The Wretched Brett Pierce Drew Pierce

TADFF: The Pierce Brothers on ‘The Wretched’ and the Love of Horror

Kelly McNeelyFilm Festival, InterviewsLeave a Comment

Kelly McNeely: As brothers, how did you both get involved in filmmaking? You mentioned that your dad did effects and worked on The Evil Dead, which is really, really cool… was that always just part of your life growing up?

Drew Pierce: Yeah, we I think we just watched my dad and all the guys that were part of The Evil Dead, they were continuing even after Evil Dead, they were still making shorts and stuff. So we’d see that whole process and hear the legends of producing that movie. But then when we got into high school, we were in the TV class, so we’re shooting sports events, but doing our own little shorts on the side. And then towards the end of High School — with all of our friends — we’re just shooting features over the summer. Nobody had any rent to pay. And everybody’s just like, “hey, you want to go shoot for a couple of weeks?” And we made a couple of bad horror movies and action movies. 

Brett Pierce: It was our camera and our friends are all the actors, and we cut them together. And then we’d rent the local movie theater and invite all of our friends and family. We’d all watch them. I mean, they were fun. That was like our film school.

Drew Pierce: I went to animation school, and Brett went off to film school. And I basically pursued that — I finished and moved out to Los Angeles with Brett, and I got a job and worked on Futurama doing animation, and I did that for a while. And Brett was working in animation and reality TV, all the while trying to get our bigger feature ideas going.

We shot a very indie horror comedy years back called Deadheads, which is like a very sweet, fun roadtrip zombie movie. And we totally embraced our super low budget with that movie. I love that movie, it’s got such sweet lovable characters that people still respond to, which is just cool. And then we’ve been ramping up to make our straight horror movie, because that’s where our passions lie. 

Brett Pierce: And I feel like we had to make Deadheads and do everything wrong to learn how to do it — hopefully more the right way with this one. So yeah, I mean, I love that movie, but it’s just like, when I think about how we made it, all those decisions were mostly moronic and uninformed [laughs]. So yeah, it was great.

The Wretched via IMDb

Kelly McNeely: The sound design and lighting design for the film are so detailed and delicate and really rich, and I love that element. How much of that were you guys involved in? Did you just have really incredible designers?

Drew Pierce: Every second. We had really good people too, Eliot Connors, we got lucky enough that he was our sound designer. The hallmark of bad horror is poor sound design; you can’t make a scare scary without great sound design. And we actually tracked him down because we were big fans — Brett was a big fan of his video game work.

Brett Pierce: I played the latest Resident Evil game, and I loved it, and the sound design was really cool. And there’s actually a creature in it that’s kind of similar to our creature, and it’s like, oh, he does really good horror stuff, and we’re an indie film, so we don’t have a lot of money. So let me find this guy and maybe he’ll want to do it.

Drew Pierce: We got him to watch or movie, and he loved it. And we looked up his IMDb and realized, oh, he’s doing major Hollywood movies, like he did all the DC Superhero Movies. 

Brett Pierce: Yeah, he was finishing up Aquaman when we met with him. We didn’t know that! 

Drew Pierce: He just did The Fast and the Furious spinoff, I think he’s doing Frozen 2 right now.  Got some big projects on his way. But you know, they can they can wait for us [laughs]. But yeah, I mean, roping him in was just huge for us. He just took the quality up — we’re trying to punch our way up to quality, and it’s a tough game. 

Brett Pierce: But he just really liked the movie and he could tell that we were 100% and passionate, and he was like, I have this window where I’m not that busy. Usually I’m always busy, but if you guys can get me the movie and a finished edit, I’ll do it. And it was one of the best experiences ever, actually.

Drew Pierce: And then our score, we just happened to be friends with since second grade, he’s a really talented composer. His name’s Devin Burrows. Just super talented, loves movies, he actually shares a lot of the same sensibilities and the language that we do about movies. 

Brett Pierce: He’s actually only done our two movies. He’s never done any other scores.

Drew Pierce: We’re big fans of, like, traditional filmatic kind of John Williams-y stuff. I mean, a lot of different horror composers and stuff too, but he’s totally in that wheelhouse. And the best part about knowing him so well is that we work with him usually, like, a year in advance of shooting a movie, because we’ll start to develop themes that sometimes influence the script and how we shoot scenes, and the feel of the movie and then, you know, by the end of actually editing the movie, we’re just kind of tweaking.

