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Q&A: Dana Melanie talks “TREEHOUSE”

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With the world of independent horror, it’s a refreshing surprise when a filmmaker approaches the backwoods horror formula with a focus on suspense as opposed to gore and brutality. Not only can critics tell the difference between a genuinely intense horror film in that ilk, but also the talent and fright fans. Luckily for TREEHOUSE, their leading lady, Dana Melanie, is a fright fan herself, and in a chat with FANGORIA, she talks TREEHOUSE, inspiration and working with ZOMBIE DIARIES director Michael Bartlett…

FANGORIA: How did you initially become involved with TREEHOUSE?

DANA MELANIE: Well, I auditioned and sent in a tape for the role of Elizabeth. Michael Bartlett watched it and then gave me some notes, so I sent in another tape and waited forever to find out if I’d got it or not. But then, one day, I got the call saying I got the role.

FANGORIA: After you got the role, did you watch any of Michael’s work to get a sense of who he was as a director or did he provide you with anything to watch as to what to expect the film to look like visually?

MELANIE: He gave me a few recommendations of films to watch. One was PONTYPOOL, as reference for our Walkie Talkie scene where you don’t see what’s happening but you feel the intensity. Also, I watched WINTER’S BONE so I would know where I would be since we shot in the same Missouri locations as that film.

FANGORIA: How was that experience shooting on location?

MELANIE: It was awesome. We were in very, very, very rural Missouri so that was a culture shock since I’m from L.A.

FANGORIA: When you first received the script for TREEHOUSE, what was your reaction to your character’s arc in the film?

MELANIE: I loved the script from the moment I read it and I knew I had to be Elizabeth because Michael did a great job in developing her. To me, she wasn’t a victim but moreover a leader and I really fell in love with that.

FANGORIA: What was your reaction when you saw some of the more horror-informed sets for the first tme?

MELANIE: I loved it; I thought it was the coolest thing. When I saw what the SFX team did and how they pulled off the girls hanging from the trees, I thought it was so cool. I actually was more fascinated by it than scared.

FANGORIA: You also recently worked on another horror project, JURASSIC CITY, which featured Ray Wise. How was your experience on something like TREEHOUSE as opposed to something like JURASSIC CITY?

MELANIE: JURASSIC CITY was a much quicker shoot. TREEHOUSE was essentially spending a month away from my family in Missouri, so you spent a lot of time bonding with the crew and cast. So that was much more of a familial experience whereas JURASSIC CITY was a lot of fun to shoot, and that went very fast.

I didn’t get to work with Ray, even though we have scenes together! All of our scenes in JURASSIC CITY are through Walkie Talkies, so I didn’t even get to meet him.

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FANGORIA: Were you a fan of horror before coming on board TREEHOUSE or was the genre something you were less familiar with?

MELANIE: I’m a fan of horror! I like being scared, even though TREEHOUSE isn’t the kind of “BOO!” horror. It was more of a suspenseful kind of horror, which I like as well.

FANGORIA: As a horror fan, what did you appreciate the most about working on a project like TREEHOUSE?

MELANIE: I appreciated that Michael was trying to bring an old school horror back with TREEHOUSE, with a slower pacing and tension. I’m kind of an old soul, so I like when they go back to the roots of the genre.

FANGORIA: Was there anything about the script that you were excited to do? Was there anything that you found specifically to benefit you as an actress?

MELANIE: That’s a good question. I was excited about TREEHOUSE since it was my first big film, and it was exciting to go to a state which I’d never been to before and throw myself into a character whose life was so different than mine. It really was a growing experience, and it was sort of like the closest experience I have to going away to college for me.

I adored every single second of working on TREEHOUSE, so I can’t pick out a specific moment but I learned so much from it. I saw how everyone did their different jobs on an independent set, and that in itself was pretty amazing.

FANGORIA: Were you surprised about the amount of dialogue your character had, especially considering the backwoods thriller-type nature of the project?

MELANIE: I loved it! I was so excited, and I had three huge scenes to film that I had to do during the audition process. So once I got the part, I had those scenes halfway memorized, and I was like, “Alright, I’m good to go now.”

I also had a little rehearsal with Michael Bartlett the day before we started filming, to go over some things and to make sure we’d hit some notes. So it wasn’t jarring, especially when it came time to do the scenes on that day. It felt very natural and I eased into it.

FANGORIA: What was it like to work with Michael as a director? Was he more hands-on and meticulous or did he let you sort of do your thing?

MELANIE: He really let me do my thing. He really trusted me. Anything we contend about, we talked over and we’d figure it out. Before a scene, I always let him know how I would take the part and he would run with it. He was really, really easy to work with.

He had a strong vision as to how he wanted the film to look, stylistically. He was very hands on with that, and that paid off big because I think TREEHOUSE is a beautiful looking film. He worked really well with the cinematographer, J. Christopher Campbell.

FANGORIA: As an actress coming into a horror film, was it refreshing to play outside of the box of the archetypal “victim” role and play a female character that’s a bit more assertive?

MELANIE: Yes, I loved it. Elizabeth is a tough little cookie. She’s tough and she’s a fighter, so to get a role like that as opposed to running away and screaming is always a plus.

FANGORIA: Do you have any other roles coming up?

MELANIE: I’ve got a film coming up called HOLLYWOOD, and in shorter form, I’ve got LIZZIE BORDEN GOT AN AXE, which everyone should look out for.

TREEHOUSE is currently available in select theaters and on VOD.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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