Exclusive: The Shortcut’s Nicholaus Goossen


The director of the Sandler-produced horror film

For filmmaker Nicholaus Goossen, having your second full length feature film be a genre movie isn’t such a bad thing, especially when it’s the first to come from Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison (dubbed “Scary Madison” for their horror flicks). But naturally, like with any horror film, there were plenty of challenges along the way; including a last minute decision to forego the planned original R rated version and shoot for a PG-13 instead.

Shock Till You Drop got the chance to sit down with Goossen for a quick cup of coffee at a little café in Venice to discuss the making of The Shortcut, which Anchor Bay Entertainment releases on September 27. Read on for the full interview!

Robg.: First and foremost, I heard that you got your start working with Adam Sandler on The Wedding Singer? Is that true?

Nicholaus Goossen: Yeah, actually I met him the first day of shooting on that film. My uncle, Mike Neil was a location manager on that movie and I just graduated high school. On the set of The Wedding Singer, I was a camera intern for DP Tim Suhrstedt, who also shot Office Space and some other classic comedies. I was holding some film mags and Adam came right up to me and said, “Hey, do you want to play some basketball at lunch?” And I was like, “Yep, sure.” So, we got to be friends and he knew I wanted to be a director. I worked on every movie of his up until 50 First Dates, then I got the opportunity to direct Grandma’s Boy.

Robg.: When was the first time that you had heard that Happy Madison was thinking of doing genre films?

Goossen: Adam had been talking about it for quite a while. His brother Scott and him wanted to produce a horror movie.

Robg.: Are those guys horror fans?

Goossen: Adam’s a movie fan in general. He’s likes all movies. I’ve gone to the theaters with him to see every kind of movie there is. Little indies to horror films to documentaries. His brother is certainly a fan of the genre, and so is Adam’s writing partner, so I think Adam gave them the ok to start coming up with some concepts for a horror film and they did. They were coming up with all these different ideas and Adam was the one that suggested, “Hey, what about that guy? Remember Scott? When we were living in New Hampshire and that old guy that lived by the shortcut?” So it was based on a real guy. Scott then came up with the first draft of the script and we worked on that a lot together. Once it became PG-13, there had to be some major changes and I helped lead the charge on that, because I knew we had to do something once we lost all the gore, come up with some more twists. I felt we had to pay it off more since we didn’t have the violence factor in there anymore.

Robg.: So to clarify, you went into this project with the intention of making an R-rated horror movie? And somewhere along the line, it changed to a PG-13 before you started shooting?

Goossen: Yeah, everything had to be planned to be PG-13, because we had such a small budget that we couldn’t afford to go back to the MPAA too many times. That’s where it really costs money is submitting your film! They didn’t want me to mess up there. The other producers only wanted to submit it once. We were supposed to shoot an R rated film that I was hoping would be a more classic American version of Wolf Creek. A slow build with character development, getting to know all these kids. As soon as you meet them you know they’re on a one way ticket to death. You just don’t know how. The longer it goes on, you think well maybe they won’t die? And of course most of them do, in an interesting way, and it makes it more impactful that you’ve gotten to know them and they’re actually three dimensional people and they seem real. So we were supposed to shoot for an R rating. Then we got up there and were prepping for a week and a half, and the financiers decided after the success of Prom Night, they really wanted to make a PG-13 movie. They felt it’d up the chances of it making more money.

Robg.: Well, let me ask you this, it became a direct-to-DVD title through Anchor Bay Entertainment. But were there ever thoughts of this being a theatrical movie? And if so, isn’t the DVD market catered to things like an “unrated director’s cut”?

Goossen: When we first signed on, I thought it was going to be theatrical. It had more money attached to it. More days attached to it. As we kept getting closer to shooting days, it kept getting smaller and smaller. It hurt our chances of getting a theatrical. I think if we had gotten a gigantic movie star to play any one of the parts, we probably would’ve had a better shot [at theatrical]. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the actor’s in my film, it’s just nowadays to release a movie, the producers need…

Robg.: A marquee name.

Goossen: Yeah, something like that. Even though I think the movie could stand up against plenty of movies that are playing theatrically in the genre now.

Robg.: In the movie’s defense, sometimes it’s more effective to cut away from something right before you see something nasty. Perfect example, I thought the opening sequence was really strong. Part of it is the underlining theme of this movie – children doing bad things just creeps us out! It’s uncomfortable to watch kids do evil things.

Goossen: Right, right. We got lucky with that kid [from the opening], Jeremy Bastian. He had quite a strong presence, he had an odd presence as soon as I met him in person and he really just stepped right into that. He was supposed to play a different part. But something about him, I thought he should be young Benjamin. We have a lot of kids being awfully bad in this. [laughs]

Robg.: I also really liked the opening title sequence for The Shortcut. Was that something you had in mind, or something that came about in post-production?

Goossen: Initially we weren’t going to have a title sequence, it was supposed to be something quick. But it did come up in post. It was actually done by director Toby Wilkins who did Splinter. We talked about it and he asked, “well, what should we do?” I thought we should do this crazy montage with this visual presentation of chains and shovels, just stuff from the movie. So he took that idea and ran with it. I was really, really fortunate to have him do that because it came out really cool. I think the score by Michael Suby is really good too. He did The Butterfly Effect and a few other films.

Robg.: How challenging was it to shoot a horror movie knowing you had to maintain a PG-13 rating?

