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Billy Ray Brewton Talks w/411 About His New Horror Movie Show Yourself

August 15, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Show Yourself

The 411 Interview: Bill Ray Brewton

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Billy Ray Brewton is a writer and director who has been making movies since at least 2005. Brewton is also an accomplished theater producer, founding Theatre Downtown in Birmingham, Alabama. Brewton’s latest cinematic effort is the slow burn horror thriller Show Yourself, which you can see here. In this interview, Brewton talks with this writer about making Show Yourself, his moviemaking influences, and more.

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Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you decide that Show Yourself would be your second feature film as a director?

Billy Ray Brewton: Actually, Show Yourself was my directorial debut. I wrote and directed a 40+ minute short film called Dead Ahead several years prior, but it was very low budget and very much my learning how to work as a filmmaker – there were no aspirations for it. Then, I was the subject of a documentary called Skanks, which premiered at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival, which dealt with an original musical I wrote called “Skanks in a One Horse Town”. But, Show Yourself was my first narrative feature as a writer and director, and it came about for three reasons: (1) I have always been and continue to be fascinated by grief and grieving and wanted to explore its effects in a modern society; (2) I had just watched The Big Chill and thought – “How could I turn this into a horror film?”; and (3) I really wanted to put my buddy, Ben Hethcoat, in a leading role in a film. So, writing Show Yourself was my way of accomplishing all three of those items in the most budget-friendly way possible.

BK: Where was Show Yourself filmed? Were the woods actually next to the house that you used as the main set, or was that a totally separate location?

BRB: Show Yourself was primarily filmed in Pine Mountain Club, California – a small resort town tucked away in the mountains about 90 minutes outside Los Angeles. It feels like another world there, and can either be raging with wildfires or covered with snow at any given time. We rented a cabin there and the whole cast and crew stayed there for the entirety of the shoot, and then we’d just venture out to various locations in and around the city. I like the sense of community of a group of people just staying together and creating something.

BK: How long did it take to make Show Yourself, from completing the script to finishing post-production?

BRB: All told, it was a year-and-a-half process from the moment I finished the script until we premiered at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival. And, while that might not seem like a grand amount of time, it certainly felt like it took forever. The film went through many incarnations over that period of time, thanks to my insanely talented editor, Eric Ekman. He really played the crucial role of helping shape the film into what it ultimately became.

BK: How did you pick your cast, especially star Ben Hethcoat?

BRB: Well, Ben is my best friend, so that was probably the easiest casting. I just wanted to work with him on a feature and wrote this role for him. He’s someone who acts, but doesn’t necessarily consider himself an actor, so I always like finding ways to remind him of how good I think he is. The rest of the cast was sort of sculpted around him – they were (for the most part) his close friends or people he had worked with before. For me, the relationships didn’t work unless they felt lived in and authentic. The only exception is Stephen Cone, who played his director. I had known Stephen for a few years from the festival circuit and brought him on board because that was a role that needed less of a relationship with Ben’s character. And then, of course, Robert Longstreet, i.e. the hardest working man in the movies.

BK: How was making Show Yourself different from your last full length feature film, Dead Ahead, which came out in 2008?

BRB: Dead Ahead was me and my best friend at the time, Drew Brown, sort of figuring the whole filmmaking thing out. I was living in Birmingham, Alabama back then and we were making short films pretty much every free weekend we had. It started out as a much shorter short film but we kept adding onto it. We toyed with the idea of making it a feature, but never actually followed through with that. So it ended up living in this weird ‘in between’ space where it was too long for a short and too short for a feature. We played a couple film festivals with it but that’s really all that became of it. It was very DIY and low-budget, but it definitely helped teach me how to deal with a narrative on a slightly larger scale.

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BK: What was the hardest part of making Show Yourself? The easiest?

BRB: The most difficult aspect was post-production, only because it took a while for everyone to come together in my head. Again, that credit goes to Eric Ekman, my editor. The old home video footage was never in the original script, and that was a sort of last minute edition to the narrative, and it ended up transforming the film into something better and, honestly, something more closely resembling what was in my head.
The easiest part of making the film was probably writing it, actually. At that point, I knew what story I wanted to tell, and I knew who I was writing it for, so everything just sort of flowed out. And that carried over through the next couple of drafts.

BK: How difficult was it to come up with the pacing of Show Yourself? Did you know ahead of time that you were making an 80 minute movie or did you have to sort of massage your footage into that running time?

