Part of the beauty of the horror genre is that it is so complex and thus allows so many different types of movies to be made, like the wonderfully fun and bizarre short An Evening with My Comatose Mother. The film boasts a thick and tangible amount of style, calling back to old-school horror films from the past. With nearly 100 film festival admissions to its name, Comatose has been wildly successful, and is now being picked up to be turned into a feature, all thanks to the hard work and vision from writer/director Jonathan Martin.
FILM DEVIANT: An Evening with My Comatose Mother has a very old-school and distinct style. What were some of the films that inspired its atmosphere?
JONATHAN: You hit it right on the head. I'm a product of the 80's, aka "The greatest decade known to man"®, and as such I love and am influenced by the films of the era. My favorite films include Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, Poltergeist, Evil Dead 2... I'm even quite into Lynch's Dune. There's an aesthetic that I love. The diffusion in the lighting, the synth influence scores, the gung-ho attitude of making something ambitious even if you don't know how to pull it off. So it's with that same spirit I dived into Comatose.
I have a penchant for the dramatics. Thus the awe-inspiring, ridiculous beams of light, the rich colors, the kinetic camera moves. Of course, I was limited and always have been limited by a very tight budget. But budget be damned, as always.
This all being said, I also love that when you're watching these films, you know it's a movie. You can taste the cinema in each frame, the unique universe that each is creating. Nowadays, even though we've obviously advanced technologically, we've lost some of the soul. The Bourne movies are great, but does every film now have to feel like I'm watching a strange pseudo-documentary? Do all the horror films have to be, gritty and grimy and to be frank, ugly? So that's what I was going for. That old-school practical fx, mixed with the new, that combines energy, self-awareness and a wink and a growl. With Comatose, I wanted people to buckle up and have fun, to be thrilled while they're being chilled.
JONATHAN: Well, in a nutshell I wanted to do a horror film. An actress I knew wanted to do one too, so I had some ideas and we had a meeting. After gathering the ideas together, out spewed Comatose Mother, the first draft of which I wrote while on a flight to Indonesia in December of 2009. When I brought it back, the actress kinda didn't take to it, as it was written for her so I thought for a brief time maybe nothing would happen with it. But a producer friend of mine saw it and really pushed me into pursuing it, and the rest is history.
That being said, the first draft was quite different in some aspects. Namely, the film was set during a white Christmas. Thus the Tiny Tim character came into being. For the second draft, being a huge Sleepy Hollow fan (the book), I switched the film to taking place during Halloween and Dorothy being haunted by a headless horseman. This being really hard and expensive to pull off, I switched it back to Tiny Tim and kept the Halloween setting. But I decided to keep the Christmas theme as to give Dorothy a weird Christmas fetish... and nightmare... during the film.
But several people from my own life influenced the story. Mr. Poe is really my dad. My mom creeps into Mrs. Poe. My grandma snuck into Mother. My own fear of clowns birthed the creepy clown. Things like that.
The production itself went on for 9 days. We filmed on location in Provo, Utah and with a set (Mother's room) on a stage at Dark Sun Studios in Ogden, Utah. We actually lost a whole nights footage due to digital corruption of the files and had to reshoot the whole night. As well, it actually took a while for the crew to get the vision of what I wanted. Being fresher and maybe slightly more naive, I didn't quite know how to articulate what I want... so all the scenes we shot the first half day were crap. Not a frame of that was used. But by the time we got near midnight, they started to get it. And so most of what we shot from then on is in the finished film... namely the phone call and the footage in the kitchen when Dorothy is on the phone.
I have to say though that I got lucky with an extremely talented and hungry young crew, most of whom were in college or just graduated. Without them, this wouldn't have been possible. And I also "fed" them. By that I mean, on the first night, we did all the boring stuff. Then the second night, Tiny Tim showed up, which they dug. Then the third night, the clown... which they really dug (and was also the moment I realized it was all really working). Then the fourth night came Mother, and the deal was sealed. I loved this experience and I loved those who bled with me and believed in me, and for that, I believe in them. Always.
FILM DEVIANT: You have been accepted to nearly 100 film festivals (which will shortly be 100), were you ever anticipating this incredible amount of success with this short? How has the overall experience been?
JONATHAN: Yeah, a 100 festivals is crazy. I laugh when I think about it. I really could have ended it a long time ago and been content, but when you can start to smell this crazy century mark you have to go for it!
This being said, I'm not sure you really can anticipate something like this. Yet, it was not without design. I believe before you start any project, you have to have goals. You have to set realistic goals and outrageous goals. So, I stated that we would get into a lot of film festivals and win awards with this project. Most people were like, "yeah yeah, sure, that'll be cool, but we'll see." But I set three goals. The first, which I told not everyone but some, was that we would get into 50 film festivals and win 30 awards. But my real personal goal was to get into 75 festivals and win 50 awards. And then I set a truly outrageous goal of 100 festivals and 75 awards.
