The Movie Waffler Interview - ANIMAL AMONG US Director John Woodruff | The Movie Waffler

Interview - ANIMAL AMONG US Director John Woodruff

john woodruff interview
Director John Woodruff on his upcoming monster movie.

A monster hides in the woods, stalking a local summer camp in John Woodruff’s highly anticipated horror film, Animal Among Us. Coming November 19th to digital and DVD, Uncork’d Entertainment releases Woodruff’s new flick, a frightening ’80s throwback mash up of Friday the 13th and Dog Soldiers, starring Christian Oliver (Sense8) and Larisa Oleynik (Mad Men).

john woodruff interview

Congrats on the movie. I take it you’re a fan of the old school horror films of the ‘80s?

Thank you so much!

Definitely safe to say that I’m a fan of '80s horror! I love all horror, but late '70s and '80s horror holds a very special place in my heart as I grew up in the '80s. I always had this kind of limited awareness of these mysterious movies with these horrific characters that had the same names as your friend’s older brothers, like Jason or Michael, but were monsters. I would hear about them from kids at school who had older siblings, or older kids on the bus who would be talking about how scary, how awesome and crazy these movies were but I didn’t have access to them… that definitely created a tremendous mystique around these characters and films and created a bit of a dynamic to where you wanted to see them, but were a little bit afraid and though you weren’t NOT allowed to see them, they weren’t exactly easy for a kid to get their hands on either… so they became this elusive, risky unknown, which just heightened the anticipation and excitement and fear to such a radical degree in a kid’s mind that it was amazing.

Obviously that was further heightened by video rental stores, where you could see the posters and VHS box covers, stunning, dangerous and horrific, but completely captivating, so that just fed the fire in wanting to see them. Back then, you couldn’t just dial up any movie anywhere on your phone or laptop and even when they were in the video store you STILL had to convince someone to rent it for you because a lot of times you had to be 18 to rent one! So it wasn't easy to get your hands on one and when you finally DID, it was scary and dangerous and risky and amazing and we just ate it up… Then you kind of became the kid at school who had seen that really scary movie that everyone was talking about and were kind of a survivor or a hero, haha!

I’ll never forget when Freddy hit the scene. I was in 4th grade and he was so scary, so mysterious, it seemed like everyone was talking about him. We were drawing pictures of the glove and the sweater and hat in school, but none of us had even seen the film! I’ll never forget seeing the Howling V poster in the video rental store for the first time, or the first time I saw Hellraiser at a friend’s house…by the time you saw the film, you were already in love with it because it was this larger than life thing. It was a huge part of my childhood and carries a huge sense of nostalgia and sentiment for me… not to mention the fact that they ARE great movies… it is after all, the era of the Horror Icon!!!    

Is it exciting or is it daunting to know audiences are about to feast their eyes on your movie?

You know what? I’m honestly just really excited for it to be out there at this point. It’s time. It’s been an insanely long, arduous process and I’m just happy to have not only gotten one made, but to be getting one out there… This is my first feature film and so many people helped to get this thing made and invested their time, effort, talent, belief and energy in it that it is just staggering and I will never be able to fully express my gratitude to each of them (in spite of my best efforts), so to see the interest and attention that it is getting is so appreciated and so exciting because I feel like on some level it honours and validates each of the people who worked on this thing, supported it and inevitably made it possible.

I’m blown away with what we were able to accomplish on this film and what our sales team, distributor and publicist have been able to do with it as we near the release. It has exceeded my expectations on every level as again, it’s my first film, it’s not a huge film, we had extremely limited time and resources and we live in a world that owes you nothing, so to see the amount of appreciation it is receiving is just mind blowing. I know that there will be haters and trolls and naysayers, but that’s life and you’ll never make everyone happy, so I just choose to focus on the positive and take it from there, because in the end, what else can we do? Haha!

Had many reviews yet? I guess, being that it’s screened at some festivals, you’ve at least gotten feedback?

We have had a few! We let some people review it early on so that we could get press blurbs and quotes and of course there have been some reviewers at some of the festivals we have played at, so there are a few out there. At first it was a little nerve-wracking, but so far they have been overwhelmingly positive, which of course is amazing and so greatly appreciated!

The festival experience has been amazing as well. We kicked off with The Die Laughing Film Fest in Hollywood, CA this past May and they really got behind us in promoting the film and setting it up for success as we embarked upon our festival run, which has been great. We’ve won 11 awards over the course of four festivals so far and have four more festivals before we finish our run when the film is released in November, so we’re super excited with the reception thus far. Seems like audiences are thoroughly enjoying it and it is always so much fun to watch it with a live audience, to see where the laughs and jumps are hitting and what people are responding to. Especially when considering that you don’t really know if it’s ever going to reach an audience and then, if or when it does, how they will respond… so the fact that it’s finding people that appreciate it is so exciting, because at the end of the day, you made it because you hope people will watch it and that it will resonate with them and that it will find its audience the way those earlier films found you!

john woodruff interview

Did you test it for an audience after completion?

So we actually tested it before completion, so that we could adjust where necessary. We started out by showing the film to 20 individuals that we selected to create as diverse of a grouping as possible. We made them watch the film in small groups, never more than two or three at a time, so that their opinions wouldn't be swayed by others' comments. We picked friends, strangers, industry pros and people completely outside of the industry, all different ages. It was super fun and educational to see how they responded and talk to them about the film. Of course, I creepily watched them watch the film, looking for them to zone out, or check their phone, all kinds of stuff and then grilled them about it afterward, haha! We then compiled the feedback and adjusted the edit accordingly.

