When Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead met, they were interns at Ridley Scottís commercial production company. Soon they were working with each other on a variety of short films and spec advertisements, and when Justin approached Aaron with a genre-bending horror script called Resolution, they decided to pool their talents and resources to get it made.
Shot in 17 days on a tiny budget, the film snagged the attention of the Tribeca Film Festival and has since garnered rave reviews. Now available on iTunes and Netflix streaming, Resolution is scary, funny, conceptually unique and definitely worth a watch.
I recently had the chance to speak with Justin and Aaron about the making of Resolution as well as their upcoming film Spring.
Pictured: Nightmare weaversSo you guys just got back from Italy?
Justin: Yeah, we just got back two weeks ago. We were there for six or seven weeks, shooting Spring.So youíve just shot principal photography then?
Justin: Yeah, we just finished. And we did a few days in the U.S.Letís talk about your first film, Resolution. What was your budget, how big was your crew, and what were the day-to-day logistics like?
Justin: Uh Ö I donít remember, actually.
Aaron: I think we had ten people on set most of the time. For the final scene of the movie we were up to about eighteen people.
Justin: It was really small. The entire budget of the movie was tiny. Tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny. It was just our checking account.
Thatís impressive. It really does not look or feel so cheap.
Aaron: The budget on Spring is literally Ö twenty-seven times the budget of Resolution.
Justin: But I think we can honestly say, from Resolution to Spring, you can tell on set we were getting more because we had more money. It looks like a much more expensive movie.So on Resolution did you just have crew camp out at the cabin, or did they stay nearby and that place wasnít as remote as it seemed?
Aaron: We actually worked out a deal with a Christian childrenís camp. Iím not joking, they put us all up for some really, really dirt cheap price, I forget what it was. Like, $1,500 to house the entire crew for the whole entire shoot. Something like that? And it was a five minute drive to set. We got really lucky on that one.
The entire crew watched dailies togetherTell me about how you did sound on a shoestring budget.
Justin: What sound?
Justin: Youíll notice Resolution doesnít have any score, so that approach required incredibly crisp sound. So we had this incredible field mixer, who is also a composer, named Dan Martinez, who rocked it. And we had another guy who was our re-recording mixer. Nobody worked entirely for free, but they might as well have, basically. So our re-recording mixer was this guy named Yahel Dooley who is like a third director to us, to be honest. He is one of the ďmust haves.Ē Some people donít understand our movies until Yahel gets to it. Really, his sound is so critical and crucial to everything that we do, we absolutely need him. So he designed everything. Resolution had almost no ADR (Additional Dialog Recording), it had like a couple lines here and there. And it was all for clarity, it wasnít even for beefing up the quality of the audio. Sound is of paramount importance to us. The mix was like fifty hours long because we were pulling a favor. We were sneaking into a post house to do it. So it was an insane thing. And Yahel just went with it, he was right there with us.
Aaron: Heís incredible, heís our secret weapon.You shot on the RED. At any point did you discuss using DSLRs to save money?
Justin: We did. We use DSLRs all the time for new media stuff, but there are things for example Ö actually, Iím going to let Aaron answer this.
Aaron: There are disadvantages to those little cameras. You can shoot features on them, The Battery was shot on one and it looks awesome. You can barely tell that itís not a RED. But I love shooting features in 4k. Especially low budget indie stuff, because if you need more coverage you can punch in to a close up, or if something is too dark you can move stops Ö you just have more freedom going into post production than you would on a DSLR. And with DSLRs Ö you need other pieces of equipment to make them look good, you canít just grab one and go shoot with it.
Justin: There is something about the small camera look that seems campy Ö itís almost silly to debate the differences between DSLR and RED, nobody is going to say a DSLR is better than RED.
Aaron: When we were making the choice it was all just coming down to budget. Iíve shot five or six features on RED and weíve shot about a million different things on DSLR, so itís not even a choice beyond ďcan we afford it?Ē And we got it hooked up.
Justin: Also, as a story reason, Michael is also holding the film youíre watching on 35mm film. So there could have been a story reason as to why itís not on film, but itís a lot easier to swallow if it looks like film, and RED looks a lot like more like film than DSLRs.What are some things you learned from Resolution that youíll take with you on future projects and what are some things youíll never do again?
Justin: Well, we had a script supervisor this time.
Aaron: Usually itís more like weíll pick up something during the process that weíll take to the next one.
Justin: With Resolution there were no big continuity errors by some miracle, but there was one scene where we realized we had shot the end of the movie without Chris wearing the bandage he should have been wearing. It was like amateur hour.
