Award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter David Spaltro, whose credits include The Cat’s Cradle (2014), Things I Don’t Understand (2012) and …Around (2008), will present an advance screening of his new horror movie, In the Dark (2015), at Central Library on Wednesday, September 9.
David’s first feature film, ...Around, is a love-letter to New York City and a partial autobiography of his time at film school, and was a critical and festival success. Things I Don't Understand, which he wrote, directed, produced and edited, also went on to critical acclaim—it was included in over 45 film festivals and won 18 Best Feature awards, as well as a host of acting, writing and directing honors.
David is currently involved in an adaptation of Gothic horror novelist Steven Peck's A Short Stay in Hell, as well as writing, directing and producing Wake Up in New York, the final chapter of his NYC Valentine Trilogy. He's also developing a TV miniseries, Welcome to Hockey Town; a dark comedy set in the CIA world called Spooks; and the supernatural thriller Relics.
We’re happy that David took a few moments from his busy schedule to answer some questions for us about his films and his career.
You grew up in Jersey City, so you may not have visited Queens Library all that much—but what role have libraries played in your life?
Libraries have had a huge influence. I always loved reading, so the idea that there was a place, long before the Internet or technology, that provided you with access to all kinds of books and knowledge was great. As a storyteller, discovering so many different voices and experiences through countless hours spent reading has made all the difference in the way I tell my own stories, but also in how I see the world. I remember many a time during my college days, when I was between places to live, basically killing as much time as possible reading and re-reading all that the School of Visual Arts Library had to offer. It's made me a better, well-rounded person.
You funded your first feature film using 40 credit cards! That shows some ingenuity, but it must have been frightening, too. What did you learn from that experience?
Firstly, never do that again. Ever. In all seriousness, the one thing it taught me was that sometimes, especially when you're young, you have to take a risk—hopefully a calculated one, but fortune mostly favors the bold, and you really just have to go out there and try. You accept the consequences, and try to come from the purest place imaginable, so that no matter what level of outcome you can at least be at peace and happy that you did SOMETHING.
In the Dark is your first stab at horror. What made you decide to try tackling that genre?
It was just fortuitous timing, really. I had been in development on a third feature film, and slated to go into production, but we hit a financing snag that put the brakes on it. I was a little burned out after all that work, and not sure if I should take a break, try to get that film up and running again, or look at a different project, when I was contacted by an investor who wanted to make their own feature, a horror film, and needed a script.
I took the meeting, thinking it was just to write a film, and ended up being offered the reigns to direct it as well. It was a mad dash to complete the script, but literally 14 months after that meeting I was able to hand the investor a completed film. I had no real intentions of delving into the genre, at least at that point, but I was starving creatively, and saw it as a good chance to grow and learn as a storyteller. It was a unique, very rare instance, where someone offers a writer-director the freedom to play with that canvas, as long as it’s clearly a horror film and something they can use commercially.
Your next five projects certainly sound interesting, and not that related to each other. Do you enjoy the challenge of switching from movies to TV, and telling so many different types of stories?
I think we live in a great age where there is no “best” medium to tell a story; it's really just finding what the story is, and letting that guide you into telling it completely. For me, as an artist, I always look to grow and step outside my comfort zone, so I think playing with the different ways you can create and tell a narrative, the different freedoms and restrictions in those structures, is a good way to grow and also shape your voice.
Without giving too much away, what can we expect from In the Dark? What are your hopes for its release?
In the Dark is an attempted shot of energy and breath of fresh air into a popular, but overcrowded, genre marketplace. It combines the thrills and chills that are a staple of horror with a strong, original story, headed by a cast of some of NYC’s most talented actresses. It's a lovingly bloody valentine to the inspirational works of Stephen King and John Carpenter, to 1973’s The Exorcist and The X-Files. My hope is that audiences can be entertained, clearly scared, but also enjoy a solid story with some real, organic characters and the strong female roles that are all too rare nowadays.
What’s your dream project, the movie or TV show you would make if money were no object?
I was working on an adaptation of the life of Jack Parsons, a scientist for NASA who helped us get to the moon and created the modern basis for rocket fuel, but who was also a practicing sex magician/occultist, got involved with L. Ron Hubbard and Aleister Crowley , and ended up losing all his money and blowing himself up. His dual life is fascinating, how both sides conflicted and complemented each other and how little known his story is because of how scandalous it was—he's pretty much been written out of the history books. The book we were trying to option was eventually picked up by Ridley Scott's company, who are now doing a miniseries for AMC.
Outside of that, writing and directing a Batman movie. Hopefully, Warner Bros is listening....
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or someone trying to finance their first film?
Just go out and tell your story. We live in a great day and age where it has never been easier to make something of high quality and then send it out to find an audience. Finding that audience is the trickier part. I think, even if you just have a camera phone, just make your movie. Express yourself—just do it for that simple fact. From there, each time, push yourself creatively, raise your goals, and never stop working at your craft. Do it because you love it and because it's so, so, SO hard but incredibly rewarding in more ways than I can count. The people I’ve met and the opportunities I've had outweigh any hardship or difficulties by miles. Build a network of like-minded, talented people—a family—and tell your stories.