There is nothing alarming about Amber Langston or Jordan Price. The two girls are both well spoken, funny, and good-spirited. They’re also both formal and polite to a charming degree. They respond with such immediate kindness that, for a moment upon meeting them, I thought maybe that they had already received training from an expert Public Relations specialist. A few minutes of speaking with them and I realized that this assumption was not true. The two young Western Kentucky University students are just exceptionally sincere and nice.
These pleasant personalities make it all the more shocking to watch the eerie and unsettling short film The Milkman. Langston is an aspiring filmmaker majoring in film at WKU, and The Milkman is her second short film. Price, who graduates from the same university with a degree in elementary education this weekend, is her close friend and go-to star. Together, the aspiring and inspiring film talents have constructed a delightful little slasher flick, a short film with a unique brand of creepiness, but one that horror traditionalists will recognize to be influenced by all the right sources.
Before The Milkman (which has been nominated for for Best Director, Best Actress, Best Production Design, and Best Score at the WKU film festival) hits the horror festival circuit, you can watch it in its entirety below. Afterward, make sure to read my conversation with Amber and Jordan (below), wherein we discuss the landscape of modern horror, their influences and inspirations, and the process of working with an actor skilled at conveying a chilling serial killer.
David Shreve, Audiences Everywhere (AE): I understand that I might be in the presence of Horror royalty. Jordan, can you explain to our readers your potential genetic link to a legend?
Jordan Price: Oh [laughs], so I haven’t been able to trace it back myself, but my grandfather has told me that we are distantly related to Vincent Price. I’ve tried to look into it myself and just never gotten very far with it. But he [grandpa] just says, “very distantly related.”
AE: So did that influence your love of horror movies at all?
JP: I guess not. I do enjoy his films, but I wouldn’t say that there was a draw there knowing that.
AE: How long have you held this Milkman character in your head, Amber?
Amber Langston: Not very long. I wrote this script last Spring, and it was just a short six page script. I can’t really tell you where I got the idea. It just kind of happened–an interesting idea about a killer milkman. The way he looked and everything just kind of came to me. I filmed it last semester in the Fall, about four days before Halloween. We had pumpkins and a Halloween atmosphere. A lot of people were really enthusiastic about making it because it was about that time. We filmed for about 12-13 hours that day and got the bulk of the film. We went back in March and did a couple of pick-up shots and did the score after that.
AE: How taxing is it to stay in a state of fear for that long, and what did you dwell on to keep yourself in that terror?
JP: It was a little difficult. I’d never really done horror films. It was a new challenge for me. And I wanted to challenge myself. It was kind of hard to stay in that mindset. So Trevor [Peden who played The Milkman character] was so nice on set, and I kept telling him, “You can’t be nice to me right now. Stop talking to me. I have to be afraid of you right now.” We’re pretty good friends now, and he’s the sweetest guy ever, so it’s a good thing I stayed away from him that day.
AE: Amber, how close was Trevor to your vision of the Milkman?
AL: I envisioned someone a bit taller. Maybe a little older. I held some open auditions where taller guys did audition. I auditioned a couple of guys who were in their 40s. They were good, but they didn’t bring anything special. Trevor came in and he was very, very polite and he had this air of a kind of Norman Bates. He was so nice it was almost creepy. And physically he had this great smile. He had the soft-spoken mannerism that I wanted and just enough creepiness to say, “This guy isn’t quite right.”
AE: Did he ever actually scare you while filming?
JP: I actually auditioned with him, so I had worked with him before. I think, just… I put a lot of trust and faith in Amber and I know she wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. I never felt unsafe.
AL: I didn’t know him before the audition. Auditioning for The Milkman, I was already seeing all the actors in that kind of light. I think his politeness, and because he is so small, he does look pretty harmless. I think that’s important toward luring and getting trust from females. They’re more likely to talk to some guy who is kind of small and meek.
AE: You also gave him a smaller weapon, which reminded me of the killer in Audition. You had a tiny, delicate killer with a tiny, delicate weapon. I want to ask: With films like Mama, Saw, and The Babadook, there’s an extensive recent history of short films being given the opportunity to grow into big feature length films. In that event that that same opportunity is presented to you, do you already have a full length Milkman feature in your head?
