My favorite movie at this year’s Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival was Andy Mitton’s The Witch in the Window, which you can read my initial festival review of here. It’s both an extremely effective haunted house movie, and a powerful relationship drama about a 12 year old boy named Finn (Charlie Tacker) and his estranged father Simon (Alex Draper). It’s coming to the streaming service Shudder on October 18th, and it’s the perfect movie to surprise some friends with this Halloween season. I can’t recommend a group experience with this movie enough – you’ll laugh together just as much as you’ll scream and jump out of your seats together. It’s a perfectly executed blend of family drama, with all the humor you might find in a movie like that, and haunted house chills, and there’s a very good chance it will land on my best movie of 2018 list come the end of the year – it really is that good.
I had the opportunity to chat with one of the film’s executive producers, Clark Freeman, who you might be familiar with from his performance in Mitton’s previous film We Go On, also available on Shudder and which I highly recommend. He’ll also star in Netflix’s upcoming season of Narcos: Mexico, which hits the streaming service on November 16th. As you’ll read in our chat below, Clark works tirelessly in front of and behind the camera on unique projects with some long time collaborators. He’s got a love for scary movies that has permeated his whole career, and truly shines in The Witch in the Window. And he’s a lovely guy to boot – I hope you’ll enjoy this discussion about his career and the process of making TWITW as much as I did.
Clark, thanks again for agreeing to chat with me today. You’ve written, directed, produced, and starred in a variety of films and television. I’m personally most familiar with you from one of Mitton’s previous efforts, WE GO ON, which you starred in. You also produced and acted in another one of his features, YellowBrickRoad. You clearly like working with Andy and I’m curious how your relationship with him started and how it’s developed through the years?
First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. Second, yes, you are right that I enjoy working with Andy. Our artistic collaboration started way back when we were both students at Middlebury College in the theatre department. Since then, we both moved out to Los Angeles to work in TV and film. We have been roommates, we started a non profit theatre and film production company called The Sight Unseen Theatre Group that we ran for many years, we play in a band together, and we love making scary movies together. I’d say that’s just the tip of the iceberg too. There are very few people you meet in this life that you can continually collaborate with, and Andy happens to be one of those few for me.
Well, now I’m gonna have to look up your band (The Real D’Coy, for any curious readers) because if it’s as good as your other collaborations with Andy, it’s well worth my time.
I’m curious about when you came on board The Witch in the Window? At what part of the process? Was there already a script and that’s what attracted you to it, did Andy just have a pitch you liked, or something else?
If memory serves me correctly, I had read the script fairly early on. I think Andy already had his game plan of how he wanted to shoot, and that Alex was on board to play Simon. Which I loved. Alex and I were part of the ensemble in YellowBrickRoad, and I knew he was going to crush this role. Plus, it was going to be shot up at our alma mater of Middlebury. Lots of stars aligned. My little star came in around then and secured some of our shooting budget, and was a sounding board for Andy.
I was also attracted to the script because it had an uncanny understanding of the fears of a parent. That underlying theme of no matter what we do, we can never really keep our children safe is a motif that will always be scarier than any creature or monster anyone can think up. And that is something I admire in Andy’s writing and storytelling – he finds the scary that exists in the real world.
That theme is definitely what resonated most with me in the movie – there’s a line Alex delivers in this regard about halfway through the film that hit me like a ton of bricks. He is really fantastic in this movie.
Were you involved in that casting process at all? Or what you can tell us about Draper (who I understand is a college professor?) and especially Tacker, who I think is a huge discovery here. I see that he’s got credits going back as far as 2010, so he’s been acting for a while, but this appears to be his first major role in a feature and he really carries a lot of this movie. The relationship between Finn and Simon is the heart of the film, and I personally think it’s the fact that the script isn’t reductive in regards to Finn that makes it work so well. He’s not simply an object for Simon to protect, he’s not just there to make the audience more afraid of The Witch. It treats him like the young adult he is and honors his personhood in a way that few horror movies do with children. What was the process like finding the right actor to play Finn?
Let me unpack this one a bit… Alex. I have known Alex for many years, both of us being alumni of Middlebury College, and yes, he is now a theatre professor there. We probably became the closest during YBR. I would go into war with that guy. He’s always extremely giving and a consummate professional. As far as Tacker, it’s funny you ask that. It was one of my biggest notes to Andy in the pre production phase of the movie. Loved the script. I loved what he had crafted, and I saw so many opportunities to do something new and really get under people’s skin. The only thing I told Andy was, “we better find a good kid who can pull this off!” I wish I had more information for you on how they found Charlie, but boy, what a find he was! I was never able to be around set and actually watch him work, but I agree with you that the proof is on the screen. The relationship between him and Alex is so rich, and nuanced.
