Director of the upcoming science fiction/horror film ‘Project Dorothy’ George Henry Horton answers some questions about working on the film covering everything from location scouting to casting. As an artist who’s eager to collaborate with like-minded individuals, George is able to bring a lot of excellent talent together to create something that is really special and this is a dynamic he explores thoroughly in his answers.
What inspired your upcoming sci-fi/horror film ‘Project Dorothy’?
It was absolutely 1980’s horror and sci-fi movies. The Thing. Christine. John Carpenter in general. The main writer on the project, Ryan Scaringe, is a huge fan of all things 1980s. I think then as the director, I directed a little horror juice into it, as well as more of a high concept sci-fi, notably Moon and – dare I say it – 2001: A Space Odyssey. But as I’ll explain later, we had such a short period of time to put everything together, we couldn’t spend a long time pouring over references and being inspired by too much. I’d like to think it was very much our own thing. And I really mean ‘our’ – I’m no auteur. Collaboration is key to me.
Generally speaking, we wanted to make a fun movie. Not another family drama in a house which was mostly the films being made when we were all together at film school.
How did the script develop and how quickly did you transition into production?
This project was quite unusual insofar that it started with a location. My friend had access to this huge facility out in Illinois, and I’d been encouraging him to shoot something there. I didn’t even need to be involved; it just felt like too good of an opportunity to pass up on.
He reached out and it was all confirmed, but we were told we only had the next six weeks to shoot there, after which it was a no-go! So essentially, we immediately started working on the script AND went into pre-production simultaneously. It was crazy. The student short film I did at film school had about sixteen weeks of preproduction, and this was a feature with only four!
But honestly, it just goes to show what you can do when you really put your mind to it. I am not a fan of months or years of development or pre-production, so I honestly kind of loved it. Other members of the team – perhaps not as much!
As far as working with Ryan, it was a very open conversation, probably facilitated by the fact that we didn’t have time to be anything but very direct about our thoughts. Ryan was very collaborative and it was great working with him. Ultimately, the script ended up changing a lot on set and again right now in post.
Even with my own work I’m never precious if the actors have better lines or the editor has a better cut. Notwithstanding, the core story remained, and that’s a testament to Ryan given the short time-frame for development.
How did you go about your casting decisions?
Casting was the one thing which I concede I did get a little stressed about. Because of the time constraint, we had to cast fast. Fortunately, the cast was very small, and what this ultimately meant was spending one weekend seeing dozens of actors for the two lead roles, James and Blake.
This being my first proper formal casting session as a director rather than producer, I learnt a great deal. The biggest thing I probably learnt was that even if someone is a great actor, that’s not enough. What I think is most important is the dynamic between two actors rather than their own individual performance – which is why having a chemistry read is vital.
The two actors we got – Tim DeZarn and Adam Budron – were fantastic. Both of them are great guys and great actors. We couldn’t be happier. Our other big role, Dr Jillian, we ended up casting whilst we were out in Illinois, through audition tapes. We ended up having the pleasure of working with the wonderful Olivia Scott.
We’re also in the somewhat unique position of having a big role still available – the voiceover role for our monster Dorothy. We’re actually looking at getting a big name actress for that role. So fingers crossed!
Regarding the ‘monster’ of the film, what has the design process been like? What’s the most important element to get right?
Well we very lucky insofar that the monster of the film – Dorothy – was already mostly designed for us. She came with the location. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll leave it like that.
The most important element to get right I think with monsters is very simple. They need to be scary. Often in movies you never even see the monster, or perhaps only in the very end, and this can work really well. Sometimes when you see the monster it can actually get rid of the tension, particularly if they’re a little cheesy!
We didn’t really have that option, with our monster appearing throughout the film. So we had to think of ways to make her scary. We’ll see whether we succeeded when we do our preview screening with an audience in a couple of weeks!
What has been the most challenging element of the production so far?
This is a hard question to answer because it’s very easy to be biased towards whichever challenge you’re currently facing, which right now is post-production and putting together the best possible movie.
Taking a step back, the biggest challenge probably came in the days before production when we flew out to Illinois from Los Angeles. Olesia (the cinematographer) and I had never even seen the location in person before this point. And a lot of the scenes were somewhat vague, described as ‘Warehouse Room 1’ or something to that effect. So we ended up spending those days figuring out where each scene actually was in the location, if that makes any sense.
We essentially location scouted within a location – because this place was huge. We literally had to use golf carts to get around, and it would take about 10 minutes to drive the full length of the facility! Not to mention on the property there was also a lake, race track, train track.
How are you planning to market the film? What kind of release are you looking at?
Luckily for us, the horror and sci-fi genres have very dedicated fanbases. We’re going to hone in the specifics of our marketing plan when the film is closer to completion but we’re confident if we create a good movie there will definitely be a great market for it. The beauty is we don’t have millions of dollars to recoup, but many aspects of the film, particularly the location, make it look like a million dollar movie.
Hopefully the casting of our villain Dorothy will also factor into the marketing. In terms of release, obviously all filmmakers dream of seeing their films on the silver screen, but honestly the idea of millions of people all over the world being able to see it on Netflix or Amazon gets me just as excited.
In your portfolio of work, what significance do you feel this film holds for you?
This film is hugely important to me. My previous experience as a film director, with Ground Floor, was on a much smaller scale. This was the first time I worked as a director with SAG-actors – and really talented ones to boot – and we flew our whole team out to Illinois and stayed out there. It was a really big deal for me! When you shoot on location the whole crew becomes a family. I couldn’t be happier, and I feel extremely grateful the rest of the team had faith in me to pull it off, having never done anything like it before. We had action scenes, guns, blood, and poignant moments – the works.
Everyone on set was amazing. I’d never worked with a DP before, having shot Ground Floor myself, and Olesia was amazing. I really value my collaboration and friendship with her and we’ve already looking at working together on the next project, Muse.
I think no matter what opportunities I have in the future this project will always have a special place in my heart. The whole cast and crew were great, we were all there to just make the best possible film and have a good time doing it.