- Rev Horror
Trevor Juenger (Director, Man in Room 6)
The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
Trevor Juenger: I love the Evil Dead. You can’t help but admire the incredible dedication to filmmaking by Raimi and Co. I wrote Raimi a fan letter when I was a kid and had his return letter framed on my wall. It was a prized possession. Plus that edit is so tight, and the sound design was so fresh for the time.
Candyman might’ve scared me the most as a kid. I saw that at a sleepover, and when Trevor gets murdered in the end, I was traumatized. The other kids went to sleep, but I stayed up until morning and walked home without telling anyone.
THR: The Man in Room 6 is an epic film, spanning nearly a hundred years and was an incredibly ambitious project. Where did the idea come from, and how was it putting it onto film?
TJ: I felt dejected after accepting the fact that my little pilot wouldn’t be more than a single episode of a series that would never be. I had a lot of big ideas for how to develop something in an episodic structure. I thought I’d write a novel, and stop worrying about what would be possible to produce. Just write freely without any restrictions. I’ve never written a book, so I thought I’d put it in screenplay format. I fell in love with the idea of producing some of these impossible to produce images. It’s hard to match cut in a book. I imagined Jackie and Bill in these roles, and couldn’t stand to leave that as an unfulfilled fantasy.
It was a significant challenge, but very fulfilling when things came together. Making a film is like building a house. It comes together piece by piece. You try not to think about it in the big picture or it can be overwhelming. This one was the same, but it was more like building a castle. There are a lot of rooms in a castle.
THR: You wrote and directed this film, but you’ve done a little bit of everything around the film set at one time or another. What’s your favorite job to do in film production?
TJ: I used to be afraid of directing, but I like it a lot now. I always thought of the director as an auteur who stayed behind the camera, but I can’t imagine hiding from my actors like that any more. It’s intimidating to work with actors who really know what they’re doing. You don’t want to tell them the wrong thing. I know now that we’re all trying to discover the best way to present this story. It’s ok to be wrong, and adjust or try something totally new. Actors don’t care if you want to try something before deciding their instincts were right before. They actually need that validation. They need to know that their choices are working with what everyone else is doing. They have to be focused on their instrument, and you have to be their mirror. There’s a lot of trust there. It’s a beautiful thing.
THR: I gotta be honest, when I pulled up the film and saw that it was two and a half hours, I kinda rolled my eyes a little and breathed a sigh of concern. After watching though, it easily could’ve lasted another hour and been well worth the time investment. The movie itself almost felt like a limited series, something that would run on Starz or Netflix or some other streaming service. Was there anything inherently difficult about making a film with such a long runtime, and how did you manage to hold the audience’s interest through the whole thing?
TJ: I think that’s our biggest hurdle. I’ve had the same feeling about some really amazing films like The Wailing. It can be difficult to make that kind of investment in a piece of media. I’ve had a lot of suggestions about how to overcome this hurdle: it should be a series, make it two films, gut the edit… I’ve been tempted, because at the end of the day, we want our work to be seen, and being on the other side of things as a viewer, I’m not sure I would give it a chance. I was kind of in limbo with these ideas until Mike Schiralli, the composer for my previous feature, died. I thought about how supportive he was about art just being art. It has a life of its own. It’s like a child that you nurture into a little person, but it eventually decides what it wants to be. You can listen to your friends tell you that your teenager shouldn’t dress the way she does, or you can let her be the way she wants to be. Our first cut was actually 3.5 hours long. It’s really lean in comparison to some other low budget titles that stretch to reach the minimum runtime to qualify as a feature.
It’s not something anyone would know by perusing titles on streaming, but it’s cut into pretty distinct chapters. In theory, it wouldn’t be hard to watch it in segments, like you might tackle a book a few chapters at a time before bed.
Making any film is difficult, but covering 286 pages of script felt sometimes overwhelming. Make that script nonlinear and shoot things significantly out of order with different script supervisors and crew members in important positions, and you have a recipe for a very difficult production. We knew that going in though, and it gave us a sense of purpose. Who wants to pour their souls into another horror film that’s just a poor emulation of something better?
THR: What inspires you as a filmmaker in general? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
TJ: I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. I really liked Stephen King. I was a really poor reader though. I was in the trailer for kids with suspected learning disabilities until my mom started doing my homework for me to erase that stigma. I realized I was more into Stephen King movies than his books. To this day, I think I’ve only read Pet Sematary.
