Finding Emotional Relevance: A Few Minutes with Director Brandon Christensen Talking About ‘Z’

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Interviews, Movies by - September 10, 2020
Finding Emotional Relevance: A Few Minutes with Director Brandon Christensen Talking About ‘Z’

Imagine if your child came home with an idea that was just a ‘little’ off…

In Z we meet a young family that looks innocent enough, with their young son and his imaginary friend ‘Z’.  Little did they know that there’s more to this story than expected as horrible accidents start to plague and terrorize the fabric of this family.  Is the idea of ‘Z’ just imaginary?  Or has something sinister come to wreak havoc on this young family?

Now on DVD & Blu-Ray from all major retailers; Z is quite a bit of fun and we got the chance to sit with co-writer/director Brandon Christensen about the inspiration for the film, the need to be emotionally relevant in storytelling, the challenges around indie filmmaking and what that one dream project would be if the genie in the bottle showed up on his front door step.

 

Dave Voigt: As a fan, I’ve always loved horror movies that make an effort to get a little more psychological with it all rather than relying on some big creature reveal.  Can you walk me through your initial inspiration for Z?

Brandon Christensen: Yeah, after my previous film Still/Born I was trying to think of what to do next and I have kids of my own and it’s what I see day to day.  My oldest son had just started kindergarten and for the first time we were kind of letting him out into the world to explore on his own and he was returning with these new ideas and thoughts that he would tell us and we were experiencing this weird disconnect from our very own parenting just wonder; “Oh wow, where did he hear THAT?”.

So my wife and I just started to talk and we wondered what if he actually brought home something demonic one day?  That was the birth of the idea of Z; thinking about our son bringing home an imaginary friend and it just all went horribly wrong and it all spun out of that.

Plus playing it as more of a psychological horror certainly helps when you are in the midst of low budget filmmaking where we just don’t have the money to go “creature feature” with it where we are constantly showcasing this thing.  It ends up being more interesting over all when you get to play with the idea of if all this is actually happening or it’s just in her head.  We get to see those “why’s” play out and the domino effect it all has on this family.

It really stood out for me, because in the first half of this film…it’s ALMOST ‘”family-friendly” until it’s very much NOT, how do you go about refining your voice to make sure the tone is pitch perfect when you need it to be?

(Laughs) Yeah, we really considered it very much a ‘mash-up’ type of film.  The first half of the film allowed us to hit all the beats you’d expect in a creepy kid film and the pacing was very fast because we were trying to get a lot of material in.  Then when it spins off it manages to slow down and explore this story that is really much more unique.  The big challenge in this film was making sure to ‘ground’ the idea of an imaginary friend.  I mean its imagination you can make it anything you want but you have to make sure that you find what is actually grounding it to the character so that you can treat this unseen imaginary character with the same rules that you would with anyone else in your story.

That was for sure the hardest part and my co-writer Colin Minihan was a big help in making sure we got it right.

There’s such competition for eyes on product these days, how do you as a storyteller find the balance to make something that is creatively satisfying, but also something that you can realistically raise money for and sell one day?

With horror films especially you are always kind of dealing with determining the story that is being wrapped around the metaphor.  What is a metaphor that a large audience of people will find relatable?  Trauma and the mother & child relationship are easily accessible things to a wide audience and you can multiple elements from a lot of that, then put some polish on it and it helps quite a bit to make something that you can work with.

Obviously we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything like that but we want to tell stories that will affect people and where they can come away with something beyond the scary moments in the film and be able to appreciate some of the emotional truths of these characters as well.

Everybody in real life is going to experience tragedy in some sense and find it in themselves to pull up their bootstraps and keep going and find pride in that strength that they may not have even realized that they had.

For me that’s a big theme of the film and something I hope people can take away from it.  How you deal with adversity in life and in your family is something that is very easy to understand, which helps audiences to really make a connection with the characters.

I think that’s what makes it so unique and something we don’t necessarily see every day.  It’s not a film about “Slaying The Beast” it’s about learning to move past the traumas in our lives.  For you as a filmmaker with money being no object…what the “dream” project for you?

My brother actually wrote a couple of novels which are ultimately very personal to us as it builds on our very own childhood’s with a horror twist to it all.  It’s a really fun read and for fun we actually adapted it into a 9 episode mini-series.  Because it would be a period piece set in the 80’s with some major scope to it, it would require some serious money to make happen, but if the genie in the bottle showed up on my door step, that’s the first thing I’d ask for.

Z is available on DVD & Blu-Ray now.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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