The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
Dane Elcar: I feel like it changes all the time. In light of William Friedkin’s recent passing, I would say “The Exorcist” was really my favorite for a long time. That movie scared the shit out of me when I was a kid and I still love it. I’m also kind of an original “Hellraiser” one and two guy if I’m being honest.
THR: Brightwood has elements of both horror and science fiction and toes that perfect line between creating a unique world and making it terrifying if one were to actually experience it. What inspired the film?
DE: Around six years ago I got this very simple idea of someone being trapped going around in circles. At the same time I would take my small daughter on these jogs around a local pond in our old neighborhood. It’s in the middle of town, but surrounded by dense trees and it made you feel like you were in the middle of the woods. I knew it would make for a great location, and one day it all clicked, and I started writing an outline. That ended up becoming a short film I made called “The Pond” in 2018. That film is kind of the barebones structure of Brightwood–It has just one character, going round and round. And as I was making it, I kept thinking how interesting it might be if I dropped a couple into this same nightmare. I felt there might be the possibility for a kind of strange metaphor on relationships. This idea stayed in the back of my mind for a long time before I sat down to write the script.
THR: It’s so difficult to get a time-loop film to work out correctly. Or at least I would assume that it is, because most of them suck. Yours didn’t. Was there anything special that you did to make sure that all of your timelines lined up and everything worked the way it was supposed to?
DE: Having done the short, I knew the game. I knew the ending. So as I was writing it, all I did was drop this couple that was arguing in my head onto the trail. And I didn’t really want to focus this story on why this is happening. So I pushed the machines into the background. Any actual answer would be totally arbitrary anyway. I wanted this to be more about their emotional journey through this insane experience. That sort of freed me up to play around and find the dark humor in it. We didn’t shoot in order. So the script made it very clear which version of Dan and Jen were in a scene. And I made a timeline graph so that we all knew who was who and when. But really the focus was their journey, and how I could subvert your expectations and keep the story moving forward in different ways.
THR: You wrote and directed the film, something that often seems to help make sure that everything looks and works exactly how you want it to. How special was it to see your vision come to life from behind the camera?
DE: This is my first feature film, so I can only speak from that standpoint. It was an incredibly exhilarating experience to see this idea I had years ago come to life as I shot it. Something I appreciate more now as I look back. In the moment you’re in it and thinking about the scene and the performances. You're trying to capture lighting when you see it. It’s about knowing when you’ve got it, or if you need another take. And I will say, even though I wore a lot of hats on this, each step of the process has been a conversation and collaboration. So working with artists who all share this passion and to see that come to fruition is very special to me. I’m incredibly proud of the film we made. I think it’s finding an audience and folks are reacting to it in ways that far exceeded my expectations.
THR: Dana Berger and Max Woertendyke were fantastic in their roles, really selling this interesting experience in a way that brought the audience into this frustrating and frightening loop. How much of the success of the film is owed to their performances?
DE: Everything! It’s all on them. We don’t necessarily have to like these characters, but we have to be willing to take the ride with them. They have to be relatable in some way. And Dana and Max brought so much to their roles. They came on early in prep and we would do these zoom rehearsals where they would read the script and then I’d go off and rewrite. We did this for a few months before shooting. It was a vital way of distilling down the dialogue and honing the script and it gave them a lot of time to find the humor and idiosyncrasies of their characters. They came up with their own backstories. I remember hearing something about a guy named Richard. And the nickname Dana came up with for Dan was Buzzy–that’s a long story… But also what happened on their honeymoon. None of these things are meant to be in the movie, but it gives depth to their creative choices.
THR: What inspired you to want to become a filmmaker? Were there any films that made you know this is what you wanted to do with your life?
DE: I’ve always wanted to make movies. I’ve been writing scripts for years. I’m 39 so it took long enough! And when I was younger I just devoured movies. All types. I loved makeup and special effects. So a lot of my early Hi-8 video shorts as a kid were like, “guy gets stabbed and has to make it up the stairs.” Also, my father was an actor and at that time he was the Artistic Director of a local professional theater he helped start. So I literally grew up in the theater. Playing with props and costumes, getting into trouble. So for me, the idea of real adults playing around and telling stories was THE most important thing. So I caught the bug early.
In terms of movies…when I was 13 or so my dad gave me a film called “Man of a Thousand Faces,” with James Cagney playing Lon Chaney and it really opened my eyes to the process of filmmaking. Later, Orson Welles' “The Trial” had a big impact on me. I had a VHS of that and would just constantly play it in the background. People thought I was insane. Later, I discovered the films of Werner Herzog and that changed everything.
THR: This is your debut feature, which is pretty incredible with how well everything comes together. What did you learn making your first feature that you think will make making your next one easier?
DE: It’s a pretty profound learning curve. Every step along the way, from writing, shooting, editing, to finding distribution, marketing… I know so much more now than I did when I set out to make the film. So I hope that will make the next one a little easier! Ha. You never know with these things. But I feel much more prepared.
THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
DE: John Huston making “Night of the Iguana.” Because I love that movie. I want to be down in Acapulco on set with those actors and drinking rum cocos, right now!
THR: What’s next for you? Do you have any other interesting ideas that you’re excited to put on film?
DE: Oh I love lots of ideas! I’m always writing. In terms of upcoming productions, everything is rightly on hold now as I fully support and stand with the WAG and SAG-AFTRA during this historic strike. However, what I will say is that the next one is a real Hitchcokian suspense thriller with Max producing again. When the time is right, we plan to move forward with that.
THR: Finally, what would be the worst “Buy One, Get One Free” sale of all time?
DE: I don’t know what would be the worst, but for me, the best one was for blue hoodies.