Filmmaker Michael Coulombe Interview at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019
Ryan T. Cusick: How did this all start for you?
Michael Coulombe: [Funny-Sarcastically] Do you mean horror house or how Michael Coulombe was born?
MC: My friend Ray at the time was doing a lot of sketch comedy, he was big in the comedy world and his cousin used to write for Martin and the Jaime Foxx show. One day I had asked him if he had ever thought about doing horror because I knew that he had wanted to follow in the steps of his cousin and become a producer. I explained to him that right now where I am in life I write a lot of horror, my writing partner and I by this time had started writing scripts together [Brantley J. Brown] I said that I would love to create something where we have a place… our tagline is “fear lives here” so that is kind of the idea of how Horror House got started. Having just one place where we launch our short content.
RC: How long had you been working on film and what had you been doing before this?
MC: I’ve spent the last thirteen years working on other people’s movies as a script supervisor. I have done two hundred movies, plus commercials, TV shows, promos, and music videos. Directing is sort of the next step from script supervising because I am right in the middle sitting next to the director and I am always involved in the collaboration of the story. So, I wanted to start proving to people that I could write and direct because I had spent so many years as a script supervisor because I wanted to keep working. It was really hard for me because people would always say “It’s okay that you are directing but are you still going to script supervise?” And I am like, “yeah as long as you’re going to hire me to direct as well. ”I’ve come to realize in order to prove to people that you can do something you have to do it.
RC: This is where Horror House came together along with the platforms first short, Soundbite?
MC: Yes, I told my friend that I wanted to do my own channel if you wanna be a producer then let’s create something. I love horror I have horror contacts; Brantley and I write horror. He said, “all right let’s do it.” So, it was just one of those things where I kinda threw out the idea and this happens a lot in Los Angeles, you throw out an idea and you go “oh that’s great” and you kinda move on. But I’m not that guy. I’m 44, and I am at a point in my life that when I say I am going to do it, I have to do it. We talked about it for six months and then tried to find a place like where we would try to shoot stuff and how we would launch it. We realized that streaming was getting bigger and he really wanted to tap this market and try and find new stuff to do with social media influencers because we wanted to do an online type thing. So, I said, let’s just do it.” I go to my friend Brantley and I said look “I wanna show the world that I am a director you wanna show the world that you are a writer and Ray wants to show the world he is a producer, we have the three elements right here, let’s just make something. Now, what do we make? So, Brantley and I had some ideas we had one particular social media influencer that was interested in doing something. He has a million and a half subscribers and his name is Juhahn Jones and I liked him because he is a black comedian and one of our goals at horror house is to show diversity both up front and behind the camera. So, what a great way to launch something with a black actor. We realized since he works in social media that we should do something geared towards social media. One day we were having this conversation and I said, “you know in The Ring when you watch this video it kills you. What if there was a song that you could send around and it would kill you?” And Brantley is like “yeah, a soundbite!” I said, “yeah I think we got something here!” It would be like if someone listened to something and it killed them – simple. So, we wrote a sketch, but then Jahon got booked and we were like “we want to make something.” My suggestion was to scale it back and do something else. We ended up writing a story about a young college girl. Just this basic white bitch…
MC: …who sits in her room. By the way, she loves it when I say it like that. And we met Taylor Murphy-Sinclair at a reading of Brantley’s script Chuckles and we adored her she was great. I decided to send her the script, I didn’t want to use her at first. She was a really good actress, but when we wrote Soundbite it was not just meant to be a short, it had to be good, we wanted to shoot Soundbite to launch not only Horror House but we wanted to turn it into a feature. So, you know at the beginning of the movie Scream when…
MC: Yeah when Drew Barrymore dies so we wanted to have this sorta fun little cameo just someone that kind of ties into the movie but not the main character. So, we decided to just write about this girl who is alone in her college dorm room and she dies. That was the whole point, she listens to this song and then starts bashing her head into the computer. It was very simple and something that we knew that we could do.
RTC: How long was that one?
