Interview: GREGG HOLTGREWE, Dawning

Who is Gregg Holtgrewe? A man with a vision and a sense of determination. A writer. A director. The creative force behind “Dawning”, out now from Breaking Glass Pictures.

“Dawning” is not your ordinary horror film, with jump scares and blood splashed around. It has a much more human element and could almost really happen to you. And Gregg is not your typical horror writer or director. While he has some influences from the genre, he really sees the world more through the eyes of Hitchcock or Bergman. You know, the classic thriller directors of the 20th century.

We exchanged some e-mail correspondence in June 2011 and now I can share it with you…

GS: I live in Wisconsin. Tell me all about shooting in Hayward.

GH: It was the perfect location for so many reasons. The cabin, number one, but the area was full of such nice people who were willing to help us out whenever we needed it. We even had a neighbor, Nancy, who lives next to the location cabin, come over and bring us brownies. Beyond the people, one of the great things about the area was the darkness and the forests… and those two aspects of the film were key if I was going to pull off the isolation factor.

GS: If you had no budget, how would that have affected your film?

GH: Well, we never would have been able to travel and put people up in cabins at the resorts. We wouldn’t have been able to fly in Najarra or Christine, couldn’t have gotten the lights and extra pieces of equipment we needed (we shot on my HVX200) and could never have gotten the extremely talented cast and crew. Basically we never could’ve made this particular film.

GS: Okay, I worded that wrong. Had money not been an issue, how would the film have been different?

GH: I think, mostly, we would’ve been able to shoot more days and pay people more which would’ve enabled us to shoot the film in say, one year, versus going back in ’08 and ’09. But other than that, the film was also meant to be simple and minimal so money would’ve gotten in the way, similar to how it did in ’06 when I scrapped the entire shoot…we had more money and more time and the film was, ultimately, a failure…money can keep people from pushing themselves creatively and I like to push myself and those I work with.

GS: After scrapping the film in 2006, what motivated you to give it another go?

GH: I don’t like to give up and I had a very specific vision for this film. I knew it wouldn’t be for everyone so I knew going in it wasn’t going to be “popular”…but I had something I wanted to say and do and I couldn’t let that go…the pieces were there, they just had to be reworked.

GS: What is the significance of the title, “Dawning”?

GH: I guess a couple reasons… first, I wanted to play on the old quote “there is nothing in the dark, that isn’t in the light, except fear.” I also like that people normally equate dawn as a new beginning, so I wanted to play on that convention. Lastly, the name “Aurora” means ‘Goddess of the dawn’.

GS: Which horror films, outside the mainstream, have influenced you (either on this project or in general)?

GH: As far as outside the mainstream, probably none… films like The Exorcist, The Thing, Halloween, Signs and a lot of Hitchcock played a more major role… and a few Bergman films which could be argued are “horror” but not in the traditional way.

GS: I agree that Bergman, horror or not, is amazing. Which films in particular did you mean? Perhaps “Through a Glass Darkly”?

GH: Oh yes! Through A Glass Darkly for sure, I have that in my laserdisc collection! That whole trilogy to be honest… TAGD and Winter Light and Silence… I love those films so much!

GS: The word that keeps coming up in reviews is “tense” or “tension” — how did you achieve this effect?

GH: I like to think it was achieved through as many cinematic elements as possible… camera positioning, performance, sound design, score and editing…but none of that would’ve worked if it weren’t for the underlying issues between the family… when things are buried, tension more easily surfaces and I think the actors did a really incredible job creating tension from no other antagonist but themselves and their own demons…the performances are extremely underrated in my opinion.

GS: If you ever meet David Hasselhoff, what would you say to him?

GH: Sorry about that on-line video… hope things are working out. Take care.

GS: Has the film opened doors for you or your crew?

GH: Absolutely it has. I can’t speak for everyone involved but it’s opened more doors than I could have imagined. The festivals have been great, overall, and the buzz has enabled me to move forward on a couple new films so I am quite happy, not satisfied, but happy. As many people that dislike the film and don’t have the patience for it there are quite a lot of people who really respect the craft and that’s enabled my career to keep moving forward.

GS: What projects should we be on the lookout for in the future?

GH: Right now “Nest” and “Snowblind” are my main focuses…with “Elephant Burial” and a few others being written here and there. I’m really excited about the opportunities which are presenting themselves, especially with “Snowblind”…but it’s early so I can’t say too much as it’s a long road with a lot of obstacles. Low and medium-budget films are at a tricky stage.

GS: Thanks, Gregg.

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