Newborn Dead: “REMOTE” access
Back in 2009, I was coordinating a short film screening at the FANGORIA Weekend of Horrors in Los Angeles. It was my baby and naturally, I wanted only the best films to be showcased. During my search I came across the short REMOTE. I was riveted. However, I knew no details about the making of the film nor did I know about REMOTE’s Canadian Director Marc Roussel. All I knew is that I had a fantastic picture in my hands and I was going to show it. The response was terrific and I was happy. I could never have known then that I was showcasing a film that would go on to the festival circuit for the next four years, soaking up 41 “Official Film Festival Selections” across the globe, along with 11 “Winner” Awards, plus a very prestigious nomination for Best Short Film by the Director’s Guild of Canada. REMOTE went on to have a life of its own, and a good one at that!
REMOTE is a psychological story with a complicated plot: On a cold February night, Matt (played by REMOTE producer/actor Ron Basch) loses his cable signal during a severe snowstorm. He’s left with channel after channel of static until he comes across a clear signal that is the mirror image of his apartment… but 30 years in the past. Matt soon discovers that he can communicate with Justine (Sarah Silverthorne), the young woman residing in the apartment on the television. As the two get to know each other, Matt discovers that Justine died on that very night 30 years ago.
Four years after that initial premiere, Roussel has finally released the film to the public through YouTube and Vimeo. However, it is impossible to tell the success story of REMOTE without a look into Roussel’s experience as a filmmaker. I caught up with Roussel for a glimpse into his process. He explained, “I am a horror fan because of my mother. She let me watch movies with her—even if it meant sleeping with the lights on for a week…she’d kill me for saying this! THE EXORCIST scared me. Thinking about that film still gives me the chills. But it was HALLOWEEN that started my love for John Carpenter and his horror classic THE THING remains my favorite movie. I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker the minute the end credits rolled on THE THING. I was only about 13 years old at the time and I begged my Dad to buy a Super 8 Camera, projector and splicer at a garage sale. I immediately started making movies and eventually was able to attend the inaugural year of The New York Film Academy back in 1992.”
“After I graduated, and just like most film students fresh out of school, I figured I would get out there and make my first real film,” he continues. “But, to be honest the script was terrible and I had no money or connections when I moved back to Toronto.” Since Roussel had an affinity for editing, he first volunteered and eventually was hired by a production house focusing on TV commercials. On the other hand, after years paying his dues to become the full time film editor he is today, Roussel admitted, “I almost forgot why I wanted to be a filmmaker in the first place. I needed to make another film, to prove to myself that I could.” Roussel then directed four short films, all less than five minutes in length, and said to himself, “Whatever my next film will be, it has to be longer, with a more ambitious, layered story. This thinking eventually led me to REMOTE.”
Together with Ron Basch (whom Roussel met on the set of one of his earlier shorts), the two founded production company Red Sneakers Media and embarked on their new project. Roussel remembered, “The idea for REMOTE came from a desire to create a psychological horror film set in an apartment because I am a huge fan of Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy: REPULSION, ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE TENENT. I also wanted the movie to be set during the winter as a homage to my early favorite movie THE THING, and due to the sense of isolation a huge storm can generate.”
“The very first screening of REMOTE was at a great old movie house called ‘The Royal,” Roussel remembers. “We had about 80-100 people show up, so it was pretty nerve-racking for me. I knew we had made a solid short film but would it prove to be suspenseful? Would it hold the attention of the audience for the next 20 minutes? Thankfully the movie did engulf the audience, and for me, sitting in that audience on that day was one of the most rewarding experiences of making REMOTE. To hear people gasp and scream at just the right moments was a complete high for me and reminded me of why I wanted to be a filmmaker.”
Following that first Canadian screening and their “high” on the response, Roussel and Basch started submitting to every film festival they could find, big and small. There were a lot of rejections at first. However, by 2009 the acceptances started outweighing the denials, and ultimately, REMOTE began its worldwide festival run. There were emotional struggles along the journey as Roussel recalls, “truth be told there were festivals that rejected REMOTE that disappointed me, mostly because they were Canadian festivals. We only officially screened at three Canadian film festivals, only one of them being in Toronto. Otherwise, most of our success happened south of the border.” Even more emotional was the roller coaster that ensued when Roussel wrote a script for a feature length version of REMOTE. Roussel explained, “In 2011 a production company in Toronto optioned my script for the REMOTE feature. We were pretty excited because they were getting the script into U.S. studios and distributor’s hands where we could not. Then, as usually happens, the notes started. I spent a year rewriting and re-conceiving. When the U.S. deals did not pan out, it was decided to try the traditional Canadian financing route, which is applying for government funding from an agency called Telefilm. More notes followed. I did my best to make everyone happy and still write the film I wanted to make, but ultimately Telefilm felt the project wasn’t right for them and not long after that our optioned lapsed. Now Ron and I are exploring other funding options with a script that reflects a smaller budget.” In an upbeat tone Roussel continued, “Ron and I held off on making REMOTE available online because we’ve been developing the feature film version for the past two years. There was always a fear of giving away the surprises of the story but the expanded version is such a different movie with it’s own new, very different reveals. We decided that it was time to put the film out there and show everyone what we can do, and hopefully build up a fan base to show potential investors in the feature that this film has an audience.”
Today, the story of REMOTE’s success allows Roussel to sum up his experience and share some lessons with fellow filmmakers, “It has become so easy to pick up a camera or smartphone and shoot a movie now, but I think the most important aspect of filmmaking is often the most overlooked: the script. Without it you have nothing. Spend the time before you shoot. Nail the story and the rest will be easy. As for REMOTE, I think that by giving the story an emotional undercurrent it resonated with audiences. It doesn’t have the traditional downbeat horror ending, it’s much more heartfelt and that stays with you after the credits roll.”
Much has happened for Roussel and REMOTE since I coordinated that Fango screening back in Los Angeles. Now, since Roussel and Basch decided to give the world access to REMOTE via YouTube, you can see it for yourself here.