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  • Rev Horror

Cairo Smith Interview (Writer/Director, Screwdriver)

The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?


Cairo Smith: The Thing, Jaws, Alien. All perfect films. Scared me the most, probably The Wailing. There's just such a well crafted sense of dread and folkloric hopelessness.


THR: I was seriously impressed by Screwdriver. What inspired you to make the film?


CS: Total institutions. Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth. How you think about LA when you move away for a while. Toxic yearning, to be loved, to escape, to own. Queen of Earth by Alex Ross Perry was another inspiration.


THR: I’m a huge fan of indie horror, but it’s so rare that I find one that hits quite as hard as this one. What did you find most challenging when directing your first feature length film?


CS: We were filming in a rented townhouse, so the constant ambient threat of being shut down by a neighbor complaint was incredibly stressful. We also had a few hours where it looked like our First AC was going to have to replace our DP due to an accident. Luckily all the challenges were logistical. Artistically everyone was very aligned, and we achieved some incredible things on a tiny budget.


THR: The writing in Screwdriver was phenomenal. Was there anything in the script that you had to cut out? How much of your intentions for the story made it into the final film?


CS: The final film is almost exactly what was written. Not a single scene was cut, although the first pre-dinner drinks did get shortened into a partial montage. The script was written for a wider one-story house, so a lot of the cool verticality with the stairs was devised on set. There are also a few moments of AnnaClare and Charlie goofing around that our brilliant editor worked into the final cut.


THR: I’ve always felt that indie horror lives and dies by quality of the script and the performances the director is able to get out of the actors involved, and your lead trio were absolutely stellar. How do you feel they were able to embody the roles that you wrote for them, and did the casting change your perspective on the characters that you had created?


CS: AnnaClare is an extremely strong willed, driven person, and we found moments where she could use that spark to push back against her hosts a little bit. Overall these actors completely own the roles. I can't imagine anyone else. We had a long, theater-style rehearsal process, which was very important to me, and I think it more than paid off.


THR: What inspired you to want to become a director? Were there any particular films that made you know this is what you wanted to do with your life?


CS: I think at the broadest level I just wanted to tell engaging stories, from three or four years old, and some time in high school I decided films are the most elegant, immersive, immortal form we have for storytelling. It might have been There Will Be Blood that made that click for me. Theater is the most immersive but it's so ephemeral. Games and television fall victim to sprawl. A film can be perfect.


THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?


TS: David Bowie. Christian Bale. Lupita Nyong'o. Vangelis. Tom Cruise. Shirley MacLaine. Alex Skarsgard. Geniuses.


THR: For a movie that essentially takes place in just one location, how important was it that everything in the house reflected the personalities of the characters themselves? Do you feel that the location itself lent itself to the drama that played out on-screen?


CS: Hugely important. The set decoration was a massive undertaking, relative to the size of the production. Very indebted to Target for letting us buy and return so much furniture. There's one piece of art we called the spiderweb that Emily slowly falls into scene by scene. Lots of little things like that. Sterility and Americana.

THR: What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects that you’re excited to talk about?


CS: I have about six feature scripts ready to shoot. A wide range of styles. Whoever ends up funding the next one will not be disappointed. I just finished directing the pilot of a very fun military sci-fi podcast I wrote. I'm also prepping a thriller short, just to keep the production muscles flexing.


THR: Finally, what word do you hate the most, and if you were forced to make a movie whose title contained that word, what would it be about?


CS: Hate most? Probably disability. I've been wheelchair bound from a car accident exactly one year today. I'm just sick of how ever present it is. As for the movie, I would want to make some optimistic science-fiction about overcoming limitations with technology. Something beautiful and grounded that would hopefully encourage scientific minds to build those things in real life. After all, that's how we got the flip phone.

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