LAFF Interview: Brian Netto and Adam Schindler on Delivery
Delivery was one film that shocked a lot of audiences at the Los Angeles Film Festival, including myself. I will admit I did not see that one coming. So I got on the phone with Writer/director Brian Netto and co-writer/producer Adam Schindler to discuss their debut film. Delivery is a found footage horror movie about a reality show that went wrong when a pregnant woman died. The film opens with a fully edited pilot episode of this pregnancy reality show, and then unfolds with the raw footage filmmakers pieced together to figure out what happened to Rachel (Larel Vail) and Kyle (Danny Barclay).
Crave Online: Is doing a horror movie about a pregnancy as dangerous as doing a horror movie about a hotel or about an exorcism?
Brian Netto: I would say just as dangerous, primarily because it’s something that most people are going to go through at some point in their life, or they’re going to have someone next to them that is going through it. It’s something that I think a lot of people can relate to across cultural lines, no matter what country you’re from, no matter what religion you subscribe to. It’s just a terrifying thing in and of itself, not even introducing a supernatural element.
It’s just already terrifying. And it’s also, in a lot of ways, when you view the storyline that we had, you have a couple that’s a prisoner to this experience. You cannot rush the pregnancy. It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take. When things start happening, like in our film, it’s a matter of all right, we’ve just got to do what we can to see this thing through and hopefully once the birth comes, at least that’s the thinking of the characters, hopefully we’re going to be able to get through this thing and it’ll be finished. I think it’s just terrifying.
I was thinking even in terms of genre classics like Rosemary’s Baby. Everyone who does a horror movie in a hotel is compared to The Shining and everyone who does an exorcism movie is compared to The Exorcist.
Adam Schindler: For me, I would say that it’s as hard or if not harder being that the whole process of making our movie, my wife was pregnant the entire time leading up to our shoot. Two weeks after we finished principal photography on the film, my wife gave birth to our first child, so I was in it. I was sweating bullets on both ends. Not only that, our main actor Danny Barclay who plays Kyle, his wife gave birth to their first child two weeks before we shot the film. So this whole production and this whole film is really steeped in pregnancy and babies from the start. So that actually helped inform a lot of our decisions and choices when we were writing the script and deciding on what to keep and what to toss in the editing process.
Brian Netto: In terms of the fear of standing in the shadow of Rosemary’s, I can say honestly I think the generation that’s coming up just a little behind us, we’re in our 30s, I don’t think they’re terribly familiar with Rosemary’s so I think the benefit that we have is, one, they’re very familiar with the idea of Rosemary without having seen it. I don’t think they’ve seen the film but they know the idea behind it.
Two, when you put it in a format that we use, which is the reality footage, it’s something that they’re used to on a regular basis. They watch a lot of their television that way, so we’ve been able I think, when we started to make the film we ceased being afraid of the comparisons to Rosemary’s and just embraced it. Whatever comparisons are going to come, we embrace them because they’re going to be inevitable. I think we just did what we can to make it a unique spin on that film because that film is just so revered, and not just in horror circles. Just in general. It’s one of the greatest films ever made so you can’t run away from it. We could only embrace it and have fun with the idea.
Was it easier than shooting an actual reality show, because you only had to shoot the segments that were going to be part of the film? Not the hours and hours of footage a real reality show shoots.
Adam Schindler: We actually kind of set out, since the first act is the entire pilot of the show, we really set out and set our schedules to shoot this like it was a reality show. I mean, we watched countless hours of TLC reality shows to get ourselves prepared but we really set it up as if this was a reality show. The way we worked is we wrote basically a scriptment of it. There was a lot of the dialogue in there but also a lot of paraphrased stuff. So in my mind, it was kind of like a reality show the way they do reality shows now, which is as scripted as our movie is if not more. You send people to a location and say, “This is the conversation you guys are going to have to move the story of this reality show along. Go, and we’ll record it and figure out how to edit that together.”
Right, they are scripted, but in terms of you only had to shoot the final cut. You didn’t have to shoot other footage that wouldn’t make the cut.
Brian Netto: That’s absolutely correct. We didn’t have to do that although we were constantly telling ourselves, “All right, what’s going to be cut into the polished reality portion and what’s going to be put into the section where it looks like this is stuff that may end up on the scrap heap,” stuff that wasn’t meant to go into the show but it makes it into the film because it advances the story that they want to tell. So you’re right, we just had to make sure we had on the right hat for that particular scene. This scene is going to be scrap heap stuff that goes into the documentary. This is the stuff that would go in the first act, would actually be in the television show if the show were to actually air.
