To celebrate the UK release of new horror, Hunter’s Moon, we spoke to writer, director, and producer Michael Caissie about his directorial debut, what’s coming next, and his advice for new writers and filmmakers.
In Hunter’s Moon, three girls throw a party in their new country home when their parents leave town. After a group of dangerous local hoodlums show up, the women are forced to defend themselves from a predator, as well as a mysterious evil lurking in the orchard outside!
Caissie himself penned the Al Pacino thriller Hangman, and Hunter’s Moon stars Thomas Jane (The Punisher, Deep Blue Sea), Sean Patrick Flanery (TV’s Dexter, The Boondock Saints), Katrina Bowden (TV’s 30 Rock, The Bold and the Beautiful) and genre favourite Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street, TV’s Highlander).
STARBURST: How did the idea for Hunter’s Moon come to you?
Michael Caissie: I see it as a female empowerment movie. I was raised by my mother and grandmother and all the women I know are strong. I don’t like seeing weak women on screen, and I try to write strong female characters in all my stories.
Back when I wrote the script, I was running restaurants in Los Angeles, working ridiculous hours, with no free time to write. However, my script for Hangman was optioned so my wife and I talked about it and we took a leap of faith and I quit the day job. I decided to invest the same hours into writing that I had done for my job. I wrote script after script, blasting out first drafts in seven days, and out of that process one of the scripts was Hunter’s Moon, originally named The Orchard.
After developing it with my other producers, Christopher Sherman, Clayton Turnage and exec producer Arnold Rifkin, who is a huge mentor for me, I felt it would be a great first-time directing project. However, after a few months of hitting hurdles with financing and other issues, we decided to just go and make it our way. It would be harder, but it would be made on our terms. Fortunately, we still had financing in place.
What was the experience on set?
We started filming in Kentucky and were shooting back in 2017. The plan was to shoot what we could and cut a pitch trailer to show the production value. In that process we also ended up re-casting the sheriff role (which went to Thomas Jane) and when we totally finished filming, back in LA, the majority of the scenes had been re-shot.
It was a great, hugely educational experience but it was hard work at times. Even though it was quite a long process, the cast got to know each other really well and grew as a family unit, so it helped the film. The main family, played by Jay Mohr and Amanda Wyss as mom and dad, bonded a lot with their daughters, Katrina Bowden, Emmalee Parker and India Ennenga. That was an unforeseen benefit from having all that extra time.
Can you talk about the werewolf?
I didn’t want to push it too much within the film, and it’s a bit of a spoiler. In my mind, he’s one element in the story but not the main focus. However, the biggest inspiration for the werewolf was Jaws. I didn’t want to show much of the creature, which I know was a random thing for them since they didn’t want to show their mechanical shark. As we know today, that strategy turned out to be so iconic. So, while I’m not comparing my movie to Jaws, I really loved using that idea to show less and build tension. Our effects guru, Vincent J. Guastini, recommended a great stunt performer called Lucky who walks on stilts. So, we had him in the movie wearing the werewolf suit, all made practically with no CGI, and the werewolf stands 9 feet tall! It’s pretty cool and old school.
How do you develop new ideas, especially in horror, sci-fi, etc?
I’ve had a relationship over the years with a website called InkTip which is a platform for writers, where writers post their work and producers can connect with them. Recently, I was telling them what I was looking for, as a producer, and wanted something more skeletal which we could work on when it’s safe to do so.
One night I was up late, and it hit me, instead of trying to do just one movie, why not help shepherd multiple projects? My friend Clayton Turnage and I talked about a creative co-op where we pair five filmmakers with five up-and-coming writers on InkTip, we produce the five projects and I’ll direct one. I know a lot of filmmakers and know how much of a struggle it is in the indie world, no matter what genre you’re doing.
We’ve found some great filmmakers now, so we’ve just been working on budgets, schedules and putting together packages for financiers and distributors, with a goal of being ready to shoot once we’re able to get back to work. One big inspiration was to make the process fun for filmmakers and the way I wish it had been for me as a writer early in my career, because I’ve got horror stories – and not in a good way! The co-op aspect means we’re each bringing our experience to the table and helping each other.
For another creative outlet, I always wanted to write a novel and I have a screenplay that lends itself to that, so I’ve been adapting that which has taken up most of my writing time. I think if you’re any kind of creative, you just need to work at your craft. That’s my biggest advice.
What’s coming next?
Before the pandemic, I was in Armenia filming a new TV show called Purgatory with Clayton Turnage. I wrote 16 episodes and was co-directing but we had to stop half-way, so we’ve turned it into two seasons of eight episodes in order to get our first eight episodes out. We’ll go back to finish season two. The first season of Purgatory is streaming now on Popstar! TV which is available online and on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick. Hopefully people will enjoy checking that out.
A script I wrote even before Hunter’s Moon also got bought and made into a movie called Sin Origen and translated into Spanish. Rigoberto Castañeda is a cool horror director from Mexico and that’s supposed to be coming out in a few months, so people can look out for that. It’s about vampires whereas Hunter’s Moon is obviously about werewolves, so it’s fun to play with those conventions.
I love horror and I’m a lifelong fan. Stephen King is one of my heroes. In Hunter’s Moon, we wanted to create something fun, and even if you guess the twist, it doesn’t really matter. I just hope people have fun with it!
Dazzler Media presents Hunter’s Moon out now on DVD & Digital Download