Bret Lada is an actor, writer and move producer. He has guest stared in "Law And Order: SVU" and "Alpha House". He talks about his new award winning film "The Andy Baker Tape"
Did you always have a passion for horror movies?
I just like stories that I am affected by. And I think horror is such a visceral genre, that when you're watching a good horror film, you can't help but sit on the edge of your seats. And I didn't grow up being a huge fanatic for the classic horrors, Friday the 13th, or Halloween, or those films. I really like dark psychological stories. And that's where I got the inspiration for The Andy Baker Tape. We wanted this to be more of a dark, psychological story than we did an actual true horror. Are there dark horror elements to this? Absolutely. We didn't set off to make this a horror, but I'm so glad that we're getting considered in that category. And it's affecting people in a visceral way, like horror does.
Can you tell me why you chose The Blair Witch style of filming?
Yes, it was the pandemic. And we chose that for a few reasons. One was to make everything self-contained. So when you're doing found footage style, you just have one camera and it's a few people on set. And you're passing the camera back and forth. And you don't have to have a huge crew with you. You don't have to have a cinematographer, a sound team, people lighting it. You can do it very self-contained, which number one, kept us safe, but it was also very budget friendly.
And being both out of work actors during the pandemic, we didn't have a couple $100,000 to throw into this project. We did everything for close to $2,500 and we could do so by keeping it self-contained, by me doing all the editing, by me doing the post-production work, which I shared with my other producer, Arthur Giamalidis. And shooting in that style was also the best way to tell this story. And ultimately, it's not about if you're shooting found footage or if you're shooting classic narrative, it's what can you do to service the story that you're trying to deliver? And this serviced our story.
Apart from The Blair Witch project, were you inspired by any other films?
I was. We watched so many found footage films and learning the genre and trying to be effective with it. I wanted to study things that would work. I wanted to see what didn't work. And I think I watched about 30 or 40 films over the course of the creation of this. Some of the films I really liked, and also non found footage films. We watched true relationship stories. Planes, Trains and Automobiles plays a huge part in this film. We originally build our film as an emulsion of Plane, Trains and Automobiles and The Blair Witch Project.
But after watching a bunch of different ones, I was definitely inspired by ... There's a film by Bobcat Goldthwait called Willow Creek. I really like that. The Duplass brothers put out a film ... Or Mark Duplass is in a film called Creep, which I didn't know even existed when we started writing this script. And halfway through, I put on Creep and I was like, "There's so many elements here that are in some ways similar, in some ways totally different." But that film is an inspiration in its own right. And I was definitely inspired by what the director Patrick Brice and what Mark Duplass did in that film.
There was another really, really dark one that I watched, Megan Is Missing. The film is the film is really extreme and I didn't take too many elements from that, but you could see what worked in that and you could see what didn't. And I tried to borrow the things that I felt really worked. But we're shooting a film about a YouTube influencer. And as opposed to just watching films, I watched tons of YouTube influencers. I watched tons of YouTube channels. The ones that I really liked were Mark Wiens, who's a food blogger. And I watched a lot of his stuff and I saw the way that he handled his food blogging. I saw the way that he would talk to the camera and how he would bring an audience in. Definitely learned from him. I learned a lot from Casey Neistat, who's a popular YouTube influencer. And there's also a photographer on YouTube, the videographer, Peter McKinnon. And watching all those guys was inspiration for how I could play Jeff and how he could create this film in a realistic way.
Is it enjoyable to write a horror movie?
It is. It really is because you can take things further and you're always trying to figure out how you can make this element a little bit darker. It gives you also freedom to explore different aspects of just writing in general. And you can get creepy and you can let all your perversions out in a way that is artistic and shaped. And horror certainly allows a freedom as a creator to just get out what's inside. And then you can also dial that back in and you can shave it down to what's actually appropriate for the story. But I think horror is such a great genre for writers, actors and filmmakers to explore deep neurosis and deep seated fears and traumas and paranoia, and get that onto a page. And you also explore yourself that way.
Was there a specific reason why you made Jeff a food blogger?
Well, the truth is I love food. I really do. I love food and we wanted to tap into some elements that have never been seen before. I have yet to see any kind of found footage film that encounters a food blogger. It's always like a paranormal expert, or they're doing some kind of, like we're going to film the series of events. A food blogger ... The guys I watched, they have cameras on all the time. So number one, making Jeff a food blogger gave us the excuse to keep the camera rolling consistently, and I could have the camera out there and it just made sense. But it was a fun vehicle. And it was a different way to tell this story, to have Jeff going to food. And I think food is one of the more primal aspects of anyone's life.
Anyone can watch a movie and be like, "Oh." When you watch a Tarantino film, he always drops in a delicious food. In Inglourious Basterds, there's the scene with the apple pie. In Pulp Fiction, there's the Big Kahuna burger. Every time you watch good food on screen, you just have a different kind of sensorial experience. You're like, "I want the burger, I want the pie, I want to have this." And the food we had in this film looks beautiful. And everyone that sees that's like, "Oh, I just want to eat that." And I think it actually involves the viewer more in the story than if we would've made Jeff just a normal YouTube run-of-the-mill influencer.
Are you pleased on how promotion of the film is going?
Yes, I'm so grateful for any response that we've had. And our distributor Terror Films has just been great. And we're working with October Coast as our PR team, and they've been so supportive. And it's just nice to get this film out there and see what everyone is getting out of it. Some people really pick up on the comedy of the film. Some people really pick up on the food element. Others really love the horror aspect of it. For us as the creative team. We're just delighted when anyone sees this film and walks away and they felt that they had a good time. And I can't ask for more than that.
