Christopher Micklos and Jay Sapiro are making their directorial debut with the supernatural thriller The Nursery. So I sat down Micklos and Sapiro to talk about their film, how it came it to be and what’s next.
In the film, “When Ranae, a college student babysits for a family with a tragic history, she finds herself stalked by a sinister presence and haunted by ghosts from her own past. Soon, she and her friends must confront the angry, evil spirit hunting them down one-by-one on a deliberate march towards its ultimate prey.”
Emmaline Friederichs, Madeline Conway, and Carly Rae James Sauer star.
Horror Fuel: “How did you two get brought together for The Nursery?”
Jay: “Chris and I have owned a media firm, along with our third partner and fellow filmmaker Glenn Chung, for about twenty years now. We’ve made countless ads and videos. We’ve always talked about making a film together on some level. But we kept putting it off. Off and on we’ve had a couple of different ideas about documentaries and other types of movies. Finally in late 2015, early 2016, we said ‘We’re gonna do this.” and we sat down and write, produce, and direct a feature-length film. We met regularly while we ran our business, and we still run our business. We made this a priority. It turned out to be quite a passion project and we’ve loved every moment of it. The three of us worked day and night on this while we worked on our business day and night. And it turned out just fantastic.”
Horror Fuel: “What inspired the story in the film?
Chris: “Two things really, around the time that we were starting to come up with the concept for The Nursery, I was a new father. I had a relatively young daughter and I spent a fair amount of time in her nursery, especially at night. When you’re trying to get her back to sleep you’d be sitting in this dark room. There was this little turtle-like thing that casts this blue, hazy-like light around the room with this twinkly music that’s really sweet. It’s a very nice atmosphere, but there is also something very creepy about it. It made you feel like something could go bad at any minute. I felt like there was a nugget there. When we were coming up with the concept, Jay and I and our partner Glenn spent hours and hours and hours brainstorming. We knew that we wanted to make a horror film, we just weren’t sure where to start.
I grew up with horror movies in the late seventies and early eighties. I love the babysitter in peril sort of horror concept. We knew we wanted to use a lot of technology, iPads, and screens and integrate that into the story in a way that we haven’t seen done before. After hours and hours of brainstorming, we eventually came up with a concept and then we moved on to hammering out the story and the script went on from there.”
Jay: “As we go through how the story came together, keep in mind that is not a low budget film, this is a no-budget film. We started with the strongest concepts we could come up with, but we would start tempering it with ‘Can we produce this on a micro-budget?’, so that did shape our thinking a bit as we refined our concept and treatment. We felt our way through that thinking, ‘Okay, we don’t have the budget for fifteen different locations and a cast of dozens”. I actually think that made the script better. With what we had to do and with what we had to work with, we had to infuse the characters with a lot of dimension and had to add to the visual work that we knew we could do with our budget. We had to dig deep to make sure that we came up with very good scares in the writing and the action on the screen because we had those restraints.”
Horror Fuel: “You did a fine job with that, Jay. Chris, Is that blue light in the film the same one from your daughter’s nursery?”
Chris: “It is indeed. We used a lot of practical lighting in the film. We used what we had on hand. It casts such a creepy light. We [laughter] stole it from my daughter’s room for shooting. Every time I would see her she would ask “when am I going to get my turtle back?” [laughter] Eventually she got it back.”
Jay: We loved that Chris brought that in. As we planned for the shoot and the lighting designs with our director of photography, Daniel Andera, you’ll remember from watching the film that that blue light comes up quite a bit in different areas. We did augment it a bit but it really did set the tone for the color cast of the film.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s such a great touch and I love that it is so personal.”
Horror Fuel: “There was one scene in The Nursery that involved a mirror that reminded me so much of Poltergeist. Was that what you were aiming for?”
Chris: “It’s funny that you say that. It was not an inspiration, though you never know what is going to creep into your subconscious from old movies. I know exactly what you are talking about though. We hadn’t thought about that when we made the movie. I will say this, the lead up to the scene when he’s going to the bathroom the camera kind of pans back and forth and reveals the surprise in the shower, we had originally meant to show that in a series of cuts in a different way to get to the reveal, but our director of photography (Daniel Andera) was like “No, no, lets try and do this in one take.” We had an actor sneaking in and out of the shower when the camera panned away. To me, that’s one of the best scenes in the film because it’s all done in one take.”
Jay: “We didn’t have that scene from Poltergeist in mind when we put that together. Whenever I see that scene in that house what I like so much is the color cast which is fantastic, it added so much. That home that we shot in was Glenn’s childhood home. What you don’t see is that bathroom there is shag carpeting on the floor. On the walls, we see this great amber color with those wood tones added so much to film. It added that dimension we really needed. That was a small bathroom and we were shooting into the mirror and like Chris said, we have that surprise in the shower. Directing that and yelling “move back, move forward” it happened just right. That was fun.”
Chris: “Even though we weren’t thinking specifically about Poltergeist, it was the movies of that era that we were really trying to get at, the seventies, early eighties. To me, horror movies were a little more stripped down, more raw, more straightforward. There was less of this knowing. We just tried to make this straightforward, old school movie that had this use of technology but felt more like a movie from the seventies and eighties. The house was great for that because it was straight out of the seventies. With our use of practical effects, we think it helped achieve that feel and just the very straightforward performances of our cast I think helped give it that. We are really proud of that. After you mentioned Poltergeist I realized we kind of have our very own little Carrie Anne.”