MC: That one was five minutes and we shot it like in nine hours. I am very efficient as a director – extremely efficient. That is because I have been in filmmaking for thirteen years. I didn’t want to approach Taylor [Murphy-Sinclair] at first because she literally had no dialogue. I realized that she was a professional actress and we needed to give her dialogue. Brantley suggested that I send her the script and see what she says. So, I decided to send her the script and she is like “this is fucking epic when do we film?” We ended up using Ray’s cousin’s apartment and I hired my friend Doug. Brantley storyboarded it, we only had ten shots it was very simply done. We sped it up a little in post. One of the things I loved about Soundbite is that we didn’t have a sound guy. There was no dialogue. Just so you know for a movie called Soundbite that didn’t have a sound guy all of the sound was made in post and then everyone talked about how good the sound is. We were going to get a composer to record the song, we wanted to release the song as the same time as the movie, and we did. The editor Nico Basil wanted to play with the humming and he was able to create this sort of fuckin menacing sort of like a trancing song and when I heard it I was like “that is fucking creepy.” When we released the song we actually added a woman screaming subtilty through the song. We launched the Soundbite movie along with the Soundbite challenge. The challenge was can you listen to the whole song and not get scared this was our way of trying to blow it up. We ended up getting 35 different reviews on Soundbite and they all loved it. So far it has already one like four awards, it is weird, people just loved it. I had been filmmaking for so long trying to get people to notice me – Soundbite and Horror House was just the thing. Our idea is to just make simple short content for now in the hopes to redefine horror. We came out with Stalk and Stalk was great because…
RTC: I really enjoyed that one.
MC: And what we liked about Stalk was that it was a different play on the same thing, so you have a woman being stalked at night.
RTC: Another white woman. [Laughs]
MC: [Laughs] Yeah, another white woman. But the good thing is, we have women. We try and have strong women. It is never intentional, we just reach out to people and see whoever is available and Kara is a good friend of mine. Her brother is actually a good friend of mine and she has always wanted to work with me and I told her that she should do just that. And at this time, I had reached out my good friend Candice Callins, her and I have the same manager and I had met her at a film festival in San Diego and she said “I wanna die in a horror film, I am a black woman and every time a black person dies in a horror film they come on and they are dead.” She continues to tell me that she wants to fucking fight until her death! I told her, “alright come on let’s do it.” I went to Brantley and told him “hey I met this awesome actress and she doesn’t mind dying in a horror film.
RTC: Like the first one.
MC: Yeah, but not like your typical black woman, she wants to fight. So, we had this idea of shooting Stalk and then finding a way to tie it in. In the original script, there was a poster of a girl who was missing. My idea was to use Candice and then eventually we can tie it in. I reached out to Candice and told her that I just wanted to use her picture on a missing poster and she agreed not realizing that we were going to shoot the prequel coming up and we came up with this amazing script and I don’t want to give too much away. It is badass, I really just love the script. The whole movie is just like one fight sequence.
RTC: When do you plan on starting that one?
MC: I actually have a conference call about it today. We will probably finish shooting at the end of July.
RTC: Where are you going to film at?
MC: In Los Angeles. We actually shot Stalk at my apartment [giggles]. So, the idea of Stalk was that we wanted to have this woman to come home at night leaving a party and the party ties into something too. So, she is leaving this party and this guy follows her and she gets dragged and pulled into the bushes and she attacks him, bites him and rips his neck off. The idea was to not have weak woman because it is 2019 woman aren’t weak. So, our goal was to have something that woman can relate too and root for. Many people have said that they weren’t expecting this…
RTC: And that is why I enjoyed it, there was a different take on it.
MC: Yeah and it was simply done. If you watch Stalk again the opening logo is like a mask and you can see the word Stalk through it, the ending is like a pair of bloody teeth and you can see the word through it. It is a way of saying “hey the story has changed.” It fades back into her getting up and wiping the blood off of her mouth and she is swinging her his mask as she walks off into the night. My friend Richard kind of made this party sound to give the feeling “hey the evening is just beginning” and I love that, it was five minutes simply. People get mad at us, “your movies are like five minutes, I wanted more!” The idea is we are trying to make simple fun content to show people that we know what we are doing.
RTC: And then you can get into bigger stuff.
MC: Exactly and then we came back with Love Me Not. The good thing about Soundbite is that it had no dialogue. Stalk had two words, Love Me Not was four and a half pages of dialogue with a woman monologuing to six dead bodies and a guy tied to a chair and that one was ten minutes. I was terrified to release this one because by now everyone loved our style and this was a big massive thing. I was challenged and I am thinking, “how I was going to make an entertaining movie with just a woman talking.” All the movies were fun to film but Vanessa [Esperanza] was such a good actress and she knew all of her lines. She just walked around this table talking to this guy and she used all the people playing the dead bodies as props, she dances with one in the movie and that was great. Actually, one of them was Brantley, the writer. So, when we all talked about it I said, Brantley, it is really hard to dance with a dead body there are a lot of things that you have to maneuver with it.” He didn’t want to cut it and I had told him that he would need to play the dead body if he wanted to keep it in. I knew that he would be the only one committed enough to make it look good, and he did! There was one time where she just picked him and dropped him on the floor and there was this massive thud, and we all gasped.
