Something In The Dirt Exclusive Interview: “It’s just Breaking Bad in an apartment with the supernatural!”

Events, Exclusive, Interviews, Something In The Dirt

There are plenty of brilliant picks at this year’s Arrow Video Frightfest film festival but when we were told we could host a movie from the plethora of genre goodies on offer, we couldn’t help but gravitate towards Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s sci-fi thriller, Something In The Dirt.

Not only are we big fans of Benson and Moorhead, the pair who brought us 2018’s The Endless and last year’s excellent Synchronic (not to mention episodes of Moon Knight and Loki), but their latest gathers the perfect mix of DIY sci-fi, drama, dark comedy and mystery – with a little bit of physics thrown in too!

We sat down and spoke with the two filmmakers about making Something In The Dirt personal, why they’re not like their characters in the movie and what it’s been like making the switch to TV.

How did your journey start with Something In The Dirt?

Aaron Moorhead: What’s funny is this movie has nine or ten different origins which actually kind of speaks to the movie itself in a weird way.

It was conceived of during the pandemic of saying: We’re going to figure out how to make a damn movie during all of this that’s a movie that we would have made anyway. It isn’t just some kind of pandemic movie chamber piece or Zoom movie or anything like that (which we actually love)  but we we’re like, ‘what would our fifth movie be, even if there were no pandemic on?’

It comes from this broad idea that’s filtered down into a bunch of our pitches and scripts where we’ve been asked if we want to reboot some haunted house franchises before and we’ve given it some serious thought but our pitch was always very left of centre and just curious if they would take it (and they never did, of course) but those ideas percolated for the last 10 years and they were in a couple of other abandoned scripts.

We ended up bastardising all of our favourite ideas from them and putting them all into Something In The Dirt, so Something In The Dirt is firing on all cylinders when it comes to our wasteland of failed pitches that we are completely in love with!

What genre would you fit Something In The Dirt in?

Justin Benson: It’s probably a lot like our four prior features. If you wanted to try to and sum it up into a subgenre or genre film that people are familiar with, you can, you just got to think about it for a while.  Ultimately, it’s like our prior films where it’s something so specific that it’s obviously hard to describe.

Aaron Moorhead: I think one of the things that makes it the hardest to describe in this particular case is that it’s also a dark comedy by comparison, especially to our other films, which had levity and humour in them but they’re not dark comedies straight up which this one is.

Your movies always tend towards genre – what is it about genre that appeals to you as filmmakers?

Justin Benson: We’re both big fans of writers like Alan Moore. These writers who are able to say something meaningful about humanity. There’s obviously lots of great sci-fi and horror that does that, but if you can simultaneously do it while poking at your own personal ideas of everything, from spirituality to the wish fulfillment of seeing a ghost or seeing a UFO and tapping into that… Why do you feel that way? What does that mean to you? The bigger question of what happens after you die and what’s beyond our everyday material existence? Having the opportunity to explore those things in a way that’s personal to the two of us is probably part of what attracts us to genre.

Both Aaron and Justin are fans of writers like Alan Moore.

This film feels particularly personal as you use home videos of your childhood. Was that always the plan or did you include them because of the pandemic?

Aaron Moorhead:  You know, it’s funny. It started when my grandmother passed away and I digitised [the home movies]. As they were being digitised, I edited it together and had this super emotional night re-experiencing my family’s younger lives, and I told Justin about it.

I was like, ‘if you have tapes, digitise them and get the exact same experience’. Rewatch them and it’s just a roller coaster of emotion of seeing everyone as their younger selves in different days, not knowing what’s to come. All of that.

That was right as we were putting together Something In The Dirt and it made perfect sense for what these characters are doing, that they are cataloging something supernatural that they have.

So yes, it was something that didn’t have anything to do with the pandemic, but it did definitely have to do with us excavating our own real pasts at the same time as we were creating something.

As well as writing and directing, you both star in the movie as Levi and John. How did you go about creating these characters and how would you describe them?

Justin Benson: It’s this weird thing. You realise as you write and direct films… obviously we wear a lot of hats in these films we make and sometimes we are acting in these roles and you can completely see how people could think that not only is it personal to you, but it could be autobiographical in some way, about your life or who you actually are, especially when, like this, you’re telling the story about two people becoming filmmakers using our own childhood videos…

Aaron Moorhead: And living in our own apartments!

Justin Benson: Yeah, exactly. In our own apartments, in the city we live in and you don’t want that to be the case. Obviously, you don’t want people to think that it’s actually autobiographical for you or that you are trying to portray some true version of yourself on the screen.

Not only would it be narcissistic, but it’s also like, these guys are really fun [haha]. And that was the point. I think that one of the reasons why we made them the way they are was because we wanted them to be a lot different than who we are in real life. Also that’s more exciting to get to act and play pretend to be someone totally different.

Aaron Moorhead: Also, I don’t think anyone’s caught it without us saying it [but] it’s just Breaking Bad! It’s Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. It is exactly those characters down to the way they look, down to their problems, down to their arrogance, down to one manipulating the other. It’s just Breaking Bad in an apartment with the supernatural. There’s a manipulation of drugs and questionable choices in life, and education levels, all of it!

As you say, you wear a lot of hats when you make movies. Writing, directing, editing, acting… which element do you enjoy the most?

Aaron Moorhead: It’s funny as once you start separating them out, they become very different things. But when you’re making an independent film, you’re doing everything (in your head at least).

You could separate them out into acting, directing, writing, and producing, but then you just have to add in a fifth category which is ‘all of it’ because that’s the best one. That’s by far the best one – when you get to have a holistic take on all of it.

So if you’re only doing one, that kind of means you’re being hired to do it, which is a little tough, at least for us where it’s a lot of equal satisfaction.

Aaron Moorhead (pictured above) says that a combination of all the roles while making a film is the best role…

Between your previous movie projects and Something In The Dirt, you’ve ventured into TV. What’s that been like?

Justin Benson: When we were making Something In The Dirt, it was pretty wild because we did most of the photography before we did a show called Archive 81 but we weren’t done.

Essentially we were still shooting and editing Something In The Dirt until we were done with Moon Knight. Then we finished Moon Knight and we were still shooting and editing Something In The Dirt. So it was pretty wild. That was a lot of work…!

Aaron Moorhead: I just realised this: Between the start of shooting for Something In The Dirt and its release, we will have shot six hours of television. Shot and almost released six hours of television. That’s wild!

Justin Benson: Why.

Aaron Moorhead: But it’s not that we were holding out on releasing Something In The Dirt. Post-production actually took that long and then it came out at Sundance, which unfortunately went online only. Then they just didn’t want to release it while we were still working on Loki.

What do you want audiences to take away from Something In The Dirt?

Aaron Moorhead: They should be like “I don’t think we’ve ever nominated two Americans for BAFTAs before. But that’s what we could do. Like a co-BAFTA combination” [haha] that’s what they should be thinking!

Something In The Dirt has its UK premier at Frightfest 2022. Get your tickets here.

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