Daniel C. Nyiri Interview – “You can explore bigger issues and darker themes, if you’re willing to”

Following the release of his debut feature, Confession, director Daniel C. Nyiri sits down to answer our questions on the feeling, themes and future of his career and work.

How do you feel now that you have directed your first piece of film?

There’s something almost magical to realize. Paraphrasing Stephen Sondheim, “Look, I made a film, where there never was a film!” But I am still so inextricably tied to the creation of Confession that I am filled with frustration over all the millions of compromises. Because of the nature of a micro-budget feature – if you’re trying anything ambitious – and all the places I fell short of what I was hoping to achieve, that I can’t wait to take all the lessons I learned during the production and apply them to the next project.

Is Confession the style of film you wish to make again? Or are you hoping to branch into other genres?

I have scripts written, or in development, that span a variety of genres, from Jules Verne type adventures, to westerns, to a 21 episode limited series that spans from the 1400s to 1889. But for me to successfully realize such projects would require significant budgets. Still, I am drawn to both the horror and thriller genres as forms in which you can explore bigger issues and darker, more substantive themes – if you’re willing to. They are more affordable if you are operating as far outside of the industry as I currently am. I knew from the outset that Confession was not really going to be either type of film. Or, I should say, only one type of film. Part of Confession’s style was that it would be subtly morphing from what appears to be a character-driven drama, to a crime procedural, to a supernatural mystery to something distinctly its own. Sadly, if someone approaches the film only wanting to see a horror movie, or a straight thriller, they’re probably not going to be happy with where the film is taking them. I hope maybe they’ll give it a second chance once they know what they are in for; they might be surprised how much more meaningful it becomes.

What do you hope the impact of this film will be?

To make people think; about what they believe, about what they have been taught or conditioned to believe. So many of us grow up in an environment that discourages questioning anything deemed “established”. If anything could be reasonably questioned, then, by default it should be questioned.  A truth is not damaged by being held up to the light. Although I want to make clear that Confession was written to be challenging and provoking, it was never meant to attack or insult anyone’s beliefs. Any film that deals with the supernatural is inherently a spiritual film. I have the greatest respect for any person of faith, whether their faith is in a religion or in science or in themselves. But what most people hold out as Truth is usually established less by a conscientious search than by the social system they were born into. Near the end of the film, the character says, “Ultimate Truth is not like your favourite music; it’s not defined by what you personally prefer, or what you grew up listening to.” To have those type of considerations stay with people is, I guess, the impact I’d like it to have.

You have scenes throughout that allow Confession to stand out among a sea of independent filmmaking, how difficult is it to get publicity and market an independent feature?

When I made the Confession I knew it was going to be a difficult one to market, since it totally defies any easy classification. But in addition, if you are talking about micro-budget films – however professionally you manage to make them – it is nearly impossible to get publicity outside of a local level. Unless you’re picked up by a major distributor out of a film festival, the filmmakers are expected to do all the marketing themselves. We couldn’t afford to go the festival route, and I was shocked to discover that the biggest online reviewing sites even want you to pay to “schedule” a review sometime in the next few years! We’re on Amazon and Tubi right now, but it takes a lot of positive ratings and people seeing the film before they even consider “recommending” it to their viewers. The issue now is how to reach all those folks who have no idea the film exists. It would be a little easier if I had made a slasher, or an easily categorized movie, because there are audiences that will just search for “slasher” or “ghost-hunting” or what-have-you and find an unknown title that way; there’s not really a search topic that applies to this film.

Did you run into any difficulties when making the film?

So many it would boggle your mind! The script called for over 60 locations, including such specific locales as police stations, hospitals, mental health facilities, a prison, a morgue, and a few places that could only be considered “other-worldly”, and there were almost thirty speaking parts, with a heavy emphasis on dialogue.  With the exception of a few people and myself, no one in the cast and crew had any experience working on a film before.

We were filming in Northern Humboldt County which is rural, with amazing redwood forests, dramatic coastlines, and quaint Victorian houses, and that is the exact opposite of where the story takes place. I even had to find woods that didn’t look like lush redwood forests; those scenes were filmed in three separate locations tied together by careful colour correction and even forced perspective miniatures shot in-camera; let’s just say that not all the trees you see in the film are real. For one montage, I digitally constructed a whole series of religious structures which were then composited with cloud footage and additional “camera movement” provided by my editor, Cole Saxton, in post. Matte paintings and miniatures were also used to give some locations more scale, including the use of foreground miniatures carefully positioned in front of the camera during live-action shooting – hopefully none of which is noticeable at all.

My background is in Scenic and Production Design and to achieve the look I wanted I needed to build a majority of my sets, which we did in a stuffy basement with mould issues and a noisy pizza establishment above us, our cramped production offices, and one apartment.  We shot in the evenings, from approximately 6:00pm to 11:00pm, and on weekends, because the cast and crew had other jobs.  It also meant the majority of the film would need to be shot Night-for-Day, although we only had limited lighting equipment. Our Cinematographer Matt St. Charles did wonders with that, thankfully.

Ironically, most of the scenes that actually took place at night could only be shot during the day on the weekends because of a specific actor or location availability. When the hours were totalled up, we only shot for 18 days.  Our final cash outlay was $20,455.00 and that alone guarantees difficulties when trying to do a film on the scale of Confession. However, I think it also shows what you can achieve if compromise is not your instinctive first choice. All it takes is a few people willing to put in the extra effort to go the distance, and I was very lucky with some of the people around me. Some. Let’s just say “some” of the people around me.

Any future projects you can tell us about?

I have several projects that are written and already in various stages of pre-production. They run the gamut in terms of budget and that is the deciding factor on which one shoots next; it all comes down to cash, and of course the ending of a global pandemic. Since I do my own production design, I can spend a lot of time developing visual concepts, make-up, and settings etc. while I am waiting. I storyboard everything rather extensively so I can get the frame compositions just right, and it also helps to maximize shooting time to be thoroughly prepared beforehand. I have a folk-horror project called “The Bight” that’s already cast, pretty much crewed, and that will probably shoot next. With a little more funding I have a unique post-apocalyptic tale called “With Night Dark” that’s ready to shoot, and a very disturbing, sort of fairy-tale horror film called “Mysterious Wishes”.

And in case you can’t tell, all of the next few films are going to be a lot more accessible and be a lot more marketable than Confession. Although there’s nothing typical, or lightweight about any of them. I do not believe that genre films have to be unintelligent, or predictable. At least I have no desire to make those type of films.

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