I started experimenting with the family camcorder, and got some attention for some animations I made. I’ve never been social, but had a lot of fun making films with my friends. Eventually, I made some ambitious moves, working with professional actors and going to film school.
Now it feels like it's in my DNA. In my dreams, I see myself in the 3rd person. My day job is teaching film production and theory courses. It’s been a total immersion for most of my adulthood. I don’t think I’m going to quit.
THR: One of the things I’m learning as I interview directors and film crew is that film as a medium seems to exist in a very small world. For instance, I was introduced to your film (and to you) by Tonjia Atomic, another director that I happened to have a chance to interview a while back. How important is this kind of networking with others in the industry when it comes to getting your films made and developing projects?
TJ: I think it really helps spread when you’re trying to get eyes on a project. It’s difficult for a lot of people to curate their own content. Even perusing a streaming platform can become tiresome. When we’re talking about truly independent films, you aren’t going to see commercials on cable or ads on instagram. We’re relying on word of mouth from people you trust. If you get the vote of confidence from another filmmaker, that can help a lot. Tonjia supporting us is very cool. We can talk our own stuff up, but we’re clearly biased. Her opinion probably holds more weight than mine in regard to my films.
There are online communities now that help new filmmakers navigate the world of predatory distributors. For those of us who haven’t had that experience, I’d consider that kind of community a godsend.
It is surprising how much crossover I see in the indie horror community. I’d love to see more positivity and support, especially for female filmmakers. I think we’ll get there eventually. We’re trending in the right direction.
THR: Have you had any thoughts about developing the plot of The Man in Room 6 further and actually making it into a series of some kind? Or even a sequel?
TJ: Someone asked me that at a Q&A, and it startled me. It was such a mammoth undertaking. I feel like everyone who worked intimately on it has been changed by it. It’s not a question to be answered without some serious introspection. I think the film would need to find some kind of unexpected success for me to seriously consider it. I think the appeal is pretty niche, but I’ve been wrong about a lot of other things that I had more certainty about.
I don’t think we wrote ourselves into a corner where it wouldn’t be possible.
THR: I loved that the film felt like an art project as much as a film. There was just this beautiful aesthetic involved, a dreamlike state in which most of the film existed. Was this your vision for the project, or was that part of the film more of a collaboration?
TJ: Aesthetics are definitely a collaboration, mostly with Carrie Juenger, but also with our production designers, cinematographers, and lighting designer. I like to think I can identify what people do very well and put them in a position to do that thing comfortably.
We shot the film with lenses that I built. Carrie and I worked as carpenters building our sets. Carrie designed wardrobes and a lot of the hair and makeup. I feel super lucky to have a creative partner who excels in all of the areas where I don’t. I’m not sure if we grew into those roles or it happened naturally.
THR: Tell me about a time where you had doubts about whether or not you could actually become a filmmaker. How did you deal with those doubts?
TJ: It’s really never been a question. That’s what I am. I felt a great sense of relief, when I introduced myself as a filmmaker before videographer, instructor, freelancer, or whatever job I was doing at the time. I’ll be a filmmaker if no one ever watches another one of my films.
I have doubts about success all of the time though. I think if you talked to me 10 years ago, I would consider what I’m doing right now a version of success. The goalposts keep moving though. I know I’m the one doing it, but I don’t feel any sense that I’ve reached whatever promised land I’m traveling to.
THR: What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects you’re working on?
TJ: I was writing a script that I thought was dangerous in a way I hadn’t seen before. I was pitching people on the idea, and more than a few people thought I’d get death threats at minimum. My laptop hard drive blew up after about 10 pages, so I’ll have to re-write it. Maybe I was hacked.
I think Carrie is going to do another short. It might be nice to do a scaled down production again.
THR: Finally, do you actually believe in mermaids?
TJ: Belief is a strange thing. I thought I knew more about the world when I was younger. I’ve had some very strange experiences that I wrote off as hallucinations or imagined occurrences, but our perceptions are all we have. If it’s real to you then it’s real. If you saw a ghost, that’s what you saw. I’d rather live in a world of possibility than one where we pretend to know everything that exists.
Mammal fish hybrids seem far fetched to me, but intelligent sea creatures are entirely possible. There are accounts of people seeing these things. Could it be some kind of sea creature that was mistaken for a human at a distance? Maybe a corpse in the water or maybe there's something magical out there. I’m fine with not knowing.