RTC: How many takes was that?
MC: Overall, I don’t do a lot of takes. I like to spend time rehearsing and giving notes. I’ll do two takes three at the most and move on. The closer we get instead of cutting I’ll do a few tweaks here and there. On this, I spent a lot of time on a slider because I knew we were going to be around a table so we kind of just kept it free-flowing. For Love Me Not because she was talking across the table we kind of just put the camera on a wide lens and moved back and forth a couple of times and then on a tight lens moved back and forth across the table a couple of times. It was very simply shot; the idea was that she is talking so she had to give us something to look at that is visually just as stunning. She is a powerful actor so I did not want to give her too much to distract her from her performance but I don’t want people to think that they are watching a play, so that was the challenge. She really does talk the entire time which was the biggest challenge. I was afraid to release it because we had done two movies with like no dialogue and this was like ten minutes and eight minutes she is literally talking. What I like about this one is that Vanessa is Cuban so now we have one that has a lead that is Latina. David Blanco our other lead is Latino as well. So, in a nutshell, is what Horror House is and stands for.
RTC: What have you done as a Script Supervisor?
MC: As a script supervisor the biggest movie that I did was called The Man Who Killed Hitler and The Bigfoot.
RTC: I’ve heard of that one.
MC: Yeah, we actually shot that back in 2017. It got released this year, in 2019. We shot that in Massachusetts. I just did a movie called Sprinter, it was shot in Jamaica. It literally just got released a couple of weeks ago. I was in Jamaica for thirty-five days shooting. They don’t shoot a lot of movies there, they are trying to build the Caribbean film market. One of the stipulations was that when I flew down there I had to train someone to do the job and I did. They were so grateful and I am hoping to go back and teach them some more. One of the things that I like about script supervising is that a lot of people don’t know what we do, we not only log everything in the movie we track the continuity. That movie was executive produced by Overbrook which is Will Smith’s company. Sprinter also has David Alan Grier and Lorraine Toussaint starring in it and also Bryshere Gray from Empire it is a really fun movie.
RTC: Tell us a little bit more about the shoot in Jamaica, I bet that was a blast!
MC: Oh, it was! We shot in Jamaica and then for the final scenes we shot at UCLA and this was back in July 2016 and let me tell you it is hot in Jamaica, like 100 degrees and 90 percent humidity, I had never experienced that before. I am from Southern California and I don’t have humidity. Our first day of shooting I had a 5:00 am call time and I was already sweating. A few months later when we were shooting in Los Angeles it was around December and it was freezing. We had a few of the Jamaican cast/crew here with us and they were like we were cold down there.
RTC: They couldn’t deal with it?
MC: Yeah, they couldn’t deal with it. Chapped lips, we couldn’t keep them warm enough.
RTC: Did you work on something for Netflix?
MC: Yeah, I did something called Secret Obsession. It has not come out yet.
RTC: Is that for Netflix?
MC: Yeah it is a Netflix original movie. It stars Brenda Song and Dennis Haysbert was in it.
RTC: Did you serve as a Script Supervisor on that one as well?
MC: Yeah, my main job is script supervising. I am trying to write more. Brantley and I as writing partners wrote seven scripts last year in nine months, most of it horror. We also pitched two Christmas scripts to Lifetime, which they were interested in and one script to BET. Brantley and I have this most amazing writing style. What I love about it is that we actually come up with our concepts, we’ll start working on a synopsis and it is really easy. Our writing styles are really similar and it’s not even funny. Writing is so great because we are in tune. We both understand our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. Sometimes we’ll leave each other different parts to complete because we can’t do it, it is very seamless.
RTC: I always wondered how having let’s see – several writers on a project worked?