In the pilot sequence, you really nail how trite reality TV is with their emotions, with what I assume is public domain music. How trite was too trite for the pilot section?
Brian Netto: I think the trick is we’ve all seen reality. I think it’s very easy to pick up on the look and the feel of it quite quickly, but if we were to say to our performers, “All right, we’re going to be doing a satire on reality,” it would have skewed and gone over the rails. I think we made sure that they had a very genuine reaction and genuine emotions, and I think because we put it in a package that mirrors what reality looks like, what you do is you do get some laughs because you realize how familiar they are and how manipulative they are because of the fact that they’re part of the show. But we made sure the performers were being very genuine and very real because I think you’re right, it would be quite easy to go over the line and start to get into something that’s spoofing it. If we had gone into spoof territory it very easily could have derailed everything that came after. Then the foundation that we try to build our scares on is on shaky ground.
Adam Schindler: Going into this, we kind of decided what network style reality show is this going to be on? Because TLC style reality shows, all those docudramas, slice of life type of deal rather than the MTV or “The Kardashians” which seems like a heightened reality, the “Jersey Shore” with the weird fonts and the film grain on it, just the heightened situation. So we were very, very keen on sticking to the more docudrama TLC style, maybe a little A&E kind of a deal very true to life, even though it is somewhat scripted and it is somewhat heightened, it feels much more accessible to, say, my mom and sister in Minnesota than “The Kardashians” would. We were very keen on focusing in on that specific style to shoot the pilot and have our world take place in.
Brian, is that your voice off camera in the Rick Lucido (Rob Cobuzio) interview?
Brian Netto: It is, it is.
So do you play sort of a character as the filmmaker?
Brian Netto: I think for the people that knew the voice, I thought it would feel like it was within the realm of what we’re creating, which is this three tiered thing. We always joked that this thing had layers like Inception. We had to figure out who’s shooting what and how is it going to be used? I thought it felt appropriate that yes, if you recognize my voice than you would know that I was the one asking the questions and our name is on the film and I’m the director of the film so it felt appropriate. In a way I was playing me for those that could recognize it, but if you didn’t recognize it, it certainly wouldn’t throw you off because it would feel as if it were part of this thing that we created.
Why did you decide to tell us up front that Rachel dies?
Brian Netto: We know that you’re going to be sitting through probably about 20 or so minutes of reality show. I know it’s very easy to sit down and go, “All right, I’m going to sit down and I’m going to watch a thriller, horror type of story. All right, great.” 15 minutes in you’re starting to look at the person next to you like, “Wait, is this the movie I sat down to watch?” Although we wanted to take our time and build to it, it’s done in a way to make sure that you know that this story is going to go there, it’s going to go to a dark place, it’s going to take it’s time to get there. For those who are a little maybe impatient, it’s like a little taste, like trust us, we’re going to take you there. Just sit with us for this ride for the reality show.
How did you come up with a twist on the minimalist scares we see in the found footage genre, with sounds, with video glitches, etc.?
Adam Schindler: We spent a lot of time talking about we walk a fine line in this movie of going too far with the special effects to make it believable. Our whole mantra was keep it real. As real as possible. So we would basically push those effects or those glitchy moments as far as we possibly thought we could go, and then we would try to take two steps back just to make sure that we didn’t go over the line. In our mind, if you have one false moment in this film, one moment that feels scripted or doesn’t look right, you lose the audience.
Those video diaries we thought were our best option to throw some more of those types of things in there. Since this film is mostly shot and told through other people about Rachel, their interviews or the perspective of the documentary crew, what have you, those video diaries with the CGI glitches and stuff gave us the opportunity to show what she was going through, a little bit more of an intimate look at her perspective.
Was the formation of sticks your homage to The Blair Witch Project?
Brian Netto: To be honest with you, it wasn’t, although I’m very aware going back and re-watching some of the grandfathers of this subgenre, you kind of realize there’s only so much you can do that hasn’t been done. So it wasn’t a direct homage although the first person that saw it was our manager who said, “Oh, that’s great. I love that Blair Witchy thing in the living room.” We decided to go, “Oh, I’m glad you liked it.”
I always find that things are, I guess, more unsettling if they’re kind of low-fi if that makes sense. Just the idea that we could take something as innocent and unfrightening as a stick and create something with it could be unsettling. That’s, to me, the reason behind it. That’s why we came up with it. I’m very well aware, up close it kind of spills into Blair Witch territory and we’re fine with that.
