By Dr. Michelle Conty -
Dan Dillard has become known
in the independent horror circles as “The Demon Author,” an allusion to the
demons in his stories. Typical of many horror writers, he is a mild-mannered,
family man. Originally from Connecticut,
Dan served six years in the Navy before settling with his wife and two
daughters in Indiana. While he seemed
content with his short story anthologies and horror books, we horror fans know
what “seems” seldom is the case. A few
short months ago, Dillard made a leap and posted on his website that he was
going to transition into filmmaking, as it has always been his true love.
His debut short, Anderson Wake, based on one of his short
stories, premiered at Horrorhound Weekend and Film Festival in Indianapolis,
September 2017. The premise of the
story: a man goes back to his childhood home to settle his mother’s estate and
find reasons for their rocky relationship.
The answers he finds are haunting.
Horrorhound recently caught
up with Dillard as he was filming what will be his second film, Pigman, based on another of his short
HH: You still write new material regularly, you
are adapting previous stories, there’s the 9-5 job, your family… Dan, you are a
busy man. How do you keep yourself
balanced and continue to find time to write?
DD: “You get your butt in the
chair and you write. Some people have a
routine, some people give themselves quota, whatever works for you. I write when I have an idea. I can’t let that idea go. I may remember it
later, but it won’t be as good. I call
and leave myself voice mails, pull over on the highway and make notes, whatever
it takes to get that idea down ASAP.”
HH: When do you know what you
wrote is worthwhile?
DD: “Don’t get a big head.
Every first draft is crap. Hemingway said it, and I echo it. You must revise.
It’s work. You must edit, over and over, to get it into a format people want to
read. Anything you create, you can find flaws in so you must know, you get to a
point where you must let it go.
Discipline is a must.”
HH: You recently graduated
film school from Full Sail University in Florida. Tell us about that experience and do you
think film school is a must for aspiring film makers?
DD: “Studying film was good
for me, it was Digital Cinematography, but everyone has to make their own
decisions about education. In school, we worked on various types of films, and
were editing, producing, writing, so it was well rounded. We did about 1 short
HH: Can we look forward to
seeing any of these film school projects?
DD: “Maybe, but I doubt
it. We used Creative Commons so they
aren’t publishable, they were done as students with license for students. I may be able to utilize some of those ideas
for another professional project later.”
HH: Your short, Anderson Wake, screened at Horrorhound Weekend
Indianapolis. Please tell us about
creating, shooting, and screening your first short.
DD: “I put out a casting call
and a great local actor helped me network.
There are some very talented people in the Indy area, I was fortunate to
network and get some great talent who were willing to donate their time. Anderson cost about $400 to make and that was
mostly spent on feeding everyone. My
wife and daughters were so supportive and helpful. They did whatever needed done to make the
film happen, even wrangling the dogs in the other room so we could shoot. Get
everything you can on camera, you can edit it later. Get it all.”
HH: Sounds stressful and exhausting. Always ‘one more thing.’
DD: “I got actors and set a
date. Then I couldn’t procrastinate. It
all must be ready, by this date! It’s
all about preproduction anyway. Then I had to do it. I had to be ready. Some things you must get
off your ass and do. With Pigman, I set a date to keep from
procrastinating. There are two big steps – 1. Starting it and 2. Finishing it.”
HH: How did you get the horror-bug?
DD: “When I was young – 6, 7,
8, I had terrible nightmares. Some kid
told me horror films would make me puke, so I was afraid. The first one I watched, John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” I didn’t puke, I was
hooked. My mother helped a lot. She was a true crime and horror fan. I have a bunch of horror books from my mother
and grandmother. Mom would rent me videos and we’d watch together.”
HH: Did you pass the horror-bug to your
DD: “We sheltered our kids
more. It wasn’t until double-digits,
teen years that they started watching the classic monster movies and such. But Scooby-Doo, that’s a great gateway. And Goosebumps, Eerie, Indiana… that sort of
thing. Gateways to horror.”
HH: And your wife, Stephanie… is she a horror
DD: “Yeah, to a degree. We watch more than horror. I never would have
published a story if it had not been for her.
She reads everything I write, some she likes, some she doesn’t but she’s
always helpful. She’s the best editor and
script supervisor. And Pigman, my next film, is from one of
HH: Sounds like you have a great crew at home –
support, encouragement, and pushing you along when you need it. What are your plans for the future?
DD: “I want to make a couple
of shorts and or a feature every year or so.
If film blows up for me, great.
If not, it’s still part of my life.
I’m stable – house, job, all that. Writing novels is very lonely work,
but film isn’t, there’s a team. Going back and looking at the work from Anderson Wake, it’s like a family album.
HH: What type of advice do
you have for the aspiring writer or film maker?
DD: “Nobody does you, like
you. Draw from your own experience. Put your personality in there. For your
characters, how would you react? What would you think? There was a ‘neighborhood crazy lady’ when I
was growing up. I used her for
inspiration and my thoughts and reactions growing up were useful in my
HH: Tell me more about
producing your characters – both for books and movies.
DD: “Make the characters
relatable. Give them dimension. The villains can’t be all villain all the
time, it’s not interesting. The
protagonist needs flaws too, they can’t be squeaky clean. Flawed is good because they are
relatable. Horror is scary when you
relate to a character and dread what they are going to have to go through. Make
movies you want to see. Write books and
stories you would want to read. If
social media has taught us anything it’s that as quirky and odd as someone thinks
they are, there are more just like you.”
HH: Speaking of social media
and groups of like-minded people. How
has Crowdfunding worked for you?
DD: “I used Crowdfunding for Pigman.
We set the goal a little high, then came in a little low but earned enough
for some special effects products and money to feed the crew. I think it will get easier, better, as I get
more movies under my belt. Build up a
HH: Tell us about building a fan base.
DD: “I write a blog to keep
in touch with my writing fans. I use
YouTube. Ya know, people don’t even know
shorts exist, they think it’s all features.
YouTube helps get shorts out there, but it’s not enough. People tell me they enjoy shorts when they
can get them.”
HH: How do you plan and set up your schedule? Do you finish one thing before starting the
DD: “I am already thinking
about the next film I am going to produce after Pigman. I’m a veracious
viewer of film and I read a lot too. I
love Indie films because the blockbusters have gotten repetitive. You will see more of me in Independent film –
both making and watching. I love to find those hidden gems in the Indie scene.”
The Demon Author has been
busy jotting down our nightmares, and now he’s making them come alive on the
big screen. I look forward to the next horror
he brings our way.