AL: If that opportunity ever presented itself, I would be ecstatic. I’ve thrown around a couple of ideas about delving into the Milkman’s background, but I like the idea of not knowing why the killer is that way. When I saw the first Halloween, I didn’t know why Michael Myers was that way. But they’ve made so many films now that you kind of know his backstory, so you almost feel sorry for him instead of fearing him, loathing him. You lose the fear aspect of it. I don’t know if I’d make a feature, because I think you’d lose the fear and mystery that the Milkman has over people. If you go into mommy issues or whatever he has, you kind of lose what’s fun about film.
JP: I hadn’t ever really thought about it before. I knew going in it was a short film, and I’ve never thought about it being more than that, but I think I side with Amber on this one. I think drawing it out would take something away from it. It’s creepy almost because it’s so short and it leaves questions lingering.
AE: Jordan, are you worried that someday your elementary students might find the video of you getting murdered by a milkman?
JP: A little bit. Yeah. That’s something Amber and I have discussed pretty thoroughly, how it might be portrayed to audiences and in the case of me being a teacher, it’ll be out there for people to see. It’s already on my Facebook page. I want it to be public for her so she can gain publicity and be successful through it, but at the same time, I am concerned that students might stumble upon it. But the way we do everything, I don’t have a problem with it. Amber always takes my considerations into account. She never asks me to do anything I’m uncomfortable doing. She’s a great director and a great friend. If my students were to come across, I’ll explain that I’m interested in theater and interested in film. That it’s something I did and I’m proud of it.
AE: What about your closer inner circles, family and friends. Is this something they are surprised to see you involved with?
JP: It’s a little out of character for me. I tend to be quiet, and I keep to myself, but I’ve discovered this is an outlet for me. So, my family was not shocked, really, since I had done some theater before, but I think they were a little bit surprised that I’d taken on this particular role. They actually came to the premiere last Friday night and said that the film was very well done, but they didn’t like that I was tied up and murdered and they couldn’t help me. Overall, they only had high praises for Amber, her work, and the rest of the crew.
AE: What I think you exhibit in The Milkman is a sharp understanding of the role pacing plays in creepiness and showing just enough in the frame. To me, in a short film, pacing would be exceptionally challenging. Can you talk about the challenges of building fear in a slight time frame?
AL: When we made this film, I had to cut a lot of scenes out. I made it for a class initially. The way the class was structured, you were alotted 12 hours to make the film. The first cut of the film was very quick and you didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Mindy or The Milkman. So you didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the characters. I went back in March and added the dream sequence, in which Mindy drinks a bottle of blood. I wanted to add something to not only let you spend more time with Mindy but to show that the Milkman, without attacking someone physically, can attack your mind. Something as simple as a bottle of milk can become a symbol of fear.
JP: That was a little tougher! That was a scene we had filmed outside of our 12 hour filming day. But it was a little bit more difficult. Normally, I’ll take the direction and do the best I can. But I wasn’t feeling well that day and Amber said, “Drink this thick red liquid and spit it out.” And I was like… “You don’t want me to do that right now.” It was just a fake blood Amber had mixed up. Chocolate syrup with red food coloring that was watered down. It tasted fine once I put it in my mouth. But the actual idea of drinking it while sick. Ugh.
AE: So, I’m a horror fanatic. In my opinion, this is a very great moment for horror film. Over the last few years, there’s been an output of independent, creative directors. You seem to operate as a horror traditionalist. How do you feel about the shifting landscape of horror?
AL: There are films coming out that still have the typical closing medicine cabinet with something behind the mirror. I’m talking about the Paranormal series and such. By all means. Go to the movies and see it with friends and have fun. But I think other films coming out now, like the Insidious series and Babadook. These films have a slow burn to them. They take things we do on a day to day basis– like going to sleep or reading a children’s book– and make them terrifying. With The Babadook, having your own mind as your primary fear– that’s my number one fear. Losing my mind. These films coming out now are way more created and stay with you longer. Like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist. The Shining. I watch those films today and the things that’s scary in those films isn’t something you can grasp. It’s so abstract, that it stays with you.
JP: I’m definitely someone who enjoys movies, horror or not, that aren’t mainstream. I like movies to go off the beaten path. And I think it’s reassuring to see that as I might look to pursue this part of my career, that these creative things are happening.
