The horror genre is one which has struggled for originality, perhaps more than any other genre in recent times. Relying on jump scares, extreme levels of gore and the same old settings, audiences have been crying out for something fresh and exciting, and with Hunter Hunter (2020) they may just have had their prayers answered.
We spoke with Shawn Linden, the writer/director of Hunter Hunter (2020) as he discussed the intense experience of filming in extreme conditions, the relief of working with a stellar cast, and his experiences so far as a filmmaker.
FF: What can you tell us about the film Hunter Hunter (2020)?
SL: Hunter Hunter (2020) is about a family of fur trappers who are living far off the grid in the woods. They are being harassed by a wolf that’s stealing from their traps, and so the husband resorts to hunting it down and killing it, and winds up finding in the forest something a little more than he had bargained for, and hilarity ensues.
FF: Hilarity is one way of putting it, yeah! So, how did you get involved in the film industry and can you tell us a bit about your background?
SL: I have a background in philosophy. I took philosophy in university to kind of hone my writing skills and figure out something worthwhile to say. But I got straight from university into the local film industry, and spent a bunch of years in the art department as a set decorator and a props person, and so kind of got a hands-on education from a fairly early age. During that time, I was also writing screenplays and got my first agent at 22, with my first script and have been punching away at that, and kind of the one path slowly took over for the other one, and now I get to do this.
FF: What was your inspiration for writing the story to Hunter Hunter (2020)?
SL: It was a bunch of very different inspirations; not all of them are from film. There’s a couple of films that were always in the back of my head, like, The Revenant (2015), for that sense of coldness and inhospitability. The Vanishing (1988) – the Dutch version of The Vanishing (1988) – has always been one of my favourite movies and is always in the back of my head when I’m constructing a story that’s trying to grip somebody with fear at some point in time in the story. But the story is a fairy tale about predators, so it was inspired by the old Grimm’s fairy tales, before they got washed over. It’s got that kind of a timeless, ‘fairy tale-ish’ lyrical quality to the camera work and things like that. And also, my ambivalent views on eating meat. I love animals, and I also love meat. I’m a carnivore, so I can’t reconcile those two things in my heart. So it’s always a source of some form of conflict, and out of that conflict came a lot of the motivations that go on in Hunter Hunter (2020).
You have to be into this and invested, or it’s gonna be a nightmare every moment of the day
FF: That’s great. It’s funny you allude to the fairy tale aspect to it because, to be honest, watching it, I didn’t actually pick up on that! But when you say it, suddenly it makes sense! Because you’ve got the big bad wolf and also the huntsman, classic fairy tale characters…
SL: The hero woodsman in the Enchanted Forest and the damsel in distress…but then it winds up kind of dumping that on its head a bit. I wouldn’t call Camille Sullivan, either in person or in the film a ‘damsel’ in any form. It’s got all of those elements that go on in an enchanted forest, and obviously werewolf movies also had a big impact on the story.
FF: Obviously a lot of Hunter Hunter (2020) takes place outside in the woods… What sort of challenges did you face with shooting on location?
SL: Massive challenges. A lot of it was shot way out in the middle of nowhere, that we had to go and look for, and we had to be there just because of the scenic areas that it offered and in those places there was no electricity, facilities or any running water or anything like that. To have a full crew out there, and the cast as well, you have to be a gamer; you have to be into this and invested, or it’s gonna be a nightmare every moment of the day.
I’m eternally thankful for having a great cast and an unbelievable crew willing to go through all of that. Like, we had a force majeure; we had the biggest snowstorm on that date in Manitoban history. It shut down all of the productions in the city; we were outside of the city, so we kept going through this massive snowstorm.
So there were a lot of challenges that went along with that, you know, being around flowing water all the time, but that’s also a huge part of the fun and, and hopefully, all of that hard work pays off in the visuals of the film.
FF: Yeah, I’d definitely say that having watched the film, and I’m sure it’s a pretty rewarding experience, having to go through all that and then produce the film you have… It’s impressive.
SL: It is rewarding and extremely humbling, knowing that I wouldn’t have got past square one if it weren’t for the people that were doing their duties.
