Monday, October 15, 2018

NEW FILMMAKER SERIES: Interview with Elsa Levytsky of the Award -Winning Horror Short Goodnight Death Starring Callum Blue as The Grim Reaper

Filmmaker Elsa Levytsky is off to a great start. Her latest short, a horror thriller, Goodnight Death is not even completed yet but has already been named "Semifinalist for Screenplay" at the Hollyshorts Festival in Los Angeles. The film, which stars Callum Blue (Smallville, Royal Pains, The Tudors) and Danielle Kotch (Person of Interest, Made in Jersey) will be making its rounds at film festivals beginning 2019. Simply put, this film is about the Grim Reaper.

Goodnight Death was created and directed by Elsa and written by Elsa, Richard Weems and Mick Lexington. In this interview we find out more about this talented Ukranian-born filmmaker (who happens to be fluent in Japanese) - and how where she lived  - across from a cemetary- just might be her reason for this choice of genre. Regardless, horror is hot and Elsa is on the pulse of this new generation of films.

Wanting to Tell Stories at a Young Age

I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller. Since I was a little girl, I would write stories and read them out loud to my classmates during recess. I think one of those stories was called "Iguana Island," another was "Zombie Street." Definitely some kind of theme going on there. I still have the notebooks I wrote those in – complete with drawings of zombies and iguanas of course.

I eventually went on to Sarah Lawrence, where I realized I loved writing screenplays. It was the easiest way for me to visualize and communicate a universe to an audience. That was my first hint that I should be moving towards film. After my first hands-on filmmaking class, directing with a 16mm camera, I was head over heels in love. That was a tough camera to deal with and it did not like me. But I loved all of it. I loved the entire process from planning, to shooting, to post. Not only was that exactly how I wanted to tell stories, but I loved being able to work with a team that believed in my story and made it their own. I think I always knew I'd end up in film, but I didn't really know it until I was on set in the chaos of it all.

Growing Up in Ukriane, Across From a Cemetary

I was born in Lviv, Ukraine, across the street from Lychakiv Cemetery. That should've been a hint that I'd end up fascinated by dark, psychological thrillers. I later moved to New Jersey, and studied Medicine at Bergen County Academies thinking I'd go on to pre-med, but I found out quickly that wasn't for me. After I graduated high school, I went on to study Filmmaking and Japanese Language at Sarah Lawrence College.

The Films that Inspire Her

As a kid, movies like Jurassic Park taught me that filmmaking is magic. It brings your imagination to life and lets you tell your story in whatever way you see it. In college, I watched Citizen Kane for the first time and became infatuated with Orson Welles as a person and a director. He was young and fearless and his filmmaking was beautiful. I love rewatching his movies because I feel like I'm stepping into a film class every single time.

I always discover something new. My biggest horror/thriller inspirations are without a doubt, The Shining, Pan's Labyrinth, No Country for Old Men, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)... I can go on. :)

Why She Chose Horror

"Horror fascinates me. It's one of the strongest emotions you can feel."

It's raw and extremely personal. Some horror films terrify you but do nothing for your friends. I love that and the unique ability of sharing your most personal fears with an audience and making it theirs. I also believe horror films can be beautiful. Something like The Shining is incredibly gorgeous, but also scars people for life. You don't have to be a horror fan to love The Shining. I want to create beautiful horror films that anyone can enjoy and get something out of.

Movies She Watches Besides Horror

There are other genres? =) I love The Third Man. But more recent movies like Youth, Whiplash, Moonlight, and BlackkKlansman – incredible.

I love films that really focus on creating complex characters. I want heros who are flawed and broken and question why they’re good, and villains who make our hearts hurt because we see our own anger and mistakes in them. Any film that can give me human characters like that is a film I’ll enjoy greatly.

Courses That Were Motivators

I had a few hands-on filmmaking courses where the final "thesis" is a finished short film. I loved those classes and the professors that taught them. It's stressful and very fast-paced, but you're still in the safety net of student film. It's a great intro to becoming a filmmaker.

My second favorite was a course I took my senior year that was an in-depth look into the horror genre, from its earliest films through today. I'm stillreading the books from that course. It’s wonderfully fascinating – the psychology behind horror, how culture influences horror, I love it.

On Casting Callum Blue

I used to watch a show called Dead Like Me. It was this dark comedy about grim reapers living average lives and Callum Blue played one of those reapers. When it came time to cast for Charles, I knew having Callum play the role would be a dream come true. There is a deep sadness to Charles that Callum channeled so beautifully. This is a character I've spent years writing and imagining, and to see Callum step into him so naturally was a wonderful feeling. 

He was VERY easy to work with. We had a few phone calls before the shoot when we would dive into Charles and figure out who he was from Callum's perspective. He asked questions that challenged me and made me more excited to start shooting. I think and hope he liked his character because I absolutely want to see him in the role again for the feature film. 

Left to Right - Tom Brown (Producer + 1st AD), Elsa Levytsky (Director), Dzana Ashworth (PA), and Andrew Anthony (Associate Producer)

On Female Directors That Inspire

I'm very much inspired by Reed Morano. To be talented both as a DP and a Director is incredible. I’m always waiting to see what she does next, especially because she always picks fascinating subjects. I don’t have one specific mentor, but a network of them. I try to meet as many people in the industry as I can. Everyone has their own path and stories to tell. You’ll learn from everyone, and that’s what I try to do.

Lessons Learned This Time Around

This film was my biggest to-date. In every sense - budget, script, talent involved, everything. I think it was also one of those moments where I knew going into it, I was either going to come out a stronger director, or it would eat me alive. I think it did a little of both. We only had 4 days to shoot and because the story takes place throughout the course of one night, we were shooting 7pm-7am all four nights. I wouldn’t trade what I learned those 4 days for anything.

Goodnight Death is its own fairytale type of universe that requires the audience to let go of logic and reality and accept our story. We created a kind of magical realistic world where Death is this big, beautiful creature no one is really surprised to see hanging around, and Callum Blue plays a Grim Reaper so fed up with his job, he all but shoves people into the afterlife to save on time.

My biggest concern going in was that the world I was creating only made sense to me. I had souls stepping out of bodies and being ushered through these large self-standing doors that had to be unlocked by a Grim Reaper while Death stands by like a micro-managing supervisor. It made sense to me because I lived with it in my dreams for so long. But would anyone else get it?

Once I was on set and seeing the pieces come together, I felt grounded. That was a big lesson. Trust your story and trust your cast and crew. Because they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t get it. So trust your gut, trust your story, and trust your team. This is what film is all about anyway. Creating universes and characters and making them make sense to the viewer.

BehindtheScenezz at Goodnight Death:
Costume Design Team left to right - Jennie Wright (Asst. Costume Designer), Eulyn C. Hufkie (Costume Designer), Dan Pesce (Asst. Costume Designer)

At Film Festivals in 2019

Goodnight Death will be completed this winter and fingers crossed, we’ll begin applying to festivals as soon as possible!

On a Personal Note, What Elsa Would Do On A Free Day 

A day to do anything… I’d love to spend it shooting. Small cast and crew in a beautiful historic mansion. Wouldn’t that be great? Any time I can get to collaborate and create, is time very well spent. 

For Updates:

Elsa Levytsky instagram  @elsaezla 

Goodnight Death BehindtheScenezz:
Giuseppe Masi- Cinemetagrapher
Tome Brown- Producer
Andrew Anthony- Associate Producer
Eulyn C. Hufkie- Costume Design

No comments:

Post a Comment