Quantcast Dave Morwick interview - LITTLE ERIN MERRYWEATHER

David Morwick!!!

Icons Of Fright were lucky enough to catch an advance screening of a new independent flick titled 'LITTLE ERIN MERRYWEATHER'. The movie (similar in style to HALLOWEEN) introduces to the horror genre a brand new movie maniac... and it's a female antagonist! We caught up with Dave Morwick, who not only played the lead Peter, but also wrote and directed 'LITTLE ERIN MERRYWEATHER'. Before we even started, we couldn't stop talking about our mutual love of the original HALLOWEEN, and that's where our interview begins! Read on!!! - by Robg. & Jsyn 8/06

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember the first movie that really had an impact on you?

Halloween really was, and I know a lot of people say that. But the simplicity in the way that story was told and the style, the mood, the lack of gore – there’s really no blood in that film. Nancy Loomis is really a great character actor, and that’s what’s lacking in so many of these movies of today. It’s so many victims that you don’t care about. If anything, you want to see them die.

Whereas Halloween concentrates on these 2 girls – the good girl and bad girl, and Annie’s death scene is one of the most important scenes in that film. Comedy’s all about timing, but horror is too. You know she’s going to get it, but where is it going to happen. And you kind of care about her too. She’s Jamie Lee Curtis’s funny, best friend. There’s this whole cat & mouse thing going on in Halloween. She’s doing these everyday things, but in the background evil lurks. Then it comes to the time when she’s in her car and “wham”. Now, everyone checks the back seat of their car. (laughs)

So, Halloween to you opened the floodgates to your interest in horror?

Yea, I think so. And in a lot of ways, the idea of it, but also the acting, because the acting in it is great. They really created these characters. Today it’s so many body counts, but there’s no character development. Halloween was a big one for me. And of course his (John Carpenter) music score was another thing that stuck with me. It’s so frightening the way he filmed everything sort of in the dark. Even when the girls are walking home, you have this feeing that they’re not really safe. And the only thing that’s white, or has any kind of color is this mask. I just always thought it was such a great film.

Halloween is Film Class 101 to me in a lot of ways. Other then that, the first JAWS. ROSEMARY'S BABY is great. Acting is my first passion, so I always look at the acting and I think today is focused on a lot of special effects or CGI. It’s so much better to watch a character that you care about go down the wrong road.

Did you write ‘Little Erin Merryweather’ knowing that you would play the lead in it?

No, I didn’t. I was supposed to play Brandon (Johnson’s) part, Teddy. Because all the things that I’ve been cast in, I always end up playing the psycho! (laughs) Go figure! I always play the doctor’s roles, or the wise-ass. Peter’s sort of the golden boy. The shy, sensitive one. The one who’s nervous around girls. We auditioned a lot of guys for that part and they just weren’t getting it. So, I just felt I had to do this, and in the end it worked out.

When did you interesting in filmmaking first begin? Did you approach it as an actor at first?

My background is theatre. I trained in Emerson college and then the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. And really, most of my work has been in the theatre. It was a big jump to direct this. Or any film for that matter. The only other experience I had with film was when I was younger, I was a model for Talbot’s catalog. I was the guy in the back of the newspapers for JC Penny with the backpack and the cheesy smile. (laughs) But I loved film. Theatre is more of an actor’s medium. But there’s the writer in me and there’s the director in me too, which is why I love film too.

Is your school background in film or acting? Did you start writing ‘Little Erin Merryweather’ while in school?

I went to school for acting. No, I had finished my training at Emerson and I went out to LA and had one-liners on soaps & had done some summer stock productions. I really didn’t like LA because it really is who you know there. I think it’s a place you end up. I knew I wanted to come back to New York. But I was frustrated and while I was out there there I started thinking about a horror film. A lot of my friends were writers and I lived not too far from where Halloween was filmed. I started thinking about it and thought it’d be a great thing to work on rather then waiting around.

So, you had this idea as a vehicle for something you could be in?

Yea, but not so much in terms of me as an actor. I was getting bored and I wanted to create something. Horror films are a great way to break in to films. It’s been proven.

