Interview with Mike Woodward – Writer and Producer of Playing with the Devil
Mike Woodward – Writer and Producer
Nick Stentzel – Director of Playing with the Devil
Interview with Michael Woodward, writer and producer of Playing with the Devil, the award winning short horror film based on Japanese ritual Hitori Kakurenbo. Also, Michael worked for more than ten years in film production and festivals, including Sundance Film, AFI Film Festival, CineVegas Film Festival, Walt Disney Pictures, National Lampoon, Mark Burnett Productions, and Dick Clark Productions.
Where did your inspiration came from to make a short horror film on the ritual of Hitori Kakurenbo?
I’ve always been fascinated with scary games and even grew up on Oujia stories that my mother shared with us from what she experienced as a child. Hitori Kakurenbo came as surprise while reading about creepy games that children play. The rules and the atmosphere practically wrote the film by themselves. It was one of those Ah-Ha moments where everything just clicked.
Do you think there is truth to the ritual or do you think it’s complete bogus?
Let’s put it this way… I’ve lived in several haunted houses, I believe in ghosts and the team and I believed in this ritual so much that we did not complete one of the tasks, which was to cut your fingernails and place them in the doll. You be the judge!
Did something freaky happened on the film set while recording?
We filmed in the “Haunted House” district of Ogden, Utah in a beautiful Victorian Mansion. There were a few creepy things that happened, but the one that freaked us out the most occurred during our only exterior scene at the front door. Between takes, on a windless night and right before we were going to film the popular balloon scene, a red partially inflated balloon began to dance down the street at 2am. The balloon turned and began bouncing up the front sidewalk all the way up each step until it rested on the front porch. Very creepy, and this came at a time when we were wondering if that balloon scene was going to play on camera. From that moment we knew it would work.
Was it hard to film a horror movie with young actors such as Rachel Frain, Valerie Trevherz and Jessica Hadlock?
Our young cast was perfect! We put together this film in 2.5 weeks and saw about 13 girls for the roles. Once we saw Rachel, Valerie and Jessica we knew they fit the part. Again, just everything came together with this film. It was effortless.
We saw all the awards and official selections your film received and we are really impressed but is there one you are especially proud of and why?
Very pleased with how this little film turned out. Every film festival we were accepted to was a shock. I’d have to pick two moments that definitely stood out in a sea of amazing experiences. The first was our premiere at the Sun Valley Film Festival. Nothing beats the jitters and excitement of screening your film for the first time in front of hundreds of people. It was this moment that we realised we had something special in our hands. The second was winning the Best Horror Short at the Burbank International Film Festival. Being in the same room and standing on that stage in front of industry members is what it is all about. Luckily, the director (Nick Stentzel) and my parents were present.
To be able to write this movie, how much time did you put into research of the Japanese ritual Hitori Kakurenbo to make sure you would explain really well the concept in such a short time?
As discussed above, the research was quick. I saw the ritual, read a few experiences and wrote a film around it. The script was written within a few hours. Nick Stentzel, the film’s director was able to really help me fine tune elements to bring it down to 6 pages so we could film the short in the 2-days that were scheduled. He was also able to help me hone in using the rules of the ritual to the best of our ability. If you watch the film carefully, each character breaks a different rule leading to a chain reaction of events.
How long did it take to create Playing with the Devil, from the idea to the finish product?
The project took 3 weeks to prep and film. Another 2 months were spent on editing, sound mixing and music composing.
This is your first time as a writer, what were the biggest challenges that you were up against?
I’ve written things before, but never had them seen through production (aside from high school projects). Biggest challenge was getting the page length from 12 to 6. I wanted to keep all the rules in the script, but there was just no time so we had to juggle our “must have” moments. All-in-all, I believe the film turned out much better than it would have than its longer form.
Growing up, was horror movie the kind of film that you watched the most?
Absolutely! I remember being obsessed with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” I watched the VHS Tape so many times that it broke. My cousin, who was the same age as I was always so scared and would run into the kitchen and cover his ears. Was I scared? Sure. But I couldn’t get enough of that rush. “It” and other Stephen King films come to mind as well.
After many years of being in the industry, you decided to start your own film financing company, Vacancy Pictures. Was that a project that you had in mind for a long time or did the idea came to you as you worked and gained experience in the industry?
Vacancy Pictures is and will always be a passion project. The film industry is one tough place, but Vacancy provides me with an avenue to create minor projects on the side for PSA’s, commercials, music videos, etc…
Finally, what are you currently working on?
Right now, my main focus is on my current job as Production Manager for The ATS Team, a worldwide design/fabrication team who creates/builds challenges and obstacles for competition based reality television shows. Our big shows are American Ninja Warrior, Amazing Race, Biggest Loser, Big Brother, etc. As for shorts, Nick Stentzel and I are working on a few ideas that we hope will go viral in the near future.
War of the Movies would like to thank Michael Woodward for his time and cooperation. Like Playing with the Devil? The movie is currently in selection voting process at the Horror Block Film Festival. To vote and show your support, please click this link bellow to give the team a Thumps up vote!