Aaron B. Koontz is a horror film fan and graduate of Full Sail University. He was a former producer of Universal Studios in Orlando. He would go on to become a director of short films and formed his own production company, Paper Street Productions. In 2014, he executive produced the horror film Starry Eyes, which debut at the SXSW Film Festival. He makes his feature film directorial debut on Camera Obscura, coming to select theaters on June 9th from Chiller Films.
World Film Geek took the opportunity to talk with Koontz about his experiences and the making of the film.
Thank you Aaron for taking the time out to talk about Camera Obscura. I saw the film just last week and I was blown away with the overall film. It goes in one direction and then just veers off into another and that made me get into the movie a lot more.
That’s awesome to hear. Thank you so much. That means a lot to me.
Before we get into the film, can you tell me how you got into filmmaking?
Well, I don’t have one of those stories where my mom gave me a camcorder as a kid. It all started when I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of movies as a kid. And I just sought them out. It was one of those “forbidden fruits” of my childhood. For some odd reason, we had HBO for free, so I would take a VHS cassette and tape the overnight programming, when my mom would drive taxis during the day, I would watch them.
So I would watch these overnight HBO movies for years and a majority of them were horror movies. And I always get asked “did they scare me”, “did they break me”. It was this new world. But I originally wanted to be a writer. I had begun writing horror film stories and then I started learning the visuals in bringing the writing to life. And I would end up getting into that.
Let’s talk about Camera Obscura. This is a movie that truly meshes subgenres within the horror genre. How did the idea for the film come about?
I was working in Chicago and I met a co-worker who had went to South America. And I heard of a myth that you can’t develop your film roll there because it will steal your soul. And I know this tripe, I’ve seen this in other films so I thought that was a good idea. And then I thought of another idea. It was like “what is the most horrific thing to me” and I thought of films like the early Saw films where people are forced into gruesome situations and I thought of putting that into the film. It’s such a horrible thing to put someone in that situation.
And then the last element is that I was fascinated by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), so I did a lot of research on that. I learned how it impacts the brains and affects folks. I merged those ideas together and I just thought of a story and as I was writing it, I came up with a thread that would bring something different. As you said, it goes in one direction then another, I intentionally did that because there are a lot of people who will watch movies and look out for clues and all that. So I’m glad you liked how it came out because there are cinephiles who will go into the details and that’s what watching movies is all about.
The most interesting thing to me about the film is the central character of Jack, who already has his own inner demons that he is struggling with and must find answers to protect his fiancée. Christopher Denham really brought that to life in the role. How was he cast and what was he like on the set?
Chris is the best! A lot of filmmakers talk about how well they work with their actors and I have to say Chris was an absolute joy. Now here’s something interesting. We actually didn’t get Chris until two days before shooting began. I knew him from another film a few years back and I knew he had the chops. He can play many types of characters so I knew this was who I wanted. And my producing partner, Andrew van den Houten, had worked with him before. So I told him, “You gotta get me Chris. We gotta make this happen.”
However, it turned out he was working on Broadway on a play with Al Pacino, called China Doll. So that wasn’t going to happen. So we looked at the classified ads, tried to find people and we almost had one actor from a TV series, but it didn’t work out. It went back and forth. I still was hoping to get Chris so I sent him the script and he told me he had to finish his obligations then go back home because he was worried his wife would “kill” him (laughs) and he also had just become a father. But he loved the script, we made some arrangements. So two days before shooting was to start, he flew in and I was so nervous. We got to talking and he was such an absolute joy to work with. We really got along. He also was a director so he brought a bit of that to the table.
So you mentioned you were into horror films, so who are your influences when it comes to making horror films?
Growing up, I really got into Dario Argento and the early giallo films because of how good they were. I really liked the bright colors. It was so different. Then I got into the gritty, psychological horror films such as David Lynch and David Cronenberg. I was a huge fan of Lost Highway and Twin Peaks, Videodrome. As for modern, I like David Fincher. He’s not really a horror film guy but he makes his films like horror films. There’s this texture that he has that tends to spook you.
So for this film, I would say Lynch is a major influence because he has that tone that keeps the audience on their toes and going into different directions. And I also like some of the old school horror films as well.
I grew up during the Golden Age of Slasher Films, the 1980’s horror films, so I can relate to that. And like you, I had a mother who wouldn’t let me see much of that as a kid until I finally got to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre when I was 12 and I looked at her after seeing the film and was like “Really?” But I see it more as a psychological horror film rather than a slasher film.
That’s great I also like Jason Voorhees, you know that kind of guy who can’t die.
Finally, do you have any new projects in the works?
I’m actually going to be working on a new horror-action film called Barfight that I’m producing. The big one that I am planning to direct, which my writing partner Cameron Burns and I wrote, is called Dream Machine. It’s a psychological horror/science fiction film that I am super excited about and I believe we will begin shooting at the end of this year, or early 2018.
Camera Obscura comes to theaters on June 9th and on VOD and Digital HD on June 13th. Anyone who likes horror needs to check this film out. Thank you again Aaron for taking the time to talk about the film.
Thank you so much for enjoying the film!
A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Aaron B. Koontz for making this interview possible. You can follow Aaron on Twitter for his latest news.