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Exclusive Tribeca 2011 Interview: Grave Encounters’ Vicious Brothers

Directors of the ghost hunting film

These days, horror seems to be coming in twos. Behind the camera that is. From the Butcher brothers to the Strause and Spierig siblings, we’re seeing more genre films arriving on the scene with two directors at the helm. Now welcome the Vicious brothers, Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan, the men behind Grave Encounters, which takes its cue from televised ghost hunting programs and injects heavy duty frights.

Following our chat with star Sean Robertson, we had an opportunity to speak to the Vicious brothers about their indie effort playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Shock Till You Drop: Which ghost hunting show pushed you to the decision to make a show about ghost hunters who find themselves in trouble?

Stuart Ortiz: We were inspired by all of the big shows, actually. When we started writing the project, it was in the middle of 2009. At that point, the phenomenon was really catching on with Ghost Adventures, Paranormal State, Ghost Hunters, those were the big ones. It was hilarious, because as we were getting into the making of the film, we kept hearing about all of these new shows that were coming out like Paranormal Kids and other shit. We just tried to make Grave Encounters the amalgamation of the ultimate ghost hunting show.

Shock: And the found footage angle lends itself perfectly for a haunted house tale like this – or haunted asylum, in this case.

Colin Minihan: Sure, there was just a great movie at the core of the story. What if one of these shows happened to stumble on a supernatural jackpot and things just got crazy. It was a “found footage” story from the get-go.

Ortiz: There were elements that could not have worked in this film unless it was found footage, like the night vision, for example. Found footage really draws the audience in and lets them suspend their disbelief a little bit more than they do with a traditional cinematic approach. No matter what, you’re always trying to find a way to creep the audience out. Found footage lends itself nicely to that. Walking down a mental institution’s hallway alone with a single light is scary and raw.

Shock: I think the found footage genre somewhat heightens that line between what you show and do not show in relation to the frights.

Minihan: When we started talking about the project, we initially said we were going to try and keep it extremely ‘realistic” with a little bit more in line with ghost hunting shows. We were going to concentrate on more subtle things like orbs or EVP recordings. At some point, we just thought it would be so much more cool and fresh to just take it further. Let’s see something.

Ortiz: People will get what they’re paying for, for sure.

Shock: Your leading man, Sean, said you guys used different tactics to keep the energy high? What did you do?

Ortiz: We wrote a 85-90 page script. It wasn’t a Blair Witch approach where there were rough scenes and it was heavily improvised by the actors. We had a tight framework, that said, there were parts where we were open to improvisation. For example, we set up a hallway and we told them they just have to go from one end of the hall to another and be scared. Film everything that happens.

Minihan: And we’d scare them along the way.

Ortiz: Yeah, me and Colin would run into various rooms and wait until we see them right next to us and we’d slam our fist against a wall or door to freak them out.

Shock: You used a real mental institution correct?

Minihan: Yeah, there’s been a bunch of stuff filmed in there, but nothing like this. I shot a video in there – a different video – and it’s just a great location. When started toying with the idea for the film, we wrote it with this place in mind.

Ortiz: All of the ghost hunting shows, they always shoot in a place like this. We didn’t it to be a tiny house. We wanted a large building with multiple floors and rooms to investigate.

Shock: Have you received any feedback from the real ‘television” ghost hunters?

Ortiz: Not yet! We’ll see what happens.

Minihan: Hopefully, they like it.

Ortiz: We keep an eye on our Twitter feed and people are like, “I wonder if Zak Bagans has seen this movie?” Someone said we tried to get a guy that looked like Zak Bagans, but that’s totally not true. We cast Sean because he’s the best man of for the job. But he does have Zak’s energy.

Shock: So what’s your stance on the ghost hunting craze? You believe in it or what?

Minihan: I believe in ghosts and have had a few experiences that are off-putting. I drew off of those experiences. For us, it’s something that we’re scared of and we were able to tap into.

Shock: So, what’s up next?

Ortiz: We’ve written three other scripts and we’re still figuring out what’s happening next. There’s nothing definitive. But we might do a script called The Clinic which is a modern-day vampire tale that’s set in a drug rehab clinic.

Look for the Vicious brothers’ Grave Encounters in theaters and on VOD this August.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor