SHOCKs Howard Gorman catches up with director Chad Archibald and leading ladybug, Elma Begovic, to talk Black Fawn Films’ bug-tastic body horror BITE.
Audiences have been treated to a torrent of up to snuff body horrors of late with the likes of the beautifully brutal STARRY EYES or the sickeningly self-deprecating TUSK. The latest film to join said cinematic realm is Chad Archibalds BITE which, despite bearing a similar semblance to Cronenbergs THE FLY, remains very much its own beast, packing in plenty of emotional baggage and heaps of homespun inventiveness, something audiences have become more than accustomed to from the ever-prolific Black Fawn Films crew.
After a hugely successful run on the international festival circuit, I assure you this is one slice of grotesquerie everyone should be itching to see. With the film all set to pounce on theaters this May 6th, SHOCK grilled director Chad Archibald and leading ladybug, Elma Begovic, as they open up to spill all the goopy goods.
SHOCK: Before we chat about the impending theatrical release of BITE, how the hell do you manage to produce a whopping total of 7 films in as little as 2 years?
ARCHIBALD: Weve just got a good team of people, I guess. We all love being on set so whenever we finish shooting, we take a week off and instantly then start thinking of ways of being able to get back on set again. The hardest part is actually just coming up with the creative side of things. If we had all the scripts ready, I think we could do like ten in two years.
SHOCK: BITEs premise came from a combination of your sister-in-law getting bug-bitten in Guatemala and your desire to shoot a body horror movie that didnt need to be as bloodthirsty as others in that realm.
ARCHIBALD: After I came up with the idea of BITE, I think it was more about sitting down and watching some body horrors and figuring out the subplot; the parallel that makes it a driving force. You can have something happen to a girl and have her just deteriorate, but I wanted something else driving the whole thing other than just having the audience watching to see how bad it gets. So it went from there and I started to do a ton of research, looking into the animal kingdom and insects. Something that kept coming up that was so interesting was how evolution has just naturally embedded this instinct to reproduce. Humans, on the other hand, are pretty much the only creature on earth that goes, Yeah, you know what? Im not ready to have kids just yet. Ill have kids another time when things are better financially. So it became about trying to take that element out of a human whos not ready to have kids and forcing them to go with nature and reproduce. Nature decides that shes just going to have kids and her motherly instinct just kicks in and now shes protecting her millions of babies.
SHOCK: How much did the concept metamorphose when you brought Jayme Laforest in to write the screenplay?
ARCHIBALD: I love working with Jayme and I wrote the new movie Im about to do with him as well. Its funny because we never see each other as he lives in L.A. and I live near Toronto so its just a couple of phone calls and a bunch of emails. Hes a super smart guy and I really love how he takes a treatment and adds character to it and builds on it. With BITE, it didnt veer too far off the treatment, but there was no dialogue or any real characters in the original idea so all the elements of how these characters define themselves and all the stuff that brings everything to life is all Jayme. I honestly can’t remember how much BITE changed because it feels so long ago now but even with the new movie, he’s bringing stuff to the table and it’s tricky. A treatment has to be fairly fleshed out for a studio to green light a script to be written so it’s always interesting working with a writer because when they change something you think, “Okay. Well we worked really hard on that in the treatment but, you know what? That’s actually pretty good!” And then sometimes he’s changed things that cause a ripple effect that ends up helping all the different elements in the story. I really respect the guy and he’s a director as well and he loves all the same stuff as us. He’s a brother from far away.
SHOCK: Tell us a little about bringing in Elma as the film’s leading lady. What made her the perfect parasite?
ARCHIBALD: All these different actresses came in with all their training and big glossy head-shots on big pieces of cardboard and Elma just came through with a print-out of a selfie she’d taken. But, that just shows natural talent, I guess. You can make things as glossy as you want and do whatever you want to make yourself stand out, but when it comes down to it and the camera starts rolling, you have to perform and that stands out, regardless of your head-shot or your background or how many films you’ve done or your IMDb credits. With us working in the non-union role, we’re always hoping to find people that are new and passionate and just want to get out there and want to do whatever and just get covered in goo and eggs and hang out with a bunch of dudes in an auto-garage. [laughs]
But, in terms of the auditions, Elma was subtler and there was almost like a sadness to her that really stood out and made you feel for this bug creature. A lot of the others came into it with this idea that they had to be a really creepy bug and they’d talk with weird bug voices and stuff like that. With Elma, I felt sympathetic with her and that is exactly how the story is meant to go. She’s not the villain bug of the story per se; she’s actually the victim and, unfortunately, nature’s taking over.
SHOCK: That’s something that I loved about BITE. Casey has all these apprehensions and concerns and it leaves you with a creepy feeling inside because you can’t help but empathize with this creature who, at the same time, scares the hell out of you. It must have been tough maintaining just the right balance.
ARCHIBALD: For sure! There are elements where we’re setting up this assumption that she went on this bachelorette party and screwed around with some guy. It’s tricky to play with these rules of society because there are a ton of things you can do and people still feel sympathy for you, but then there are some things that you can do where people will go, “Oh, well she cheated on her husband so I have no sympathy any more. Screw her! She can turn into a bug!” So there’s a fine balance of trying to tread lightly but also give certain amounts of information that allude to the idea that something could have happened but maybe it was because she partied a little too hard and got taken advantage of and was just super unfortunate. She did cheat on someone, but at the same time, her friends saw her being taken advantage of and didn’t stop her, so who’s really the villain in the film, you know?
Through the whole story you can’t help feeling bad for Casey. You’re seeing this person turn into this creature that is always just so gently holding her eggs and gooing them and she’s just an animal in the world. She can still speak and what not, but she has those instincts that people can look at and differentiate between a villain bug and just a creature trying to protect itself and its babies.
SHOCK: Elma, how did Chad and the rest of the team help you in terms of the bug-like traits and instincts they wanted your character, Casey, to emote?
BEGOVIC: Chad and I spent a lot of time together practicing various body movements. Chad thought that I was so ridiculous when trying to do certain things so A LOT of laughing was involved, but we managed to seriously discuss exactly how my body language would translate in the film. Even having done our homework, all the information in the world never really prepares you for the day out. I knew that Chad and the team had all kinds of makeup transformations in mind and that I was going to start to look less and less like myself and more like some kind of insect, but some things just came up on the day and we rolled with it.
Also, when youre in full makeup, after six hours of four people making me unrecognizable, something came alive in me and I realized, Im not Elma anymore. Im not even an actor. Im not Casey. I am this thing.” I just gave in to that sensation.
SHOCK: Tell me more about the effects as I believe the original concept for Elma’s makeup had something to do with Chad realizing he had a bad case of Trypophobia; an irrational fear of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps.
ARCHIBALD: Yeah. I realized after I started doing research on it. Trypophobia and insects are very similar because it’s the same idea as looking at a hive and thinking, “Oh my God! There are so many holes in there,” and you have no idea what’s in there and you start thinking something could come out and bite you. I found a bunch of photos online of pictures of lotus flowers photo-shopped onto people’s bodies and it was just so upsetting. I couldn’t get it out of my mind and I’d have nightmares about it. If you look closely at Elma in the film, she’s got all these lotus flower type holes embedded in her. She’s such a mess by the end of the film that you can barely see them but that was the original design concept. It’s also fun to make movies that actually disturb yourself because then at least you have a sense of what is going to upset the audience.
BEGOVIC: Chad loved springing all kinds of things on me whenever he had a brain wave. He’d come to set and say, Hey buddy! As soon as he said, “Hey buddy,” that was your cue that he had something gross in mind for you. So hed come in and ask me things like, Could we get you to put on some really big contact lenses? You’ll probably be blind for a couple of hours but it’ll look awesome in the shot. I just pretty much agreed to him every time. You just learn to roll with the punches, but everything Chad asked of me really was for the sake of making all the film’s visuals work.
Another thing I remember was that we shot in November so it was cold and there was a heater right next to me. One time when we were taking all the makeup off, I suddenly realized one of the gelatin pieces I had on my shoulder was melting. It was absolutely gross, but kudos to the entire makeup team as they did an amazing job whilst the only thing I had to do there was sit or stand.
