Putting Together “The Hollow Child” — An Interview with Jeremy Lutter and Ben Rollo

3 Feb
thc-bts-jeremy-lutter-and-ben-rollo

(left) Jeremy Lutter (right) Ben Rollo

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Plays
Feb 9, 9:00pm
Feb 11, 4:00pm

Silvercity
3130 Tillicum Rd.
Victoria, BC

The supernatural world of malevolent entities is never far in “The Hollow Child.” It’s in the woods and the neighbourhood — a concept director Jeremy Lutter and writer Ben Rollo effectively conveys in their debut feature film premiering at the 2017 Victoria Film Festival, which starts today.

One of the telling visuals is how Lutter wanted the woods to appear outside of every window of the abode. Living by the forest can sometimes create a certain air of unease, especially if it’s everywhere. You never know what can thunder out. This danger is effervescent in “The Witch” (2016) and it may have inspired these two when making this work. Instead, in conversation, Lutter mused about the possibility of Rollo having his own dealings with those spirits since he lived by the woods. Part of the experiences seen in this film might be considered autobiographical.

“When living in the West Coast of Canada, it made sense to make the woods scary and have the story focus on the wild vs civilization,” said Lutter.

When the supernatural is involved, anything can be found in the wilds of British Columbia and this movie was filmed here. This province is well known for its Bigfoot legends than fears over the ‘wee folks, namely gnomes or fairies from European tradition — to which this film takes inspiration from. With this movie, there’s a certain type of ‘tree-folk’ known to cause problems and, according to these filmmakers, the sleepy township is sort of aware of but does not talk about, which adds to this film’s ominous tone.

VICTORIA, B.C.: March 26, 2015 -- Jessica McLeod on the set of The Hollow ones at the BCIT Woodlot in Maple Ridge, B.C. March 26, 2015. (ARNOLD LIM, Arnold Lim Visuals).

Jessica McLeod (“R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour”) certainly has dealt with monsters in a few of the projects she appeared in. In this film, she plays Sam, a troubled teen who is getting a second chance in life with a foster family. They really want to help her out, but when younger sister Olivia (Hannah Cheramy, “Van Helsing” TV series) tries her best to make her part of the family, just what happens next (to be ignored) can become an issue. This topic is important because it’s what Lutter and Rollo often examine in the work they have made together since graduating from University of Victoria’s Creative Writing program.

“After Uvic, we made some small comedies together, but none of them really landed. The first that did well was ‘Joanna Makes a Friend,'” said Lutter.

This tale featured a young girl turning to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe to inspire her. When she’s often ostracised in high school, the only comfort she can invent is a robot built out of spare parts from her father’s garage. “Gord’s Brother” is another film where humanity and monsters live peacefully together. In this story, young Gord and his brother, a beast, decides to run away to find the fabled City of Monsters. There’s a charm to both tales in an innocent but eerie way.

Lutter believes most of his films are more like dark fantasies than true horror. A lot of the magic in why these two shorts proved successful is that they were Ben’s ideas which got fine-tuned for cinema.

“Both of those shorts came out of a collection of short stories that I wrote in school and they were all supposed to be like children’s stories but not for children. They were light-hearted attempts at writing horror; I did not want to make something that was actually scary,” said Rollo.

When Lutter looks at his buddy’s work, he finds gold because quite often it is about a youth figuring out their lot in life. He also said, “They are like PIXAR films come to life. He likes writing stories featuring young protagonists and is very good at handling these character’s voices very well.”

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This director believes there’s something magical in that time, where the outlook on life is different. When working with Rollo, to have stories show kids able to figure things out on their own, without a lot of parental influence, is encouraging. Part of it may come from where this screenwriter got his inspiration. He’s read a lot of Mark Twain and describes his humour can be very sharp-edged. “He knew what he liked and even more what he didn’t like — but it was also very humane. He seemed like he wanted to believe that people could be better, even if they weren’t always,” revealed Rollo.

Other influences include the works of Stephen King and the movies he enjoyed seeing while growing up, like “E.T. the Extraterrestrial.” When these tales see a young one struggling through life and coming out stronger at the end, those messages leave an impact. Translating it to a screenplay is difficult since viewers do not get to listen to that internal dialogue you can read in a book. “You can’t have a character just sit there and think about their life. They have to do something. I found that a tricky thing to figure out at first. Although now, whenever I write prose, I find I have the opposite problem: I rarely go inside characters’ heads,” laughed Rollo.

When it came time for these two to take their beliefs and inspirations to make it work as a feature film, a strong concept was needed.

“Jer was the one who came up with the idea of having [a character] going into the woods and coming back only to not be truly them,” revealed Rollo. “From that, we spun it out look at faeries. I’ve done some reading about Changelings a few years back and it’s interesting stuff. I read [a newspaper clipping] where there was a family from Ireland convicted of killing someone in their family who they thought was not them … they tortured this person to death. It’s crazy.”

From there, making the story relevant in respect to the genre and tropes was relatively easy. They tossed around thoughts of being like Guillermo del Toro‘s “Pan’s Labyrinth” but for Rollo, after seeing the finished product, he said, “It’s a crazy amazing movie. It’d be lovely to compare the two in the same sentence, but I don’t know if we can do that.”

Lutter believes the strength of this film comes from the fact that having a child go missing is obviously an experience no parent wants to deal with. “It became interesting to us to explore what if the child that returned wasn’t the person you knew,” said this filmmaker.

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The movie’s opening titles reveal that this scenario has been going on for quite some time and only a few knew about the loss of innocent lives happening in this unnamed sleepy community. Lutter wanted to make the experience timeless and universal, as it can happen anywhere! There’s a deeper story to be found with this tale and for Rollo, he is open to exploring this world more, and perhaps look at the backstory of some of the other “ghosts” appearing in this film. This idea was added later in the script-writing process, and this screenwriter thought about having more than one young figure flitter about. Because of the budget, there can only be one and the result is a product both collaborators are very happy with.

More motifs are abound in “The Hollow Child” to make it connect with both fairy and ghost lore. The team did their research and made the product cohesive to sate this paranormal enthusiast’s appetite. Filmmakers do not always have to be deeply versed in the horror genre to make a product work. Lutter grew up on X-Files. An effective film brings the scares in a gentle yet creepy manner. An ideal set helps, and that includes location (most of this movie was filmed in South Surrey), using practical effects to which the production team are a fan of and how not to give too much away too soon. Lutter is working on a variation of a shapechanger story. “We Came From the Sea” is his next feature movie project, where a recovering addict finds his family and sobriety gets threatened when a mysterious, hairy-faced stranger washes up to his remote island home.

“With horror films, it’s no fun if the monster is actually defeated at the end; the scary part of most of these films do is that the sense of evil is always undefeatable,” grinned Lutter.

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