• Directing the ‘Dark: Troy Nixey talks about the dangers of working with children and very nasty animals on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

  • 25 AUG 2011|BY JOE NAZZARO
  • Don't Be Afraid Of The DarkThe first thing you notice about Troy Nixey- other than his bouncy enthusiasm- is the notebook. It’s a slim Moleskin notebook that the comic book artist-turned-director keeps with him at all times. If you leaf through those pages, you’ll probably find his notes for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, on which he makes his feature directing debut, as well as some of the creatures he helped design for the film. Nixey recently sat down to talk about his collaboration with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (who acted as producer on the film) and the challenges of working on a high-profile genre film…


  • How did you end up getingt the director's job on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark?

    Troy and Bailee
    Director Troy Nixey and actress Bailee Madison

    Troy Nixey: It’s actually not that complicated. In terms of my background as a comic book artist and writer, Guillermo was familiar with my work and even though I come from comics, my first love was always movies. That’s what I needed to be doing, so I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to find out!’  That’s where Latchkey’s Lament came from, the short film I did, which Guillermo subsequently saw and from that I got the job. While I working on ‘Latchkey’s,’ I was sending images and drawings to him through his public e-mail address and he wrote back and was very encouraging; I remember he said the bad guy looked ‘very Nixey-esque,’ which I took as a big honor.

  • It took me five years to finish the short, because there was a lot of starting and stopping mainly because of cost. I would work some more to make more money, but when it was finished, a mutual friend of ours who was good friends with Guillermo, put it up on his FTP site for Guillermo to watch while he was prepping Hellboy 2 in Budapest. He sent an e-mail to Nick who passed it along to me that was very encouraging, and Nick phoned a few minutes later and said, ‘It gets better; he wants to talk to you!’

  • I phoned Guillermo, who said, ‘I loved your short; it was great, but there’s this script I wrote with Matthew Robbins 13 years ago; I originally wrote it for myself to direct, but I’ve done Pan’s Labyrinth and I’ve sort of moved on, so I’m looking for a first-time director to work with. I’m going to produce it with Miramax; would you be interested in reading it?’ I said, ‘Of course!’ so he sent the script over and I loved it.

  • Guillermo is my favorite director working today so to have someone like him show that initial faith and interest in me to take on a piece of material that meant so much to him felt fantastic. It was a great story, great characters, great monsters; it was everything you could want in a movie, not just in your first movie but as a movie, so that’s how it happened. I met with Miramax and they finally signed off on me and when we got the ball rolling.

  • What was it like working with your leading lady, ten year-old Bailee Madison who plays Sally?

  • Nixey: What was easy for me is I was able to put myself in the character. I had really loving parents, but I was a painfully shy little kid and we moved a lot when I was little, so I always felt out of place no matter where we were. Because of that, I was that, I was able to communicate it to that Bailee, and with her being extremely talented, I think it definitely shows on screen. It’s a very strong performance.

  • Was it a deliberate move on your part to move the camera and use those low angles that gave the audience a sense of what the creatures were seeing, as well as from Sally’s perspective?

  • Nixey: Oh absolutely. I feel very strongly that you can make an emotional connection with your audience not only through the story and the actor’s performance, but also where you put a camera. You can either engage them in the scene or keep them at arm’s length, so okay, where do I need them emotionally at this time? And working with Oliver [Stapleton, the DP] and the camera crew; it’s funny, because I hadn’t worked with a Steadicam before, because I had obviously just done one short, but I absolutely fell in love with the Steadicam and what it was capable of doing, so as we went along, I started to think about how I could do more with the Steadicam.

  • For me, Steadicam is the most engaging technique of making a movie because you can move around and flow with the characters and you can engage with them quickly and then move back, but absolutely, I was very specific about creating distance by shooting through things or being right on Sally’s hip and following her through her world at her level. I think there’s something really interesting about keeping a camera that low and moving with the kid, because as an adult, you have no idea what the world looks like at four feet, so it’s a different perspective from an audience, who can say, ‘I can really see what she’s seeing, because I’m looking up at everybody.’ So yes, I definitely had some very specific ideas about where the cameras would go and what they would do.

  • Has this been a difficult period for you, with the movie finished and sitting on the shelf for the past year while Miramax sorted itself out?

  • Nixey: Miramax loves the movie, which is great, because we didn’t know what they were going to do. They could have just dumped it to DVD, but they assured us, ‘No, we love this movie and we’re going to do it right!’ And then they teamed up with Film District, who’s been absolutely incredible, so that aspect of it is everything you hoped for in the release of your movie.

  • That year when nothing was happening was very difficult, because no one is really going to sign off on anything they want to do with you because they can’t see your movie. It’s an unknown quantity so they’ll say, ‘We don’t know if it’s good or bad,’ so I was in this holding pattern. But even though we’re now much closer to release, there’s still part of me that thinks, ‘Okay, we’re just going to wait and see what happens when it comes out.’

  • Thankfully it’s not as though I’ve just been sitting here. There’s a script I have that I wrote myself that I’m very proud of, and there are a couple of projects that are in different shapes and forms, so I’m ready to go as soon as somebody says, ‘We’re excited about your ideas and want to make something from them!’

  • Have you now gone from being a comic book guy that wants to do films, to a filmmaker that used to do comics?

  • Nixey: I really have. I love the medium of comics and some of my best friends are still comic book artists, but I can’t imagine doing it again. It was a small part of what I wanted to be able to do and when I realized I really wanted to do movies, it was the first day on set for ‘Latchkey’s’ and it was like a light bulb going off. I suddenly knew that this was what I was supposed to be doing and I felt very comfortable with that. Obviously the next step after Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is for people to think, ‘This guy has some really original ideas; let’s see what he can do!’

  • Do you find it strange that genre films still get a bad name sometimes?

  • Nixey: It’s true, there is an amazing number of movies that have come out that are genre movies and it’s interesting that there is still that feeling, even though genre movies are making the big money. But there is still that ‘Yeah, but they’re genre movies!’ attitude from some people, that I just don’t get. There are amazing directors who are telling amazing stories in what would be called ‘genre movies,’ which I think is kind of funny, because everything is essentially a genre movie. If you make a romantic comedy, that’s a genre, but they don’t really refer to that. It’s just like comic book movies. To be a comic book movie, you have to be wearing a superhero costume. Well, guess what? Road to Perdition was a comic book, and that’s a comic book movie, and so was A History of Violence. They’re comic book movies, but they don’t consider them that, because they’re not wearing a costume and they’re not a superhero, so they’re not a comic book movie, but to me, they’re exactly the same.

  • Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark opens Friday, August 26th.

  • END