get a performance out of what was essentially a puppet.
What was the most challenging or rewarding scene to film?
Justin McConnell: There’s a sort of climactic confrontation between two characters that starts as a conversation and builds. Getting the tone and pace of that down, as it’s a rather long scene, and shooting it over two days, was really rewarding. On the page it’s a lot to say, and the actors needed to be feeling the scene for it to work. After some work-shopping and rehearsing, with take after take, we eventually got there and things were starting to click—it was really rewarding.
What do you hope viewers take away from Lifechanger?
Justin McConnell: Ultimately, if they are at the very least entertained, I’ll be happy. But there are bigger questions brewing below the surface of the film, and if it gets viewers talking and discussing, then that’s my biggest hope.
With Lifechanger coming to theaters on December 28th (in Canada) and on VOD on January 1st from Uncork’d (USA) and Raven Banner (Canada), what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers follow your work online?
Justin McConnell: I’m in post-production right now on a documentary film/series called Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business, which should be a great "film school in a box" resource for those interested in the business. I have been shooting it for four years now and collected like 120 interviews, so post has been daunting, but I’m excited to get it out there. Our third Little Terrors anthology came out last month, "Blood, Sweat and Terrors", and is a lot of fun for action (and horror) fans. And we are supposed to be going to camera on two more features in the new year, Mark of Kane (based on the Michael Prescott/Douglas Borton novel Kane), and DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? (an expansion of a festival short film we released in 2016, currently on YouTube). I’m on all the regular social media, and my company website is unstableground.net
Photo by Danielle Blancher: