A Conversation With Brandon Christensen
Brandon Christensen is not a name you’re likely familiar with, but you should be.
In just nine years, Christensen has gone from writing and directing short films to forging a creative relationship with genre director Colin Minihan, and serving as a producer on Minihan’s last two films, including last year’s phenomenal zombie epic, It Stains the Sands Red.
Working with Minihan, the two men collaborated to birth the script for Still/Born, which marks Christensen’s feature-length debut, and the maternal nightmare they conceived is certain to chill parents to their soul.
BVB: Blood Violence and Babes had the opportunity to speak to Christensen by phone recently about Still/Born and what it was like for him to finally helm a theatrical release. We hope you enjoy!
BVB: I loved Still/Born. I thought it was fantastic.
Brandon Christensen: Awesome. Did you see a screener?
BVB: I did, I did. I got a chance to watch a screener in advance of getting to talk to you. It was one of those – the next morning, my wife is not so much into the horror as I am, so she’s always ask me in the mornings, ‘So, what did you watch last night?’ And I told her about it, and she was like, ‘Oh my God’ (laughing) ‘That sounds terrifying and awful!’ And I was like, no, it was great! (Laughing)
Brandon Christensen: You should have brought her in. This movie is kind of made for her.
BVB: You know, it really is. A lot of things I watch I know she wouldn’t like, but this one I felt like – I feel like it has appeal to a wide audience, you know?
Brandon Christensen: Yeah.
BVB: It’s not just designed for people who are looking for gore, or for people who are looking for jump scares. I mean, it’s got a little bit of everything, which is fantastic. So, this was your first feature as a director? I saw on IMDb you’d done some shorts before, and also produced a number of features.
Brandon Christensen: Yeah, I produced It Stains the Sands Red with Colin, and yeah, this is my first feature directing.
BVB: I just want to, as an aside, let you know that It Stains the Sands Red was probably, if it wasn’t my favorite it was tied for my favorite film I saw last year. It was phenomenal.
Branden Christensen: Oh! It was a crazy experience, for sure.
BVB: Oh, I bet! I bet the stories from that shoot would be wonderful to hear. Was this something you talked to Colin about while he was making It Stains the Sands Red? What inspired this story?
Brandon Christensen: Yeah, when Colin was in post on It Stains the Sands Red, he’s always looking for the next project, so he was just like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get you on set. We’ve got to get you to direct a film now.’ We started to look for scripts just from people we knew and different script-selling services, and we just never found anything that fit the things we were trying to do, like low-budget, contained, something more like the Blumhouse format, which is, they’ve been crazy successful just doing low-budget horror that keeps casts small, budgets small, everything small. So, that was kind of our idea of what we wanted to find. Then I had the idea about a woman that loses one of her twins at birth. It was kind of like a depression tale. And as we started to talk about it some more, Colin and I, we started building on that – What if things start happening? She starts thinking things are happening, but maybe they’re not. We’re kind of playing with the audience’s expectations at the same time. We just kept developing it, and it was actually really quick. In a month or so, we had a full treatment, and we just dove in and wrote the script. Probably two months from the conception of the idea we had a shootable script, so we brought on the producers and Colin started raising money, and I think it was five months after we finished the script, we were on set.
BVB: Oh, that’s awesome. How did you split the writing duties? Did you take first crack, and then he came in? Or was it joint? Were you writing together?
Brandon Christensen: Yeah, so what we would do, we would share screens on Skype or FaceTime, like we had a big Google document that we would kind of break down each sequence of the movie, and just sort of do scene by scene, and just keep fleshing that out. And once we had that, I kind of thought it would be tough to write an actual script with someone at the same time, so I just took a couple of days and wrote 40 pages, and then Colin took a couple of days and wrote the final 40 pages, and then we combined. We spent the next little while, we would go through the whole thing and adjust and make tweaks until we felt like it was polished enough to share with some of the people we wanted to share it with.
BVB: I loved how, like you said a couple of minutes ago, playing with audience expectations, the opening sequence, I thought, was incredibly well-realized. It really kind of set the stage. It had this, and I’m going to say a word that’s going to sound probably weird in this context, but it had this cinematic quality that went above and beyond what I would typically expect of a film probably around this budget. I mean, it was – it did a number of things, it pulled you into this couple, where you’re in the delivery room with Mary and Jack, and then it opens up this Pandora’s Box when you realize one of the children isn’t alive upon birth, you’re like, OK, where is this going to go from here, and my mind immediately started to wonder, OK, is it going to be a supernatural/paranormal story where the child that was quote-unquote stillborn is haunting the family and the other child? Where’s it going to go? And for the longest time, I found myself, I just kind of gave up trying to guess because I was enjoying so much that it was just constantly changing.