Well, it certainly doesn’t belong in a house.
Brian Netto: Exactly, exactly.
There’s different types of cameras used in the shoot. Did some of them have a form of motion smoothing or 48 frames per second? That’s my frame of reference for how some of the different footage looked.
Adam Schindler: We shot a lot of the first half of the movie at 24 frames and then obviously when you flip over to the last act where the producers documented everything, we shot that at 30 frames to create the video feel to it. It was just really important to us that even in our post process, going through the coloring and everything, we really wanted to, from the outset, start with a product that was really, really polished and then just take that polish off as you move through the movie until the third act is very dull and just very muted and very much closed into the house, windows shut, dark, only lit by a bulb above you, a lot of harsh lighting. Yeah, we definitely were aware of that. We shot accordingly with a different frame per second to capture that.
I must be really sensitive if I can tell six frames different. It’s possible.
Brian Netto: To be honest, I think it may have been higher than 30 to be honest with you. We have to check with our DP. I think it may have been higher than 30 but the point is it did have a more video look. I think that was actually a high definition mini DV tape so it does have a tape look to it. I know the motion of it is something that was kind of appealing to us. Frame rate, we can double check and get back to you.
Does doing a found footage horror movie make it an easier sell or is the market so saturated now it’s actually tougher?
Brian Netto: That’s a great question. We’ll find out soon enough. I think right now there is quite a bit of clutter out there, and even myself as a film fan, unless it’s a really interesting story, I can see how people can see something and go, “Okay, I’ve seen that, done that.”
I think the appeal for our film has always been the idea of a horror film through a really unique lens, and our lens is reality television which is the farthest you can get away from what you would think of a horror film. It’s light and it’s bright. It’s about movement and color and people are traditionally, again, for the types of shows that we’re mimicking, very upbeat.
Then you throw in your horror tropes and imagery, that was the fun. I think it was the mashup of those two things that’s gotten us a bit more attention versus five people stumbling into a haunted house with a camera. We’ve had quite a bit of interest and we’ll find out I’m sure in the coming weeks whether that interest will translate to distribution but I think we’ve been able to separate ourselves from the pack quite a bit.
Were there other films you tried to get made first before Delivery?
Adam Schindler: No, we always knew we wanted to be filmmakers but we actually started out writing first. So we wrote several scripts and shopped them around a little bit and then we decided that waiting for the big spec sale is a tedious, long process and probably won’t ever come to fruition anyways, so we were like, “Let’s write something that we can do ourselves.” Luckily we came up with the idea for Delivery at the same time and we’re like, “We can mount this production and make it work. We’re not compensating quality by doing it ourselves.” As opposed to getting $5 million to do it. So that was really exciting for us because we could control everything, we could really use this as a calling card.
What are your ambitions for your next film if you can get some money?
Brian Netto: We’re working on something right now that Adam is going to direct, I will produce. It is a traditional narrative, traditional format. That’s always been our interest. I know that there are ways that people can continue to do the found footage to us. For us it always comes down to the idea and that’ll dictate the format.
This is a story called Method about an actor taking on a very unusual role. So it’s something that, obviously the reception to Delivery will determine the size of the [resources] we get to use the next film out. Hopefully if it’s well received and gets out to the world and does something, hopefully we’ll have something finished within the next few weeks and we’ll get it out there. So that’s on the horizon for now.
Is the plan to take turns directing?
Adam Schindler: We look to the BorderLine Films guys that direct and produce each other’s films. There’s only two of us but it’s not like Brian does it then I do it then Brian does it. It’s like whatever project calls for whatever person, we’ll decide who directs it usually. But we’re going to produce each other’s projects and direct each other’s projects.
We’ve been friends for 25 years and business partners for about five. I think we make a good team. We fill in each other’s blanks and we push each other in more ways than one, just push each other to be as creative and look at things from different perspectives sometimes. I think it’s a godsend to have Brian to bounce ideas off of. I don’t know how people do it by themselves, sit down and write a script and hand it in. I don’t know how people do it.
Brian Netto: We’ve written on our own and we’ve written together as a team. I think the benefit of having two people working together is that you have a sounding board in the same room, rather than writing something and handing it out for feedback. Because we have been friends for so long, we don’t need to sugar coat things. They come out the way they come out and you just trust the other person’s opinion. You have familiarity with each other’s tastes and although we have very different tastes, I think that kind of benefits our work because we’re able to come at it from different angles. It’s been great working with him. I think that’s why we’ve had such success thus far with the film is that we have a team that works pretty smoothly for such a small production that we put together.