The highly anticipated short film debut by former Rue Morgue editor-in-chief Jovanka Vuckovic , The Captured Bird, now has a home for its premiere at the Worldwide Short Film Festival as well as a spot at Cannes Film Festival as part of the Short Film Corner.
Bolstering an incredible roster of genre talent, The Captured Bird is executive produced by monster aficionado Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), produced by Jason Lapeyre (I Declare War — winner at this year’s ActionFest for Best Screenplay and Best Picture), editor Douglas Buck (Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America) and cinematography by Karim Hussain (Hobo With A Shotgun).
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jovanka and Jason to discuss the origins of the film, its fantastic ensemble and what we can expect from them in the near future.
A self-described “˜dark fable’ or “˜dark fantasy’, The Captured Bird follows a young girl (Skyler Wexler) as she is ominously drawn to a decrepit mansion where she witnesses the birth of five horrifying apparitions who are threatening her own world. “It’s essentially a dialogue-free fable that I designed to play out like a moving poem,” says Jovanka. “I would call it more of a dark fantasy than a horror film,” Jason Lapeyre chimes in, “We’re trying to push ourselves away from the whole horror label, which I think people will lazily try to use because of Jovanka.” That’s a fair point to make, considering her roots in the horror industry and that fact that she also recently published the book Zombies: An Illustrated History of the Undead. It’s almost expected that she continue her blood-soaked reign in celluloid.
“It was my twin brother’s nightmare,” says Jovanka. “As odd as that sounds, he used to have these dreams, and sometimes I would have them too. It was like being trapped in someone else’s reality. It was very bizarre. But he would tell me of these creatures that would come in his room, these black figures, that would hold him down and paralyze him. As I got older I talked to more people about it and found that it’s actually a global phenomenon: the shadow people, these entities.”
She continues, “For some reason that image always stayed in my head of those creatures. It will be interesting to see what my twin brother thinks! He claims to have no memory of them. I have total recall for all our childhood memories, he doesn’t remember anything.” This bold undertaking on committing the “˜shadow figures’ to film was not something that could easily be conveyed so Jovanka and crew enlisted the help of animatronic special effect designer Paul Jones (The Thing, Silent Hill), six different visual effects companies including Spectral Motion (X-Men First Class, Attack the Block) and four to five puppeteers to operate the full-sized creature.
“We made use of practical creature effects. It’s quite ambitious and we’re really proud with how it all turned out,” says Jason. “When we did make a list of all the visual effects we needed, it was like, 70 shots. We sat down and were like ‘OK, we need to chop out every single unnecessary visual effect’. Having done that there were still over 40 visual effects shots in a 6 minute film.”
The enthusiasm was delightful as we “˜geeked’ out over practical effects aided by competent effects teams but as I soon found out, compromises were unfortunately necessary in making The Captured Bird. Instead of the original idea for five creatures, only one could be made. Jason reveals, “One of the ideas was ‘let’s make this an homage to the disappearing art form that is practical effects and monsters.’ ‘Guy in a rubber suit’ was a phrase we used a lot. Paul Jones’ track record of creating some of the coolest monsters. He was so enthusiastic, cut us an incredible deal.”
Jovanka quickly interjects, “Don’t let that spoil you into thinking this movie is District 9. It’s not. It’s not a smorgasbord of visual effects shots that will blow your head off. Some of them are invisible effects because the story is a slow paced, poetic piece. It’s not going to be like BLAM BLAM BLAM visual effects!!”
She goes on to note just how accurate the creature design was compared to what she envisioned in her head: “Almost exactly. Rob McCallum [storyboard artist for The Thing, Kick-Ass] saw my script and envisioned exactly what I was trying to describe.”
W.C. Fields famously said, “Never work with animals or children.” I asked Jovanka the challenges in working with children and how difficult the casting process was, as Skyler Wexler is the only actor in the film. “[Other] filmmakers warned me, just don’t do it! But Skyler really stepped up to the plate and she did a really great job. It just took a little extra hand-holding. Sometimes while directing adult actors you would never tell them exactly what to do, where you want them to stand, how you want their face to look, but with kids, that’s what you have to do.”
Looking for advice, Jovanka did what anyone would do in her position, ask for advice from someone who has done it successfully before. “I called up my friend who directed Monster Squad [Fred Dekker] and asked him “˜Do you have any tips?’ And he said “˜I would literally stand beside the camera making the face I wanted the little girl to make.’ So I took his advice into consideration and it worked!” Jason adds, “Skyler is pretty exceptional in the movie, she goes to emotional places that you normally couldn’t ask a six-year-old to go to.”
Having been mentioned in many Women in Horror Month editorials, I asked Jovanka if she’d encountered any roadblocks in the film industry because of her gender. “Not at all,” she says. “I surrounded myself with people who were so incredibly supportive that [it] was never an issue. Everybody around me all did their jobs and did it exceptionally well.” She laughs, ”I was never aware of my genitals while shooting.”
She continues, ”I’ve been dealing with that for years, as a magazine editor, but generally if you know your stuff, you’re embraced. I didn’t really notice, not this time. We’ll see what happens when I make a feature! The generosity and kindness of the crew and everybody involved in the movie was just overwhelming.”
After their partnership on The Captured Bird proved so successful, Jovanka and Jason have already begun the process to embark on a second collaboration. Deviating from outright horror, their next project is more of an examination of death and its poignant finality. Jovanka explains, “[It's a] documentary loosely about death and dying. It’s an artistic meditation on death. And once again, it’s not a horror film. Its more what drove me to be obsessed with horror films in the first place. It’s my fear of dying, something I’ve been obsessed with for my entire life. It’s [going to be] something really meaningful and exciting.”
The Captured Bird celebrates its world premiere the Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF) on Saturday, June 9, 2012.
Stay tuned for TFS’ featured topic this month. We’ll be exploring short films of all genres and time periods, celebrating the upcoming Worldwide Short Film Festival and introducing you to some of the people who make it their business to give short films their due accolades.
Latest posts by Nelson Cabral (see all)
- When nightmares become reality: talking The Captured Bird with Jovanka Vuckovic and Jason Lapeyre – May 22, 2012
- At Home Film Festival: horrifying horror shorts – May 9, 2012
- Review: Servitude – March 30, 2012