American Beast (Solitude) directors; Livingston Oden, Taylor Scott Olson Discuss Latest Horror Release
American Beast Directors Reveal Insight on the Film
American Beast released on DVD via Amazon. A VOD release is forthcoming.
In an online interview, cowriters and directors Livingston Oden, Taylor Scott Olson discussed their Horror film American Beast. The creature feature delves into legend and imagination. Mystery also pays a role in this chilling Thriller.
We extend our many thnk you to Mr. Livingston Oden and Mr. Taylor Scott Olson for taking the time to answer our questions.
DecayMag.com The original title for American Beast is Solitude. What brought about the title change?
Livingston Oden; The title change was something the sales agent thought up, more of a marketable title compared to Solitude.
DecayMag.com Given that the film offers a focus so this mysterious piece of land, do you feel the title Solitude would have better represented the film?
Taylor Scott Olson; American Beast is more of a definitive horror film title, which I understand when it came to that change. It is often difficult to call a project one thing for so long and then have it change, but that is a part of the process that we knew going in.
Livingston Oden; Solitude does represent the film better in that it isn’t just about the monster. The film is about the history of the land and the family, which all revolve around this town of Solitude.
DecayMag.com With the story presented American Beast is both personal and intimate. This was different, as few creature features use this method in the narrative. How do you feel this approach affects and connects with the audience?
Livingston Oden; With any film, you have to find a way to bring the audience into the story on some level. We wanted a story that wasn’t all about jump scares and gory visuals. Taylor and I wanted a history, a lore that would slowly build and create a sense of wonder in the audience as to what was actually going on.
Hopefully, the audience will connect more with the characters and the story, compared to just having random people being killed and running from some unstoppable force.
Taylor Scott Olson; One of the things that we wanted to portray with American Beast was how exactly a terrifying horror event might affect future generations. In American Beast, we follow the same family throughout several generations and we see firsthand how the family is affected by the creature and the land. Each segment is built on the events of the previous segment in many ways, and that was a fun challenge.
DecayMag.com When composing scenes what comes to mind to help enhance the story-to-audience connection?
Taylor Scott Olson; We wanted each segment to be stylistically very different, and this included not just the actor’s performances but the cinematography and production design as well.
We had a different approach when it came to directing actors as well depending on the segment to make it feel authentic to films of that time period.
Livingston Oden; The actors would be what helps connect the audience to the story. Their performance and letting the camera capture their character in a moment of fear or joy is what brings an emotional response to anyone watching a story unfold.
DecayMag.com; Do you have a routine when it comes to storytelling and composing scenes?
Livingston Oden; I wouldn’t say I have a routine. Every story and scene is different than the last, so the approach has to be different every time you’re writing a scene or behind the camera directing one. The only constant when I’m directing is that I have the camera always moving within a scene.
I believe the story flows better and more natural when the camera is moving with the action rather than cutting from one shot to the next.
Taylor Scott Olson; Usually the night before we will discuss the next day’s scenes, go over our shot list, and make our changes then so that by the time we do get to set most of our work is done and we can just shoot. We will occasionally make changes while on set, but on American Beast, we made sure that we had enough coverage and we would be able to tell the story we wanted before we began shooting any scenes.
DecayMag.com; The way American Beast story unfolds it has the feel of folklore or urban legend. Was the film based on an actual legend? Or is this a completely original idea?
Livingston Oden; We looked at a lot of Native American legends that referenced beasts or monsters, but we couldn’t find anything that fit what we had in mind. We ended up slowly building a history for this creature and the cursed land; it was actually a fun experience to slowly build the world where this place exists.
Taylor Scott Olson; The creature in American Beast was a combination of some Native American legends and a mix of ideas that we had on our own.
We also wanted to reference some lesser known horror film ideas, not necessarily just in the creature’s look but in it’s movement and history around it.
Like Livingston said, coming up with this backstory was a really exciting part of it. We have an entire history of where the creature came from, much of which is not directly mentioned in the movie.
