Interview – ‘Late Night With The Devil’ directors talk creating a 70s throwback horror flick

31 October, 1977. Johnny Carson rival, Jack Delroy, is the host of ‘Night Owls’, a once hugely popular syndicated talk show. A year on from the tragic death of Jack’s wife, ratings have plummeted and sponsors are getting nervous. Desperate to turn his fortunes around, Jack pulls out all the stops for his annual Halloween special, booking a psychic, a professional sceptic, a parapsychologist and a young girl allegedly possessed by the devil… What could possibly go wrong?

After an incredibly successful film festival run in 2023, Late Night With The Devil is finally hitting Australian cinemas on April 11, and Nick L’Barrow had the chance to sit down with the film’s co-writers and directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes to discuss how the film could have looked completely different to what we got, 70s horror inspirations, and the importance of a films ending!

Nick: I want to begin by asking about the process of ultimately making two different films. We have ‘Night Owls’ and everything that happens on the late-night show. Then we have all the chaos that’s happening backstage in black-and-white. And both of them work so well together. I’m curious to know whether you had a different approach when it came to writing and directing each different part of the film?

Colin Cairnes:  I think we tried a bunch of different approaches to that in the script. You know, at one stage we were contemplating being complete purists about it and just cutting to colour pass for three minutes and seeing if that would build suspense!

Then there was a version where maybe the TV cameras just kept rolling but weren’t framing up as they would on the show. And we would just capture the story that we needed to convey, incidentally, like out of focus, from the ground, off screen. Which also seemed cool, but if you got 20 minutes of that, it might start to, perhaps be more contrived.

So, in the end, we have the prologue, which is “part two”. It’s really like a little, mini documentary. We thought we’d employ that device to then tell the story of what’s happening backstage, and to suggest that this is a very, very important night in the life of the show and Jack Delory. Why wouldn’t you have a handful of crew with two cameras backstage documenting this historic event.

Cameron Cairnes: And I don’t know if you picked up on it, but we were suggesting that this film crew were French documentarians. Which I think gives them a bit more access backstage because, you know, they’re speaking French and these American’s don’t care.

Colin Cairnes: It’s like it will never be shown in American. It’ll be one of those artsy, European things. But there’s a couple of snippets of other documentaries sprinkled throughout the film, and we’re kind of suggesting that’s the one crew that has been embedded in this world, you know? They’ve got a long-term project to document about the Abraxis, the satanic church, and all that stuff.

Nick: You’ve given me another reason to go back and watch it tonight! I’m curious to find out more about how you built an authentic feeling with ‘Night Owls’. There are all these small details, like the second time you bleep Lilly saying ‘fuck’ instead of the first time, or a boom mic falling in shot. What was the process in creating that truly authentic late night show feeling?

Cameron Cairnes: It’s interesting you bring up those things! Like the boom in shot, and the second beep. Nice pick up! The guy in the booth must’ve missed the first one!

Colin Cairnes: Yeah, it’s obviously on that two second delay. He was probably out having a ciggie and missed it! [laughs]

Cameron Cairnes: But yeah, they were all things we wrote into the script. I think they’re important little details that just help all the people in the production to get it, you know? It’s got to look a bit crude. It’s got to feel shambolic.

Colin Cairnes: Yeah, it’s live TV. Things go wrong. They can go very wrong!

Nick: Very wrong in this instance! And that’s one of the things I love about this film, and what I love about horror in general – you can have fun with this genre. This is a fun horror film. There are great comedic moments in this film, but how do you get two genres that seem reasonably like polar opposites, horror and comedy, to work so well together?

Colin Cairnes: I mean, I don’t think we see them as polar opposites. I think the world in the last 10 years, horror has got to be straight up the middle hardcore. No levity. That’s kind of what horror is now.

But there was a time in the 70s and 80s, you know, Carpenter, Joe Dante, and people like that. Even Cronenberg had a dark sense of humour where both those genres worked together, and horror was fun! And we shouldn’t forget that it works!

We want to make movies in that vein. The fact that we’ve got a bit of a comedy background as well, as directors, performers, editors, it’s not that difficult for us and we can sort of lean into that. And it felt like this was the place to do it. It’s a late-night talk show. The banter is there, the gags.

Too much stuff now, it just gets a bit maudlin and takes itself so seriously. And in real life, you know, there is levity. People do and say the wrong thing, and it’s funny sometimes. It’s just true to life, we think.

Nick: I’d love to ask about Ingrid Torelli as Lilly, because she is fantastic in the film. Her demeanour, and the way it changes as the film goes on. And that creepy stare! What point did you realise Ingrid was your Lilly?

