Director Sam Wineman (pictured right) is an American filmmaker who has burst onto the festival circuit with his hotly anticipated horror film The Quiet Room which stars an incredible cast including Lisa Wilcox (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5) and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s very own Alaska Thunderfuck.
The Quiet Room sees Jamal Douglas star as Michael, a gay man who is admitted into the hospital because of his own depression and quickly builds a bond with his nurse Amy (Wilcox). After his attempted suicide Michael awakes a psych ward demon known as Hopeless Hattie (Alaska Thunderfuck) who is more than happy to spill some blood to keep Michael from getting the help he needs.
We love The Quiet Room and, as it is pride season, we jumped at the opportunity to sit down with Wineman to discuss what inspired him to write and direct The Quiet Room, the importance of inclusion and what it was like to work with everyone’s favourite drag queens.
SCREAM: Hi Sam. Thanks for taking time to talk to us about your film The Quiet Room. For the benefit of our readers can you tell us a bit about yourself?
SW: I was born in Pennsylvania, but once I hit 8, it was new towns until I hit high school. I moved around just about every year growing up – I think it’s part of what helped me become so adaptable. I did my undergrad up at UC Berkeley and spent a few years hopping around the San Francisco Bay area – Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Stanford, Sacramento – before heading down to Southern California for film school. I’ve been here (in LA) since 2013.
SCREAM: Let’s get down to it. What inspired you to write and direct The Quiet Room?
SW: I’m a huge horror junkie and as someone who grew up on old VHS copies of Friday the 13th and Scream. I think it’s exciting to be able to subvert archetypes with queer leads and diverse casting. To me, turning the Final Girl into the Final Gay has always been my ultimate goal…
SCREAM: … and you certainly achieved that with The Quiet Room!
SW: The Quiet Room is also my way of sharing my own personal story, but through the lens of horror. Hattie, our monster, operates much like depression – she isolates her victims, wanting them all to herself. Mental health is something close to my heart and creating a horror film that tackles it responsibly was definitely a priority. What if the afflicted character didn’t have to sacrifice himself in order to overcome the darkness? And that’s where I began.
SCREAM: We love what you have done to create a horror film that is inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. What reception have you received?
SW: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve seen it with audiences at both horror and LGBTQ+ festivals and what they have in common is they both jump at all the scares! Watching with a gay audience is fun because they pick up on some of the more subtle humour, an in-joke here or there. Someone may lean into the seat next to him and whisper when he recognizes his favourite drag queen. And the online fanfare has been out of this world.
SCREAM: We know what you mean. It made us smile too! Ok. Outside of the LGBTQ+ community, what about audience reactions been like?
SW: Watching with a horror festival outside of that community usually means a lot of gasps at the monster reveal – people really love the work Laney Chantal did on our creature. The feedback I get from that crowd tends to be about the quality of film, the level of scares, the script itself. I think that the core of the story, a person fighting his own personal demons, is something that ultimately anyone can relate to. And a good story is a good story.
SCREAM: Drag Race fans will recognise two of your cast members (Alaska Thunderfuck and Katya Zamolodchikova) how did they become involved with the project?
SW: When I was writing the part of Hattie, I imagined it as Alaska. I was fortunate enough that when we approached her about the project, she really dug it! And that she had enough free time in her touring schedule to do it. And it was a similar story with Brian (Katya). Due to the nature of their work, both Alaska and Brian were constantly travelling so getting the both of them on board was really exciting – especially because they have a scene together!
SCREAM: On the subject of legendary queens, horror fans may recognise a certain Nightmare on Elm Street final girl. What was it like to work with Lisa Wilcox and did she tell you any interesting stories from her aNoES days?
SW: Working with Lisa was a dream. She was there for our very first day of filming and really set the tone for the entire production. That hallway scene with her and Jamal Douglas still gives me chills to watch. And between scenes, Lisa was a blast. She told me about how close the actors on aNoES were – and how close they still are! It’s pretty cool that a film could spark a set of lifelong friendships. She fielded all my horror-nerd questions with grace.
