The World IS Out to Get Me: 3 Questions for Film Maker Bryan Hiltner

In getting some background information about the genre of film Bryan Hiltner works in I had a good laugh when he defined it as “creepy.” I was thinking about his work in the vein of horror and psychological thriller but creepy feels right. It’s a unique category all his own. I’m encouraging anyone who reads this to be at the Whitsell auditorium, Wednesday, October 11 at 7 pm for the film showcase entitled, “Just Because You’re Paranoid Don’t Mean They’re Not After You, short films by Bryan Hiltner . An evening of Bryan’s work will offer a better sense of this creepy film genre. It’s being served up as part of the Northwest Film Center’s Northwest Tracking series featuring local film makers. You might consider this a trigger warning, but Bryan is more about creating subtle malaise than dealing with gun play, except obviously Spunk of the Reaper. If his movies leave a film goer with an unsettling feeling it seems like a welcomed response. It’s more than most films offer these days.

Bryan Hiltner: Making things happen.

Portland Orbit: The first question is: I was really curious about how you came up with the title for the program screening and this is kind of a two parter, and then how it feels to be screening at the Whitsell Auditorium?

BH: Well the first part is I’ve helped out Vu Pham with a few of his movies and he screened at the Whitsell earlier and when I went to his screening his shorts all have—they’re very cohesive, the themes kind of blend together and they are all one thing or about one thing so when I was approached to see if I wanted to do the screening I said yes and he asked me for a title, Ben Popp at Northwest Film Center, asked me for a title for the program and I had no idea because I feel like my shorts are really different. The only thing I guess they all have in common is that they all come from my brain so I was trying to figure out what was common in all these shorts and I don’t know if it’s paranoia or not, but there’s some darkness, there’s a lot of existential musing and I think a lot of times with my shorts I try to think about, even the silly ones, I try to think about things like life and death and all that sort of thing. But that line came to me because it’s from a Kurt Cobain song that I always liked and I always liked that line in it even though I know it’s from something else but it was a Kurt Cobain lyric that came to me. I thought about it and most of my characters are in some kind of Twilight Zone world where they don’t know what’s going on, they don’t trust anyone and a lot of times they don’t trust anyone for good reason and so that’s kind of, I think, what that title Just Because You’re Paranoid, Don’t Mean They’re Not After You, that’s kind of what it’s talking about. You’re paranoid for a reason. The world is out to get you and I don’t necessarily believe the world’s out to get me but it’s out to get my characters for sure.

On the set of Elena Vance. Giving these hats to other people.

Portland Orbit: Right, okay so it doesn’t really reflect you?

BH: Not necessarily but you know we all have different sides and I’ve got my self-conscious side, I’ve got my really confident side but there’s that dark side where you kind of wonder if things are going to work out or whatever and I guess I heighten that in my horror films so I think most of what we’re screening is kind of straight up horror and that’s kind of the horror side of me, that’s what I’m afraid of, I think. The world’s out to get me. And then as for the second part, screening at the Whitsell, it’s like the biggest screening of my life which isn’t necessarily saying much but it’s just a great place to screen. It’s cool that a great theater in town approached me to screen stuff rather than me actually trying to seek out a way to show my stuff somewhere. When I went to Vu’s screening it was really exciting. It was really an artistic environment to show something so I’m excited to do the same and see what people think about all these movies together in one program.

Portland Orbit: Yeah, no, that’s why I asked because I do think it’s a really nice auditorium and I screened something and I remember going, “wow, it just looks so good.” That’s just part of it, you know it’s a really cool place to screen. One of the things I’ve been impressed upon, I kind of feel like you’re really fanatical about movies and so, I know that you even go to Movie Madness, the video store, but I’m wondering how all of the film viewing that you do, how does it finds it’s way into the movies you make, I mean is it more than inspiration, do you learn technical stuff that you can apply to movies and things that might come up in certain situations while you’re making your movies?