BRB: We had zero idea how long the film was going to be, at first. I knew I didn’t want a film that was over 90-minutes. And, we could have had a 90-minute film. We had an entire scene between the lead character and his mother that didn’t make the final cut, which was a shame because his mother was played by Deborah Theaker, an amazing actress known for the Christopher Guest mockumentaries. It just ended up not working in what we ended up constructing, so we cut it. The film just works at 79-minutes. Some films do, some films don’t, but Show Yourself is lean and (I feel) makes use of that time wisely.

BK: Is Show Yourself a horror movie or is it more apt to call it a thriller? I think you could make a case that it’s both. And is the horror genre something that you want to keep making movies in or are there other genres you’d like to take a crack at?

BRB: I have always referred to it as a ‘dramatic horror film’. For me, it’s definitely more about the character and what he’s experiencing, but it’s hard to argue it’s a horror film when the last 15-minutes are so definitively inside that genre. It’s modeled somewhat on The Descent which is – for the first ⅔ of the film – a straight up action/adventure film about cave diving. Then it becomes something entirely different, but that horror still feeds into the relationships and the themes of what was happening when it wasn’t horror.

As a consumer, horror is my favorite genre. As a creator, I primarily write dramas and outrageous comedies. But I don’t like to box myself in at all. As an LGBTQ filmmaker, I feel like there are these expectations to want to tell LGBTQ stories, and that’s just not something I’m interested in doing either. I like going outside of my comfort zone and telling stories that are personal, but far enough removed that I feel like I’m on an adventure.

BK: You’ve made a number of short films in your moviemaking career. How is making a short film different than a feature film? How is it the same?

BRB: Scale is the biggest difference. On a short film, it can be very loose and improvisational, at times, and you can have less of a plan in place. With a feature, you need to have your shit together – period. As the director, you really have to have an answer for every question thrown your way and I’ve always approached it that way. Have an answer. And, if you don’t, have the right people surrounding you who can supplement your ignorance.

BK: Who are your movie making heroes?

BRB: There are so many. As a writer? John Hughes. He was able to tap into the zeitgeist the way no other filmmaker has since, in my opinion. He knew how to write younger characters in a way that felt both cinematic and truthful. As a director? Steven Spielberg, John Cassavetes, 80’s and early-90’s era Rob Reiner, John Carpenter. I am an inherently nostalgic person, so films and filmmakers of the 1980’s play an important role in everything I create. Films? Ordinary People, The Right Stuff, American Graffiti, Cool Hand Luke.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

BRB: Currently, I run a monthly script reading series in Los Angeles called Scripts Gone Wild, where we take celebrities, put a movie script and booze in their hands, and turn it into a drinking game where they are penalized for missed cues, flubbed lines, etc. – and all the money goes to charity. This month, we’re reading Road House with Joel McHale stepping into the role made famous by Patrick Swayze. So that keeps me fairly busy.

I also produced a theatrical piece for the Hollywood Fringe Festival called A Beast/A Burden, about performance artist Chris Burden (played by Ben, from Show Yourself), and it did quite well, winning some awards and such.

Still seeking financial for my follow-up feature, a family drama called MIDNIGHTS AT THE SAD CAPTAIN Midnights at the Sad Captain which I hope to film next year.

BK: Have you ever seen an urn with a nametag on it in real life?

BRB: Alas, I have not. But that was one of the first images that popped in my head when I started writing the script. I’ve always loved those “HELLO MY NAME IS” nametags and thought it might be a fun way to turn an inanimate urn into an actual character.

BK:Show Yourself premiered at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival. Did you get to meet Bruce Campbell?

BRB: Briefly. He was all over the place and being his usual fabulous self, but I only had about a minute to actually chat with him. But that festival was a blast. We were literally putting the finishing touches on the film and exporting it 10-minutes before the movie was scheduled to start. We ran it right down to the wire. That festival is known as Cinepocalypse now and it’s still just as awesome,

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A very special thanks to Billy Ray Brewton for agreeing to participate in this interview and to Justin Cook for setting it up.

Check out my review of Show Yourself here.

Check out the Show Yourself Facebook page here.

Check out Billy Ray Brewton’s Twitter page here.

Check out the Scripts Gone Wild website here

All images courtesy of Billy Ray Brewton.

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