Currently, the tally is at 97 film festivals and 74 awards. So maybe it'll happen. The overall experience though has been a blast. We got so much great exposure for the film, but many members of the cast and crew were able to use it as a feather and as a selling point. We were featured in Makeup Artist Magazine with a two page spread. Devin Graham, the DP, has a hugely successful YouTube channel now (Devinsupertramp)... although he didn't need this I think. Some of the crew have now made their own shorts and features.
Also, I met so many great filmmakers on the circuit. I saw a lot of great movies. I saw how amazing this whole community is and can be. Sure, there were some jealousies and some stupid things said, but on the whole it's such a unique wonderful experience, and I'm truly proud to share in the company of so many talented filmmakers who help me push my game to higher levels.
FILM DEVIANT: I’ve heard that An Evening with My Comatose Mother is being turned into a feature. How is that coming together, and how did it come to be?
JONATHAN: You have heard correctly. That being said, I can't say too much. What I can say is that we're still in the process of finalizing the financing, which is a whole other topic of discussion, and that the budget is not cheap. I can't say specifics, but it's more than a recent horror film that came out in this month (April 2013). You can take a wild guess.
But the idea for the feature came before production began on the short. It wasn't quite a pipedream, but we looked at the product and realized that this had the potential to really go somewhere. And it has. Long story short, with all the success and accolades, we were able to attract the attention of certain investment groups and really sell them on what we were doing. But I can't say more (a running theme here!).
What I can say though is that the feature is the middle film of a potential trilogy. The film is actually not quite about the Comatose Mother, although she is the main antagonist of the film, but rather about the relationship of Mrs. Poe and Dorothy Pritchard. The trilogy is actually about Mrs. Poe and the demons that possess us. The film itself is more inspired by the short than an actual adaptation... although there are definitely a few winks and nudges to the short. So it's all new scares, all new set pieces, with some familiar faces. It's a deeper, richer story that touches on themes of love, temptation, being true to oneself, mythology, religion, spirituality and more.
I'll add these final nuggets: We have an Oscar nominated special fx company very interested, we have an Oscar nominated visual fx company ready to do the film, and we have a familiar face attached to the project that many horror fans will recognize. Because financing isn't finalized though, we can't get too deep into the discussions and confirm these companies and actors until that's all ready to go. If everything goes right, we could be filming as soon as this fall.
FILM DEVIANT: The doll is wonderfully creepy and full of personality. Was that made specifically for the short?
JONATHAN: Indeed it was. Chris Hanson, the special fx makeup artist, created him. We wanted him to be a creeper in the sexual sense actually. So there's subtle phallic imagery going on: the elongated fingers and oversized hands and feet. We wanted him to have a pedophile like presence and in the performance and underlying sexuality. Also, the face is modeled after Freddie Mercury... and as such, is credited as "Reddy Mercury" in the film.
And oh yes... there will be clowns in the feature.
FILM DEVIANT: I read that the entire movie was shot on a 5D. The film looks and feels very professionally done, how did you achieve such a high production look with such a low budget?
JONATHAN: You read correctly. It was shot on a 5D, with Canon lenses. We chose this because of the lack of budget and the practicality of the process. The camera actually was the DP's, and so it just made financial sense.
But the trick wasn't so much the camera, although having someone who knows how to operate one properly and having a gaffer, David Thorpe, whom I can't speak highly enough of and who really got me, definitely helped. No, the real trick is putting literally all the money you possibly can on screen. So get the lights and shine those bad boys. Get fantastic practical makeup and light it right and put it up there on the screen. You get the idea.
Make sure that all that money you spend is spent wisely, on people who can translate your vision onto the screen, who are passionate about what they're doing, and don't spend it on "above the line" transactions. So don't overspend on people that aren't putting the product on the screen if you can help it.
JONATHAN: I actually didn't go to film school. While I did take some film history classes, I never made a student film, I never made anything. I was in a couple student projects though, which always made me think "I can do this better." So finally, as I neared graduation I had the opportunity to film a documentary... In Poland. So I seized the chance. I had literally never shot anything before, never edited anything before, nothing. Fortunately it worked out, the film played at a fest in 2010, got a great write-up in the paper, got a bit of praise... and then that was that. I'm actually still planning on returning to the documentary to fix it with my new knowledge as I didn't have a clue what I was doing when I made it.
So overall, my earliest project came out in 2010 and I have only been a serious filmmaker, although I was taking film very seriously before then, since 2009.
FILM DEVIANT: Thanks so much for doing this interview. Good luck on your future project!
JONATHAN: Thank you, Zach. It was a pleasure.
An Evening with My Comatose Mother is now available on iTunes. You can find more info on the short film's official website HERE. And be sure to keep an eye out for development on the feature.
an amazing writer and
an aspiring filmmaker.
He has a deep passion
and an intelligent insight
into the world of horror
films and you can find
more of his work HERE!