June 24, 2019

How to Create Horror on a No-Budget Production

DIY Horror
Andre Hyland gives a lesson in DIY horror filmmaking.

At a recent screening of Andre Hyland’s latest short film effort - a no-budget comedy horror called "Old Haunt" - at the Oak Cliff Film Festival in Dallas, Texas, Hyland opened up about his new fascination with the horror genre, and just how much it lends itself to his DIY and man-on-the-street comedy stylings.

"Old Haunt", which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January, is a slow-burn tone poem to the oddly comedic and creepy tropes of the horror genre’s hidden messages and suspenseful sequences. It’s also notable in its simplicity, clearly shot on a small crew with a DIY-aesthetic as Hyland stars at the lead character who is often left wandering alone through his haunted AirBnB in Los Angeles.

Speaking with Hyland at OCFF, he shared these no-budget horror filmmaking insights.

DIY Horror 1

Find the Tone to Your Horror

“For me personally, this was about learning if I could work in this space. That I could make an adjustment to my tone and to take more time to play with tension that leads to a scare versus tension that leads a laugh. In my brief experience, I found the mechanics for comedy and horror to be fairly similar, build tension then release. I also wanted to make sure I stuck with my own rules I have for comedy, making sure the intelligence of the characters doesn't fluctuate, like never make a character suddenly dumber just so a joke can work, and for horror don't make them suddenly dumber so they can put themselves in more danger.”

"...never make a character suddenly dumber just so a joke can work, and for horror don't make them suddenly dumber so they can put themselves in more danger."

Originally conceived as an idea after directing some comedic horror bits for the TV series John Glaser Loves Gear, Hyland wrestled with the idea of taking the parody out of the equation to try to actually play his hand in horror. This meant experimenting and finding his own personal tone with the cinematic creepiness of the horror genre.

Create Tension with Movement

“We shot on a RED camera with old vintage lenses. We chose to shoot 4K which was helpful in the edit with several long shots to add subtle moving in and out.”

Throughout the narrative of "Old Haunt", as Hyland’s character discovers that his AirBnB (and perhaps himself) is more than it seems, a subtle creepiness pervades as the camera (shot by DP Shane Bruce Johnston) is often moving in or out slowly, heightening the air of mystery and creepiness underneath.

DIY Horror 2

The Horror Itself is the Monster

“I’d say in general, for anyone looking to do DIY horror stories, or any DIY films always lean in to what you already have, that way you've already got what you need. For this one, I had a cool house by a lake location I could shoot in for free, so I built my story around that. once I felt I had everything I needed - which wasn’t much. There's a couple practical effects, but no blood and gore, the concept of the story itself is the monster. Like a Twilight Zone episode, they can be incredibly scary without ever even seeing a drop of blood. Try to think of things like that. Not that I don't enjoy slashers and gore too."

For a short that is distinctly (author’s note: thankfully) free of jump scares or many traditional horror sequences or fixtures, the horror motif finds its way through the style of the filmmaking. It’s a style Hyland is looking to expound upon with an upcoming DIY horror feature which he plans to shoot this summer.

The Importance of Sound

“We shot with a small crew, me Shane, PA, Jason Stare on audio, and our four actors. Sound was super important. If you're going to put the budget anywhere put it in audio. It ultimately makes or breaks your project.”

Shot over a period of two days (short days, Hyland would add), along with one pick up shot later, "Old Haunt" was shot with a small DIY crew, but with the aim of creating a cinematic look and feel - and a big part of that was in the sound and sound design.

"If you're going to put the budget anywhere put it in audio. It ultimately makes or breaks your project."

Andre Hyland

On Acting and Directing Yourself

“It's funny because I've just been doing it forever. Directing, it's your role is to curate. But don’t act like a tyrant, try to keep it cool, light and fun. But know what you want, otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time.”

Hyland owes his filmmaking roots to man-on-the-street style comedy, often from his talk show alter ego Jesse Miller. As is the case for many filmmakers when starting off, the DIY style can quickly lend itself to starring in and directing your own shorts and content. But for Hyland, it’s been a valuable lesson as his productions have grown in quality and scale - leading into the upcoming horror feature which he’s diving into next.     

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