Don’t Leave Home is the third film completed with dreameGGs financing and the second to play at a major film festival. Its premiere at South by Southwest earned good reviews from The Hollywood Reporter (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/dont-leave-home-review-sxsw-2018-1093168) and other critics. Michael Tully wrote and directed.
After a bad gallery showing, Melanie Thomas (Anna Margaret Hollyman) travels to Ireland to investigate an urban legend about a portrait that makes the subject vanish. While living at the estate of the portrait’s artist, she begins to experience strange occurrences. Tully spoke with dreameGGs while in Austin at South By Southwest about making Don’t Leave Home and his experiences financing with dreameGGs.
Karrie Cox, Michael Tully, Louis Black, Anna Margaret Hollyman at SXSW event for Don’t Leave Home
Q: What feedback have you heard from people who saw the film?
MT: So far it’s been good. Someone you’ve never met before says some stuff to you and they understand, they say, “Oh, this was more of a dreamy, restrained but mature, but in a good way, spin on the horror film.” I’ve had enough of those already in a couple days to feel very, very confident. Knowing that no movie is going to connect with everyone, but at this point we’ve had some very good reviews. They definitely explained a lot of the plot. I was very surprised. I was like, “Don’t give it all away” but you can’t complain because it was favorable. Hearing one person I know, one person I don’t know and reading a review of someone who’s thoughtful and seems to connect, then let it be what it is beyond that.
DreameGGs producer attending Don’t Leave Home screening at SXSW
Q: What are they responding to about Don’t Leave Home?
MT: It seems like, my risk was there’s this other movie out that’s here at the festival called Hereditary, an A24 film. My composer sent me the link because our movie is dioramas and it’s in the horror vein. This trailer and the movie is apparently a sh*t your pants scary horror movie, and ours doesn’t do that very consciously. So my fear is that people are going to think, “Oh, this doesn’t go there” in that way of ratcheting it up to gore levels and making it crazy. That was a conscious choice not to do that, to go in another direction, to go like Tarkovsky vs. Wes Craven at the end of the film. I think what people are responding to are that, that are understanding we made that choice to make it more of a vintage psycho-thriller vs. a horror film. That is something that’s really refreshing.
Set photo of Don’t Leave Home
Q: Had you always wanted to make a horror film?
MT: Yeah. I love movies. I watched I think 300 movies last year so I’m a cinephile. I love all kinds of movies. For me, a hero of mine is Robert Altman, especially his gap in the ‘70s where, from M.A.S.H. to A Wedding where he made all kinds, every genre. For him it was like, “Let’s take on this genre that I haven’t done before.” That’s what I want to do as a filmmaker. I love all kinds of movies, but the art horror, that’s what I would call it, elevated horror. The funny thing is with Ping Pong Summer, I was like, “I’m done with the ‘80s comedy. Never need to do that again.” With the art horror, my composer and I are like, “I don’t know if we’re finished with this genre yet.” What I’d love to do is either get an adaptation of a great old novel or an original script that I just think is really exciting, that I don’t have to worry my brain about writing the idea from scratch. Just really embracing the filmmaking component.
Q: Ping Pong Summer was very specific to the city of Ocean City, MD. Was the location of the Irish house similarly vital to the story of Don’t Leave Home?
MT: Yeah. I had a location in mind and I thought we don’t make the movie if we don’t have this location. Then it turned out we didn’t have enough money to shoot on location, to pay per diem and keep putting the crew up. So we had to scramble and it was either like we’re going to make this movie someway, somehow. Now when you watch the finished film, most people, eight out of 10 would say, “Why would you even think of making this movie if you don’t have that location?” It was a case where the movie gods were smiling upon us because we didn’t have that location. When I flew over to Ireland, the location we thought we had fell through. That’s really scary. You have cast you believe in but this movie is set at this mansion, this grounds and if you didn’t have that, it’s like there’s no point making the movie. Then the movie gods smiled upon us. When you see the finished film, whatever you think of it, I think most people would agree we found a pretty great location.
Exterior of location Killadoon, Celbridge
Q: Did you have to retool the script when the location changed?
MT: A little bit. One thing we did when we found this location was walking around with the cinematographer Wyatt Garfield and production designer Bart Mangrum, you see things and you’re like, “We can’t shoot a movie here and not have that location, that component of it.” So that was a case where there was some retooling based on there’s an upstairs hallway and a downstairs hallway that look similar but different. When you incorporate that into the nightmare, there were things like that. I just think as a filmmaker, especially on a low budget, if you’re not embracing what the world’s given you… There were no major changes I’d say. It was just all about saying this location has these specific magical components to it. We have to utilize them.
Interior of location Killadoon, Celbridge
Q: Like the window?
MT: The window, perfect example. That window and that little curling hallway, I guess it was in the script. In my head in the script they were in the backyard. He looks and Shelly is just standing in the window. Then you see the window that’s in the film. As we were shooting, initially I’d envisioned the backyard but when you have that in the front yard, you’re in the driveway. At that point you’re like, “Thank you, world.” I wouldn’t have in my head said it has to be this circular window that’s really cool with the brick. It would be great to be a genius that way but also then you don’t have the money. So it doesn’t matter if you have the best idea ever for a really cool window. That was a perfect example of just saying as soon as we got there, “This window is going to be in this movie.”
Q: Did the historic house create any challenges for filming?
MT: No. Miraculously not. Apparently one of the rooms, there’s a ghost in the house but he didn’t rear his head. In that regard, we didn’t have the challenges. The family who lives there doesn’t live in the main house. They live off it in a wing but there’s electricity. There are a lot of things. The owner gave us the room that became Melanie’s bedroom. He let us built that from scratch and said, “You can do whatever you want to walls. It’s fine.” Some of the rooms he said you can’t touch. Obviously with the sitting room and dining room, why would you touch anything in there? And then having a homeowner who supported the project and took ownership on it himself. He was there building the rain pipes that we needed to have a rain scene. I want to say there were challenges but once we got there and got moving, it was kind of smooth sailing in that regard. It had to have been, because we’re shooting over 200 scenes in 20 days and had 10 hour days in Ireland. It was more of a fast sailing the whole way to the finish line.
Interior photo of location Killadoon, Celbridge
Q: What inspired the idea of the painting that makes the subject disappear?
MT: I had heard, it’s a mix of things, all this stuff. Initially I thought because we’re in a world that there’s just so much content being thrown at us and our attention spans are getting shorter, I thought it would be really great to drop an urban legend into the world that four years from now, someone would say, “What are your favorite Irish urban legends?” And you’d say oh, the haunted painting and the priest. Maybe it was actually this movie that created that. It’s a lot to ask for but I had heard of a few things In the Bay Area there’s a haunted eBay painting. I can’t remember the title now but there’s this supposedly haunted eBay painting. And then I connected that with an urban legend. A story I’d heard, my father’s from Ireland and he’s one of 13 so I have a lot of cousins when I go over there. I had heard this story vaguely but there’s not much writing about it on the internet, something about a priest who painted a little girl. I used that to just spark the idea at that point. Then when you’re dealing with Ireland, you’re dealing with so many real world, heavy, painful memories with disappearances of the Magdalene Laundries with so many babies missing and the IRA conflict with the vanishing. Then there was another one in the ‘90s, the Vanishing Triangle they called it. Only women went disappearing. That still has not been solved. It’s the case of I didn’t want to make a movie that was a fictional idea that was belittling of these real world [cases] but I wanted to maybe allow viewers to connect to that pain and have some sense of connection to the real world.
Lalor Roddy in Don’t Leave Home
Q: Who created the art, the paintings in the film?
MT: The paintings were Rory Bresnihan who’s an Irish painter/filmmaker, multi-talented guy that our Irish producer suggested and introduced us to. And then Maeve Clancy is an Irish sculpture artist in Ireland as well. And I think that was George, our producer, had found her online. She did some music videos for Lisa Hannigan, a successful Irish artist. We just reached out to her and she was really gracious. The other crazy thing is our art director in the American portion of the show. We shot two days, Lisa Laratta who’s a very good friend. She does set decoration for theater here in Austin. She makes kind of tiny furniture dioramas for her plays. She makes miniature sets. So in the American portion of the film, we just have a few shots of Melanie in her studio. That was a case where it was like we didn’t make those for the film. Our production designer Bart was just like, “This is really convenient. The location where we’re shooting is supposed to be an artist’s studio who makes tiny furniture.” Lisa was just like, “Oh yeah, look in the closet.” It was full of incredible art. That’s a case where we got really lucky with the American portion. The main bulk of the original art was created. Another woman did the Virgin Mary sculpture and what they call the Sheela na gig, the weird strange figure that when Melanie gets to the house. That’s an old Irish traditional figure.
Q: Like a ghost or spirit?
MT: They show up on churches. It’s weird, they’re up on churches. If you go around Ireland you’ll see it. I think there are a few different ideas of what that means. Some could say it’s fertility. Some could say it’s actually warding off evil. It looks pretty evil in its own right so the idea of is this a good or a bad thing? That’s also what I wanted the movie to play with. All these stories, Ultimately, I wanted a movie to make it about maybe not a bad guy, but a sad guy. I was like can you still have the sense of horror and gravity without making it just like everybody turns really terrible. Everyone thinks what they’re doing means well and then maybe later he realizes what he’s doing has not been heavenly, it’s been the opposite.
Q: As an independent filmmaker, how did the process of working with dreameGGs compare to your previous films?
MT: It was great. I’ve been really lucky. It’s been a struggle to make these movies, but I just got to a point where I had one bumpy, rocky experience and I said at one point to George, our main producer, “From investor to actor, top down, everyone is equally important.” I guess without the supporters, the producers and the investors, the movies wouldn’t happen. I’d rather not make another movie ever than work with poisonous [people]. Every person on this team, I heard our editor say it to another supporter of the film the other day, everybody on this project was perfect for this project. I 100% think it could work for another project. Working with dreameGGs was just a sense of connection. There was a support for the project at a time when you’re up in the air, like is this any good? I think it could be something. Never did I get a sense that there was doubt. There was just a full support and a trust. That is something, whether you’re talking about a $5 movie or a $50 million movie, I just think life is too short to be working with people who are negative energy. That alone, again, in that regard working with you guys was no negative, not a drop of negative energy.
Director Michael Tully greeting DreameGGs Investors on set
DreameGGs Investors meeting Lalor Roddy on set
Q: After watching the film I was happy we were part of it. What would you like to do next?
MT: I would really be happy if there was a sense of someone saw what we did with the vintage euro-horror and said, “We have a project that’s in that vein.” There is a for hire project that I’m working on that’s in the politically charged comedy. Not a romantic comedy but just a rapid-fire comedy. That’s something where I probably wouldn’t have an original idea or write that script for that movie. I ran into Barry Jenkins the other day who won the Oscar for Moonlight and I hadn’t seen him since he won. He was just like, “Are you trying to do bigger stuff or television?” I’m like, “As long as the idea, I’m open to anything.”