Brandon Christensen: Right.
BVB: And you did this amazing job of portraying Mary as both a believable and sympathetic character, but also presenting these wonderful little moments, like the scene where she’s completely made up and cooking dinner, it was just chillingly effective because suddenly you’re like, oh my God, she’s just delusional. She’s crazy. How much thought did you put into that?
Brandon Christensen: Um, like the whole into thing, the very genesis of the idea was kind of crystallized into that one moment in the birth where they share a look with the nurse, that was the moment, and then you cut to a woman in her nursery with two cribs and holding only one baby, and you’re given all this information of what just happened. That was the idea that kind of spawned the whole thing. I’m glad it worked out because if it didn’t it wouldn’t have been a very effective film. Colin, he’s been around horror for so long, he was of the mind that there was always going to be a demon, we’ve got to full horror, full supernatural. And I was a little more pragmatic – I’m married, I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife, you know we’ve dealt with kids and crazy things like that, so I was kind of pushing the angle that no, it’s not all in her head, or it’s more in her head, she’s doing all these postpartum things. So, it kind of became like a back and forth where if something was leaning in one direction, we would immediately try to counter that and go in the other direction, just to keep both Mary and the audience off-guard. That’s what makes like the whole bathroom sequence and the hallway sequence so jarring because it’s really out of nowhere, and it kind of solidifies what the audience should think, at least for the time being. But with her getting all dressed up, and stuff like that, it was definitely part of the script we wanted to do a complete 180. That was one of the only times the audience kind of switches perspective and doesn’t see things from Mary’s point-of-view. You’re kind of watching from Jack’s point of view, and he’s just like, what the heck is going on? You’re just kind of pulled away from her, and that’s when I think things really start to change. It’s just a huge moment because that’s kind of the beginning of the end for her when we detach as an audience, and we’re just kind of watching from a distance now.
BVB: How cool was it for you to get to direct someone, a genre icon like Michael Ironside? I can only imagine that must have been a treat.
Brandon Christensen: It was amazing. He wasn’t initially on it, we had another actor, but about a week before we shot that scene, the other actor got booked for a Marvel show. Colin had worked with Ironside on Extraterrestrial. He still had his agent’s contact. He just did like a Hail Mary, and luckily the timing worked because he was coming off of another show in Toronto. They flew him out to us and we got to work with him for a day. I was – to that point, I had only worked with a couple of actors on the film because it was very Mary-heavy upfront. I think we did seven days with just Christie Burke. He came to set and everyone was on their best behavior. No one knew what to expect, other than this guy has been in just countless films. He’s a true superstar. So, he showed up and just like immediately – he had worked with Jesse Moss, so he takes him in and gives a big hug. Gives Colin a big hug. He’s like the sweetest man. He was super helpful. He understood this was my first film. We’ve actually kept in touch a little since, so it’s been cool. I could have asked for a better first opportunity with a big name like that.
BVB: Where are you going to go from here? Do you have another project lined up?
Brandon Christensen: Yeah, Colin and I are writing something together right now, and my wife and I are actually writing a script as well because she’s scared of everything, so she’s a great resource to mine scary themes from, so we’re doing another similar-in-tone, it’s about a family, but I think it’s kind of an interesting idea that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, so we’re just kind of breaking that down right now and hoping to – we’re definitely going to shoot something this year. We’re just sort of jumping between two projects right now. I’m definitely excited. I learned so much on Still/Born that I want to implement in the future, and we’ve got such a great team around us that I’d love to work with again.
BVB: I think that’s awesome. You’re going to be at the top of a lot of people’s radar when they get a chance to see Still/Born, and it’s kind of what I always tell my readers, this is a director you need to watch because very few people make a first feature that’s as solid and as good as this is. So, kudos, man, you did an amazing job, and I really hope it gets the traction and the reaction that it deserves, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Still/Born currently has a 90% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it is showing in Tampa at the AMC Veterans 24.