Exclusive Interview with “The Nursery” Directors Christopher A. Micklos & Jay Sapiro

Christopher A. Micklos and Jay Sapiro, directors of the June horror release “The Nursery,” tell us how they hatched the spine-chilling throwback.

-PH: One can only assume that The Nursery might be based on something that you’ve seen in the newspaper or read on one of those spooky websites? Where did the idea originate?

-SAPIRO: There certainly are a lot of events and stories out there that would make for a good film, but we didn’t look online or in print to find our inspiration. Chris and I came up with the story along with our business partner and third filmmaker, Glenn Chung. Our goal was to come up with a fun, 1980-style horror movie. For my part, I would sit at my place and think about what we could produce on a micro-budget that would have the same impact as a feature length film with deeper pockets. I have large windows where I live, so I’d grab an erasable marker and just write idea after idea right on my windows. I’d then take those ideas to Glenn and Chris. We’d kick my concepts around along with all the ones that they brought to the table. In that crazy collaborative process, the idea for The Nursery was born.

-MICKLOS: The idea originated, really, as Jay alluded, through hours and hours of brainstorming and bad jokes and the recognition of which ideas were so bad we shouldn’t pursue them and which ideas merited some exploration. If you go through that process long enough and if you’re willing to put all the ideas on the table—even the ones that may not be fully formed but provide the spark that lights the fire of a better idea—then eventually you’ll get to the movie you want to make. That said, early in the process of developing The Nursery, I was still a relatively new father, spending a lot of time in our nursery at night, especially late at night to change diapers and feed our little girl overnight. Lots of times I’d be sitting there in the near darkness, with only some blue-ish light from this musical turtle nightlight dancing on the walls while I was rocking her back to sleep…and the whole thing is very serene and sweet, but there’s also something that makes it feel that it could quickly go creepy and sinister on you in a hurry! Plus, of course, a baby in its crib in a nursery is about the most vulnerable thing that you can possibly imagine…and the juxtaposition of that against something dangerous and corrupt and unnatural is amazingly ripe for horror. So, you kind of start with that…and then there’s this really amazing tradition of kids in horror movies and horror literature, and it becomes something very compelling to explore. I think about the little girl that Frankenstein’s monster drowns in the lake…or that little crying baby that Dracula feeds to his starving brides in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That one, especially, is such a powerful, horrible moment, because you have this completely helpless, completely vulnerable little innocent at the mercy of these dark, evil forces. Or, of course, there are stories that go the other way, where the kids are something to be feared, like Children of the Corn or The Omen or something more outrageous like It’s Alive!. But putting kids or babies into these stories, one way or another, really amps up the stakes and creates an entirely different dimension of tension and suspense, and that’s some of what we were trying to tap into with The Nursery. That little blue-light turtle, by the way, was key to the nursery scenes in The Nursery. We used it—my daughter’s actual toy—as a practical lighting source in the film, I think to great effect.

-PH: When did you get involved in this one? Was it something that you cooked up together, at the same time?

-SAPIRO: Glenn, Chris, and I own a media firm and have been business partners for more than two decades. Over the years, we talked quite a bit about creating a feature length film. We had a couple of starts on other movies, but nothing really materialized. At one point a couple of years ago, we simply agreed that it was time to make it happen. After that, things just clicked for us. That’s my long way of saying that we, indeed, cooked it up together and we were all involved from day one.

-MICKLOS: Yes, this was really the culmination of a lifelong ambition…a lifelong dream, actually. It was always just a matter of deciding to do it—for real—and then just doing it. I give Jay and Glenn a lot of credit, because they were the ones early on that really pushed us to stop talking about it and just do it. I was always the cynical one, convinced that we’d make a start or take a few steps forward but eventually get distracted by something else. But right from the start the two of them seemed absolutely convinced that this time we were going to do it. I don’t know where their certitude came from, but it definitely was key to getting through the early stages of the process. For me, it was like, yeah, it’s been fun coming up with the idea, but we’ll never push through the script. And then we had a script, and it was, yeah, we have a script, but we’ll never find a cast. And then we had a cast, and I started thinking, hmmmmm, maybe we’re actually going to do this thing! At least everyone else seems to think we will!

-PH: What films would you compare it to?

-SAPIRO: That’s a good question. I can tell you that we were motivated by classic horror films such as Halloween and throwbacks like House of the Devil. However, comparing it to a specific film is a little difficult. The Nursery is a horror/suspense/ghost story that’s pretty unique, in many ways. That’s, in part, due to a bit of an unexpected plot twist toward the end of the film. Those that have watched The Nursery have told us that we managed to surprise them, in a good way, with how the story unfolds.

-MICKLOS: As Jay mentioned earlier, we were really inspired by the movies that scared us when we were kids, especially those grittier, more stripped down horror films of the late 70’s and early ‘80’s. Some critics have drawn comparisons to the films of that era, especially in terms of atmosphere and look and overall tone of the film, and we’re pretty pleased with that, because that’s certainly what we were going for. At the same time people have rightly pointed out the influence of that outstanding crop of J-horror films from the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s, films like Ringu and Ju-On and Kairo and their American remakes. There’s certainly some of that in our demon and in the mythology surrounding her, as well. But there are bits and pieces of lots of films in The Nursery, including a nod to classic B-movies in our use of the clip of Bela Lugosi’s The Devil Bat, which isn’t a great film by any means but is certainly a guilty pleasure of mine. And when you’re making a micro-budget film, you’d better appreciate the B-movies!

-PH: Are you surprised that there haven’t been more films made about creepy nurseries?

-MICKLOS: Absolutely! In fact, when we were working on the script, which was initially untitled, we were coming up with all these cheesy, run-on titles like Midnight in the Nursery and The Evil Nursery of the Horrible Blah Blah Blah…and just a whole series of miserable options. And then one day, Glenn just threw out: “What about just The Nursery?” And we all looked at each other, and we were, like, yeah, duh, of course…but there’s no way there’s not already a hundred films named that! Because it’s so simple. So primal. So…right there. But we looked it up, and there was literally only one: this 2016 Chinese film that never released here in North America. So we jumped on it! But beyond the title, yeah, I’m a bit surprised there aren’t more creepy nursery movies out there, because of a lot of the reasons I outlined earlier. It seems so natural. But, in the end, I guess most good ideas feel that way after you have them!

-SAPIRO: I am, too. And if there are more like ours after the release of The Nursery on iTunes on June 5th, we expect royalties! Joking aside, there are a number of very good horror films that feature children or babies, but there aren’t any that weave a nursery into the plot quite the way that we do in our movie.

-PH: Which role in the film was the hardest to cast?

-SAPIRO: You would think that the lead role – Ranae, in our film – would have been the hardest to cast. However, when Maddi Conway auditioned for the part, we knew that we found the right person. To be honest, we had great luck when it came to casting. The talent in the film surpassed our expectations and brought the film to level you don’t typically see on a micro-budget horror film…or even a more expensive one, for that matter. If folks are interested in hearing about how we found our actors, and other aspects of the film, they are certainly welcome to listen to our podcast. It’s called “Indie Horror Rising: The Nursery” and it can be found on iTunes and Soundcloud.

-MICKLOS: One of the things we are most proud of with the film is the quality of the performances. We thing that our cast is just outstanding, from top to bottom, and that’s been the reaction so far from audiences and critics, alike. Jay mentioned our primary lead, Maddi Conway, who just owned the part the moment she auditioned for it. In fact, I, personally—and the other guys, too, I believe to some extent—had already identified another actress who we thought was going to be a natural fit for the part and who we were prepared to cast. But then Maddi came in and just blew us away with her audition, and we had to adjust our thinking. And Maddi recently won Best Actress at the Milwaukee Twisted Dreams Film Festival, so we were really proud of her and really pleased that she was recognized. By contrast, Claudio Paronne, Jr. was the very first person to audition for the role of Jeremy, and he nailed it so completely that there was never really a question—no matter how many Jeremy’s came in after him to audition—that he was going to get the role. He was definitely our guy, right from the get-go, after what he did in the audition. With Emmaline Friederichs and Carly Sauer, they both read for multiple roles, and with both of them, our attitude was basically, hey, we’re not sure right away where they fit, but we absolutely have to find a way to get them into the movie, because their talent is outstanding. The biggest challenge, I’d say, was not casting an individual role, but more making sure that we moved the chess pieces of the cast around in the right way to make sure that we had the right fit everywhere and that this group seemed like a natural group of friends. And everyone really, really has their moments to shine in the movie. I won’t go actor by actor, but there were moments in production where it was clear: whoa, this person just put their stamp on the film! And that was great to see. I’d also mention that Monica Bahr, who plays our villain, is an up-and-coming model and didn’t have a ton of acting experience, but she came in and did a great, great job with her audition…but our cast mix of the core “gang” just didn’t allow for her to get one of those roles. But we offered her this other role, and she jumped on it. And Monica is this beautiful young girl who can be extremely glamorous and does these really cool, sexy photo-shoots…and here she is enduring hours of makeup and rendering herself completely unrecognizable under layers of makeup and gruesome practical effects and so on. So I give her a ton of credit. And, of course, I’ll also mention Nadia Horner, who has a small and silent but pivotal role and really adds a ton to the film. And Marco Lama, who plays Ray. Ray is never physically in the same space as the rest of the characters—he’s off in Utah while the rest of them are in Wisconsin—so he’s always appearing on cell phone or video chat or something. So we shot all his scenes in one day, completely separate from the rest of the cast, with him basically just sitting at a desk with the camera planted directly in front of him. Very, very tough circumstances for an actor, but he nails it! So, yeah, that was more than you wanted, I’m sure, but I was—and all of us, really were—just thrilled with the quality and dedication of our cast.

-PH: Can we ask what’s next for you?

-MICKLOS: Well, in the real short-term we’re pretty focused on the June 5 North American release of The Nursery. That’s when the film will become available on iTunes, Amazon, Googleplay, Xbox, Dish, iNDEMAND, and a whole host of other outlets…thanks to the outstanding work of our distributor, Uncork’ed Entertainment. So that’s pretty exciting for us and something we’re spending a lot of time gearing up for! But through that process, we’re also starting the development phase of our next film, as well.

-SAPIRO: We had a feeling that we’d want to continue making feature length films, so the three of us started a new company called Three Tortured Minds. The Nursey is that entity’s first movie. All of our future film-related work will fly under that banner as well. As Chris said, we are working on our next film right now, and the concept, in my opinion, is a great one. If we can stay on schedule, we’ll start principal photography late summer/early fall this year.

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