BH: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit of everything. You know there are certain obvious techniques that when you’re watching a movie a lot of times the directorial style is not something that pops out at you but there are other movies where you see, “oh they’re using two focal planes” and there’s like someone in focus in the background and foreground at the same time. “Oh, how’d they do that,” and I’ll figure that out. Just those sorts of things, camera moves. You have to figure out what you like stylistically. I watch a lot of art house stuff but I also watch a lot of lower “horror stuff” but I think what’s in common with all of it is that it’s really directed and it uses the camera to try and express something beyond just what’s on the written page to express what’s on the character’s mind. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Italian Giallo Films and those movies are so stylish and I think that’s inspiring me. I guess when I sit down and watch a movie I’m not necessarily picking it apart, more just like anybody else I’m sitting down and letting it kind of wash over me. But a lot of the things that stick with me I think are not conscious things, the things I like just kind of spoke into my brain. When I go to direct, usually there’s no specific moment where I say I’m going to ape this shot or I’m going do something like this director. Even though I’m watching Scorsese films something that I’ve been doing a lot, or at least my last couple of films is I’ll do these little moments in slow motion all the sudden just because I think finally Raging Bull is kind of seeping into my conscious. I love how he does that. He does it in seemingly inane moments that don’t really mean anything but it really gets you in a character’s head space when you see something slowed down that much. So those kinds of things, yeah, they kind of work their way in but when I’m directing I just see the way that looks right to me and then we do it.

You start with the vision.

Portland Orbit: Yeah, I wasn’t even applying you know like a straight like homage or theft or anything but even on a subconscious level and the fact that you’re all over the map on a lot of the stuff you have written about through Facebook you’re really exploring a pretty wide variety of films out there.

BH: Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, some of these movies, like one I watched recently Slumber Party Massacre sounds like the trashiest thing in the world and yet it’s fascinating. It’s written and directed by these two feminists who are working for Roger Corman and so it’s like this give and take with this producer who just wants sex and blood in his movies and then the women who are trying to make some sort of statement. Yeah, I love that stuff. I love interesting stuff going on behind the scenes of a script.

Portland Orbit: Yeah, it’s amazing. So I know it seems like that last couple of movies I hadn’t heard about that much, the shorts you’ve been working on but my questions is sort of more like, you know, how do you manage to get all of this stuff done to make these films that you’ve made over the last few years when you’re working, I know you’re about to become a father, even just trying to organize, I mean for me to imagine even organizing something that involves more than one person just seems like it takes a huge amount of effort so my main question is how do you get all this stuff done to be able to make these movies?

BH: You got to be able to rely on other people. One thing that’s different from maybe a few years ago when I was making Elena Vance, I started getting more and more people involved and I didn’t have to wear as many hats because that’s what’s really draining for you when you’re producer, writer, director, editor–all these things. Spunk of the Reaper, the one before the newest one, I kind of wore all those hats and it was exhausting but—yeah when I’m working 40 hours a week and focusing on impending parenthood and stuff like that you just have to have people step up. I think because I’ve been working on other people’s movies and stuff when we did Spunk of the Reaper all of the sudden all of these people were excited to donate their time and energy and everything and yes a lot of that work load got taken up by people that want to make a good movie. I don’t know what it is, I think it’s me working on other stuff and all of the sudden developing this group of collaborators that are willing to, I don’t know, do whatever it takes to make a movie and one thing that’s very important to my last few movies is (garbled cell phone reception) who did sound editing on Elena Vance. He’s kind of become one of my main collaborators and whenever I work with him he brings on so many people. He’s instrumental in surrounding me with all these people who pick up the work load. That’s really the answer I think a lot of people who understand the vision and are willing to help out and they take the work off my hands.

Portland Orbit: The audio guy that you mentioned, I think the phone was cutting out a little bit. What was the name?

BH: His name’s Evan Gandy, E-V-A-N, G-A-N-D-Y.

Portland Orbit: Okay.

BH: He did sound on Elena Vance but he was the director of photography on my last two, my most recent two.

Portland Orbit: Wow, okay, that’s amazing.


I go back with Bryan to the days when we used to screen projects at a monthly film screening event called Attack of the Flix. I always appreciated Bryan’s offer to let me shoot footage  on his Elena Vance set one night. Here’s a link to the resulting behind-the-scenes film:

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