Was the script for ‘Little Erin Merryweather’ the first thing you wrote?

Yea. Growing up I’d written a lot of short stories, but I never really took it seriously. But in LA, I just stared writing down ideas, being so close to the Halloween house, and then it just started going from there. 20 pages turned into 50 pages.

Where’d the idea for the little red riding hood fairy tale to be incorporated into a horror movie come from? That was something I loved about your flick.

I started thinking about New England. It’s very picturesque. Especially the towns I grew up in. They look like a fairy tale. So, I thought that was the perfect backdrop. Then I started thinking about what hasn’t been done – how ‘bout a female antagonist. Front and center. But what’s going to be her mask or her get-up.

I thought if it’s linked back to her childhood like most serial killers are, then something happened to this one too. Wouldn’t it be great where this villain is donning the apparel of little red riding hood? How weird and out there would that be? And then to have her paint her face like the doll. That’s different. It can be campy and funny sometimes in the movie, but that works too. That’s a part of the genre. But some parts, she can be quite frightening.

I didn’t think the movie was campy at all! (laughs) It was creepy. But thinking about it, a lot of those old children’s stories were always almost sinister by nature.

They are! It’s an interesting calling card too. Each serial killer has a signature. So, what’s hers going to be? I went back and read thru all the fairy tales – the original ones, because now they’ve been kind of toned down and lightened up.

This theme of cutting opening the wolf’s stomach and replacing them with rocks, I thought that was something interesting, and tying it back to her ( Erin’s) dad. Everything is a metaphor. The hands are part of the wolf. All these guys are all dark haired, almost wolf like, with dirty hands. Except for the one guy who gets away in the end, because he doesn’t have the same appearance as these other guys did. The qualities that his friends always rag on are what end up saving him in the end.

Can you tell us how you went from just looking for a work as an actor, to writing this, and then directing it? I get the feeling you didn’t intend on doing all 3 things at first.

I came back to Boston. I knew I wanted to shoot it back here. I formed a film company called Three Stone Pictures. One of the most challenging tasks was raising the money, which I have no problem telling you was complete hell. The whole thing was about $400,000…

Really? It looked more expensive then that! (laughs)

Well, good! (laughs) We shot it on super 16 and then we blew it up to 35. It looks better blown up on the big screen. Getting the money was really tough. The people that don’t have the money “get it”. The people that have a lot of money don’t “get it”. I don’t ever forget that. The other thing that was tough was finding people to stick with us. The actors were great. This was a labor of love.

A lot of us aren’t paid for our hard work. But in terms of the crew, it’s not about the passion, for them it’s a paycheck. They don’t really care, but we thankfully had a great crew. I went thru 3 different directors before I ended up directing it myself. I had producers quit on me, a lot of people quitting, and I don’t blame them. Because when it comes down to it, a lot of people don’t break in, because it’s THAT much of a sacrifice that they can’t do it, because they have families and lives to think about.

How long did it take to raise the money, then make and complete the movie?

Up to this date? I’d say it took 4 or 5 years. In the end, my parents stuck with me and (my producer) Jim. And that’s about it. So many people along the way just lost interest and did’t want to do it, or did’t believe in it. So many people talk about writing a screenplay but they don’t do it. You have to listen to yourself and no one else. Because if you don’t believe in yourself the most, no one else is going to. Don’t depend on anyone to give you that confidence. You have to find it and just do it.

How did you go about the casting process for ‘Little Erin Merryweather’? You said originally you didn’t intend on playing the lead?

I wanted to play Teddy. I was always cast in the “dark” roles, so I didn’t want to play that. I wanted to be the wiseass. I didn’t want to play Peter. He’s the boring geek. But we had a lot of people come in and read for that, but they just weren’t getting it, so I just decided to play it myself. It worked out in the end anyways. Vigdis, I had trained with at the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts.

So, you already knew Vigdis before shooting ‘Little Erin Merryweather’?