It reminds me of my relationship with Annette O’Toole in Andy’s earlier feature We Go On. Not just the relationship between a parent and their child, but my character, Miles, was stunted in a way that made him almost child-like. It’s one thing for a grown man and a well trained actor to turn in a performance for that. It’s another thing to actually find a 12 year old that can understand the gravitas of the film, and to hold the tension on screen! He did a really amazing job.
Oh man, Annette is so great in that movie. I loved both your performances in it – that’s definitely one of the things I like so much about Andy’s movies, his focus on the relationship dynamics between a parent and their child.
To pay you and Mitton’s team another huge compliment, The Witch in the Window is one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had all year. The theater was packed and during the first big scare, which I would say is sort of the centerpiece of the movie, the entire theater jumped out of their seats at the same time. There was a buzz throughout the theater, everyone sort of turning to their neighbor and clutching them or giving them a thumbs-up – it was like we all wanted to make sure we congratulated the film makers on a job well done, right there in the moment. I haven’t seen a theater react that since I saw The Descent on the big screen. When you first read the script, did you know that moment was going to pop like that? Is that something you can tell, just right there on the page, is going to be sort of THE MOMENT of the movie?
Dude. The Descent is one of my favorites. That movie scared the hell out of me, and I know EXACTLY which part of that film you’re talking about.
As for TWITW, I sadly have NOT had the pleasure of watching it in a packed theatre with people. I believe I am going to get my chance soon in Los Angeles before we release wide on Shudder. I did get a chance to watch the final cut in a post house with our producer and friend Richard King. It was just he and I in the room. Big screen. Sound was cranked up. Let me just say, the scene in question… after it was done, I just turned to look at Richard and I said, “that’s going to fuck people up”. I’m so glad I seem to be right!
I read that same scene in the script earlier on, and while I knew it had the potential to be a heart stopper, I didn’t know the full power of it until Andy and our sound mixer Dan Brennan were done with it. Those two really understand the power and importance of sound and sound design. It takes a scene that could be good, and cranks it up to another level, and makes you never, ever forget it.
I didn’t even think about how effective the sound design was in the moment because I was so wrapped up in it, which I mean as another compliment.
So how are you feeling about the success of The Witch in the Window? It’s gotten nothing but high marks from festivals around the world and is making its premiere on Shudder soon. Is a wide theatrical run something you and Andy are/were interested in, is that something you guys are chasing with your movies, or are the new models of exhibition proving to be fruitful for you and what you’re trying to achieve?
I could not be happier with how TWITW is being received by everyone. I’m so proud of Andy too. Movies are tough to make. They are bears that take an army of people collaborating to even finish, let alone be good. I’m so excited for this movie to continue to grow it’s audience as it screens around the world, and as we hit Shudder right in the middle of Halloween season!
With any film, you want to see it out in the world with a theatrical release, but we have been so lucky to have found such a good partnership with Shudder. They snagged the exclusive rights for We Go On shortly into our festival circuit run, and they were even quicker on the uptake with TWITW. Shudder has such a great and ravenous genre audience that we know are going to be very excited and hopefully love TWITW as much as everyone seems to be! We have been looking at our worldwide festival circuit as our theatrical release, in a way. We want to try and get as many people into theatre seats to watch this film together. There is something about that shared experience and shared viewing that always makes the film better. Like the moment you described before… you need to be able to look around the theatre and share the fact that EVERYONE just got the shit scared out them… it wasn’t just you.
I wholeheartedly agree with that, especially when it comes to horror. And thanks to the convenience of Shudder, people can gather a group of friends for their first watch, which I highly recommend doing. They will not be disappointed.
As we wrap up here, I’d love to hear about any other projects you’re currently working on, either in front of or behind the camera. Would you like to direct more? Are there plans for you to continue working with Mitton and his team?
I’d like to think that I am a fairly permanent fixture on “Team Mitton”. I know he has a couple of scripts ready to go, and knowing him, he’ll be shooting another before we all know it! As for me, I am a recurring character in the first season of Narcos: Mexico that releases on Nov. 16th on Netflix. Technically, it’s the 4th season of the show Narcos, but this is the first year in Mexico with all new characters that tells the story of the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel and the start of the US War on Drugs. I’m so excited for that to come out. Other than that, I am developing a show with my sister about art smuggling, and helping produce a movie called Semper Fidelis by Jamie Stern. I would love to direct again at some point, but I am really focusing on being in front of the camera right now. I just signed with the CESD Agency, and I’m excited to climb the next mountain with them.
Well I wish you luck on your new venture, and I’m excited to see you up on the screen again in Narcos. Thanks for your time, Clark!
Thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with me about The Witch in the Window!