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An interview with FX master Eric Pham

Shawn and I took in the flick Flay several months back and, although the movie held some promise, we felt underwhelmed by how safe it played its cards.

Flay was Eric Pham's first feature as a director and hey, a guy's gotta start somewhere. He actually got into the industry by way of working in special effects, and cut his teeth on some big projects like Sin City and Spy Kids.

We caught up with Eric to talk his career, and see where Flay is at in terms of distribution. you can read what he had to say below:

Why FX? Where did it all begin?

After watching Blade Runner for the first time, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker and I knew I wanted to know how to create worlds through storytelling and VFX.
And do you have an FX creation you’re the most proud of?
The look of Sin City. I was a part of a small (six members) VFX team at Troublemaker Studios and we were tasked by Robert Rodriguez to come up with a cinematic look that matched Frank Miller’s graphic novel series, Sin City. It took us about 3 months and a lot of overtime to get the look just right and it was all worth it.
With Flay, how did that come about?
I set out to make a thriller that revolves around a family of estranged siblings and an antagonist that was rooted in Native American history and mythology. Around the early 1900’s traditional religious ceremonies were outlawed, Native American children were forced to go Boarding or Indian Residential Schools where they had to abandon traditions and tribal clothing for suits and dresses. Our Flay character was a Shaman who was in this school and whose face was flayed. The similarity of Flay to Slender Man was a bonus.  Flay may be the central figure but the movie was more about the relationship of the siblings and not really meant as a hardcore horror. 
And did you go through several drafts before ending on your final shooting script? Much change along the way?
Working together with writer, Matthew Daley, we went through several drafts of a detailed treatment where all the beats were well defined ahead of time. Because we knew what we wanted to do and once we got to the final stage of the shooting script, things moved along quite quickly. There were also some last minute rewrites of dialogue during production. It was the right thing to do because I had to adjust to how our actors were reacting to the scenes and the culmination of what we were doing at the moment. 
Was it an easy movie to get up? Can you talk about the process involved in getting this film ready?
Learning from my first feature, I added plenty of prep time to get everything ready, actors, location, wardrobe, props, special effects masks, visual effects, etc. And then everything came to a halt as there was a delay for our last round of funding. Six weeks passed and the last bit of financing came through. We had two weeks before production had to start. It was either that or wait for another a few months delay because of major scheduling conflicts. We decided to go full steam ahead. It was controlled chaos for two weeks and we ended up finishing on time and on budget. It seems like that’s the case for a lot of projects. You’re all ready to go, then it’s a lot of hurry up and wait and then all of a sudden, it’s blast off and go-time!
Tell us about the inspiration for the script?
I took inspiration mostly from my own personal life. For a period of time the relationship between my siblings and me were very strained and I wasn’t sure if it’d ever be resolved.  That dynamic of that sibling relationship became the backbone of the script. Since I was a painter myself, I also infused my experience as an artist into one of character’s backstory, Patricia, whose artwork served as a continuing thread throughout the story. At the same time I had a friend who told me stories of their own family history where a child of their great grandfather were kidnapped by Comanche Indians and were raised as one of their own. That led me to do research about Native Americans and their treatment by the government in the early 1900’s and eventually the story all came together as I wanted to do a thriller along the same topic. For the main character of Moon, I wanted a strong female antagonist who was a natural psychic empath with a lot more sensitivity to the presence of spirits and the unseen. We originally had a scene in the beginning of the script that displays her abilities. We ended up taking it out because I didn’t wanted to over-explain things and at the same time keeping her sensibilities more mysterious. The connection and the reveal in story that our main character makes then becomes part of the discovery process for our audience also. 
They don’t make movies like these anymore do they?
Nope. We’re in an age of superhero movies and remakes. And when it comes to thrillers or horrors, the genre becomes very repetitive, as it tends to cannibalize itself in terms of storytelling. In Flay instead of showing every little detail of the action or the horrific violence of an act, I tried to let the audiences’ imagination do the work and not show the act itself. It was a choice that allows the storylines of the relationship of characters can take front center focus. A lot of people love this because they can watch and finish the movie and their brain hasn’t been imprinted by the violent graphic acts. On the other hand, a lot of people hate this because they expect to see the gore and the horror of it all in its minute detail. You know who really loves this? Teenagers and parents. I get a lot of approval from parents who tell me that they wouldn’t mind their kids watching this because there aren’t any explicit scenes with sex, horror or violence, but it’s still a good thriller for them. And the teens, especially girls, love the relationships of teens in the story along with the scares. The best question that I get all the time is, “When is the sequel coming out?”
Where did you find your actors?
We initially had an actor that we wanted in LA, but it didn’t work out in terms of schedule. In the end, our entire cast came from Texas, mostly in Austin. There are a lot of undiscovered talent in Austin and we found some of them. Elle LaMont and Violett Beane to name a couple. Elle was recently featured in Alita: Battle Angel. Flay was Violett’s first feature, or rather live action feature. After Flay, she was in the CW’s The Flash and now in CBS’ God Friended Me. 
And what do you hope the film does for your career?
Flay is a good start to get my feet wet with an indie budget. I’m jumping into a project now with a really good friend of mine who is one of the best writers that I know. Along with writing and directing bigger and better movies, we’re developing a number of projects  for television, starting with an epic sci-fi series based on a novel. There is such a lack of new and interesting material that I’m always amazed when I browse Netflix, Amazon and see an abundance of the same old stories and plotlines
How does it feel to have the film get international distribution?
We have been getting theatrical and television deals coming in from Asian and European territories. It’s exciting to know that your film will reach millions of eyeballs across the world. I hope to reach billions of eyeballs some day.


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