The Horror Honeys: An Interview with Director Mathieu Ratthe

An Interview with Director Mathieu Ratthe

A Web Exclusive Interview from Supernatural Honey Kim

Few people can say they’ve been making their own films since they were 10 years old, but Mathieu Ratthe has been doing that very thing. In the last 25 years he has made 27 shorts, and his new film, The Gracefield Incident, is his first feature length film.

Ratthe himself plays Matthew Donovan, a video game editor who heads to his boss’ cabin for the weekend with his wife and a few friends. He places a camera in his prosthetic eye to document the getaway, but before long finds himself documenting a meteor falling in the woods and something stalking him and his friends.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Mathieu, where we delved into the film, cooking, and Bigfoot’s true origins.

Director Mathieu Ratthe, via IMDb
Kim Douthit: This is your first feature length film, but it is not your first film. You've written and directed a large number of shorts through the years. What was different in the process of making a feature length versus making some of these shorts?

Mathieu Ratthe: I would say what was different about this one... I mean, I gotta admit, I shot this film in 13 days. So, super quick shoot, low-budget. And I had some short films that I've done in the past that were actually longer, I had a longer shoot for my short film than this actual feature film. I would say that what was really different... But yeah, no, it's true. It's kind of weird to believe, hard to believe. I would say what was different I think was the technique that I used for this film, which was the camera angle. I needed to operate the camera at the same time that I was acting in the film. So I think that was really the big difference and the challenge for this, my first feature film.

KD: You acted in it, you ran a camera, you edited it. I heard a rumor that you singlehandedly cooked all the food for craft services. That is wearing a lot of hats.

MR: That's one thing I don't do, I don't cook at all. I never cook. Side story, I didn't eat in my apartment in the last 12 years. Yeah.

KD: Oh wow!

MR: Yeah, a little crazy. But I don't cook. But yeah, I've been wearing a lot of hats. I think it's just, all I've experienced over the last few years and over the last 25 years, that really got me to be able to do this. But as you know, when you start really early on… I mean, this passion that I had at 10 years old. And we say that you don't pick your passion, your passion picks you. And it's true. Once you have a passion, the only thing you do is solve problems. And I think really early on, I remember... I mean, you talk about food, but that was pretty much it. I bought my first camera at 10 years old. I started shooting a short film. But then I had a lot of problems because I said, "Alright, we’re gonna have two days to shoot, I need costumes, I need this, I need food, I need..." So that's how I became a producer. It was the same thing for editing. It was... you know, it was like, "Alright, I need to put this together." So I started with two VHS side-by-side so I can put my stuff together. So I start just solving problems one after the other. And this film, I didn't expect to act in it, but when we came to the conclusion that I only had 13 days to shoot this thing, then I was going to operate a camera and I just didn't have time to have another actor on the side and repeat the shot and all this. And I said, "You know what? I wrote the line, so I'm pretty much gonna tell them the lines." It was just solving another problem. So yeah, I wear a lot of hats. A lot.

Photos courtesy of Momentum Pictures
KD: Is there an aspect that you prefer in the whole process of the directing-writing-acting-producing-editing-not cooking? Is there a part that's your favorite?

MR: It's hard to tell, but I would say directing is the one I feel really comfortable with. Editing as well, but I like the vibe of being... you know, you thought of something for so long, and then you're on set and all those people, you prepare them as much as you can to not mess up your initial vision that you have when you wrote this thing. So I think being on set, surrounded by all of my friends and having a blast and having fun and all my sets are... There's nobody that screams at each other like you hear with the typical filmmaking. That's not my case at all. It's just that we're having a lot of fun, and you know, I've been working with my DP for 25 years. So he knows me more than I know myself, I think. So, I don't need to talk to him much. So that's that thing, the vibe of making it. And getting the shot done. I think directing is my favorite part.

KD: You mentioned that you started at 10 years old. Was there an instant, a film, something that just inspired you to say, "I want to do this?"

