What started out as Thomas Della Bella’s final thesis film at New York Film Academy has now turned into a feature horror film coming out in theaters and iTunes worldwide on August 5th. Written, directed and edited by Della Bella, The Remains stars Todd Lowe (True Blood), Samuel Larsen (Glee), Nikki Hahn (American Horror Story), Lisa Brenner (The Patriot), Brooke Butler (All Cheerleaders Must Die), Hannah Rose Nordberg (General Hospital) and Ashley Crow (Minority Report).
With the NYFA BFA graduate’s film due out in a week, we thought we’d ask him a few questions about his film and his career as a filmmaker after NYFA.
Congratulations on THE REMAINS! Can you tell us how this film come about?
The Remains is the feature length version of my final year thesis short film Open House. I graduated the BFA Filmmaking program in late 2013 in Los Angeles. I knew going into my thesis film that I wanted to make a short film that could be used as a proof of concept for a feature. So, essentially, I wrote a 15 page mini-feature that followed a family that moves into a Victorian house. I broke the script down into three traditional acts with every 5 pages constituting Act I, II and III. So in the final 13 minute film you get this really cool and fast paced haunted house story.
Now, at the time I had an internship at Blumhouse Productions. Blumhouse is the pinnacle of horror and thriller movies out here and I knew from very early on that one day I wanted to be involved with these filmmakers. Some of their titles include: The Purge, Insidious, Paranormal Activity. As I was interning and PAing for them, I was in post production on my thesis film. Once the film was finished, I sent it around the office to everyone I became friendly with. The following day, a co-worker who watched the film called me over to her desk to tell me how much she loved the film and how she was impressed with the quality of the film.
Now let me also mention, the budget of the short film was $5,000 that I raised via Kickstarter. However, the tools that NYFA provided allowed me to elevate the short film to looking like a much bigger budget film.
The co-worker introduced me to an independent producer at the time named Eric Fleischman. I met with him for lunch a few days later and pitched him the feature version. About three months later, the movie was green lit through Eric Fleischman and Sean Tabibian’s genre production company Diablo Entertainment. From that point, we were off to the races. Everything fell into place at rapid speed and the movie was produced on a shoestring budget.
In your own words, what is your film about?
The Remains is, at its core, a homage to the haunted house horror genre. The film follows John and his family after they move into an old Victorian house after the passing of his wife. Soon after moving in, his two youngest children find a chest in the attic that contains a bunch of antiques. From that point on, an item attaches itself to each family member and slowly starts to possess each family member while pitting them against each other.
The themes I explored are all based around the crumbling of the family unit and the idea that you would do anything for the well being of your family.
Were there any influencers that got you into the horror genre?
Yes! Stanley Kubrick by far has to be one of my biggest influences. The Shining is one of my all time favorite films and you will see references of that in The Remains. I was just always blown away by the moodiness and composition of his films and I really wish I had a chance to meet him. But, specifically, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon are my favorites.
I’d also have to say that James Wan and Leigh Whannell are huge influencers of mine. I grew up watching the Saw franchise and those films always left an imprint on my brain. But, I don’t think it was until Insidious in 2010, when I was in my early film school years, that I realized these are the types of films that I want to make and these are the people I aspire to someday work with.
Thinking back to your time at NYFA. Do you believe your experience prepared you to write, direct, and edit the feature version of THE REMAINS?
Yes, 100%. I learned so much doing my 1 year in NYC and 2 years in LA with the NYFA education model. From the very first day of class, they put a camera in my hand, and honestly, the best learning is by doing. And that is exactly what you do while attending NYFA — you make films. I was very lucky to have such an amazing class that really worked together to make fantastic art. I am still very close with most of my classmates and I hired a few of them to work on my film! I’d also like to point out that many of my teachers at NYFA were extremely supportive of anything I wanted to do or try. I think they definitely helped gear me up to jump into a movie as a first time director.
Was there anything interesting that occurred on set that you’d like to share with us?
Probably the weirdest thing about being on set of The Remains was that fact that we shot the short film at the same house. There are two or three scenes that are exactly the same and untouched that we were shooting for the second time. And it was just a very weird sense of deja vu while doing those scenes. But, we shot the film at this amazing 129 year-old house that had the most fantastic home owners ever. They basically let us take over their house and do whatever we wanted, twice in a row, and that was such a positive experience.
Going back to the fact that the house is now 129 years old…it was just an incredibly creepy house. The second you look at the house from outside you immediately think to yourself, it’s haunted. But, I do remember on numerous occasions that the grip and electric departments were always rushing to get out of the house when we wrapped up every night, because the house is that much creepier at night. There were one or two reports of things moving around on their own, but, for my own sanity, I’ll blame that on the production assistants.
What advice do you have for filmmakers looking to shoot their first feature?
My biggest piece of advice would be to make a short film with the goal of a feature version behind it. This way when you write the feature version, you have this amazing proof of concept to show potential investors and producers. Also, students should take advantage of crowd-sourcing sites like Indigogo and Kickstarter.
The best move I made early on was getting an internship at a company I was truly interested in. Interning lead to set work and, honestly, I learned the most while working in a production office and being on big budget sets.
Be sure to check out The Remains in theaters and iTunes August 5th!