Goossen: I just went back to my reservoir of PG-13 movies in my brain and thought, ok how do you do those things without showing them? Initially they didn’t have the Christy character killed on screen. It’s not a lot of on-screen killing, Christy’s is the closest you get to seeing something. And it’s the old close up here, then close up here, one line, starts the motion, cut to the close up and sound effect and it looks effective. I had to fight for those things and prove that I could do these scenes and cut them for PG-13. I was always trying to get as much in there as possible. I was fighting to make it more gruesome.

Robg.: Can you talk about casting Andrew Seeley, who played the lead character Derek?

Goossen: Drew Seeley, yeah. We initially started casting here in Los Angeles at the Happy Madison offices. They brought Drew in from Another Cinderella Story with Selena Gomez, he was the co-lead in that and he was working on the High School Musicals. I think he was singing Zac Efron’s part in the first movie. He played the Zac Efron part in the traveling show and he had a big fanbase. We could only bring a certain amount of actors from the States to Canada, and then we had to hire a certain amount of Canadian actors. The Canadian actors had to be locals because we were shooting in Saskatchewan. I kept finding myself going back to him. He looked great. He looked like a young Paul Walker.

Robg.: How about Katrina Bowden because she’s…well, hot. [laughs]

Goossen: Yeah. Same thing with Katrina. She was the only person in the film that was cast that I didn’t meet in person until I saw her on the set. She’s usually in New York shooting the show 30 Rock. I was seeing her on tape and the casting process on this movie was so web oriented. I was seeing so many casting tapes on-line. So, Katrina I watched on-line. We saw a lot of different Christy’s, but when I saw Katrina, I just thought she was the one.

Robg.: You shot Grandma’s Boy here in Los Angeles, but The Shortcut in Canada. What were the differences in your shooting experiences between the two?

Goossen: It was vastly different. We had a Canadian crew for The Shortcut. My first AD and DP Michael Newman and Mike Irwin were born in Canada so they had their Canadian guild credentials, but they are also based out of Los Angeles, so they came out with me. Everyone else was a local crew member from Regina. We’re talking about two completely different films. Grandma’s Boy was a mostly interior film. We had maybe 4 days of exterior shooting and the rest was on a stage. We were in one place at one time. Plus, we were in LA and using most of the Happy Madison crew members whom work on all of Adam Sandler’s movies that I’d grown up around on the sets. Everybody I knew there, so I had a shorthand with them, plus they’re all really skilled craftsman. Top of the line Hollywood people for a small budget production. For The Shortcut, it was a night exterior film. It takes place in the forest. We went to Canada when there was only 6 hours of night, so our days were cut in half. Plus, they work shorter days in Canada. Add onto that that this was supposed to take place in a forest, but we went to shoot on a prairie land, and there were no trees! All the locations were completely spread out and I scouted forever out there, trying to figure out how to make all the surrounding areas, all these little pieces fit together. I also didn’t know anyone on this crew. They were strangers to me, less invested, they don’t know Adam Sandler. Not to say they didn’t work hard! It was just different, more challenging. We only shot 18 days in Canada and 2 quick pick up days in Los Angeles. I think we shot a lot for that short amount of time and got what we could. It was as challenging a situation you could ask for, I think. And coming out of that, I’m so ready for a double digit million dollar studio movie with some comforts. [Laughs] It definitely made me a better director facing those kind of odds. And although I had to compromise a bit, I don’t think you’d ever know we were shooting on a prairie farm with barely any trees and we cheated everything. It looks like there’s a big forest there.

Robg.: You mentioned Wolf Creek before as a recent film you liked. Are you a horror fan in general? What are some of your favorites and which are among some of your influences?

Goossen: One of the first films I can remember loving was Poltergeist. I grew up a fan of all genres. My dad had me watching The Godfather by the age of three. I was always watching rated R films with him. My dad would fast forward quickly through sex scenes or cough out loud over curse words. So I grew up watching scary movies, all the classics. Poltergeist is a huge, huge influence on me. I love that film. As far as films that inspired me for The Shortcut besides Wolf Creek, there was High Tension. I watched that with my DP for some things that I liked. Of course, I wanted Mark to make it look like Scream. I kept saying “Like Scream with a bit of High Tension in there” for the look. Because Mike shot Scream and also shot Grandma’s Boy. He also shot all of Cronenberg’s early stuff Scanners, The Fly, The Dead Zone

Robg.: I love The Dead Zone. One of my favorite Cronenberg movies.

Goossen: Oh cool! Well, the guy who shot The Dead Zone also shot The Shortcut. There’s definitely some pedigree.

Robg.: Would you be game to tackle another horror movie again? Perhaps without the rating restriction?

Goossen: Oh, I definitely want to! I would love to do a rated R horror movie, either a “slasher” or supernatural type thing. I would really like to try a genre blend of comedy and horror. We’re looking at a few projects like that right now. I can’t wait to see Zombieland, because I’m a big fan of Shaun Of The Dead, An American Werewolf In London, movies like that. I think people are really scared of that mix.

Robg.: As long as the horror element is taken seriously, and the humor comes out of the characters or the situation and not the monster or horror element, then usually those types of movies work.

Goossen: Absolutely. Even movies like The Lost Boys. There’s a lot of humor in there. That’s one of my all time favorites. Horror films can be funny and certainly films like the ones we’ve just mentioned have proven that you can have black comedies with horror elements to them. I hope to do one of them soon. Now that I have both a comedy and a horror movie under my belt, I think I’ve proven I can do both pretty well. I’ve done both super cheap, so with a little bit more money I think we can do something really cool.

For two trailers from the film and more, click here!

Source: Robert Galluzzo