DecayMag.com; What qualities do you feel makes an effective antagonist-to-protagonist relationship?
Taylor Scott Olson; Some of the best movie characters, whether they are protagonists or antagonists, are characters who believe what they are doing is right. Nobody thinks they are the villain, they are doing what they might believe is necessary at the time. Some of the protagonists in our film could easily be an antagonist in another film; they are deeply flawed people. The creature itself has a history and a motivation that is understandable in many ways.
Livingston Oden; Their goals in the story for one. For example, when you watch The Silence of the Lambs, you’re rooting for Clarice Starling to catch the killer, but you also want Hannibal Lecter to escape and succeed in getting away.
If you can see both points of view of the hero and villain and can relate to their goals then that will create a pull for the audience on who they actually want to cheer for in the film.
I also believe a well-told history or background of the villain and hero can be effective in creating characters that are memorable, and a history between an antagonist and protagonist will only elevate the story and what’s at stake for both sides.
DecayMag.com; What in your opinion do you feel a story driven feature holds in today’s horror market?
Livingston Oden; I was raised on horror films from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. I feel some of the best horror films came from that era, and most of them had well thought out stories that still scare audiences today.
I’d like to hope that a well-told story would stick out among films that are full of visual effects and gore, that a thought out history and well-defined characters that span over decades would be an intriguing choice over the usual blood fest.
Jaws is my favorite horror film, not because of the fear of a shark lurking beneath the surface, but because of the characters and the story that unfolds. Today’s horror films, not all but some, seem to jump over letting the audience get to know the characters before they’re killed off.
Taylor Scott Olson; As Livingston said, the most important aspect of having is interesting characters. If you can develop characters that people care about, it makes it that much more devastating when they are killed off, almost regardless of how it happens. Of course, the gore and effects can be fun, but they should come secondary to the story and the characters.
DecayMag.com; What are your thoughts on Creepypasta storylines in Horror cinema?
Taylor Scott Olson; Before we did American Beast, Livingston and I actually did write a script based on the Polybius arcade machine, which I believe began as a Creepypasta. We did do other research into those early internet horror stories, as they are very interesting. I hope to see more of those stories made into films.
Livingston Oden; I think it’s interesting. I heard recently they’re working on a Slender Man film and the concept alone is pretty effective in giving anyone the chills. I like that filmmakers are looking at these stories that circulate among horror fans and want to bring them to life on film.
DecayMag.com; For the creature concept, what was the process from concept to final design?
Livingston Oden; Taylor and I discussed it some after writing the script, and we didn’t really have a clear idea of the creature at first. In the script it was just labeled as “The Creature”, but we didn’t have a clue what it would look like. After going through ideas we came to the conclusion that it should be of the earth since the majority of the film took place in the forest, a creature that blended in with its surroundings. I sketched out a few designs over a few months before we came to one we both liked, a half skeleton and half tree hybrid.
Taylor Scott Olson; We took influence from several Native American legends, but it changed drastically as we went on so it became it’s own unique creature. Our makeup artist, Darla Edin, did an incredible job on the monster, as it is almost entirely all practical effects. Darla went on to win Face Off on SyFy and that was exciting to see her talent be recognized in that way.
DecayMag.com; What is your stance on practical versus computer generated creature concepts?
Livingston Oden; I find that practical creatures that are enhanced with the help of CG effects, like what we did with the creature in American Beast, is more effective.
Practical effects also help the performances from the actors, which benefits the film itself.
Computer generated creatures have come a long way since we first laid eyes on one stomping around in Jurassic Park, but you can’t beat the look of a practical creature on camera.
Taylor Scott Olson; It’s much better for the performance of the actors to have something real to work with.
There is something about a practical effects creature that is much more terrifying than CGI.
It’s also much more convincing; if you compare the original Alien to Alien3, the original holds up much better because the creature is entirely practical, while it wasn’t later on. I think there is a place for CGI, but I think it’s best used when it builds on a practical effect.