I knew her before. When I was writing it I had her in mind, but I wanted to be sure. So, we saw people from LA, New York, Boston… we saw tons of girls for that part and either they were pretty and couldn’t act, or they had something, but just not the right look. Vigdis had the right combination. Her features are very doll-like. Her eyes are really THAT blue. She knocked our socks off. After we had gone thru all these girls in auditions, we finally just went back and went to my original choice, which was Vigdis.

Plus, I wanted her to be a little bit older then the rest of us. Someone who’s been thru that much amount of trauma isn’t going to exactly be on schedule with things. She’d be somewhat damaged. Then, Brandon Johnson was another great find.

Brandon’s my boy! (laughs)

He just auditioned. Almost everyone came from New York or Boston. Liz Callahan, who played the teacher & whom I think is great came in and did a monologue from ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf?’ and she had a small part in ‘Good Will Hunting’ too.

I wanted these actors to have theatre training. I wanted them to have chops. I didn’t want them to be models who never picked up a script or had never done a play. But that was the fun part. Working with actors who were so easy to work with and who were so up for anything. Vigdis was running around the whole time with her face painted, looking like a freak, in the snow, in freezing cold and never even asked for coffee! I’ll never forget what a trooper she was on the shoot.

How long did the whole shoot itself take?

4 weeks. About a month. Originally, it was going to be shot in the fall, but the snow really worked out. In the beginning, when you see the little girl running thru the snow. It looks great. Such texture. That was all Mike Pessah, the cinematographer. He did such a great job. Mike went on to the AFI’s. Jillian Wheeler who played young Erin went on to play Sean Penn’s daughter in ‘MYSTIC RIVER’. So, it’s great to watch a lot of people go on to bigger things.

How close is the final film to your original script? Were there any changes along the way or is it pretty much the film you set out to make?

There were some slight changes. You always look back and think about how you would do some things differently. You’re limited with your budget. But for the most part, I’m glad I got to keep the integrity of the script. Because I remember when I first started pitching the script, and interviewing different directors – I mean, at that point I didn’t know I wanted to direct it. A lot of people came forward and said “You can’t have a female do this.” “A female wouldn’t do this.” And I actually used that line. A lot of people didn’t want to do it in New England, they wanted to do it in LA. And we’ve seen that a hundred times.

Sometimes it seems you have to do it independently to do it right.

Exactly. You learn though from the experience. You have to learn from all your mistakes.

Let’s talk about the original score. That was all orchestrated?

Yep. Composed by Paul Cristo. All live music and no synthesizers. With the New England conservatory and the BC choir. He was my first choice. I went right to Berkley. I listened to some of the things he worked on and knew he had it.

There are a series of beautiful illustrations with narration during the course of the film. Can you tell us a bit about the artwork? Was that something you had in mind in the script?

Kelly Murphy did all those illustrations. I wanted the script to be the killer’s point of view. I didn’t want it to be a secret, but I thought let’s tell it in a different way from her point of view. Wouldn’t it be interesting that each thing is a metaphor for something? The boy in the woods is the first wolf. Each one has some kind of moral. One was too naïve. That was all in the script. The hardest thing was trying to rhyme the words for that narration. Both Kelly and I came up with those words. The illustrations, I really wanted to be in and out of reality. So, what’s really happening and what isn’t.

The reason I bring up the score and illustrations is because if it was something you didn’t already have in mind from the beginning, then it’s just uncanny that you found two incredibly talented people to add those stand out elements.

I think the way the music and illustrations came up is what sets it apart from all the other genre films of this type. I went to high school with Kelly. She painted the credits. The whole thing right from the beginning. When she turns the page, you come into the reality. That was in the script, and at the end of the script I have that she shuts it, but the story isn’t over yet.

I noticed at a recent screening, and even on the official website, you’ve got some cool ‘Little Erin Merryweather’ related merchandise. And the movie really lends itself out to that. Did you keep that in mind ahead of time?

It is one thing I thought of ahead of time. Its good marketing! You’ve got to make a mark in this genre. And the one’s that stick out are the one’s that introduce this new antagonist. So, I thought, well what’s going to be different? We’ll make this woman who has this little red riding hood outfit who’s caught between a real world and a fantasy world and with her comes a lot of merchandise because she’s a brand new visually interesting villain.