At this point, I've been with this project going on almost two years, right now. We release this Friday and it's finally a chance where I can let things go. I can let the project go out on its own and hopefully word of mouth and our PR team and our distributors will ... That's going to grow and people will see the film from word of mouth, from excitement, from reviews. And all I can hope for is that the general population has as much fun watching this film as we did making it.
Were there any particularly challenging scenes to film, of course, without giving too much away?
Very much, very much. We had a lot of issues. There are a lot of single take shots in this. And there's one in particular where we shoot at a hotel. And there's a confrontation between the two brothers. One of them leaves, gets into a car and drives away. And honestly, we did this in ... It was about a five and a half minute single take shot, very difficult. So if one thing goes wrong, the shots ruined. You have no way to cut. You can't break it out. We kept having an issue when the camera would go on the dashboard of the car and the one character would drive away, it would just fall off. It's 3:00 in the morning, we have nothing open around us. We're trying to figure out how we can actually get this shot done. Dustin in his own right is kind of a MacGyver.
So we're in the hotel room. They have a coffee station where they have coffee and two butter knives. So we made this little Jerry-rigged camera case with two butter knives. And then when we took the camera and we jammed it into the dashboard, the butter knives actually got wedged and it held the camera in place. If we didn't figure that out, we would've never got this shot. And it was the only thing. I mean, gaffe tape wasn't holding anything. We couldn't get anything done. That was certainly a difficult shot. We also had a lot of problems with 5G towers. 5G towers are all over New Jersey. And the frequency they emit just cuts through any kind of audio. A lot of the scenes we had we're shooting, and we're hearing this noise going through the audio. And it was actually the 5G towers.
We had another scene where we had about $150 worth of food. The sun's going down, we're trying to shoot the food blogger scenes. How do we get this? How do we get this story out there? So real quick, we found a dumpster behind the restaurant. We flipped it on its side. We tucked the camera in there. We wrapped copper metal or copper coils around everything and put water bottles all over the place. This made a makeshift Faraday cage, which buffered the radio frequency from the 5G towers. And we were able to capture that audio without any of that noise going through.
You deal with problems on any film shoot, but on this one in particular, because it was just the two of us and we were self-contained, we really had to work in an adaptive way. And we had to meet these challenges with the same kind of inventiveness that we wrote the script with.
Did your previous experience in the film industry help with creating the film and how?
Yes, very much so. I have never and found footage before, but I've been around some great directors. And I've been around productions for a long time and I've seen what works and I've learned from watching people that are more successful than I have. I did this television series years ago called I Love You, But I Lied, which was a Lifetime show. It was their first scripted show and it was shot in a mockumentary documentary way. And when I was shooting that, I remember thinking, "Wow, this is such a great way to shoot a ton of material in a short time." You don't have to light it like a traditional ... It's not like we're shooting The Good Wife, or the movie Dune, where you have to have all this amazing lighting. You can really rely on practical lighting that makes things look real.
And I worked two episodes on that series. And working on that was probably where the idea of doing a found footage film really resonated with me because I realized you can do this in a budget friendly way. You can make things visceral and real, and you don't need to have the technical wherewithal of doing a multimillion dollar narrative film. You can really get with doing a lot. Being on that certainly helped influence.
Working as an actor for years, you also pick up a lot of different ways to tell stories. And I've had the fortune to have auditioned for truly thousands of jobs over the time. And you read a lot of scripts and you see in the scripts when things are too long, when things are too short. You know what works, what doesn't work, if you're giving away too much exposition, if you're not. And in a way it's mud on the wall, because you go through all these projects and all these auditions, and you put yourself out there. And sometimes you don't book the job and that's okay. It's the lessons you get from even just working on the audition, or working on the scripts and seeing what other people are doing.
And you can always learn by watching and experiencing. And at the end of the day, I had this acting teacher at Montclair State University, Suzanne Trauth. Everything to her, she said was mud on the wall. And when you start off, you throw mud on the wall, it drops down. The wall's not covered. After years of throw and mud at that wall, you have a covered wall. So I've been influenced by every single thing I've I've ever worked on.
Are you going to continue to create more films? And what kind of themes would you want to do?
Yes, I am. And I have a script that I'm workshopping now. It's a really dark thriller about relationships and marriage. I do enjoy the dark. I really enjoy this kind of pseudo horror world where it's not a direct horror, but there's, "I can't believe those moments happened in it." I want people to take a psychological trip with me and that's what I'm writing right now. It's also my response to...
A lot of my friends are getting married. A lot of my friends are having kids. I'm seeing the trajectory of the programmed life that you can get pushed into. And I think it's my rebellion towards that. And I've been working on the script for quite some time and I think I have something really fun and interesting that I am ready to share with the world.
If you could play any character in TV or movies, who would you like to play?
That's a great question. I want to say the part for me hasn't been written yet, because I haven't been cast yet. And when something comes along that's right for me, that fits my sensibilities, I'll be there. If I was going to look back at some older parts that I really liked, I would've loved to have taken a stab at Christian Bale's character in American Psycho. I would've had such a fun time doing that.
I love early Jack Nicholson. And like I said, I'm such a different persona than he is, but there's a film that he did called Five Easy Pieces. And I think any young man can relate to that and relate to the themes in that. And I would love to attack that part in my own way. I wouldn't do anything that Jack did. And Jack is just incredible in that film.
I find myself drawn towards also the writing of Tennessee Williams. I loved him in drama school and Tennessee Williams took beautiful male archetypes and totally dismantled that. And he brings in a lot of shame and a lot of pain and a lot of vulnerability. And as a stage actor, I've always wanted to play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. I did a version when I was 20. I don't think I was old enough yet. I want to revisit it now that I've matured a little bit.
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