Interview – Joe Lo Truglio on his new horror flick ‘Outpost’

Kate seeks to heal past trauma by moving to Idaho, and taking a job as a fire lookout volunteer. But alone in the mountains, unable to leave her outpost, she is overwhelmed by isolation and paranoia. To protect the tower, she must discover the truth, confront those responsible and face her own demons.

Outpost is the latest horror film, and the feature film directorial debut from Joe Lo Truglio (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and to celebrate it’s release, I had the chance to chat with Joe about his horror influences, collaborating with his wife, and the challenges of filming on the summit of a mountain!

Joe Lo Truglio: Nick, I like the fact that you have an array of movies behind you! You are a cinephile. I give you much kudos!

Nick: I appreciate that! And not just a cinephile, but I’m all about physical media too! We gotta keep it alive!

Joe Lo Truglio: That’s cool. They’re gonna start cutting off streaming licenses, and you’ve got the real material.

Nick: I’m going to have to open up some sort of underground video rental store. It’s going to be very 1984!

Joe Lo Truglio: That’s perfect!

Nick: I really appreciate you taking the time to chat today. I’m a big horror fan, so anytime I get to talk to people about it, I love it. But I’m fascinated by people who are more well known for comedy, like yourself, who turn to horror. What drove you to pursue Outpost as a project?

Joe Lo Truglio: Well, my love for horror started well before comedy. Like, 10 or 11, I was doing Super 8 – that’ll age me! – Super 8 films, you know, around the house. And I was trying to crack into the cable to see some of those 80s horror movies. Reading Stephen King. So, it was a love that was very early on in my life. And I knew that eventually I’d want to come back and make a horror movie. So it began there.

As far as the movie, this particular idea, I knew it was going to be a low-budget movie. It was going to be an independent production. So I knew we needed some production value and I started thinking of settings that might add to that, and a top of a mountain certainly qualifies for that! Of course, I disregarded any logistical problems that I would need to overcome to shoot! But then I just started thinking of what stories could take place up here, and obviously isolation jumps into mind immediately.

The Shining is one of my all-time favourite horror films. I will say, my all-time favourite horror movie is [David] Cronenberg’s The Brood. Those little guys were in my nightmares growing up! But that’s how the story for Outpost kind of gelled. What could happen up there, and we went from there. I knew I wanted Beth [Dover], my wife, in the movie as well. She’s a terrific actor, but also it being an independent movie, it was going to be in our lives… well, certainly my life and indirectly or directly hers, for many years.

Nick: Was Beth [Dover] part of the process early on? Were you bouncing ideas off of her, especially since she is playing the lead character? Were you fleshing out that character together in the scripting process?

Joe Lo Truglio: No. I offered her a draft and kind of asked her to read it and jot some notes down. She was really wanting me to explore this on my own and kind of get it there. Then her incredible contributions came on set. I mean, aside from the performance, there might have been little beats of dialogue that weren’t working, and she would tweak it a little to make it sound more like what a woman might say in this situation. But, all of her contributions, besides obviously supporting me creatively, came on set.

Nick: Obviously, Beth and yourself aren’t the only husband-wife combo on this film! I love Becky-Ann and Dylan Baker…

Joe Lo Truglio: They’re amazing. Becky-Ann Baker! She is so good. She doesn’t watch anything she’s in. I mean, she doesn’t even like horror movies, so she definitely wasn’t going to watch this! But, I keep telling her how incredible she is in this movie. People love her in this movie. They flip when her big moment comes! I can’t say enough good things about all the cast, but in particular, Becky-Ann, who is not a horror person, just crushes this role and was game for all the things that happened to her character.

Nick: That’s amazing. And Dylan, especially after a film like Happiness, can rock up in a film and you don’t know whether to trust the guy initially! But I think that’s part of his charm as an actor. When did the Baker’s come on board for this film?

Joe Lo Truglio: I’ve known the Baker’s for about 20 years now, maybe more. All the actors in the in the movie I’ve known for at least 20 years, with the exception of Ato Essandoh, who plays Earl, who is terrific. I met him a couple of weeks before we did the movie, and he just integrated himself seamlessly into the whole ensemble of people that already knew each other!

But then to take this type of role, it’s physically demanding. And he was just so good at it. A buddy of mind had worked with him on another project called Vinyl, and I asked my friend how he [Ato] was to work with, because you know, in our case, we’re filming together for two weeks, or really 16 days. But my buddy said he was terrific, and then we had a Zoom and about 30 seconds in I knew Ato was our guy. It was a great experience with the entire cast.