Was there anything that got deleted from the final movie?

Not that much, there were just certain scenes. When we looked at the final cut, the stuff we took out was stuff that we just didn’t need and that didn’t really further the story. It took a long time to edit. It was a really hard process to get it right.

Vigdis was excellent. She brought such a presence in her performance as Erin. How’d you go about getting that performance out of her, and was there anything she brought to the role herself?

I wanted her to be very real. There’s a scene where her and I are in the diner and she’s really torn. I wanted her to be layered and not one dimensional.

There were moments where I felt really sympathetic for her.

Right. Because the real evil there is the father. So, I would always say to Vigdis to not play this over the top. When she gets into the moment, I wanted her not to say anything. The main thing was for her to be very natural and to play this girl in a way that you really felt for her. Make us like her. She’s very shy. She does these subtle little things like nervously playing with her hair. She’s not a girl that’s confident and cocky. She’s someone who is very unsure of herself, and those are the girls guys usually end up being attracted to because they don’t know how beautiful they are. That’s why guys fall for them. Of course …she ends up being psycho. (laughs)

Hey! That happens in real life too! Was it difficult being one of the lead actors AND directing on top of it?

I’m glad you asked that. It was very tough. Because you never really concentrate on your performance because you get so worried about all these different things. I can’t wait to just go back and be just an actor and be in another director’s hands! (laughs) It’s so hard to wear all those hats and juggle it.

The main thing is to just be natural and I wanted Peter to come off as a little boy. You always play some part of yourself. I watched that type of kid in college who always bites his lip, and who’s nervous around girls, and who shuffles his feet. I mean, we’re all about the same age. We’re all in our late 20’s playing a lot younger, so what do you do to do that, you find those mannerisms. Vigdis would do a lot of whispering. My character would be fidgety. When you find that in yourself, you bring it into your character.

While you were acting in scenes, did you have someone directing you, telling you when you sucked (laughs) or did you have to jump in and out of frame?

No. (laughs) The best scenes for me are when I would work with Vigdis. We tried to really listen to each other and match each other. I think you see it in the diner scene, because we’re very comfortable with each other and that scene is very real. You can tell when actor’s are not on the same page. But listening is so huge.

Once you finished the film, didn’t you premiere it at the New York City Horror Film Festival?

Yes. That was almost 2 years ago, and we screened a really rough cut. We really just wanted to get audiences reactions. We wanted to test audience reactions. It was great, because there were a lot of people there and they all laughed at the spots we wanted them to laugh and then screamed at the parts we hoped would scare them.

I loved Vigdis (Erin) in the full make-up and in the red hood when she looked right into camera. It was so creepy and you did it a bunch of times and it never lost its effectiveness. There’s something intriguing about looking at her!

I set the whole ending scene in the library because there’s something about libraries… they are so quiet that it feels like there’s something off there. There’s something really creepy within the stacks.

Between Little Erin – the character herself and the merchandise you’ve created which includes an illustrated book, action figures, a mask, mouse pads, key chains, lunch boxes… were you thinking of this as a franchise from the start? Could there be a sequel?
Oh yea. Definitely. There’s plenty more back story. And I knew I wanted to leave it open for more. The great thing about the genre is it puts out the most amount of sequels. Look at Halloween or Friday The 13th! I mean, we’ve already written the sequel.

Oh, wow! Really? Is that your next project? Or were you thinking of doing something in between?

Either or. I mean, I want to do the sequel, but I really only want to write and act in it. I’d be really grateful if I got killed off like Janet Leigh within the first hour. (laughs) I think that’d be key.

Any final thoughts for the Icons audience?

I think my final thought would be that we really set out to do something that would change the genre a little bit and add something different to it. That’s really all we wanted to do. Mix things up and tell something different. There were certain things that we followed that other films have done, but over all I’m glad we changed the formula a little bit. We told the story in a very creative way and I’m proud of that.

Little Erin Merryweather trailer

Visit: www.LittleErinMerryweather.com

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