Splinter - Toby Wilkins interview

Interview: Toby Wilkins on the making of Splinter

Shea Whigham in Splinter

Toby Wilkins cut his teeth in graphic design and visual effects (his work can be seen in everything from Cats & Dogs and Scooby Doo 2 to Red Dragon and Rush Hour 2) moving on to directing shorts, such as the award winning Kidney Thieves as well as a long and productive relationship with Sam ‘Evil Dead’ Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, directing web series The Devil’s Trade and Tales From The Grudge. He’s currently working on The Grudge 3 but in the meantime his debut feature film, Splinter, is getting released on DVD in the UK, it’s an absolutely cracking body horror monster movie, packed with tension and a grisly parasitic beast.

The List: Was it an enjoyable shoot?
Toby Wilkins: I always enjoy shooting. Even at its lowest point, at its most frustrating, making movies is infinitely more fun than any day job I have ever had. And Splinter was a real all-hands-on-deck project for everyone -- the crew and cast -- and everyone gave it their all. There was a real sense that everyone was going to go above and beyond to make the film the best it could be, and I think that passion shows up on screen in everyone’s work.

Where did the design for the splinter monster/parasite come from?
My good friend and long time colleague George Cawood and I had been toying with this creature idea for a few years, the concept of a parasite or entity that could take over the bodies of its victims and sort of puppeteer them from the inside. It was an idea we had been trying to find a home for. So when the script for Splinter landed on my desk, it seemed like a perfect match, the contained framework of the story was a great vehicle to finally bring this creature to life. Once we started getting into preproduction we brought in special effects makeup experts at Quantum Creation FX to help create the physical look and design of the creature in the various forms it takes in the film. It was very important to me to create the creature with practical effects, something we could shoot on the day, something for the actors to react to, and that’s where Quantum really shine.

How complicated was it working with the special effects?
Working with a team like Quantum to create a creature as close as possible to what was in my head, on our tiny budget, without relying on digital effects was one of the most interesting aspect of the project for me. I have spent a large part of my career in the film industry working with visual effects, special effects, simplifying complicated sequences to get them done with limited resources. I guess I have one of those brains that loves puzzles and problem solving. It’s part of the fun.

Did you learn a lot producing shorts with Ghost House Pictures?
I feel that all my short films, from my first Sundance Festival premiere in 2002, all the way up to the shorts I have done for Ghost House have been an amazing learning experience for me. But it was also a great contrast to the work I was doing on some of the biggest movies of the last decade. Working on tiny elements for massive film projects has always been really exciting. A single visual effects shot for a blockbuster studio film could easily cost more than all my short films combined, and being exposed to both extremes of budget taught me a great deal, and working on projects for other directors, often with very exacting standards, really helped set the bar for my own work too.

What do you think attracts us to scary movies?
For the same reason people like any movie, escapism and entertainment, and I think we are never more immersed in a story or lost in the moment, than when we’re on the edge of our seats, our hearts racing, gripping the hand of the person next to us. How many forms of entertainment elicit that kind of base human response? Think about it … Most of us, if we’re lucky, will never experience that kind of fear in real life, nothing makes us feel more alive than a scary movie can. The thrill we experience can actually drive us to instinctively seek protection from the person next to us. Protection from fiction! How cool is that?

What is the perfect horror film?
My favourite horror films tend to be films like Alien, The Thing, and 28 Days Later, films that put believable everyday characters in situations where they are forced to fight against unimaginable horror, in ways they never imagined. That’s why for me Alien beats Aliens, as soon as you put trained fighters up against horror, it becomes an action movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love action movies too, but for me Alien is one of the best horror movies ever. The crew of the Nostromo are the sci-fi equivalent of truck drivers and mechanics, and I am always totally engrossed watching them deal with the situation that unfolds, even after all these years.

Why do you think audiences for horror are so committed to the genre?
I can only really speak for myself, but I think in part these are the movies that make the strongest impression on us in our childhood. If you’re the type of kid who gets a kick out of horror, that feeling stays with you and you always want more.

Splinter (Icon) is available on DVD from 30 Mar.

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