DAY TWO of our “DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK” WEEK!!!
Troy Nixey is well known as an illustrator/writer of comic books. Most notably , “Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham,” “Batman: The Gasworks,” “It’s Only the End of the World Again,” “Grendel: Black, White and Red” and “Bacon.” Nixey also co-created the comic mini-series “Jenny Finn” and the critically acclaimed comic “Trout.”
His comic book background has been perfect for Nixey’s transition into a director of genre films, allowing Nixey to bring his unique design sense and storytelling ability to “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and other projects he has in development.
Nixey’s comic book “Trout” was optioned by Phoenix Pictures, with Nixey helping to produce. “Trout” is a story about a boy living in a world where nightmares can come to life and dreams can be stolen with ease and evil can take on an unassuming innocence.
In 2007, Nixey’s short film “Latchkey’s Lament” screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Latchkey’s Lament” is an elegant and dynamic blend of live action and computer-generated animation that won critical acclaim at TIFF. It was this short film that attracted Guillermo del Toro to Nixey and created industry buzz about Nixey’s first feature, which would become “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
I had the great opportunity and esteemed pleasure to chat exclusively with Troy and ask him a couple of questions.
I present to you…Mr.Troy Nixey!
FANBOY CONFIDENTIAL– After having worked on a wide variety of different comic characters and projects from Batman, X-Men, to The Simpsons ,did it make the transition from that medium to filmmaking easy or difficult?
TROY NIXEY-First off I love the medium of comics but movies has always been my passion. I wanted to go to film school after high school but growing up in Saskatchewan the only option for me at the time would have been California and it was simply too expensive. I loved telling stories and have always drawn so the decision to try working in comics made sense. I worked in comics for seventeen years but the desire to direct movies was always in the back of my mind. I look back at my time in comics as the place I learned what kind of stories I wanted to tell, the worlds I wanted build and the characters that would inhabit them. Comics was a very valuable tool moving into movies and so the transition seemed a natural one.
FC –Now that you are a filmmaker ,would you ever consider going back to drawing comics?
TN-If you had asked me this question a few years ago I would have emphatically said no but I’ve been softening on that stand of late- I kind of miss it, not the long arduous hours alone at my table but the feeling of telling stories with a pencil and pen. It’s a unique endeavor. The fact that Bob Schreck, my favorite comic editor whom I’ve known for close to twenty years, is now the editor in chief of the comic imprint at Legendary Pictures is also a major reason why I’ve been thinking about it. It’d be great to work together again.
FC-Was filmmaking something you always wanted to do?
TN –Yes. I may not have realized it at a younger age like a lot of directors who made films in their youth but I know that I had that same energy, I just turned it toward paper. I drew and drew and drew and everything I drew had a story behind it. Most of my fondest memories as a kid revolve around movies and how they made me feel creatively. I grew up in a very inspirational era- I was definitely a STAR WARS kid and adored ET with a passion. I see the parallels in what I’m creating today with what I grew up watching. I have a voracious appetite for information and inspiration, paintings, music, anything that will get the creative juices flowing I pursue with great gusto- movies are definitely at the top of the list.
FC-Your Film, ”Latchkey’s Lament”…where did that concept come from?
TN-When I hit the wall creating comics and it was obvious I needed to concentrate on directing movies I realized the only way that was going to happen was to prove I could direct a movie- pretty obvious really…hahaha. I knew that I needed to tell a story that would be uniquely me and one that I would be passion about because I knew it was going to take a lot of effort to get it completed. I worked on different concepts for a long time and then by accident stumbled across the location. It was amazing! I say was because the building was torn down a few years ago and turned into condos- sigh. Anyway I found the location and started working on a story that fit this beautiful, creepy place. Basically I started backwards. The Keyfiend came next, his design anyway. His motivation didn’t come until I decided on my protagonist. I’m obsessed with history and clear simple design, Mister Key is perfect example of this. I challenged myself to tell a story and elicit an emotional response from an everyday object, which meant a heavy CG component to the project. So you know something easy for my first time out. Haha.
FC-After gaining such positive reaction from “Latchkey’s Lament” was this the project that came under Guillermo del Toro’s radar?
TN-Yes. Guillermo was familiar with my comic book work, especially the work I did with Mike Mignola. I found this out when a couple of friends of mine went to a CRONOS DVD signing and handed him a few of my comics. He gushed that he loved my work and signed my DVD “from a fat fan”. When I found out I was over the moon, I love Guillermo’s movies, DEVIL’S BACKBONE being my second favorite movie of all time. Guillermo has a public email address and after I completed production and was in post on LL I sent him a few images of The Keyfiend. He wrote back and was very complimentary, calling him “very Nixeyesque”. I loved that!
Keep in mind LL took five years to complete. Almost completely self financed there was a lot of starting and stopping as I would have to save money to complete each phase. Looking back I’m still not sure how I got it done….sheer determination and stupidity I guess. Haha. Finally completed he saw it through a friend’s FTP site and reached out. I talked to him for the first time four years ago and he told me about DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK and asked if I would be interested in reading it. I’ll be perfectly honest….it was pretty surreal. To have one of my favorite directors respond to my work the way he did is one thing but to follow it up with the him asking if I’d be interested in directing a movie he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins was mind blowing.
FC-What is it like working with GdT?