Cameron Cairnes: Well, Ingrid came to use through our casting director. We saw, maybe seven or eight girls here in Melbourne, and they were all great. But Ingrid was clearly the front runner. And you know, it was just those damn eyes!

In terms of directing, I mean, she’s very instinctive. Her choices are all awesome and interesting. But you know, the eyes were kind of our killer now. I think early on in production, when we were shooting, we said don’t be afraid to look at the camera. It’s alright because it’s live TV. And she kind of took that to heart and ran with it!

Colin Cairnes: I think she found the power in it as well. At first, it’s kind of cute, you know? This supposedly innocent girl who’s a bit overwhelmed by the environment, you’re gonna look into the cameras.

But as Lilly becomes a character with real agency by the end of it, it anything was a matter of direction, it was looking at the camera. And she knew when to look, but not make it “too much”. She’s obviously got a big future ahead.

Nick: You mentioned earlier the films of Cronenberg and Joe Dante, and I think an element of this film that you can feel the nostalgic throwback to those sorts of films is the practical effects, especially the “worm scene”. How important was it having practical effects for both this film, but as a throwback to those films as well?

Cameron Cairnes: Oh, for sure. I don’t think it would have felt of the time period we were trying to set the film. And that’s not saying we don’t have digital effects; you just have to these days. But keeping it as practical as much as we can has always been our dictum. Dictum? Is that right?

Colin Cairnes: That’s a good word. I’ve never heard you use it. [laughs]

Nick: On a more personal level – I’m curious to find out whether you are supernatural sceptics like Carmichael? Or are you supernatural believers like June?

Colin Cairnes: Yeah, I’ve probably got one foot in the Carmichael camp! Well, no. Both. I’ve have both!

Cameron Cairnes: I’ve got half a foot in. I think even someone like Carmichael – why are they so obsessed if they’re not just a little bit hopefully that they discover something one day? If you’re so adamant it’s all bullshit, just go do something else!

I’m a bit like a sceptic, but I’m open to be shocked that something might be out there.

Nick: Does having that foot in both sides help when it comes to writing and understanding these characters?

Colin Cairnes: I think my feeling for when you’re writing that character, that you’ve just got to be in their headspace and see the world through their eyes. And that’s kind of fun because you’re playing that part as well.

Cameron Cairnes: I think you’re always having those arguments in your head when you’re writing. And when you’ve got a character like Carmichael, I think you’re right, there is a bit of sympathy. Or maybe not sympathy…

Colin Cairnes: Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m very sympathetic to Dr. June, you know, who’s trying to turn this into a science! Like there are things out there that we don’t fully comprehend, and she just wants to investigate them.

I think she probably is a sceptic to some degree, but she’s a also a bit more hopeful that we’ll find evidence.

Nick: It really makes the characters complex and entertaining! I want to begin wrapping up by talking about the final 10 or so minutes of this film, because without spoiling anything, this finale has been on my mind since I saw the film last year at Sydney Film Festival! I think it’s fantastic. But it had me thinking about the importance of opening and closing scenes, and the impact they can leave once the movie is over. As filmmakers, do you feel like the opening and closing scenes should be so impactful? And do you have any personal favourites that stand out as your favourites?

Colin Cairnes: Oh, boy! Well, it’s important, yes! You want to grab people, and then you want to finish strong because people walk out of the cinema and remember the last 10 minutes. It’s what they’re probably going to be talking about. And if you have lost them by that stage, then the film probably hasn’t worked. Endings only work if your beginnings work!

Constantly when you’re writing and editing and shooting, but certainly editing, you’re jumping back and forth between them trying to make sure you’re setting things up right and paying them off. All of that stuff’s important.

But as far as films that are a bit of an inspiration, it just so happened that I watched Audition again recently, which I hadn’t seen for 20 years. And that ending goes pretty bonkers. It’s a good example where it’s a slow burn, but it’s a really cool pay off. That probably was a little influence that we weren’t really conscious of.

Cameron Cairnes: You know, this kept entering my head. This Buffy episode. And I’m not a Buffy fan, but there was one very dreamy episode where all of the characters are sort of interconnecting. I wish I could give you more details on the episode! My partner is the Buffy fan!

Colin Cairnes: Another one I was just thinking was Dead of Night. You know that classic British film? It’s from 1945 or 46. You need to see it! But that ends in kind of a way where all these different short stories connect up. There’s a character that runs through the locations of each of the stories. That one was there in the back of my head!

Thank you to Colin and Cameron for their time, and to Maslow Entertainment, Umbrella Entertainment, and NixCo PR for organising the interview! Late Night With The Devil is in cinemas April 11.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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