THE FURIES Director, Tony D’Aquino [Episode 56]
Tony D’Aquino is an Australian filmmaker who made his directorial debut last year with The Furies, now streaming on Shudder. The Furies is a bloodbath daylight slasher extravaganza, with strong nods to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but with a modern twist. In this conversation, we hear about Tony’s director origin story, the making of Furies, and major lessons learned from his first movie. Now without further ado, here is Furies director Tony D’Aquino.
Alright. Here as always, are some key takeaways from this conversation with Tony D’Aquino.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. For low budget movies, when time is money and every minute counts, you have zero time to think through decisions on set and therefore have to have pre-decided everything as far ahead of time as possible. This means taking the time to review worst-case scenarios during pre-production so you can anticipate whatever could go wrong on set and have backup plans at the ready. This is a critical lesson that all of Roger Corman’s disciples carried with them, and it’s a major lesson Tony learned making The Furies. Furthermore, on the topic of decision making, there's a real condition called decision fatigue whereby your brain becomes incapable of making decisions after it’s reached a decision threshold. According to neuroscience, making decisions is the most cognitively taxing function your brain can perform. The more decisions you make throughout the course of the day, the less effective you will be at making decisions later on. So be conscious of your decision budget and save that brainpower for the hard things that come up while shooting instead of the small details. This all comes down to prep, so make sure you’re over-prepared every day. Listen to my conversations with Joe Dante and Roger Corman for more about the importance of preparation.
- 90% of the film is casting. Tony spent a lot of time, effort, and energy on casting The Furies because he know that in order for his horror film to work, the acting had to be excellent. Of course, horror has a schlocky side with very cheesy acting and has a reputation amongst outsiders for not requiring good acting - but this isn’t true; you need great actors, or else your movie will fall flat - nobody will care about your character and it will not be scary. Fear is an extremely complex emotion to display on camera, and in a horror movie, it’s one of the most important emotions for your actors to get right. So double down your focus on casting. Also, spend time talking to and getting to know your actors before you cast them because you will ultimately be in very high-pressure scenarios with them and will need to know that you’ll get along and that they’re reliable. Eli Roth will often speak to other directors who have worked with the actors he’s considering casting to find out about their conduct on set, which is an extremely simple but important thing to do. Eli Roth also mentioned that in terms of having a harmonious set, it’s best to cast actors who are either brand new to acting or notably famous, as those who are in-between being a newcomer and famous "will fuck your movie up." This is a lesson that Umberto Lenzi told Eli personally. So consider all of this when casting.
- Mistakes are good. Ok, going to start this one off with a semi spoiler alert: there’s an extremely brutal scene in The Furies where a woman’s entire face gets cut off with an axe - it’s filmed in broad daylight, and it’s so frighteningly real that it shocks even a weathered horror fan like myself. It even won FANGORIA’s best kill award last year. This award-winning shot was done entirely practically, and Tony mentioned that the prosthetic even malfunctioned and split in the wrong direction in the middle of the take. But somehow, it looked better that way. When you watch this scene, it looks perfect, which clearly illustrates that when it comes to practical effects Imperfection is way more realistic and therefore mistakes can be a good thing. Nothing in nature is ever perfect or symmetrical, so if your effects don’t look perfect, it adds to both the charm and the realism. This goes for multiple art forms, by the way. So embrace mistakes and be receptive to these happy accidents as they can make your movies even better.
- Stop stressing. Tony made a very interesting point about how if he could have done the whole movie over again, he would have enjoyed it more and worried less. Of course, when making a movie, you have to think through every possible thing that can go wrong - see point number one. And it goes without saying that you have to deal with a lot of stressful situations on set. But as Tony says, you can waste so much energy worrying, where instead try to focus that energy on solving problems ahead of time or focus that energy on being grateful for the opportunity you have right in front of you. Not to get too metaphysical, but, gratitude is the one emotion that makes you incapable of feeling fear or anger, which are the most destructive things a director can feel on set. So do what you can to transcend your natural proclivity to worry, but furthermore enjoy the process. You’re making a movie, you neurotic fuck! You should be overjoyed! Allow yourself to feel that joy and feel that pride, but don't get cocky or sloppy.
Thank you as always for listening!
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