Horror Fuel: “Everyone in the film is great. I love that creepy, long-haired, Grudge like looking character. Who played that role?”
Jay: “It’s an actress named Monica Bahr. She did a great job. In real life, she’s a model. She does do some acting. The way we got her and some of our other actors is that my brother Dave plays Roman, but he’s a pretty well-known stage actor in Milwaukee, he gave us some names that he thought might fit the bill. Monica was one of them. At the friends and family screening, people were surprised because she is very pretty. She had hours and hours of makeup she had to do, especially for the final scene. She was quite a sport. She had those white colored contacts so she had to get used to those. She had a lot of makeup. I remember at one point during the shoot she was quite sick and Monica went ahead with having all that makeup done and had to hang out a bit and scare people.”
Chris: “What was great with her was that there was no vanity involved. She went completely anonymous for that, behind the makeup, wearing a wig, and just considering that her full-time career is modeling, that her doing that, putting her ego aside, and doing that.
But getting back to the original question, the creature design was really inspired by the J horror films that you are talking about from around 2000. The original Asian version of The Grudge and Ringu and their American remakes. In terms of how they look, we borrowed a little bit of the mythology of those demons as well in terms of the violent deaths beginning the evil spirit afterlife. So, we were both inspired by those both physically and in terms of mythology. We are horror fans and we wanted to pay homage to the films we love.
Jay: “With everything in the movie we tried not to go over the top. Like Chris said, we’re fans of the horror film of the seventies and eighties.
Going back to the special effects, you’ll notice we didn’t go over the top with the special effects. All those screens you see, from the baby monitor to the phone, none of that is actually going on, we added all that during postproduction. We really just wanted to tell a great story. One of the ways to do that is to put together a creature that we knew would be effective without being outlandish. We want them to be into the film and just enjoy it.”
Horror Fuel: “If you think about it, it is a very simple character, but it is effective. ”
Horror Fuel: “Speaking of movies and characters, do you plan on making another horror movie?”
Jay: “We’ve put together a film company called Three Tortured Minds, Me, Glenn and Chris. The Nursery is flying under that banner. We are in the process of developing a concept for something that we like quite a bit. We are hoping to put this film into production by the end of the summer and hopefully not take too long to post it. Much like this film, our names are used in the credits over and over because we wear a lot of hats. We loved making this movie so much that we are working now and have concepts for a few films. If we can get the time and pull it all together we would love to keep making feature-length films. We are fortunate that we seem to have a pretty good reception with this one so far with some of the reviews. The folks that have seen it seem to be responding pretty well to it. It’s encouraging and we’ll use it as fuel to keep making films.”
Chris: “The horror fuel, if you will [laughter].”
Horror Fuel: “Nice! [laughter]”
Chris: “I will say that with Jay and I and Glenn, the idea of making The Nursery was to see if we could do it. We talked about making a feature film for years. ‘Let’s see if we can make a film and remember to get all the scenes and shots, put them together and see if it came out relatively credible at the end of the process.’ Each step of the way we felt better and better about and once we actually started shooting we thought we might actually have something, a decent little microbudget film here. We never, if we’re being honest, thought we would have the chance to get a professional quality distributor like Uncork’d Entertainment, it never occurred to us. We had several offers and had the ability to choose which was the right fit. It was a dream come true. The idea that this little thing that began as a “can we do it” project is now available to tens of millions of people throughout North America and is beginning to be to be sold internationally is an amazing dream come true for three guys who just wanted to see if they could make it.”
Jay: We started early building a presence on Facebook doing exactly what Chris said. We made that a priority as we were making the film so that we could build that community in an organic way. Like Chris said we are just so thankful and looking forward to what comes next. Uncork’d Entertainment has done such a great job. We’ll see where we go.”
Horror Fuel: “Uncork’d is a great company. We work with them quite a bit. I love your poster by the way, where did that design come from?”
Chris: “To be honest, the poster design and the trailer that has recently been released are the product of our marketing team. Uncork’d Entertainment and October Coast through some ideas at us, including that poster. Our first reaction was that it didn’t look anything like what we were doing, but it was so creepy and embodies The Nursery. After an initial “huh” I fell in love with it. I think that it is extremely effective. It’s great at communicating the creepiness and the mystery of the film. It’s interesting that you bring that up.”
Jay: “We are a little different because of what we do for a living, owning an ad agency. Early on we created all our own artwork, but in the deal with Uncork’d Entertainment they said “we’ll produce a trailer and artwork” and we thought that since this is not what we do for a living that let’s let them do it. That poster is good. You stop and look at it again. It does its job.”
Chris: “When we first came up with the concept we were throwing out all kind terrible names, Convoluted, Midnight in the Nursery of Evil, all these horrible things and our partner Glenn said, “what about The Nursery?” All of us were like “yeah, duh.” We thought that there was no way that there weren’t a thousand Nurseries out there. We went to IMDb, as filmmakers do, and the only one out there is a Chinese movie that was relatively new at the time while we were making this, but it wasn’t being released in North America. So we grabbed it. We just couldn’t believe that such an iconic title had not been used dozens of times.”