While in Austin at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, Daily Dead caught up with several of the directors and producers behind the various segments in the new horror anthology The Field Guide to Evil, which celebrated its world premiere during the fest. During our interview, we talked with directors Calvin Lee Reeder ("The Melon Heads", United States) and Yannis Veslemes ("Whatever Happened To Panagas The Pagan?", Greece) as well as producers Anke Petersen ("A Nocturnal Breath", Germany), Dora Nedeczky, and Esther Turan ("Cobblers’ Lot", Hungary) who discussed their involvement in the project and how they approached their ambitious contributions to The Field Guide to Evil.
When somebody like Ant [Timpson], who has done really great anthologies in the past, calls you up and says, "I want to make this movie with you," what were your initial reactions to the idea and the concept behind The Field Guide to Evil?
Calvin Lee Reeder: Ant called me up, and as much as I liked The ABCs of Death, what really got me is The Greasy Strangler, which is a film he made last year. And after he made that, anything Ant asked me to do, the answer will always be, "Yes."
Esther Turan: When I first heard the concept from our director, Peter Strickland, it was about half a year before the shoot. I only knew that it was going to be a short, but then gradually I learned about the concept and the more I heard about it the more I loved it.
Yannis Veslemes: The good thing about the idea is that it combines eight countries with different languages, different styles, and different folklores. There’s really something for everyone here, and so many great stories.
Anke Petersen: For me, it was different because my director, Katrin Gebbe, approached me. She had worked with Ant before and she approached me to ask if I would like to produce this one, so that's why I met him, in the end. But, I didn't know Ant or Katrin before working on this.
Dora Nedeczky: So, I said yes to Peter Strickland, to our director, who pitched the project to me, and I agreed because I'm a fan of Peter Strickland's work. I just really liked this art house horror concept and telling these types of stories, and especially being able to work with Peter Strickland.
Was it neat to represent these different cultures and give them this type of spotlight? I know there was some joking during the introduction that you didn’t want to just do the easy stories that everyone already knew, like Bigfoot, or things we’ve seen in fairy tales.
Calvin Lee Reeder: Yeah, I think that was one of the main MOs of this process, was to unearth something people knew less about, and show them that. That was exciting to me.
Yannis Veslemes: The thing is, everyone that was involved, I sense that they took stories from their traditions and they mixed things up in a very personal way. So, it's a documentary in some ways, where you take your stories from your countries and you touch them with something quite unique and different all the same.
Esther Turan: It was definitely a process, finding the right story that you want to tell. Personally, I had no idea. I didn't know this story, so for me, it was a surprise and a new folklore story that I got to know through the process, because I wasn't aware of this specific tale. And I know Dora helped Peter Strickland with some expertise on the topic to create the right story.
Dora Nedeczky: Yeah, we contacted a folklore expert who actually lives in the US and he walked us through the different characters, and the quintessential symbols, and motifs of folklores and how these stories intertwine and how these characters get repeated in Hungarian folk tales. There are a lot of repetitions and a lot of variations to the same thing. We have the princess, we have the brothers, we have a king, and we have someone who works at the court. There are a lot of stories that happen in a really similar way, but I have not heard this particular variation on this kind of story.
Anke Petersen: As for the German segment, my director Katrin Gebbe had to really dig deep into our mythology because the Brothers Grimm already told a lot of stories that are well known to everybody. This specific tale hasn't been told before—she didn't know it and I didn't know it either. She really had to research for about two months to find an interesting story that hadn't been told before, but then she finally came up with this one and it’s one that’s very old.
When you're making a short, clearly you have a certain amount of time and resources versus making a feature where you can explore these stories from 80–90 minutes and perhaps you'll have a bigger budget at your disposal. I'm just curious, is it more challenging to do a short, or is almost freeing in a way because you have to push yourself in ways you maybe wouldn't have to with a feature?
Dora Nedeczky: For me, it's just a great reminder of film school, which was not that long ago. When you’re training in film school and you do so many shorts, it just becomes a thing you do. So, for me, as I became an established producer, it's always super nice to go back to the roots sometimes? It felt pretty normal, the process and producing it, and it’s a fun process when your director and all your cast and crew members have a lot of enthusiasm. It’s that enthusiasm that you use to compensate with the lack of money or the lack of time you might have. And that is what happened in our case.
Yannis Veslemes: If you have moved to feature films, it's a difficult thing to compress all the ideas and the time and your narratives into a ten-minute piece after that. It's always difficult, the time, because you try to learn to tell stories in 90 minutes, or then you must relearn how to make the right choices for this shortened amount of time. So, in my case, it was very, very, very difficult to compress all these elements of the stuff I really wanted to put into my ten minutes, so I feel that it's dense and overproduced in a way. But I also really like the quickness that the short format gives you, because that can deliver something of a punch when you have to move that quickly.
Calvin Lee Reeder: I agree. There are feature films and there are short films. For me, it's not really a relearning process. It's just that some stories are only ten minutes, some stories are only three minutes, and it's very instinctual to me. I actually prefer to make short films. I feel like it's a purer art form because you're not locked into a three-act thing for some type of commercial purpose. This has a type of commercial purpose, but we were able to free ourselves of the commercialism that comes from traditional features.
Yannis Veslemes: That is true.
Anke Petersen: I don't really have a comparison because I haven't done a feature film yet. I do commercials, though, and that’s an even shorter form of storytelling. But for me, it was great fun. We had an intense five-day shoot, due to the limited budget, and I can only say this from my producer’s side, that it was great fun to have all these enthusiastic people working all for the same amount of money, and it was very communistic and socialistic. It really helped the project because everyone was so into it and giving their best. It was like how me made projects in film school, and I really enjoyed the process.
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Image credit: Above image from Bloody Disgusting.