Nick Szostakiwskyj (Director, Black Mountain Side)
The Horror Revolution: First question, and it's always the same: What's your favorite horror movie? Which movie scared you the most, and why for both?
Nick Szostakiwskyj : This is a very hard question to answer. I think my favorite horror film would either be Kubrick’s The Shining or Scott’s Alien. Both films have every element I think a great horror film should have, and both films force your imagination to do the dirty work. Neither film makes the mistake of showing too much or trying to answer every question.
THR: Both excellent choices, The Shining seems to be a popular answer to that question. You wrote and directed Black Mountain Side, a movie I've reviewed and thought was incredibly creepy. What was your inspiration?
NS: Thank you again for your review. I wrote the first draft of the script back in 2012, and to be honest, I can hardly remember what the inspiration was. I was having a lot of discussions at the time with my roommate, Adam Pisani (also the sound mixer on Black Mountain Side), about horror movies. He said he wasn’t a horror fan, and I obviously was a horror fan, and he would tell me what it was he didn’t like, and I would tell him what I did like. His biggest qualm was that horror films don’t generally try to be good films and tell interesting stories, they just try to be frightening. I think those discussions were the groundwork for Black Mountain Side. Writing the script, I went into every scene consciously trying not to force “scary” into the story. If it was going to be a scary story, I wanted it to be natural.
THR: Everyone I've heard talking about Black Mountain Side has compared it, favorably I might add, to The Thing. How do you feel about that?
NS: I love The Thing, and as a fan, the comparisons are flattering. But I worry that the comparisons are giving people the wrong expectations going into the film, and I think we might be missing out on hitting our own unique audience—not just people looking for a glorified Thing remake, which some people have been disappointed to learn BMS is not. On the flip side, the many comparisons to Carpenter’s The Thing have brought us an audience we would have never had.
THR: Please, please tell me what the hell inspired the deer creature? And do you have a name for it, even though it's not named in IMDB?
NS: We call the deer creature the “Deerman”. When I was in high-school, I directed a short film called The Goatman, which in a way was the film that inspired Black Mountain Side, about a man who wakes up early one morning for hockey practice, to find that his parents are gone, his brother is gone, his neighbors are gone—everyone is gone. But as the film progresses, he realizes he’s not alone. There’s this Goatman stalking him, walking on its back legs. A few years after making that short, I had a dream where a deer stood up on its back legs and started speaking to me. After that dream, for whatever reason, I decided to re-visit the Goatman story, except with a Deerman. Instead of one man waking up and finding out everyone is gone, it’s a small group of men.
THR: You've got more credits in the sound department than in any other category. I especially loved the sound for Black Mountain Side. Do you think your experience here influenced your sound in this film?
NS: Absolutely. Going into film school, sound was always my weak-point. In all of my old short films, the sound was horrendous, so I made a point of working on it in film school, always volunteering to do other students’ sound recording and sound design. The sound department didn’t really appeal to many of the other thirty students in the class (just Adam Pisani and myself). Everyone else wanted to do camera or art. As a matter of fact, I think the film school we worked at got rid of sound recording classes shortly after we graduated. As a funny turn of events, I came out of film school with sound as my strong point. Working with sound, you develop a very keen respect for what sound does to a film. In school, they tell you a film is 50% picture, 50% sound, but I think it’s more like 10% picture, 90% sound. The sound tells the story, the picture is just there to hold your attention.
THR: I agree completely, sound absolutely made Black Mountain Side as creepy and isolated as it was. Why no more horror!? BMS was incredible, surely we'll see more horror from you in the future?
NS: I only have the intention of making horror films. I won’t rule out the possibility of working in other genres in the future, but for now, it’s just horror. I’m working on another horror film right now, hopefully shooting this summer. I would say that it’s even more of a horror than BMS. It’s going to be insane.
THR: What was it like working in such a cold climate? It seems like it would be hell. How much of this was done on a sound-stage, how much was done "in the wild?"
NS: I’m glad it looked cold. It really wasn’t. I think it was about 0-5 degrees Celsius (35-40 Fahrenheit) for most of the shoot. We were actually racing the melting snow while filming. If you look closely, you can see it dripping off of the rooftops. We shot almost the entire film in the Monashee Mountains, at a cabin resort called Cozy Cabins, and then we shot all of the Doc’s Office scenes and the Rec Room scenes in a small studio in Vancouver, just because we needed a bigger space to move around with the camera.
THR: Being a director must be absolutely incredible. What's your favorite part? Least favorite part?
NS: The best part of directing is having complete control over your vision. You can choose to be as collaborative as you want, or you can choose to completely disregard every little suggestion anyone makes. Watching 40 people working on your vision is a pretty cool feeling. The worst part? Every one of those 40 people’s problems is also your problem, and on days where things aren’t moving as well as they should be, it can be extremely stressful.
THR: I literally haven't heard a bad review for BMS. What does it feel like when you read about someone who loved your film?
NS: It’s a good feeling—you want people to like your work. And when you’ve worked on something for two years and your only opinion up to that point has been your own, it’s an incredible relief to find out other people like it, that the past two years wasn’t a waste of time. But the bad reviews are out there. I haven’t come across too many negative reviews from critics, but IMDb and Amazon have their share of negative customer reviews—people upset (like I was saying before) that they were promised a glorified remake of The Thing, and instead got a slow-paced atmospheric, psychological horror film. I like to tell myself those reviews are more critical of our distributors’ marketing people, more than us. There is literally a review on the Amazon DVD page that complains about the film being almost nothing like The Thing.
THR: Which is really an unfair criticism, because it’s the atmosphere that makes it like The Thing, not the storyline. What else are you working on? Tell us more about the film you said you’re working on next.
NS: Just the new horror film I mentioned earlier, Hammer of the Gods. We’re in pre-production at the moment, about midway through financing, working with concept artists, about to start casting. It’s the beginning of super-busy time. Now that I have a few eyes on me (people who enjoyed BMS), I’m hoping to be more transparent in the filmmaking process of this new film. I’ve already posted a few photos I took while location scouting. I’m going to try to keep everything as spoiler-free as possible, but I’m going to try and post lots of pictures of the process, for anyone interested. And like I said before, the movie is going to be absolutely crazy. It’s going to set a new standard for independent horror. I learned a lot from making BMS, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what it is people enjoyed (and also what they didn’t) about that movie.
THR: Szostakiwskyj. Is that Polish?
NS: Close—Ukrainian. Pronounced Show (like a TV show) sta (like InSTAgram) Q (like the letter) ski (like the sport). Show-sta-Q-ski. Шостаківский in Ukrainian.
THR: Thanks so much for the time, and thanks so much for letting me review your truly excellent film. Last question: If you were a hotdog, would you eat yourself?
NS: I suppose that depends on whether or not I would feel pain, and what my other options were! I’m already technically a big piece of meat and I don’t eat myself now!
Nick is awesome, Black Mountain Side rocked (as you can see from my review and all of the many other positive reviews its been getting around the interwebs). Highly recommend checking it out, and I look forward to seeing more from this talented young director. I get the feeling he’s gonna be a big deal in the future. He’s got a lot of talent, and it certainly shows in Black Mountain Side.