Impossible Monsters has its NJ Premiere on Saturday, September 14 at the New Jersey Film Festival!
Here is the interview I did with Impossible Monsters Director Nathan Catucci!
Nigrin: Your psychological thriller Impossible Monsters focuses on a University Psychology Professor who launches a sleep study, with a focus on nightmares, dreams, and sleep paralysis. Please tell us more about your film and what motivated you to make it?
Catucci: Impossible Monsters is about an ambitious professor (Tony Award winner Santino Fontana) who becomes caught up in the murder of a participant in his sleep study, as the line between dreams and reality blurs.
I was always fascinated by dreams and nightmares, our perception of reality, and how they relate to specific moments in our lives. The moment we wake up, however brief, requires us to define what was real and what was a dream. Often these moments are merely disorienting, but sometimes, they’re terrifying.
In high school, there was a period of time where I suffered from sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis happens upon falling asleep and waking up while we are in REM sleep. Victims will sense a presence in the room, have trouble breathing, sometimes see and/or hear things. This can last moments or minutes, and when it’s over – there’s nothing there. What makes it terrifying, is because we are in REM sleep we’re conscious of what is happening, it’s as if the dream and nightmare worlds cross over into reality.
As a teenager, I had no idea what sleep paralysis was. It was terrifying and at the time, because I didn’t understand what was happening, I thought that there was something really wrong with me. It wasn’t until college that I discovered what sleep paralysis was, and began exploring the science of dreams through art, mainly Henry Fuseli’s painting “The Nightmare” and Francisco de Goya’s etching “The Sleep of Reason.” This would eventually become the seed for “Impossible Monsters”
Nigrin: Santino Fontana is terrific as the Professor as is the rest of the main cast. Please tell us more about these actors and how you ended up working with them.
Catucci: The film stars Santino Fontana as Dr. Rich Freeman. Santino really brought a lightness to his character that we felt was necessary since much of the film is set in this dark dream/reality. The film also stars Natalie Knepp, Devika Bhise, Dónall Ó Héalai, Chris Henry Coffey, Geoffrey Owens, Mercer Boffey and Dennis Boutsikaris with Lalia Robins. We wanted to cast actors that really embodied their roles. I worked with our casting director, Matthew Messinger, and producers, Dorottya Mathe and Jonathan Burkhart, in putting together the cast. Throughout production, the cast was generous in exploring their characters as we worked on scenes and told the story. I felt incredibly fortunate to work with such a tremendous group of artists on my first feature film.
Nigrin: The music is also a star of the film. It is subtly eerie but really sets the mood. Tell us more about the soundtrack and the composer.
Catucci: Michael MacAllister’s score is fantastic! Music is very important to me. Michael and I started discussing music very early on while I was developing the project. We discussed Bernard Herrmann’s scores, Bela Bartok’s use of violins, violas, and cellos, and the opera Tales of Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach. We very much wanted a classic orchestral feel throughout the film. Michael was also incredibly inventive combining electronic textures and manipulating instruments to find a subtle tension in the music. We really wanted the music to tie the visual style together—setting a truly unsettling tone.
Nigrin: Otis’s paintings in the film are incredible abstract expressionist works. They really reminded me of Francis Bacon’s work. Were they made for the film? Who created these?
Catucci: All of the work in Impossible Monsters is completely original and created specifically for the film. One of the challenges of creating a film in which art and paintings play such a huge role, is finding art that in of itself is creative, vibrant and engaging. After winning the Panavision New Filmmaker Grant, we had a lot of momentum, but still need to continue fundraising. In the meantime, we decided to set a shoot date several months out and began debating the art – do we use existing pieces or create new works for the film. I reached out to my friend Gwen A.P. an Ohio based artist and asked if she would be interested in reading the script and possibly creating the art for the film. Gwen called me a couple of days later and said she was in! Gwen and I talked at length about Eric Haacht and Jenny Saville, and how they relate to Otis’ “early” and “later” works throughout the story. We worked together over the course of nine months leading up to the production. Gwen would send pictures and videos as she created the paintings. The first piece that Gwen sent was great, but I felt it was too literal in regard to our references. I asked Gwen if she could make the paintings bigger and to interpret Otis through her work. What came after that conversation absolutely floored me – it was phenomenal. Gwen created a series of oil on canvas paintings that range from 54”x54” to 64”x79” in size. Readers should see for themselves!
Nigrin: Where did you shoot the film? Some of it looks like it was shot at City College in New York City.
Catucci: The film was shot by Behnood Dadfar, and we captured Impossible Monsters on 35 locations over the course of 18 days, primarily in New York City, and a couple of locations in New Jersey and the Hudson Valley. Locations were very important to us. We wanted the locations to become “characters” in the film and then frame our characters within those locations. Since so much of the film is going between dreams and reality, it was really important that locations had texture.The City College of New York is indeed the stand in for the university in the film. Very early on I knew I wanted to shoot on City College’s campus. The gothic architecture, stone, and gargoyles, along with the wood paneled rooms and green tiled hallways had the perfect textures for the world we wanted to create in Impossible Monsters. Additionally, the diner scene with Otis towards the beginning of the film was shot at the White Rose Diner in Linden, NJ. We used Edward Hopper’s painting The Nighthawks as inspiration for the scene and location.
Nigrin: Without giving anything anyway, your film seems pretty ambiguous at times. Was this your intention.
Catucci: Impossible Monsters is ambiguous and that was intentional. Going back to my earlier comment about that “disorienting moment” when we first wake up, I wanted to recreate that moment throughout the film. There are layers throughout this psychological thriller that are up to the audience to decide what is real and what is a dream. This is ultimately what makes it a fun, perplexing and sometimes intense experience for audience members. Without giving away too much, the film questions dreams vs. reality and moral dilemmas throughout. Part of the fun with Impossible Monsters, is the conversation it sparks with audience members debating what is real, what is not and why.Readers can go to impossiblemonsters.com and follow us (@ImpossibleMonstersMovie) on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about the film.
Impossible Monsters Trailer:
Two great shorts Pit Stop and All-In-Madonna will be screened prior to Impossible Monsters. Here is more info on this screening:
Pit Stop – Mikail Ekiz (Hamilton, New Jersey) A stop-motion film about a gas station convenience store clerk who has a Magic 8 Ball for a head that can predict the future. Fearing that others will discover his secret, he lives in a constant state of paranoia. 2019; 4 min.
All-In-Madonna – Arnold Lim (Victoria, (British Columbia, Canada) When 17-year-old Maddie discovers dark secrets about her father’s past, she must reconcile herself with the father she thought she knew, and the father he may actually be. 2019; 13 min.
Impossible Monsters – Nathan Catucci (New York, New York) Tony Award winner Santino Fontana plays an ambitious and well-liked psychology professor in this nail-biting thriller. As he launches a sleep study, with a focus on nightmares, dreams, and sleep paralysis – hoping to land a lucrative grant--the line between dreams and reality starts to blur. When a member of the sleep study is found murdered, everything begins to unravel, inside and outside his sleep lab. 2019; 84 min. Q+A Session with Director Nathan Catucci!
Co-sponsored by the Rutgers University Cinema Studies Program!
Saturday, September 14, 2019 at 7:00 PM
in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey
$14= Advance; $12=General; $10=Students+Seniors
Information: (848) 932-8482; www.njfilmfest.com