ARCHIBALD: So many times, when she was covered in goo, Elma would give me little looks like, “As if, Chad! As if we’re doing all this!” I’d lean down and touch her little sticky nose and say, “Don’t worry bud. We’re gonna be on a beach in the Dominican soon.”
SHOCK: That’s right. The first scenes in the film, in the Dominican Republic, were shot last. How did shooting things in reverse pan out?
ARCHIBALD: It actually helped because we got to know each other so well during the shoot so by the time we got to the Dominican we were all just a bunch of friends going down there. Everyone was so comfortable with each other that they all really do come across as a bunch of friends in the early scenes. A lot of the material we shot was ad lib there. We had our basic points that we wanted to hit with it but as soon as you do some sort of found footage you’ve got to try and make it feel a bit more realistic and unscripted. We had such a good time over there and it was just nice to be able to get out of the gooey and gross stuff and get to a beach and enjoy ourselves. It was kind of like our own little BITE wrap party. Too bad Jordan (Gray) couldn’t join us there too.
BEGOVIC: The Dominican was great. Being able to speak Spanish fluently made things really easy for me to navigate and get along with everyone there. I was able to communicate with our driver and the tour guides so that all helped a lot. Obviously, we went to the Dominican to get a job done and make sure everything that Chad wanted to capture was captured, but as soon as we got off set we all let down our hair and went to dinner and went dancing and drank tequila and HAD FUN!
SHOCK: Critics and audiences swiftly drew comparisons with THE FLY. That’s a massive compliment, but BITE is very much its own beast and you weren’t really as inspired by that film as it might seem, were you?
ARCHIBALD: After I came up with the idea and started writing a treatment, there was an obvious connection with THE FLY but that film wasn’t really in my head in the conceptual stages. THE FLY is very scientific whereas BITE is just a very organic thing; just biological and natural. There are so many movies out in the world nowadays, as things are so accessible, so it keeps getting harder to come up with an original idea but, for me, even just getting compared to something like THE FLY at our level is great. Generally, everyone agrees that our movie stands on its own and doesn’t come across as a rip-off or anything. Most comparisons that have been made have been to expound the kind of realm our film lies in.
SHOCK: So what does the future hold for Black Fawn Films?
ARCHIBALD: We have Cody Calahans new movie that we havent quite announced the title for just yet. Weve posted a bunch of photos and stuff but weve just been calling it “the secret film,” so were lining up all our dots to make a big splash with that soon. Were submitting it to Fantasia, so hopefully it gets in there. A lot of it takes place in dirty alleyways in Toronto so its got a really gritty city feel. Weve done so many movies that are really contained that it was nice to just open up and use the city as a backdrop. We had a super small crew and switched up a lot of the ways that we do things. We went with really low lighting and its a nice and dark and twisted movie.
We have trailers for BED OF THE DEAD and our “secret film” getting finely tuned just now so, once were ready, well strategically drop those. And then we are literally about to start shooting a new movie just as BITE hits theaters.
SHOCK: I’m guessing those photos I’ve seen you share of a cabin in the woods have something to do with that.
ARCHIBALD: Yeah. We just went out there a couple of weekends and built the whole thing. Its really cool. Its a small house! One of our guys stayed there last night on a cot and I showed up this morning and there he was; hes woodsman! He had the old farm dogs there with him and hes loving it. Youd think that hes actually building his own house.
SHOCK: You mentioned BED OF THE DEAD there; Jeff Maher’s first directing gig. How did he take to the director’s chair?
ARCHIBALD: It’s never easy, man. It never is for anyone. It’s stressful being a director, especially working on an indie film. You’re wearing 20 different hats. But Jeff did great and BED OF THE DEAD turned out so good and we’re so excited to actually get that film out there. It’s so fun. It’s got a little bit of campiness to it but it’s got a good and unique story and some great set design. We had such a good group of people working on it. It’s hard when you do all these movies and then have to sit on them and not really show them to anyone for a while. Thankfully, its time is coming very, very soon and we should finally be able to release some stuff, which is exciting. I know Jeff is super excited to get it out there too.
BITE hits select U.S. theaters, VOD, and On Demand on May 6th.