MC: I wrote a script – Eden Falls with Victor Miller a few years ago. It was myself, Victor, and a guy named Martin Rogers and we all wrote via Skype. I have known both Martin and Victor for years but those two have never met. I was in Los Angeles, Victor was up near San Francisco and Martin was in Montana. So, the three of us would do Skype and e-mails and that was not a difficult process. How we did that was we spent months just creating a synopsis and we broke the script down into three. Martin opened the script, I wrote the middle, and Victor finished the script. And because Victor is the Emmy winner he kind of just took the whole script and polished it up. That’s how we wrote that it was very simple. Brantley and I don’t write like that, we can write a script like in five days. The script we pitched to BET we wrote it in two and a half days while I was on set and he was working. When people call me and are like, “I need a writer,” I wanna be like “great you got two of them, what do you want?” I tell people this, I think that I am an amazing writer, most people tell me I’m an amazing writer. Brantley is much further along as a scriptwriter then I was at his age. I am 44 and he is 32. But I never wanted to be a scriptwriter I wanted to be a novelist and then I became a filmmaker and I started writing scripts, so that is why I am a good writer. Brantley had always wanted to be a script writer so he spent his entire life writing scripts. When he sent me the first script he had ever written I had connected him with Victor.
RTC: Yeah, Victor’s a big deal.
MC: Yeah, he wrote the original Friday The 13th and he kind of helped him tweak it. Brantley also sent me a script called Chuckles that was about a killer clown. I just fuckin loved it.
RTC: Just the name sounds scary. Have you made that movie yet?
MC: No, it’s slated to get made next year if we can get it done. It’s a good script, Brantley is such a good writer. We also started writing Christmas scripts, and then we started writing dramas and I’m actually trying to write a comedy right now.
RTC: Well I think that’s great that you are very diverse in your writing.
MC: I love horror movies so much but just don’t want to be remembered as just that.
RTC: When you write something do you have a budget in mind?
MC: I actually try and keep everything on the low end but its because I make movies. Eden Falls is easily a five-million-dollar movie, I’m just throwing it out there. But my movie Ax which is the feature version of my short film could be made for a million because it is one guy in a cabin. So, the first short film I ever directed was Ax. I used to watch horror movies and shorts all of the time and I am like, “I can do this if they can do it I can do it.” I literally make movies for a living. I had one guy in a cabin and the whole point of Ax is the story of a man who kills his wife with an Ax. People will say, “well I know that the movie is about now.”
RTC: No, there’s all the guts involved.
MC: Yeah, the idea behind it is his descent into madness – what got him there. The quote of the movie is “what drives a man to madness?” Everyone loves this movie and I have spent the last couple of years developing this into a feature.
RTC: Where can we see this at?
MC: The short the film, it’s online.
RTC: The feature script I’m really excited about shooting. Again, I kept it very low budget it has one guy in a cabin and then we flashback to his wife so now we have two people, and then we have two neighbors. We also have a mother and father in a flashback scene, so we have seven characters but they are hardly ever together. At any given time, there are like two or three together and I wrote it that way because I knew it would be easy to shoot it that way.
RTC: Sometimes your writing might be geared toward what your budget might be.
MC: Yeah, it is also geared to the fact if I want to make it or not [Laughs] So I keep it low. I really try and focus on good dialogue and a good story. People really seem to like the feature version of Ax, I really can’t wait to make it, people are going to love it.
RTC: Earlier you had mentioned teaching. Can you tell us more about that?
MC: Last year at the end of summer I got hired to teach script supervising at this film school in Los Angeles for Saudi Arabian students. The Saudi Arabian film commission was trying to grow a film there. Most of them being women which were really fascinating. They brought me back two weeks later to direct one of their shorts – which was fun!
RTC: Who has been your biggest influence in film?
MC: The biggest influence strangely has been Victor Miller. He’s written daytime television, won Emmy’s and has launched one of the biggest horror franchises. He has been someone that I could really bounce ideas off of. He has no problem telling me the truth when I need to hear it.
RTC: So, he’s been like a mentor over the years.
MC: Yeah, and you know who has also been really good is Harry Manfredini the composer. I am very lucky to work around people who give me a good push. In my line of work sometimes I have just learned the best thing to do is just shut up and listen, which is hard for me because I talk a lot. [Chuckles] I am a really big people watcher, I find it very fascinating.
RTC: What did you do before you got involved with film?
MC: I worked as a receptionist and I worked in a mailroom. Before that, I worked at the Warehouse, I was a manager.
RTC: Did you grow up in Los Angeles?
MC: No, I am from Orange County – I’m from Southern California. I’ve been in Los Angeles for about twenty years.
RTC: Your favorite horror movie?
MC: A Nightmare On Elm Street without a doubt. It’s the one movie I watched as a kid that didn’t scare me, it fascinated me and I wanted to be in horror because of that. It was very scary but also it had light harder moments because of his [Freddy Krueger] one-liners and I loved that.
RTC: I love that too.
MC: This is fun thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
RTC: The pleasure is all mine Michael, thank you so very much this has been a blast!