Director Brian Cavallaro on Chilling Prison Horror ‘Against the Night’

You can catch Against the Night at Horror On Sea 2019 on Friday 11th January 2019 at 12:30pm at the Park Inn Palace Hotel.

Tickets are available here!

Against the Night is a horror-thriller that lends a sombre historical weight to thrills garnered by the tried and true setting of an old abandoned building.

Centring on a group of young friends who decide to film a ghost-hunting video in an abandoned prison, the film itself makes use of the very real history of the abuse and scientific experiments suffered by inmates in two of Philadelphia’s most infamous prisons. As the friends explore with only cameras and flashlights in hand, it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else in the darkness with them.

We caught up with director Brian Cavallaro to find out more about the project.

Naomi: In making a genre film that uses such familiar territory, like the tropes of the abandoned old building or the group of twenty-somethings, what was your approach to keeping the story fresh?

Brian: When you find a location that’s as unique as Holmesburg Prison, you have to run with it. I was well aware that Against The Night didn’t have a groundbreaking premise, but I tried to keep the tropes tongue-in-cheek during the set up, and let the story speak for itself once they were separated in the prison.

Naomi: You filmed in the notorious Holmesburg Prison, but I understand that you originally had Eastern State Penitentiary in mind. When making the decision to use Holmesburg, were there any unique features of the prison that you wanted to include in the story?

Brian: I re-wrote every aspect of the location to tailor it to Holmesburg. The history of that prison is too good – from the true stories of the warden being murdered to the chemical testing done by Dr. Albert Kligman. The fact that there are two gothic “wheel and spoke” prisons in Philadelphia was not only helpful for production, it proved to help solidify a major plot point as well.

1seanandrachel-lr.jpgNaomi: What were the challenges of shooting in such an old building?

Brian: The areas that of the prison that you see in the movie had no electricity. So not only were we operating everything off of batteries, but when you called cut – there were no house lights. It definitely helped get the actors in the right space when they had to use flashlights to get to the set.

Naomi: Were there any sequences that you found particularly difficult to shoot?

Brian: This is the first time I had to film someone dealing the sudden and immediate experience of losing a friend, and still fearing for their life. It’s a challenge to keep that both authentic and not overly dramatic. There was also a lot of creative problem solving to make certain areas of the prison connect in ways they didn’t – but when you get something like that right, it feels like a big win.

Against-the-NightNaomi: As someone with extensive directing experience in film, television and documentaries, what lessons have you learned throughout your career that helped you on this project?

Brian: I couldn’t have made this movie without the experience I learned in making low budget television. I had an opportunity to learn how to operate a camera, which not only helps with the budget on a project like this, but it also keeps the energy up when you’re right there with the actors and not behind a monitor. I also learned a lot of the tricks of the “ghost-hunting” trade, having worked on pilot episodes of Destination Truth and My Child Sees Dead People.

Naomi: As the writer, director and cinematographer for this film, how do you juggle those different sets of responsibilities?

Brian: Sometimes better than others. It’s very easy to make changes to the script in the moment when something isn’t working, and you have nobody to blame but yourself. It was nice to be able to look up from the camera and say… this isn’t working and that’s my fault and then talk through the scene with the actors and find a different solution. Being the cinematographer would be a lot easier if you had a full camera crew. I had a great gaffer on set, but not having a dedicated A.C. or an operator was definitely a challenge. It helps that the plan was to keep the movie very dark – if a flashlight isn’t pointing at something, you likely can’t see it. That’s something studio movies would likely shy away from and we tried to embrace it.

Naomi: You’ve mentioned that the film’s smaller budget led to you sourcing more local and unknown actors. What was your experience working with the core cast?

Brian: The casting process, and working with the actors on this movie, was easily the most rewarding part. Aside from Frank Whaley, nobody in the cast had been in a feature film before. Their enthusiasm and dedication to getting this done and done right was infectious. We had a lot of long nights in a cold and dark prison, but everyone had each other’s back and we quickly formed a great support group! It’s essential that everyone trusts each other on a project of this size. I promised them all there would be money later, and there was. That’s something I’m really proud of and I’m glad we were able to make that happen.

Naomi: Against the Night has been dubbed a found footage film by some and uses a lot of the same immersive techniques, like handheld cameras and security footage. Are there any particular films within that sub-genre that inspired you?

Brian: I think found footage movies are great. Patrick Brice’s Creep was definitely an inspiration for this movie. While found footage is just a technique in Against The Night, I’m very drawn to a down-on-his-luck filmmaker getting outside of his comfort zone to make a movie, or a few bucks. That’s something I think Creep and Against The Night have in common.

Naomi: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

Brian: I’m in post-production on a mystery-thriller called 32 Weeks that features a couple of actors from Against The Night. It was, once again, a great experience working with them and I’m looking forward to working with the entire cast again soon.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to Brian for taking the time to talk to us, and to congratulate him on Against the Night‘s success! You can keep up with Brian and Against the Night on Twitter.


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