TN-At the earliest stages Guillermo made it clear that I was the director, that the decisions would be mine and unless I was completely off the mark he’d support me in those decisions. To have that kind of confidence from your producer was essential in allowing me to step up and do the job I had to do. Combine that with him making himself available at all times was also key. He told me he would be there when I needed him and not if I didn’t
Both he and Mark Johnson set out to help me find the key people (department heads) who would not only help me bring to life the script and the visual ideas I had in my head they found collaborators with lots of experience who would help a first time director navigate his first movie. I had a very strong base in which to leap off of. Directing a movie is a marathon- I believe I lost 15-20 pounds during production and Guillermo was constantly telling me this is normal, work hard, be true to your vision, etc. He was in my corner and I will always appreciate him for giving me the opportunity. All the stories you hear about Guillermo, his kindness, his imagination, everything- all true.
FC- After reading the script for “DBA”,
I know that several artists (including yourself)worked on the creature design…were you given free reign to come up with the concept designs or were they fully fleshed out?
If the creatures were based on your concepts ,could you please elaborate on the genesis of the designs.?
TN-I started sending Guillermo sketches very very early in the process, basically as soon as I finished reading the script. Page after page of creepy thin limbed monsters filled his inbox. We went back and forth like that for a while, long before Keith Thompson and Chet Zar were brought in to really help nail down the final design. Guillermo and I had decided on a final rough shape but there was still a lot of designing to be done and with Chet, Keith and myself working out of Guillermo’s Bleak House we nailed the homunculus design in less than a week. It’s really an amalgamation of all of us which I’m proud of. There is definitely a nod to the original 1973 design but our design is definitely unique in its creepiness. They’re nasty and look the part!
FC-Did you storyboard the movie?
TN-Large chunks of it. I worked with one other storyboard artist in Melbourne. Great guy, very talented who worked from my very rough roughs. The homunculus attack scenes were all boarded then prevised.
FC-Let’s talk a little bit about the casting process.
TN-KATIE HOLMES-She did a stellar job. This role is quite a departure from her previous roles, was she sought out for the role?
What did you see in her and what did you think she could bring to the role?
Katie was definitely sought out. There’s a lot of subtlety in Kim’s character. As an audience we have to feel Kim’s reluctance to being anything more than a friend to Her boyfriend’s daughter and not come across as selfish and cold then as the movie progresses she needs to take on the role of a parent as she witnesses Alex drop the ball and it can’t feel heavy handed. Katie did a remarkable job. Kim and Sally’s journey of finding each other feels completely natural and that speaks volumes for what Katie brought to the table. Of course there’s also the physical aspect of the role, Katie, being a dancer, had no problem doing what was asked of her and that helps my job tremendously as I could get the camera in close and show that it’s in fact Katie. I still remember the night Katie threw herself against the floor in the final act. She did it multiple times and I still cringe when I see it in the final cut.
GUY PEARCE-He rarely disappoints, what did you think that he could bring to the table performance wise.
Having seen the film I can totally sympathize with him and how the refurbishment of the house became his passion/obsession …where normally one would pack up and leave after such horrific experiences.
Guy is incredible, I’ve been a big admirer of his for a long time. It would have been very easy for an actor to come in and play Alex as a one note asshole and be done with it. Not Guy, we talked a lot about Alex, his goals, his inspirations, his failings. We got into the nuts and bolts of Alex and that comes out in Guy’s performance. For me Alex isn’t obsessed with the house he uses the house as an excuse (suit of armor) not to deal with the fact that he’s a shitty parent. It’s why he doesn’t leave the house immediately- it’s not about selling it it’s about him not copping to the fact that he would need to deal with his daughter and he doesn’t know how- it isn’t til he gets a punch to the face (not literally) that he wakes up and realizes okay yeah my daughter has a problem and so do I. It’s only when he admits this to himself that he can leave. Guy played him perfectly, he had to because as an audience we have to feel okay with the film’s outcome.
BAILEE MADISON-She is the anchor of the film. Such a memorable performance.
The Hollywood adage goes ,don’t work with kids or animals or in this case kids and homunculi.
What was your approach in directing Bailee ,in order to get such a believable performance out of her?
What was the process in casting such an integral role?
Bailee came along very late in the process of casting Sally. She had been working on BROTHERS and was brought to our attention by Natalie Portman who raved about working with her. When Bailee walked in the room I knew instantly that she was Sally. It didn’t take long to convince everyone else as she blew our doors off during auditions and the chemistry between Katie and Bailee was undeniable. The fact that there’s a strong resemblance between the two was a very happy coincidence. Even thought they’re not related in the movie there’s a natural connection between the two and the resemblance factor, albeit subliminally, is just another factor in helping an audience connect to the two characters.
Working with Bailee was one of my favorite aspects of DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. Trust is key, both ways, I trusted her and she trusted me. I was always very honest with her and didn’t try and trick her, I didn’t need to- she is a great listener. You can be a lot more direct with a younger actor than you can with more experienced actors and that was helpful, including the occasional line reading- which wasn’t my favorite thing to do but our shooting time with Bailee was very limited and one has to do what one has to do when there’s minutes left and you need to grab a shot. One of my main jobs was to track Sally emotionally from scene to scene and make sure Bailee and I were on the same page. I was incredibly shy as a kid and remember uncomfortable situations from my past very clearly, feeling alone etc so I was able to bring that out in Bailee who is incredibly talented and intuitive and not shy in the least!
PART II of our exclusive interview with director TROY NIXEY continues tomorrow.