The film “Woods,” written and directed by Jon Hyatt, takes two of the most difficult, most scrutinized genres, Sci-fi and horror, and expertly blends the two in a twisted story that keeps you guessing until the eventual, ultimately satisfying pay-off. I spoke with the writer, director, Jon Hyatt, about this film, his film making processes, and his big plans for the future. You can read the entire text of the interview below after the review.
Woods works as a sci-fi thriller because of its minimalist approach to what life might be like 30 years in the future. While modern technology seems to be rapidly advancing, the basics in our life have remained essentially the same. Our cars, our homes, our man-made environment, while they do undergo change, are essentially the same as they were 50 years ago. One can't say the same thing for communication technologies, computing technologies, and a whole host of other types of tech that have sprung up in the last few decades. The sets used in Woods could be any home, anywhere, and that’s why it works. That feeling of connection and intimacy that we get from the familiarity with the surroundings only adds to the suspense of a story about a man named Richter (Jon Hyatt) who has lost his wife (Lawrene Denkers) under mysterious circumstances. The technology that has changed gives us a sense of the future without spoiling the aesthetic with over-the-top special-effects.
The one big difference between the reality of the woods and the present day is the existence of home-help androids. The main character is given an android (Amy Wallace) by the board of his company as a stipulation for his remaining a controlling member as he continues to deal with the psychological trauma of losing his wife. The android seems to be the first real contact he’s had with another consciousness in some time, and she soon starts to play a role in unraveling the mystery behind the disappearance of Richter’s wife.
This 17-minute short film does an excellent job using camera angles and the environment to create both a feeling of isolation and claustrophobia for the viewer. The acting was solid and the story was interesting, compelling, and ultimately gratifying at the end. There were only a couple of times when I felt the sound design, especially in conversations between characters, could’ve been better, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film. Woods is an A+ effort from a young filmmaker with a bright future.
My interview with Jon Hyatt:
Can you tell us a little bit about the idea for Woods?
Actually, in the beginning I wanted to make a story about an old man in apartment who has android that takes care of him, but it malfunctions and ends up killing him. It just milled around in my brain for about five months and eventually it turned into Woods. It started getting more complex and I thought it would be better for them to be out in a forest rather than an apartment.
It’s interesting that you went from the “claustrophobia” of an apartment to the expanse of the forest but kept the same concept.
Yeah, when I was a kid we had this large wooded area near my house and I would spend a lot of time in the woods walking my dogs. There are always things lurking in your imagination, behind the trees, but it’s also kind of inviting place. I always love shooting out in the woods, out in the wilderness, and I can see it being a theme and some of the other things I’ll do.
What types of films did you make before Woods?
I made a bunch of comedy shorts before this, but nothing on the scale of Woods. They were all kind of these dorky little YouTube comedy things, a bunch of viral videos. I was also doing standup comedy for a bit, but I really just sort of stopped and said, “I want to make a feature.” Making a good short film was the first logical thing to do and Woods is really the first film of that caliber that I’ve made, everything else was just dorky little fun stuff. It was still made on the shoestring budget, but we managed to pull it off.
How did you decide to play the role of Richter yourself?
Basically, we had an actor pinned down for the role and the night before we began shooting, he told me he had shingles. We were terrified, we call the bunch of actors but it’s too short notice for most, and a good actor friend of mine said “why don’t you do it?” I’ve acted before but I thought I can’t produce, direct, and star in a movie, it would be too much. I called Bruce, who is the cinematographer, and he said “go for it!” So then he took on more of a co-director roll.
Is this the first sci-fi/supernatural film that you’ve worked on?
Yes it is, and right after we finished Woods we started a collaboration with this group from Waterloo, Ontario “12 angry filmmakers,” basically they made us the Toronto arm of it. We then shot another movie called “Return,” which will be hitting the film festivals around December. We will probably be making another short in the next couple of months. Then after that it’s “feature time.”
What was the hardest part about making this film?
It was definitely wearing all these different hats, like I said I didn't plan on acting in it and so jumping in and acting on it, but also directing and producing it. When we got there we didn't even have a craft-person, so we're throwing cheesy doodles in the oven or whatever. I actually think that added to the character being completely exhausted, I actually really felt like he did. I was really lucky I had such a stellar crew, everyone was just amazing, they just took all the punches and went with it, you know?
Is science-fiction the direction you’re going to go with features?
Actually, I really like the horror genre, I mean, I like science fiction and horror, and I could see doing drama down the road, but I just really like the traditional horror films. I’m not really into the whole “blood and guts” kind of thing, I’m more of a Hitchcock and Kubrick guy. That’s how I want to move into film, I want to make little pieces of art, not a gorefest.
Is there anything else about the process of making this film that if you were might be interested in?
Not really, pretty much what you see is what you get. Every shot was planned out, the cinematographer and I walked around the property well before production began and lensed the entire film before we shot. We walked around with the exact lenses that we were going to use for each shot because were both cinematographers and basically we knew exactly where we wanted to shoot everything. That makes the process of making a film that much easier, even if you seen the place if you just sit down with the DSLR, it makes it work that much better. I don’t think you can never be too prepared to make a film.
Cool, thanks for the time and good luck!
Thanks, great talk!