Keith Thomas is an American writer and director who made his feature directorial debut with The Vigil from IFC Midnight. The Vigil tells the story of a young man in emotional emotional recovery after fleeing from his Hasidic community, who is called upon to perform an all night vigil over a the body of a recently deceased man in his widow's apartment. Everything is going fine until he realizes that the house is the host of a malevolent spirit.
The Vigil was a great film. I personally love supernatural horror, but it's rare to see ghost movies that build upon Judaic mythology which is what really allowed The Vigil to stand out. That plus its very poignant human drama made this a very exciting and fresh film. In addition to The Vigil, Keith is also directing the remake of the Stephen King classic Firestarter, under Blumhouse, which is awesome!
I talked to Keith all about the making of The Vigil, lessons learned from his directorial debut, Firestarter, as well as Judaic Demonology, on today's episode of The Nick Taylor Horror show. Now, strap in and enjoy this conversation with Keith Thomas.
- Film in authentic sets. When location scouting for The Vigil, Keith and his team came across an apartment that was formerly occupied by an older woman who had recently passed away, whereby all of her possessions were exactly as she left them. When filming, Keith barely touched the apartment, leaving everything where it was to create an atmosphere and an authentically detailed set that you could feel. This is an interesting idea, and you definitely don't need to rent homes of people who passed away, but do consider shooting in people's untouched living environments if they match the identities of your characters. This can inexpensively create a level of realism that you cannot orchestrate otherwise.
- OUTLINE . As a writer, Keith outlines before he writes. There are multiple types of writers, and two common archetypes are the planner and the pantser. The planner outlines everything from the plot, story, character arcs, details and dialogue where the pantser takes a basic idea and begins writing immediately; allowing the story to unfold on its own. Clive Barker is a planner and goes to great lengths to outline all of his work prior to putting pen to paper, whereas both Quentin Tarantino and Stephen King are both pantsers, who begin writing with a basic idea and then allow the characters to dictate the story. Keith is a planner, and highly recommends outlining because it allows you to take an inventory of your ideas ahead of time and organize them in a way that enables you to observe what doesn't work before writing. In this way, the writer can not only kill their darlings, in the Hemingway sense, but kill them before they hatch. Whether your a pantser or a planner, outlining has the power to save you a lot of time and heartache during the writing process by presenting you with a 30,000 foot view of your story in a way where you can understand what works and what doesn't ahead of time.
- Re center every day on set. A lot of directors have talked about their own versions of meditation while in production. Keith's is very simple but powerful; every day, before everyone arrives, he reminds himself of his vision of the movie, often visualizing it in his mind. He meditates on the plot, the characters, the tone and the story, and he does this every day when he's filming. This enables him to remain constantly in touch with the details of his vision for the movie, which is always at risk of being compromised due to the many distractions that occur on set. It's important to have a rudder as a director to protect you from straying from your vision - a meditation practice is a great way to create this.
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