Standards of Living is thought to be the first full length film shot entirely on a tablet. Is this the future of horror? Is the increasing availability of technology going to change the face of horror movies? We spoke to Aaron Mento, creator of Standards of Living about the film, and his thoughts on how this new method of filmmaking could change the industry.
Tell us about the film
STANDARDS OF LIVING is a horror comedy about an awful stand-up comedian who desperately wants to be funny. He gets the opportunity to participate in a teleportation experiment, which is supposed to enhance his comedic abilities, but the experiment instead exposes him to a strange and dangerous alternate dimension. The atmosphere is very claustrophobic and contained, as we only shot inside two tight locations, and the tone switches between dark comedy and very serious horror. Maybe this is too presumptuous, but I’ve described the style and tone as David Lynch meets John Landis.
What inspired you to make the film?
After a health scare involving my eyes, I decided that I had to make a feature film right now, no matter what. I didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t have any professional camera equipment, and I didn’t have a script that I could realistically pull off on my own. While I had other horror screenplays finished, these were too ambitious in scope to try to produce with such limited resources. Thankfully, I had an idea in my back pocket that I always wanted to explore – What if a magician could really make objects disappear? Where would these vanished objects go to? What would a person see if they went to this “other” place? This was the jumping off point for STANDARDS OF LIVING.
Who are your biggest horror influences?
Definitely Don Coscarelli and his PHANTASM series. I must have watched the original PHANTASM ten times during pre-production on STANDARDS OF LIVING. There is so much low-budget wisdom in Don’s films, it’s not even funny. If you want to know how to make a solid low-budget horror film, listen to commentary with Don Coscarelli and his cast on the PHANTASM films. Another big influence is Wes Craven, with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. being one of my favorite films of all time. I like horror filmmakers who write and direct their own films, which is something that I plan on continuing. Another influence is Lloyd Kaufman of TROMA for his rebellious “get-the-damn-thing-done” mentality, and his fearlessness of critical reproach. I knew that making a movie on an iPad would get me some upturned noses, but I decided early on to not give a shit about that.
How did you come to the decision to shoot on an iPad?
The short answer is that I had an iPad 2 available, and after my health scare I said “screw it, I’m just going to make a feature film on this.” While this sounds kind of crazy, and many many people tried to talk me out of it, I loved the challenge of doing something that had never been done before. The fact that this movie maybe shouldn’t even exist? For me, that’s the most attractive thing about it!
How did this affect the making of the film, what challenges were there in using a tablet?
Well, the iPad has only one wide ass lens, so I had to get really really close to the actors for a close-up. That was strange but also very funny at times. The iPad also has the dreaded auto-exposure, which means that when I moved with it into an area with different light, the iPad screen would automatically spaz out adjust to that new lighting. To combat this, I had to even out the lighting as much as possible, and sometimes we had to do a bunch of takes to get it right. In post, I discovered that the iPad also shoots at different frame rates in different light. Most of the time it was 24fps or 30fps, but some takes would be something like 27fps or 21fps, which is totally bizarre. We used external microphones for sound, so synching the sound up during editing was a challenge with the different frame rates. After some trial and error, it all worked out in the end without any problems.
Do you see the increasing affordability of these types of products as a positive thing for the film industry?
I would say yes, but with one stipulation. STANDARDS OF LIVING was written specifically for the iPad, and I think that if something is written with a tablet or a phone camera in mind, then the project has a great chance of being artistically successful. However, not every movie should be shot on these devices, and it’s always best to use the right camera for the right screenplay. There will automatically be an assumption that anything shot on a phone or a tablet is junk, so there is an uphill battle if you want to convince people to take your film seriously. But I worked really really hard on the screenplay for STANDARDS OF LIVING, and this is why I believe the film is successful. So I would of course recommend writing a script that you 100% love before going into any production.
Find out more and watch the film at the official website.