MR: I mean, it's funny because my DP, who is 6 years older than me, was my brother's best friend. And they started making little films and little, you know, shooting little stuff, six or seven months prior to this. So me, as the younger brother, I wanted to follow my brother. And they didn’t want to have me around because I'm the typical brother, and at some point, I called his best friend and I said, "Look, I know you have a camera and I wrote this story." That was my way to get in, to get in the gang, to get with my brother and follow him around. And yeah, this guy came in and shot my first film, and we never stopped. You know, he had a little bit more passion than my brother, maybe. But yeah, that's how I got started. And you know, I came home and said, "Dad, I need a camera." And he said, "How much?" And I said, "It's a thousand dollars." And he said, "Work for it." He said, "Get half of your money, and we'll get you the other half." And then two and a half years later, I came in and I said, "Dad, here's the money." And that's how that passion came in I think.

KD: That’s awesome.

MR: Yep, never stopped. Yep.

KD: Looking specifically at the film. What inspired the story for it?

MR: It was actually a true story, a couple years back, some friends and I, we saw a meteoroid coming down. We were probably drunk at the time, but you know, I was probably the only one that saw it, but you know…We started to look for it, but we never found it, and everyone thought I was crazy, which I was not. But you know, it always stuck in my mind. What was it? What was it? Was it, probably a rock, or was it something else? And that curiosity always stuck into my mind, that you know... And that's where, when I start looking for the story to make that idea was there. Yeah, for sure. That's based on that. And you know, I went completely fictional, but yeah.

KD: So the sci-fi element was one of the early parts. I was curious because the emotional arc of the characters is such a strong one, which is something you don't always find in genre films. And it was a really nice thing to have, the connections of those characters was really lovely.

MR: Mm-hmm.

KD: Now, how did you come up with the idea of the prosthetic eye with the camera? Because I thought that solved so many problems, and in a lot of POV films. What led to that?

MR: I mean, that was actually... I mean, we could go back this really quick. Thanks for... you're clearly accurate about the emotion into the film, and that's what I was trying to do with this film. Not only a genre, and scaring the crap out of the audiences, but also make them, have them emoting on something. And hopefully that's what the audience will see differently. To answer your question about the conceptual idea and how I thought of the camera into the prosthetic eye, it was pretty simple. I mean again, I didn't write it in the first draft. It was really when we came to the conclusion that I was going to have 13 days to shoot the film, that we looked at each other like, "Alright, I'm not gonna be able to do those crane shots and camera shot and angles and everything I do usually, so we're gonna need to do it differently." And so I said, "Alright, just give me the camera and I'll carry it." And that's where it came about. I didn't want to just be a guy carrying a camera. That's why the idea of the accident and having a camera integrated in a prosthetic eye really, I think it really served the story, and so kind of everything happens for a reason. But it serves the story, because in this case, because the point of view, the subjective point of view really helped the suspense to have the audience really in the first seat. And you know, be actually this character, and live it at the same time I was the character. So it was effective for this film, for sure.

KD: Working at night, in the woods, in the dark, did you or the cast and crew have any actual scares that happened? Bears or Bigfoot hanging out in the woods somewhere?

MR: Oh, didn't I tell you it's a true story? No, I'm kidding. Yeah, no, I think there were more scares for me. I think at the pace that I shot this film, my cast and crew will tell you that I'm completely nuts and crazy. In a good way, but they have to follow me. I mean, we didn't...we didn't get scared by anything, but we were really in the middle of the woods. We got lost a few times, which was…that was I think the scariest part. I think the environment itself is more scary that what's in the environment, because you know, you always think you know where you're at, and once you turn off the lights for five seconds and you do a 360, it's dark. So you have no clue. You think you're walking the same direction, but you're not. So that thing was the most scary part that we found in the woods, the environment itself.

KD: Is Bigfoot, in fact, an alien?

MR: I don't think so. I want them to be separate. I hope so. Yeah, I think…I don’t think it’s that sexy to have a Bigfoot alien. Yeah, it's not that sexy. Yeah, I prefer to have an alien be an alien, and Bigfoot doesn't seem too smart in my personal opinion. Doesn't seem too...yeah, too smart. But no, they're separate. Hopefully.

KD: We at the Horror Honeys do like to end each interview by asking what's your scary favorite movie.

MR: Favorite scary movie... I gotta say, Psycho.

KD: Classic.

MR: Psycho would just be my favorite one. Yeah. Never know when that mother was gonna come back in. And Jaws. I gotta say Jaws too. Jaws scared the crap out of me.

The Gracefield Incident opened in select theaters and is available on VOD!