Michael Kehoe’s suspense-filled short film Hush won the Bloody Shorts competition last month. The film is a classic babysitter hears something go bump in the night plot, but the film prevails with originality because of Kehoe’s handle on the form. Much like the recent success of feature horror films like The Conjuring, Hush dials back the shock value and cheap startle pitfalls of the genre and uses the simple art of filmmaking to create a fresh, haunting atmosphere. Camera movement, lighting and sound are key in this film, and Kehoe has a tight grip on all of it.
We spoke to the filmmaker about his prize-winning short.
How long have you been making movies?
I made my first film in “Second Dance” 1994, a short film that was selected to the Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival.
Where did the idea for Hush originate?
Hush was inspired by true events that occurred in upstate New York near where I grew up just outside the town of Ithaca. When I was young I remember the impact it had on the community and how those events blended together creating a legend that has changed through each telling.
Has the horror genre always been an interest for you? If so, what are some of the films that have inspired you? If not, what made you explore it with Hush?
I was never interested in making horror films. I was drawn toward thrillers and adventures. At an early age I was inspired by the Twilight Zone series, each story being told in a short amount of time and most times leaving you on edge, like the cliff hangers of the Saturday morning serials (before my time!). What did interest me in some of the horror films, was the quality of the look of each film. I was impressed by the lighting in some films and the edginess of the story. The movement of the camera no matter how subtle was inspiring. However, I never thought I would lean toward the horror genre. My DP, John Connor and I have been friends for many years and we have always wanted to do something together. We started to shoot a tribute to Tony Scott, a director I idolize, and due to our schedules we had to stop in the middle of shooting. So, we put it on hold and I went off and wrote HUSH.
Can you speak to the benefits of shooting in the short form?
In my opinion, short films can prepare you for features as you have to tell the story in a short amount of time. If your short film is 15 min, you have a first act of 5 min, a 2nd act of 5 min and your 3rd act in 5 min with a twist, if you’re going for the type of films I like to make. It also makes the director aware of the restrictions and budgetary concerns. Sometimes poverty can breed creativity. As the writer director, I see the entire film in my head and have options or at least changes in my mind to work for the film.
When I made “Second Dance”, I cast two young boys in film. Second Dance was inspired by the Twilight Zone and “It’s A Wonderful Life”. I wrote the script with a certain look in mind and my DP at the time was Chris Moseley, a very talented DP. He was a camera assistant at the time. The night before shooting, I received a call from one of the mothers of the young boys and was told that “Theodore broke his arm”. I had everything in place! Location, crew, cast, equipment, actors! At that moment the producer in me said to the mother “Can we remove the cast for the shots?” The mother thought I was crazy! The director in me said: “No worries, I’ll make it work”. I ended up writing the broken arm into the script, it became the defining moment in the film explaining the relationship of the two boys to the main character. That broken arm actually saved the story in Second Dance.
What were some of the problems you overcame in production for this film?
When I finished writing HUSH, I spoke to my DP John Connor about shooting a scene from the script to raise funds, never intending to use the scene as a short film. After we shot the short film, about a week after post, we were approached for funding. Both John and I were more than excited about the prospects of bringing HUSH to the screen. We spent weeks with the financier and about 5 weeks prior to shooting, the financier fell off the face of the earth! No word from him at all. We were so close. But at that moment I decided to enter the short in the festival world. Once we hit the road of festivals it has been an incredible time for the cast and crew as they along with John and myself have been promoting the film and it has won 21 awards to date.
Anything else you would like to add?
The festivals have been very gracious to us. We have been asked in a number of festivals to enter as they would waive the entry fee. I was dumbfounded by this, never thinking that our film would be getting the attention it has been getting. When we entered into the Audience Awards I realized we had to promote the picture and get people to vote. I’ve never been in a festival like that. But the Audience Awards reminded me to reach out to places I’ve been around the world. I contacted my friends and acquaintances in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, England, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, Israel and the list goes on! Now, those contacts have been very interested in the feature and that gives us an opportunity for a foreign audience.