AE: Do you have any contemporary examples of inspiration or do you lean on more classic horror films?
AL: I really love James Wan. He definitely has jump scenes that make you scream, but he really cares about the story. To make someone cry, you have to have a good story. To make someone laugh, you have to have good jokes, but you have to have a good story first. It’s the same thing with horror. So, I do tend to lean towards older films, but at the same time, I love camp horror films of the ’80s. I think horror is the perfect genre right now that allows you to go to the movies and have fun but come out carrying something with you. I recently saw It Follows and now every time I see someone walking toward me, I think of It Follows. It’s such a simple concept, and it’s terrifying.
AE: There seems to be an exceptional willingness in B movies and indie horror films to hire female horror directors. That same willingness doesn’t exist in mainstream horror films. This is particularly noteworthy in slasher films, where gender politics seem to play out in every scene. Is this something you’re constantly aware of as an up-and-coming horror talents?
JP: I’m just really glad to see female directors in any position, horror or otherwise…
AL: This is going to sound awful. But I don’t think of gender dynamics while I’m making a film. The film I’m making after The Milkman will have an all female cast because that’s who my friends are. If you’re a female working with a female actress, you can talk about emotional things in a way that you can both understand. Men are just as emotional as women and women are just as aggressive as men. Women can also be as sexual as men. So I don’t go into a movie saying, “I’m going to write this as a female, because it needs to be written that way.” I love that female directors are being able to come up in the independent scene, because it’s important to represent everyone. Film is like any kind of art. Everyone has emotions and thoughts. Not only gender but I think all races and religions should be represented. If there’s not film for Muslims or women or African Americans or Latinos to go see and relate to, then we shouldn’t be making the cookie cutter stuff over and over again. Because then you’re going to lose an audience.
AE: So when you think from a technical perspective, you’re a female who operates as a female filmmaker because you’re filmmaker. But when you look forward at mapping your career, do you see indie horror’s progressiveness as a potential benefit or mainstream’s exclusion as an obstacle?
AL: A lot of these indie films like The Babadook… females in those films play a huge part. In The Babadook, both the lead and director is a female. I feel like a lot of the most iconic horror films feature female issues. The Exorcist, for example, or even with the idea of childbirth and menstruation and the connection of being satanic in religious connotation. It’s been done in horror a lot. The woman being pregnant by Satan’s child. Women being more susceptible to possession because they’re more inherently evil. Women have been represented in horror for a long time. But now, it’s a more prominent role. Women aren’t necessarily the victims any more. They’re survivors and even killers. I think that’s a good thing, but I also think it’s bad to hire a filmmaker just because she’s female. The job should go to whomever can tell the best story. Everyone should have an equal chance to share their story, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
AE: What do you draw upon for inspiration and ideas for horror movies? Personal fears? Cultural fears? Is it something that you describe or does it just hit you?
AL: I’m constantly thinking of ideas. It might not specifically be a horror film. I keep a notebook with me and put it next to my bed at night. Sometimes, if I feel scared at night, I’ll ask why I’m scared. Is it something I’m thinking about or is it something in my room. If I have a nightmare, I’ll try to wake up and write down the nightmare. So, I draw a lot from my relationships, friends, what they talk about, just talking to people. When someone says something that might be a great line in a movie, I’ll write it down and try to come up with a scene around that line. If I see a cool jacket, I ask, “What kind of character would wear that?” and I try to write a character around that.
AE: So, we’re going to put this in print now. When you’re both famous and making your cases, you can point to this interview and say, “Look, I’ve been wanting to do this from the beginning.” What’s your ultimate dream goal? Is there a book adaptation? A remake? A particular star you want to work with?
JP: Oh, goodness. I think if I were to pick people to work with, I would still say Amber. I would hope that she would be at a point where was directing whatever it is that she wants to direct and comes back to me and asks me to help out. I don’t see myself as being famous or doing big roles, but I see myself working with Amber.
AE: That’s an adorable answer for an interview about a film this dark. Okay, Amber, you’re going to have to pick the dream project.
AL: I would love for us to make a film that lead someone to say, “That got me. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I’ve never felt that before.” This sounds pretty cheesy but just making a film that makes a difference to someone. Even if it’s just a campy horror movie, something that makes people say, “Hey, I didn’t expect that from her.”