Outside the Panels | Phil Gelatt opens the front door to The Bleeding House
It’s certainly not uncommon for comic writers to work in a variety of media, whether it’s writing novels, television scripts or for film in addition to creating comics. One writer who joins their ranks is Phil Gelatt, co-creator of Labour Days and the upcoming Petrograd, who makes his film writing and directing debut next week.
Called The Bleeding House, here’s the synopsis from the Tribeca Fim Festival site, where the film will debut: “On the surface, the Smiths are an average American family, with a happily married mother and father, a moody 16-year-old daughter, and a distracted 18-year-old son. But patriarch Matt Smith appears a bit on edge, and the family is eerily damaged by something in its past. One night when a sweet-talking preacher carrying a briefcase arrives at their home after his car is disabled on a nearby road, it seems like this Christian man’s presence may be just the breath of fresh air the family needs. But are the Smiths are ready for the atonement this neighborly guest has in store?
“This creepy thriller, set in the deep woods of Texas suburbia, moves at a steady pace and culminates in an unexpected reckoning of the family’s dark and horrific past. The ensemble cast of newcomers helps keep the story taut with suspense, while first-time director/writer Philip Gelatt creates a haunting portrait of a family that may not deserve to escape its sins.”
I spoke with Gelatt about the film and how the process of creating it was different from his comics work.
JK: What can you tell us about the film?
Phil: It’s an ultra-low budget horror/thriller about a very isolated and odd family who lets a stranger into their home one night. Murder ensues. That’s the movie in an ultra-simplified nutshell.
It doesn’t have any stars in it, although people might recognize Patrick Breen (he’s one of those people whose name might not be well known but he’s been in loads of stuff. He was in both MEN IN BLACK and GALAXY QUEST…. both times as an alien). And one of our fantastic actresses, Alexandra Chando, is going to be on an ABC family show this fall. She is definitely one to watch.
This is actually the second thing I ever wrote (the first was LABOR DAYS) and the very first thing I’ve directed. Directing is a very strange skill, and I honestly had no idea what I was doing the first day on set. I didn’t even know when to say “action,” the first AD had to tell me. But despite the steep learning curve, I think the movie has turned out really well.
JK: How did you get involved with it — was it your original idea, or were you recruited?
Phil: My original idea. I wrote it and sent it off to some producers I used to work for and they really liked it and everything just went from there.
It is something that I never really considered doing as a comic; it was written specifically to be a very contained and very easy to produce film. While writing it I honestly never intended on directing it myself, I think my temperament is much better suited to writing where there aren’t so many time pressures and quite so many personalities you have to juggle. But at a certain point the producers decided they wanted to try to do it for a very low budget and when that became the path forward, they approached me to direct it myself. I am glad they did, it was a hell of an experience.
JK: I noticed some other “Gelatt”‘s on the movie poster. Is your family involved?
Phil: Yep, while putting together the budget we basically had to pull from any and all sources that we could, and my brother and sister both stepped up to become executive producers on it. I’m very lucky to have a family that is supportive that way.
On a movie made at this level anyone and everyone around has to contribute in some way. My brother actually appears in the film, in a brief but somewhat key roll. The majority of the producers also appear in the film, in various guises; one of them is murdered in the film and the other does some top notch hand acting for us. Low budget movie making is an “all hands on deck” situation, really.
My wife, who has no desires to be an actress, is actually in the movie as well. We shot with her on a particularly frigid and exhausting November night and we dressed her in a pretty absurd outfit and the made her just stand around freezing for hours on end. I don’t think she’s quite forgiven me for it yet.
JK: Structurally, was writing the script different than, say, writing a comic book script? What were some of the similarities and differences?
Phil: It is a similar but different set of muscles than writing for comics. I think the key difference is almost one of tense. In comics you have to write in moments; one action per panel. And you have to be aware of the flow of a page, which is a static thing that the reader can take her time with.
Film is kind of easier to write, in that you can just let it flow without a concern for the more formal aspects of the finished product. I usually say writing for film is like writing in the present tense, writing for comics is like writing in the past tense. I’m not sure that’s entirely correct but that’s the closest I can get to putting my finger on it.
The similarities are really all about how you are writing something that will later be translated away from the written word; both mediums are all about the image and creating strong and compelling images that add up to a narrative.
Wow, that answer sounded pretty pretentious. Apologies.
JK: Usually you’d collaborate with an artist on a comic, and a film scriptwriter would pass the script off to a director to bring it to life. But in this case, you’re the director as well. Was that challenging?
Phil: Yeah, very challenging. Comics prepared me for it as well as it could, simply because making comics, at least for me, tends to be a pretty deeply collaborative process. It’s given me a strong set of collaboration skills.
Directing is strange because you have to enter into it with a level of confidence and a set of your own ideas about how it should be. But every department on the movie is going to have its own opinion, and they’re all going to want to do the movie their way. So you need to be able to entertain other people’s ideas, and make decisions based on them. You have to know when you’re right and when, say, your DP or your Art Director is right. So at a certain point directing becomes all about being able to say “yes” or “no” with confidence.
I was lucky on this film, actually, to have a massively experienced DP. He was a guy named Frederic Fasano who shot Dario Argento’s last few movies. So he comes from the genre world, and was crazy enough to agree to work for cheap on my little movie.
JK: Where can people see the film?
Phil: You can watch the movie now through June 20 on iTunes, Amazon.com, vudu and cable VoD. If you’re in New York, it’s playing in the Tribeca film festival next week, and if you’re in LA it’s playing sometime around the 13th of May. And then eventually it’ll be on DVD.