Home » ‘Bag of Lies’ Director David Andrew James Talks Shooting That Shocking Box Scene and More [Exclusive]

‘Bag of Lies’ Director David Andrew James Talks Shooting That Shocking Box Scene and More [Exclusive]

Don’t talk to it. Don’t look at it. Don’t touch it. These three instructions are the only rules Matt had to follow when doing the ancient bag ritual in hopes of saving his wife’s life. What could possibly go wrong? In a horror movie, everything. This is the premise of David Andrew James’ new film, Bag of Lies, which was released this week by Epic Pictures’ horror label, Dread. The official synopsis for the film reads: “Desperate to save his dying wife, Matt turns to The Bag, an ancient relic with dark magic. The cure demands a chilling ritual and strict rules. As his wife heals, Matt’s sanity unravels, facing terrifying consequences.”

In the below interview, director David Andrew James gave us a glimpse on how Bag of Lies came to be. Watch the film here.

Wicked Horror: Did you get inspiration from any other horror films for Bag of Lies?

David Andrew James: Firstly, I was inspired by Nick Laughlin’s original short film of the same name that I acted in about three years ago. When I came in to helm the feature, a few influences were: Hereditary, Signs, Se7en (for one scene in particular), The Others, and strangely Gone Girl (i.e: the ending). The list goes on, but those were the big four that Brandt (my DoP who was my roomie during production) had on repeat.

Wicked Horror: You wrote Bag of Lies alongside Nick Laughlin and Joe Zappa. How did you get connected with Nick and Joe? What did your writing sessions look like?

David Andrew James: Our sessions were violent and merciless. No, it was a real pleasure working with them. Back to that in a moment. Nick and I connected about seven years ago on one of those indies that will never come out, and we vowed to never let that happen to our own projects. Joe and I have had a creative rivalry akin to Alfred Borden and Robert Angier in The Prestige; we’re always trying to outdo each other, always trying to make the other magician scratch his head and go, how? Anyway: Nick wrote the original short as a platform to practice as a director. Joe and I rewrote the short in our own image to remake with a budget; right when the getting was good, I got the opportunity to pitch it as a feature, and the three of us sat down to figure it all out. It wasn’t too long into that process before I realized, I need to fire myself as the writer. The two of them were cooking. However, the development process lasted a little too long, and they both ultimately received offers to work on bigger projects, hence how they are Roger Avary’d in the credits. I ended up writing the shooting draft, but I could not have arrived where we landed without their hard work and months of dedication.

David Andrew James

Wicked Horror: What is your philosophy on jump scares in horror? In your opinion, how are they done right or wrong?

David Andrew James:  If I’m completely honest with myself, I think that was one element of making Bag of Lies that I didn’t quite nail down all the way. It was my first time working within the genre; I felt comfortable with some of the more mind-f*ck-esque sequences, yet the jumps eluded me a little bit. Don’t tell my bosses I said that. Anyway, I think they work best when you’re holding a shot as long as possible, and something lunges out from a spot the audience least suspects. Along with that, I do believe that the emotional story you’re telling makes a big difference; if you’ve done your job and the audience is feeling a character’s vulnerability or fragility leading up to that jump scare, they’re definitely going to spill their popcorn.

Wicked Horror: There is a very memorable scene with a face/head in a box. Can you explain how you shot this?

David Andrew James: I can give away the candy store, no problem. Out of the eight-ish setups we had, ironically enough, the majority of them were shot in a very traditional way. Patrick Taft (who played Matt) and I were very keen on only doing a tech rehearsal, so the crew could see how to light it, and that was it. He’s very good about saving himself for when we’re rolling. The crew rigged the room, then we shewed them away to craft services. We shot mediums and close-ups first, so that Patrick didn’t waste anything, then we backed out to the wide. Another reason for shooting in that order was due to my insistence on not cutting to the wide until he tosses the box across the room: Once we cut to the wide, we’re holding on it, to sell the reality that there was no box at all. As seen in the film, when he lands where he threw the box, he picks up a photograph from his nightstand, further shaking his grip on reality. The final setup of Brandi Botkin’s (who played Claire) head in the box, we shot that in a bathroom on a different day. She’s a trooper for doing it like that. I know, peering behind the curtain takes away the magic, but you asked.