Aaron: Our script supervisor was this document we made way in advance that listed the things we needed to watch out for in a scene. And we could just check it before every scene.
Justin: Sometimes we wouldnít check it.
Aaron: Just dumb shit.
Justin: With production you donít think, ďoh I need a script supervisor!Ē you think ďoh, I need a camera!Ē But our script supervisor on Spring was Ö Iím not shining anyone on, but I donít think there are better script supervisors out there. I donít think they exist, we got the best one.Resolution was totally your movie but Iím assuming Spring had more outside funding. Did other people have a say in the finished film?
Aaron: Thatís a great question because that was our worry. Resolution turned out well because we got to do what we wanted. We took whatever risks we could and tried to make a really interesting film. So on our next film, it was like ďhow are we going to do this without getting into bed with the wrong people? Do we want to make another film or hold on to our scruples?Ē And we ended up getting really lucky by not having any outside interference again. We have a financier that pretty much lets us do what we want and a cast thatís incredible. Thereís always the game of casting for sale value versus talent and stuff like that. But Lou Taylor Pucci (Thumbsucker, Evil Dead remake) is the most talented mother f*cker on the planet and heís awesome, really awesome. He just dives right into the role. In many, many ways we got super lucky. And we just have to keep hoping we get as lucky as we keep getting.Talk about how the next film happened, since you made Resolution completely on your own. Did it help you get an agent or manager that hooked you up?
Justin: For Resolution we got really lucky and made it into a major film festival just by submitting. And then you end up surrounded by people on the business side of things that you build relationships with. Most of the people we did Resolution with were people that we ended up making Spring with, on the business side of things. As far as agent and manager, not so much. We have kind of a manager now but the thing is, as far as making stuff like Resolution and Spring, you make that stuff outside the system and itís kind of separate from your agent and manager stuff, in a lot of ways. Thereís basically a budget range at which you can make Ö letís call it ďunique material.Ē And once you go over that itís like Ö youíll get offers for remakes or things that are a very slight variation on something that already exists, and thereís nothing wrong with that, but you definitely canít make stuff like Spring or Resolution within that system.If someone offered you one of those remakes would you make it and learn on their dime, or would you rather plow ahead with your own stuff?
Justin: Honestly, itís a delicate game of playing in both worlds because they both have their advantages.
When I watched Resolution I was really taken with how you used different types of scares Ö do you have a philosophy about what types of scares to use? And why? Or do you just go with your gut about whatís scary?
Aaron: Thereís a little bit of theory behind it. We have kind of a cowboy approach when it comes to the tone of our films, where we just kind of go and make whatever the moment is work. If itís scary we make it as scary as we can, if itís funny we make it as funny as we can. And for scares Ö itís very rare that weíll time a jump scare. Thatís not really our thing. Sometimes it happens, but if it happens every five seconds and the person (in the movie) is like ďdamn, youíre always trying to fool me!Ē to be honest thatís like the worst jump scare in the world. And it happens way to often. But if you can get it right itís just awesome. Our favorite thing, honestly, is just tone. When you can scare people with just the tone of dread and building unease and combine that with something that is conceptually unique and frightening, thatís our favorite thing. If we can find that and really scare people with it, thatís really cool.The one jump scare that stands out is when Michael (Peter Cilella) goes into the cave, but even though itís not ďthe monsterĒ of the film, itís still a scary scenario.
Justin: With supernatural horror, the hardest thing is to sit there and try to come up with new things that are scary. Itís really tough. Even if you watch something like The Conjuring which is effective, but every single thing in it has been done before. Itís tough to break new ground. When you really think about it, weíre living in a world where people have been trying to make myths since [civilization] has existed, so 4,000 years of people trying to outdo you and you have to sit at your desk and try to think of something that is hopefully not derivative and can still scare people in a new way Ö
Aaron: Or if not scare you then resonate with people and make people think a little bit about their humanity. Anything that can turn that on its head Ö and thatís the thing about Justinís writing, heís always trying find a way around whatís already been done. Thatís one of the reasons we both get along so well, because we both mutually feel like you could do things that have been done before really well and people may like it, but itís just already been done so itís uninteresting to us. Not that weíre the most original filmmakers in the world, though we strive to be, but you can never get away from your past.
That sounded way more epic than I mean, but you know what I mean.
Aaron: Itís always funny when people say our stuff is original and we say thatís what weíre striving for Ö but on the poster is a cabin in the woods.