FF: You serve as both writer and director on this film: is that an experience you prefer, or do you prefer to do either/or?
SL: I prefer it, as opposed to…I’ve written a lot of scripts that weren’t directed by me. I have not ever directed a script that was not written by me. So that experience is foreign, still. Directing is just an extension of the writing. When I’m writing a script, I’ve already got that stuff, how that scene’s gonna visually unfurl, because that’s my writing process. I’ll noodle around with the scene until it flows visually in my head, without any kind of impediments.
Once you become a director, it’s just executing on existing ideas and, as a director, I was around when all of these ideas were seeds, and was around as they’ve all grown and blossomed. So, I’m usually the best source of reference for the script, and that helps me a lot as a director, because if anybody ever has a question about the psychological motivations, or their reasons for doing this or that, or details in the film, I’ve always got an answer. It may not be the answer that winds up going forward, but that’s also the beauty of collaborating and using ideas, but to always have something to offer up to build off of, that’s one of my favourite parts about directing, one of the more essential parts for me, too.
FF: You talk about the collaborative effort with the film… How would you describe your experience of working with the cast you had?
SL: They were so good. I was so, so fortunate because the movie had a lot of massive challenges. Like, I know what a massive challenge is in movies, because I’ve been around them in some form or another for over a decade, and this had actual daily crises all the time that were seemingly insurmountable, that managed to be surmounted, because of the way that everybody was working together. One of those things was casting and it was really up in the air until it was dangerously close to the film, or close to a point where it would start to affect the film negatively, and then suddenly, it just started to happen.
Camille saved our asses. Summer H. Howell was so good, who plays the young girl; Renee was an eight year old boy in the script before Summer came along, and she was so good that I rewrote her whole character. And Devon Sawa and Nick Stahl, just, to have that kind of professionalism and experience, and straight up talent, of having all four of those people, like I said, I’m eternally grateful and really thankful to be that fortunate.
FF: Yeah ,it makes your job a lot easier.
SL: Yeah, it does. It absolutely does. They were on the same collaborative level that I was right off the bat, just with the first conversations that I’d had with them. It was really reassuring. Immediately that anxiety was totally out of the way once they were cast, and we were going, and it’s like, ‘if this movie goes wrong, it’s not going to be because of cast.’
This script was 11 or 12 years in the making, and if I had stopped at any point in that process, it wouldn’t be here right now
FF: What’s your fondest memory of working in the film industry so far?
SL: My fondest memory… Well, it would have to be from one of my own films, and the one that I remember most vividly would be Hunter Hunter (2020). Probably the most vivid memory was the snow storm that we had, and just to have that enormous sense of being in the film industry as a decorator, a props master, then looking around at these people, like, ‘I wouldn’t do this for somebody else. I wouldn’t invest like this much of my time, and effort’ we would be, like, grueling out in the snow, and it was like a war.
The places that we were at just got immediately muddy, so you’re dealing with little trenches of crap, you’ve gotta avoid pristine areas, because the minute you set foot on them it makes a path, and then everybody steps foot in that path. The amount of investment that people were putting in that, I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, because I wouldn’t have done that for anybody else, and all of those people were doing it for me. So, it was really humbling and I could really point out 26 or 27 people who were better than I was on that day.
FF: It’s great to have those kinds of people working with you isn’t it?
FF: Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring filmmakers?
SL: It only stops when you do. This script was 11 or 12 years in the making, and if I had stopped at any point in that process, it wouldn’t be here right now, and during that process, there were countless losses, and countless heartbreaks, and this is going with, you know, with the other two movies that I’ve written and directed as well. They just face lots and lots of adversity, and things rarely happen with a flash of lightning. It’s usually a long, grueling process that if you knew how long and grueling it was, at the time that you started it, you may not have embarked on that journey.
But, if you have enough passion, or you have enough love for your script, and a hardcore belief that this should be a movie, and it could be a movie, then, as long as you stick with it, it’s never quite out of the race. That’s the best bit of advice that I could give, that it only stops when you stop.
Film Studies graduate. Aspiring screenwriter.