Brett Pierce: And then in the lighting department, it was funny because we actually had a director of photography on board. And last minute, he couldn’t do the movie, and he dropped out. So Drew is literally looking up, like, Director of Photography reels on Vimeo. He’s just looking and looking and he found this one, he loved it, and he sent it to me. We started talking to him, his name is Conor Murphy. He had a really, really beautiful reel, it was super impressive, but he’d never actually shot a movie before. He’d just done short films, some music videos, a little bit of commercial work… 

Drew Pierce: You know that somebody’s hungry though when they’ve shot — some ridiculous number — like, 20 short films that are out. Nobody shoots short films thinking “I want to shoot more short films”. They make shorts because they want to make features — they’re hungry. Most people, they get into the commercial game if they want to make money to shoot features, so we knew he was hungry, and we called him up and he was like, “I’ve had dreams that a dream witch movie would just come across my plate”. He was just a huge find for us.

Brett Pierce: He came out with us and we got snowed in for a month in a cabin in Michigan before we ready to shoot — it was freezing cold — and all we did was storyboard the movie from beginning to end and shot list the whole thing, and watch movies that we love that we saw as being kind of similar in look. And so it was kinda like the best thing ever, all we did was storyboard, eat delicious stew and drink whiskey for a month [laughs].

Drew Pierce: We couldn’t do anything, it was the best way to work because we were literally trapped inside. And we were going to shoot our summer movie in about a month, so we were like, hopefully it thaws! [laughs]

Kelly McNeely: It’s like a little Misery situation, without the Annie Wilkes. Just isolate yourself and work. You mentioned having a shared language when it comes to film, and again isolating yourself in a cabin and just digging into it… what were the influences or inspirations for you guys, what did you really pull from?

The Wretched

The Wretched via IMDb

Brett Pierce: I mean, we always say Fright Night because we think that’s super obvious. We love Fright Night. It’s also Rear Window... the reason we gave the character a cast on his arm is because of the cast on the leg in Rear Window, because we love those movies. John Carpenter films, earlier John Carpenter, like Halloween is a big influence on a lot of the lighting choices and lens choices — we shot on anamorphic lenses — but other movies, like there’s a little bit of ET in there. It’s just a lot of movies we grew up with.

Drew Pierce: People think we’ve got an Amblin vibe. We’re kind of at this point where it’s really popular right now to do — since Stranger Things — it’s really popular to do like a throwback horror style. We didn’t want to go too far that way; a lot of people, when they first read the script, they’re like, oh, you should make it 80s. But we’re like… everybody’s doing that! We wanted to make it modern day.

Brett Pierce: And then there’s that one thing — because we had watched so many horror films — where they plan it pre-cell phones and the internet, because that takes away a lot of the easy ways for characters to escape or get out of a situation. So we were like, I want to firmly plan it where there are cell phones and the internet, and still have it work.

Drew Pierce:  It’s a challenge, because at any moment in the story, when scary things happen, somebody can always bust out their cell phone and find safety.

Brett Pierce: That’s why you have characters go to remote locations, because cell phones can always not work.

Kelly McNeely: It takes away that safety net. 

Drew Pierce: Yeah, nobody loves the scene, though, when the person is like, “Oh no! I’m not getting service!” [laughs]

Brett Pierce: It’s so boring [laughs].

Drew Pierce: “Where’s the bars?!” Yeah.

Kelly McNeely: But there’s something so effective about that, I think, because we’re all so attached to our phones as well, that as soon as you see that, there’s a deep part inside of you that’s like [clutches heart] “…Oh my god… they don’t have reception!”

Brett Pierce: Yeah, exactly! [laughs]

Drew Pierce: Yeah! [laughs] Like when you leave your cell phone at home, it’s like [dramatically] “what am I going to do?!” [laughs] What everybody used to do… for thousands of years.

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Kelly is a tea drinking, craft making, machete wielding screen junkie who lives in Canada with a collection of horror movies, which she is a little obsessed with. Check out her Creepy Crafter videos or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kellsmcnells