(Courtesy of The Asylum)
In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, co-writer/director Letia Clouston talks about her twisted mystery/slasher flick, The 6th Friend, starring Jamie Bernadette and Dominique Swain. Not only does the filmmaker discuss riveting performances from her charismatic cast members, she also gives us some behind-the-scenes tidbits within the exciting thriller from The Asylum!
In our review, six college best friends throw their own private graduation, only to see it go terribly wrong when an uninvited guest arrives. Five years later, the girls gather once again and endure a night of far more horror and bloodshed.
With The 6th Friend now available on VOD, director Letia Clouston reveals how the project came about and collaborating on the screenplay with co-writer/producer/actress Jamie Bernadette. If you’re interested in taking an advanced course in film school, then you’re going to enjoy this director’s commentary behind the slasher flick.
VM: Tell me how the concept for The 6th Friend came about.
LC: I met Jamie through auditions and brought her on to a sci-fi series we were working on. We worked very low budget but had a lot of fun and Jamie mentioned a project her and Chantelle Albers were developing.
I read the script and we all chatted about our goals for the project; making a fun slasher horror film from a female perspective. It was an exciting idea and working with a predominantly female cast, producers, and writers seemed like a great opportunity.
VM: I love watching movies where the actors write the scripts, like Sylvester Stallone with Rocky and Tom Hanks with That Thing You Do! I feel like the acting/writing explores a different range. Tell me about working on the screenplay with actress Jamie Bernadette.
LC: The screenplay was already in good shape when I got it. I’ve found actors really know character and emotion—when you read a script written by an actor, the emotion is really at the forefront; They get it.
We did some rewrites to focus on what we knew we could pull off with the time, budget and locations that we had at our disposal. All genre films, like horror and sci-fi have similar clear parameters- the character goes from point A to point B. Because the finish line is so clear, you have a lot of flexibility to interject your own voice and your perspective. So while we were able to shoot blood and screams and scares, we were also able to interject some commentary on women and trauma, society, fame and the various ways people access that. It’s not about promoting an agenda, it just makes the journey of the characters feel more real.
VM: I love Dominique Swain as Heather! She has been my favorite actress since Face/Off! Tell me about bringing out the attitude and suspense from Swain’s performance.
LC: You have great taste! Dominique’s a total pro—fully in touch with herself and can access any emotion at the drop of a hat. But she’s so kind, funny and generous; it really makes being on set with her a total blast.
Working with her is easy because she likes honest and direct communication. So she can bring strong and interesting choices to the table, but is willing to adjust for whatever the scene and the production needs.
VM: Without spoiling too much, the film explores a traumatic event that takes place in the past, with the effects lasting in the present. I loved how the narrative gave hints at what happened before revealing what happened in the climax. Tell me about using this storytelling technique; where less is more.
LC: Filmmaking is often a balancing act between what to reveal and when. You don’t want to lay out all your cards on the table until the end, but you also need to keep the viewer interested in the game. It can be tricky and I worked with the editor on several different versions, trying tease out information in a way that isn’t frustrating for the audience, but also keeps a sense of mystery.
VM: Tell me how the look of the masked slasher came about. Was the cracked skull mask written into the script? Or did the look come about later on?
LC: We never described the mask in the script but had some ideas in mind. And Jim Towns did an amazing job bringing everything we wanted to the screen. He was able to build something “clean” that was unique, but looked like you could buy in a store for Halloween. And then he created a version far scarier and decayed for the present day part of the story. I was really happy with how it came out.
VM: I love the wide shots in this movie because you have the entire cast interacting with each other. It almost has a theater-like approach, but there’s a cinematic style to the sceneS. Tell me about capturing the group chemistry on camera.
LC: Chris Burgon is a DP who prioritizes story and character. So when we were shot listing, we looked for ways to capture the cohesiveness of this group. We started the story with a lot of wide shots, filling the frame with the characters and their connection. And then, as the group fractures, we whittled it down so the audience could feel the emptiness in the frame as characters are killed.
I come from a theatre background so we approached scenes like a play. The cast is super talented and we could hold them all in a frame without cutting away too much. We were so lucky that everyone was on board for anything and they were gracious enough to room in the same cabin together. Living together like that helped with bonding and I really think it came across on screen. They were living their characters every hour of the day… just without the hardcore drugs and the rampant murder.
VM: How did The 6th Friend change you as a director?
LC: For the better. When you start a film, it’s good to clearly define what you want to add to your skill set. Productions can be pure chaos – when you’re not directing a scene, you’re prepping the workload for the next day. You’re constantly trying to focus on what’s in front of you while thinking about what’s coming next or what happened right before. So when I wake up sore and tired, I can remind myself that I’m building my directing muscles.
For The 6th Friend, I was excited to expand my skills directing an ensemble and dealing with stunts.
On a personal level, I have to say that each night that we wrapped, (or day after a night shoot) the crew would lay around watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The cabin had a VCR and only 3 videos. So, after 14-16 hours of working, we would veg out and watch it, even though we’d already seen it seven times that week. It was always fun. So I think about those moments when I’m directing now—to remember how lucky I am to be making movies.
VM: What are you working on now?
LC: I’m currently writing two thrillers that I’ll be directing. And I’m working on a sci-fi project with Matt Clouston [for] our production company, Forewarned Films. I really can’t wait to direct another horror film, though. I miss coming home covered in blood.
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]
The 6th Friend opens theatrically January 11, 2019, arriving VOD on January 15th, 2019.