Wicked Horror: Where did you shoot Bag of Lies? The film mainly takes place in Claire and Matt’s townhouse, what was it about this specific location that intrigued you?

David Andrew James: We shot the film entirely in Cincinnati, Ohio. My hometown. I love it here, and if I can help it, I’ll make the majority of my films here until I retire. I hope I can help it. In all honesty, the center of the townhouse’s intrigue arrived from its limitations. On as tight of a budget as we had, the worst thing you can do is find some gargantuan mcmansion with all the space in the world, because then, you start thinking you have all the time in the world. Or maybe that’s just me.

The narrowness of its design lends a hand to Matt’s claustrophobic mindset; it also adds a built-in level of suspense for the audience, as you don’t know what’s behind any given corner. Side note: Gargantuan McMansion might not be a bad band name.

Did You Know? Wicked Horror TV Has Classic and Independent Horror Films Available to Stream for Free!

Wicked Horror: If you had a larger budget for the film, is there anything you would have done differently?

David Andrew James: Oh, lord. Don’t get me in trouble with the powers that be. Yes, of course, I would’ve loved to have two million to make this film, and for all you investors out there, that’s exactly how much my next film will cost. Gimme a call. Here’s the thing: I’ve worked crew-side on multiple tiers of films over my career, and the ironic unifier is that every director on every budget level says the same thing: I wish I had more money. Not to kick my feet up on your leather couch for a moment, but that’s something I’ve struggled with, revisiting the film now that it’s released. I will say this: Even if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t do it without the people I made it with. But the opportunity was there, and I was going to take it, even if my budget was a Target gift card and a pack of rubber bands. Sometimes you have to dive in and see if you’re worth a damn… But don’t answer that yet.

Wicked Horror: Can you talk about decrepit Claire at the end. How did you decide on this look? How long did the makeup take for this?

David Andrew James: I have to give all the glory and respect to horror master Trevor Thompson. Not only was he our key makeup artist on the film, he also designed the creature makeup and everything that comes with it. Sure, we might’ve tossed a few what-ifs his way, but that came out of the beautiful mind of Trevor. I love that guy. Not only is he insanely creative, but he’s also the nicest guy on set. It took him a few weeks to prep it, and it took about four hours each day to apply. I believe we only shot two days with monster Claire, so I hope we weren’t too hard on him. Really proud of him, as well as the whole team.

Wicked Horror: What was the most difficult shot in Bag of Lies?

David Andrew James: Okay, I promise this is neither a cop-out, nor a narcissistic retort, but we really didn’t have any difficult shots in the film. The reason for that aligns with your questions in regards to budget. Not having the deepest pockets meant that Brandt and I had to remove temptation of any gear that could be deemed a “toy.” 85% was on sticks, 10% handheld, and 5% dolly. We also used two zoom lenses run-of-show in lieu of primes, which I would never normally do; my appreciation for zooms has grown, but I would like a bit more breathing room next time. Sure, that means we didn’t get to pull off the coolest shots in the world, but we never had to cut any shots from our shot list, either. When you’re shooting 72 pages in 12 days, it quickly becomes obvious which is more important. Also, I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Brandt Hackney is the best.

Wicked Horror: What did you learn from making Bag of Lies?

David Andrew James: There’s this schizophrenic divide when it comes to directing. Sometimes you must be proper and precise and stick to your plan, regardless of how much someone’s going to hate you for an hour; other times, you give up control and play jazz, because that’s what’s best for that particular moment in the film. The biggest lesson I walked away with from Bag of Lies, was learning to recognize the difference between the two… And, just between you and me, trying to get a little bigger budget.

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