Nick: It makes sense wanting to get that chemistry right with the cast if you’re spending 16 days on a mountain together!

Joe Lo Truglio: Yeah! We shot 8 days on the summit, and the rest was down the bottom with a couple of days in Spokane, Washington. And I like to boast a little because it took an hour to drive up the mountain and an hour to drive down. So, we lost 2 hours every day, and we shot it in 8 days! So, that’s 16 hours. We really lost a full day out of our schedule.

Nick: While we’re on the topic of collaborations, I truly believe horror can be made or broken by the score. You’ve got a great composer here though, Steph Copeland. How did you come across her work and how id she become involved in Outpost?

Joe Lo Truglio: Thank you so much for bringing that up! I completely agree with you. In all of my favourite horror movies, the score is kind of front and centre. I knew that with Outpost, I wanted it to be very stylised, and certainly music was going to help.

It was random, I just started Googling amazing female horror composers because I wanted a lot of the key voices in the film to be female, because of the subject matter. I found Steph and listened to her music on Spotify, and I had to meet with her. So, we had a Zoom and started talking about horror soundtracks, and we both hit it off.

I told Steph that I wanted her to make the soundtrack that she would want to hear. And we talked about Carpenter and all these amazing composers, and she was just all for it. She just went to bat and was super collaborative. It was such an incredible experience working with her. And post [production] was not something I was too familiar with, you know. The writing, and the performing and the on-set production is what I was very familiar with. Not so much post. But she made the experience so wonderful. I’m glad you brought that up because it’s a fantastic score and I’m really humbled that it’s in the movie.

Nick: I want to touch on your creative process for this film, because there is a balance, I’m guessing, you have to find as a writer and director for horror when it comes to the more confronting and disturbing imagery in the film. What is the process of deciding what confronting moments are used for shock value, and what moments are used to progress the characters and the story?

Joe Lo Truglio: Yeah, one of the challenges was handling the PTSD element in a respectful way. It’s used as a device, for sure. I didn’t want to dance around it or be exploitive in that respect, or use it to be jarring. But it’s also quite a real experience that those who suffer from PTSD happen upon. It’s very unsettling, it comes into reality very suddenly and without warning. I wanted to use that device as it is a tenant of the genre.

The other challenge was to create some tension without slowing things up too much, and then ultimately finding a way to sympathise with Kate, our main character, through her experience. I wanted to write a movie where you sympathise with the monster, without knowing it was the monster. And I use the term ‘monster’ just purely as a label in a narrative way, not to make any pejorative judgements. So, that was difficult to navigate, but a lot of it was found in the editing.

We had a lot of cuts; we had a lot of scenes that had to put in a different chronological order to create a stronger narrative and to create some stronger tension. A lot of the relationship between Earl and Nikki had to be taken out of the movie because it was pulling away from Kate’s story.

But I think what you have to do is really understand where the scare is coming from and what is scary about each scene for that character, and kind of edit accordingly.

Nick: I want to wrap up on a shot that’s in this film, that I wholeheartedly mean this, that is one of my favourite shots of the year. I don’t want to spoil the context, but you hold a shot in which someone is sprinting with an axe towards two other characters, and for me it just screamed ‘iconic horror shot’. What are some of your favourite iconic horror movie shots?

Joe Lo Truglio: Well, this makes me very happy because that I had that shot in my head before we even shot the movie! Even before the first draft was done, it was there from the very get go! We worked so hard on that, and I couldn’t wrap the day until we nailed it. But we got it on the third take!

I think my favourite… gosh, there’s a lot of shots in horror movies that I love. I’ll pick one that no one’s going to know and what the shot in Outpost is based on. And it’s from a horror movie called Luther the Geek, and it’s a cable movie when our main characters are in the foreground, in the kitchen. Then there’s a hallway, and it’s a long depth of field shot to the porch, and then about 100 yards away there is a barn door.

So, the camera is in the kitchen and there is a character who starts casually walking towards the camera, and in the distance this thing starts running at us, and we know it’s Luther the Geek, but she doesn’t know, and she gets to the porch before she realises that she’s being followed by Luther who comes into the house and the attack happens in the kitchen. That is one of my favourite shots of all time. But thank you for bringing that shot up. I’m proud of it.

Thank you to Joe for the incredible chat, and to Walkden Entertainment and Lightbulb Films for organising our interview. Outpost is available on VOD and Digital from Wednesday, September 13.

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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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