SCREAM: Fantastic! Let’s move onto the creature design and I have to congratulate you as it is fantastic. Can you tell us more about the design process for Hattie?
SW: Laney Chantal is behind Hattie’s disgusting and beautiful creature design. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Laney was able to take the backstory I had created for Hattie that doesn’t appear in the film and put it all into her makeup. In addition to the design and physical application of makeup to Alaska, Laney also created a puppet for a practical effect we had to achieve and sculpted prosthetics for our “final form” Hattie.
SCREAM: The hard work certainly pays off! Hattie is terrifying. It must have been a lot of work for everyone involved.
SW: Due to the amount of work that needed to be done, we had a make-up team of three on set. Alaska’s Hattie makeup application was head to toe, so Laney worked with the help of her incredible assistant Payton Perryman. We also had Gabby Rossbach as a dedicated makeup artist to our other actors, executing everything from camera-ready looks to blood effects, gruesome wounds, and Hattie-hands.
SCREAM: Sounds like it was a lot of fun. Speaking of Alaska, she is well known to Drag Race fans, was Hattie a collaboration between you two and did she influence any of the characters’ behaviour?
SW: Hattie was most certainly a collaboration. It started with my words on the page, yes. But Alaska incorporated Hattie’s backstory into her movement, her sound. You can watch the way she snakes her body, curls her fingers; the dry rasp of her whisper – those sinister monster moments that really pop. Then you look into her eyes and you see that there’s pain beneath her satisfaction. Alaska took a powerful monster and gave her a heart.
SCREAM: Let’s talk about the shoot itself. How long did it last and were there any particular challenges you faced?
SW: Principal photography was 9 days, plus a day of pickups. We shot in the winter in a building with a lot of cold concrete. Alaska was such a trooper. She was in head-to-toe makeup, almost entirely naked, and covered in slime that had to be reapplied between takes. We would have a space heater or two around her at any given time, but even then, imagine being cold, wet, and naked for an entire day – it was challenging. And yet, as soon as the camera was rolling, Alaska would turn it on, giving us full Hattie realness. She nailed every single take, and then some. The makeup and the special effects were difficult but at the end of the day, everyone involved really rose to the occasion. And the result was incredible.
SCREAM: So there’s plenty of lasting memories for everyone involved then! Okay. On that note, If you could just choose one moment on set to take away as your most favourite, what would it be?
SW: During one scene, the set was very tense; we had a special effect shot that we could likely only get once with Hattie. You could hear a pin drop before we even started rolling. The moment coming through the camera was so serious, so beautiful. And as soon as I called “cut!” Alaska whipped her hair back, looked into the camera, and started sexy-dancing, corpse makeup and all. I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. We all did.
SCREAM: I bet. So, I have to ask, why stop at 27 minutes? Have you or do you have plans to develop a feature out of this short?
SW: As a short film, The Quiet Room has an arc that allows it to stand well on its own. But the short also opens itself up quite nicely to a much larger world; one that would be a lot of fun to explore in a feature! That’s definitely the plan. Hattie has more secrets to reveal and so does the hospital she’s confined to. Short films have a lot of limitations – space, time to get to know characters, and most importantly, budget. A third act of a feature film with Hattie as the villain will get a whole lot bloodier.
SCREAM: We’re excited. We want more! Okay. Sam, what’s next for you?
SW: Right now, I’m taking meetings and seeing what my next move will be. The Quiet Room as a feature is my priority, but as long as I have the opportunity to direct a great script that breaks the kind of ground I’m looking to break, I’m in. And in the meantime, I’m looking forward to the rest of our festival run!
SCREAM would like to thank Sam for taking the time to chat to us about his fantastic horror short The Quiet Room. Don’t forget to check out our review of the film and keep an eye on local festivals to get your chance to see it!
Interview transcribed by Jon Dickinson