After that, we had the opportunity to take the film to the HorrorHound Film Festival and test it in front of a Friday night audience. No colour correction, temp music, incomplete GFX and VFX rough audio… we had to make sure it worked before adding these elements due to our schedule and budget. It KILLED at that screening and that’s when I knew we could lock picture and finish the film. I don’t think most audience members even knew that I was in the room and it was so fun to see them laugh, jump, and hear their comments…people whispering to their neighbour, trying to figure it out, it was so fun. That audience was WILD, I mean, a dude in a kilt working security yelled “SHAZAAM” at one point and someone else blurted out a huge “F*@K YEAH” from the back of the room at a critical moment, so I knew we were there, haha! Any changes to the edit at that point would be trivial, we just needed to finish the film and we’d be good to go. So that’s what we did. 

Anything you added in before or after?

Well, we made quite a few adjustments to the edit after we screened it for those first 20 individuals to have it ready for HorrorHound, but once we tested there and got the response we got, we just finished the film out with all of our GFX, VFX, colour correction, dialogue edit, sound build, score, mix, credit sequences and title cards, so it definitely changed and evolved dramatically throughout the process… I truly believe that the film is made in post and that it is important to see how people are responding throughout that process so that you know if what you’re doing is working or not, so that was a super fun and important part of the process.

What do you believe are its strengths?

Personally, I love the atmosphere, the sense of nostalgia and sentiment that make it somehow familiar, like it’s always been there. The characters are extremely fun and extremely memorable, thanks to writer Jonathan Murphy and amazing performances from a very accomplished and amazing cast. I also think the film has a nice balance between the comedy and horror, the cool and the campy and the twists and turns keep the audience guessing right up to the end. The score is pretty killer too and editor Will Gong made sure to keep the story moving, so it really pulls you along.

If this was a big studio movie they’d have CGI-ed the heck out of it. Do you think it lends itself better to being a practical, old-school structured monster movie?

Absolutely. Again, we wanted the film to have a certain sense of nostalgia and sentiment, so going CGI would complete work against that aspect of the film and I think that in spite of how effective CGI can be, audiences are often aware of what is real and what isn't and the CGI can break the reality quickly and easily if not handled correctly… especially in lower budget films where you don’t have literally an army of digital artists building and finishing out your effects. In addition to that, I’m a firm believer that less is more and in leaving something to the imagination, and that is a huge part of this film. The characters and the audience trying to figure out what exactly is in that woods. There is nothing more powerful, more personal, than imagination… not even CGI.

john woodruff interview

It also seems important to you – and it works for the movie – that we spend enough time with your lead characters, and really get to know them, before introducing the threat?

This is a very character driven film, so getting to know them is crucial. The trick in that was how to quickly develop the story while introducing these characters and getting to know them, which I think Jonathan did well in the writing and Will did well in the editing. We spend time getting to know them, but we also move the story… QUICKLY. I think one of the weaker elements in a lot of more recent horror films is a lack of strong, memorable characters to relate to and empathise with. They might have the effects and the production value but without that character perspective to carry you through the world, you really threaten the audience’s ability to emotionally connect to the film, so strong characters played by strong actors were a must in this film. And these actors really brought it. One of Jonathan and I’s goals in bringing this to life was that people would remember and refer to the characters by their names at the end of the film and we’ve seen that at a lot of the festival screenings and we looked for it in the test screenings… where someone comments on Ro or Burl or Anita as opposed to “I liked that one guy, the big guy” or “oh that one girl was so funny, the sarcastic one.” We wanted to avoid that. We wanted people to remember the characters, remember their names. And I think they will.

Tell us about the creature. Played with a few manifestations?

The creature was tricky because of the nature of the story. We went back and forth on several different iterations before really cracking the code on how it could work. It’s such a funny thing because everyone wants to see the creature and know about the creature, and that’s really a huge part of the film, wanting to know more about the creature, but making people WANT to see it consists of depriving them of information, by striking their curiosity, by NOT showing too much, haha! So even to this point, so much of the conversation is about this creature that for all intents and purposes NEEDS to be mysterious in order to work, so to that end I hope we were able to walk that line effectively enough for audiences.  Leave ‘em wantin’ more, right? Haha! I personally find it ironic because it is kind of a reflection of my childhood in always trying to get a look at these monsters that you were hearing about but could never quite see… and isn’t that such an interesting and scary thing? Not knowing what is out there, lurking in the shadows of your imagination?    

What’s one thing about independent filmmaking that you think audiences aren’t aware of?

Uffff just how much goes into it. How personal it is. You know, they say there are no handicaps in filmmaking - meaning that when a viewer watches something, they have nothing to judge that film off of other than what they are seeing and hearing through the limited perspective of that screen. So to try to deliver something that meets audience expectations in this day and age, where you have these huge studios and production companies with seemingly limitless resources is a very fun, very challenging endeavour…almost impossible some might say…which I like, haha! I think that if you hit hard enough, audiences maybe aren’t aware of just how small a film was and how much you pulled off with what you had to work with… they just compare it to the big guys and to me, that is the ultimate compliment… being compared to stuff that was made on a much bigger level… because it shows that no one knows that I made this for what I made it with… that we were out there slinging gear ourselves and doing all of the paperwork and all of the production work and making something out of virtually nothing and barely sleeping for months, haha. It’s alchemy, it’s magic, it's a near suicidal amount of work and it’s a miracle to get one done and out there. You look at movies like Friday the 13th, Halloween, even A Nightmare on Elm Street, and they were small films by comparison to what studios and even some larger indie filmmakers were making back then, but we don’t think of them like that…we don’t see them like that… and to be fair, it isn’t the audience’s job to know that… it’s their job to sit back, relax and enjoy the show… and hopefully… regardless of how much or how little we had to work with, if we did our jobs… that’s exactly what will happen.

Any ideas for a sequel yet?

Well… we have to leave something to the imagination!