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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

Making a film is no easy feat, and making a low-budget film? That’s a whole different ball of wax. With Prodigy, co-directors Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal managed to take less than $100,000 and turn it into a solid psychological thriller that feels like a cross between Silence of the Lambs and a Stephen King novel.

The film follows psychologist Doctor Fonda, who is brought in to help out with a very special patient — a nine-year-old girl strapped in a straitjacket. From the outset, it’s clear that the staff all fears the girl, and there is a lot more to hear than initially meets the eye. The movie runs at a lean 80 minutes, and mostly takes place in a couple rooms, but still manages to look well above its budget.

I had a chance to sit down and chat with co-wirector Alex Haughey about the film, its origins, how they went about making it on such a low budget, and the biggest challenges it brought to the table.

Prodigy comes out on March 13, and if you pre-order on iTunes in the next week, you’ll get half-off!

Check out my full interview with Haughey down below!

LRM: So, hello. How are you? First of all, Alex thank you so much for agreeing to come on so I can interview you. And I want to say congratulations on the film.

Haughey: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

LRM: So, just tell — for audiences who don’t know, because I feel like a lot of our audiences wouldn’t know specifically what this movie is — what is this movie about?

Haughey: So, Prodigy is a small indie science fiction psychological thriller basically. And it centers around a psychologist that goes into this weird government facility and he’s wanded and patted down and put through the metal detector. And they keep warning him about how dangerous this patient is. And he finally gets pushed int this room and he’s sitting across from this nine-year-old little girl who has bright red hair and all these freckles, but then she starts dissecting him as if she’s Hannibal Lector. So, he has to then peel back the layers of what’s going on with this whole situation and some supernatural elements get thrown in and things start to get crazy. And I don’t want to say too much ’cause I want to keep people intrigued.

LRM: So, what was your main inspiration for this movie? Where did it come from? Obviously, you probably had tons of inspirations, but do you remember the instant, the kernel that you created the movie from?

Haughey: Absolutely. So, my writing partner and directing partner on it, his name is Brian Vidal, he had won a logline contest with the logline that was kind of like this. And we had been talking for a while about doing a feature and we started talking about ideas for doing something that was more contained, that we could actually pull off on a really ultra-low budget. And so, when we started talking about it he threw this idea out and we went back and forth and we bounced some ideas about what it could be. And it ended up becoming what it was, what it is now. And I think that the biggest inspiration we drew from after we figured out what we wanted to do with it was Silence of the Lambs for sure because we wanted to build up this eerie, weird tension surrounding this patient and we thought we could subvert that, people’s expectations for that, by making it a kid and a young kid, as young as we could find.

And then so, but from there really the bigger inspiration, I think, is more of a Good Will Hunting kind of story where it’s a psychologist who has to dig in and figure out what makes this young, troubled person tick and subsequently how to find a way to break through to that person. And then I think the other resource that we cite most is there’s a 12 Angry Men element going on on the other side where he’s also trying to convince the observers that this little child is not the monster they see her as.

LRM: And what was the writing process of this? About how long did it take for you guys to iron out a script for the movie?

Haughey: Well, once we got the idea in place we hammered out an outline pretty quick ’cause we aligned pretty quickly on what we wanted to do with it. So, we were able to do an outline and a first draft within probably two months. And then, for us, what’s important is the revision process. So, it took us almost a full year from start to finish of refining the script until before we said “Okay, yeah. We’re really ready to take this out and try and make this into something.” So, it was interesting, ’cause neither of us had ever written with a partner before, but because there are two sides, there’s one room and another room, we were able to pretty easily split that up and then pass them back and forth throughout the revision process, which made it a lot easier of a process than I think it would’ve been had it not had such two-part structure to it.

LRM: Was it difficult to keep the scope down in this in order to meet budgetary restrictions?

Haughey: You know, because we knew going in what our limitations would be and what we could do we were able to pretty well foresee what would be able to pull off and not pull off. Now, there are a couple effects and a couple things that were in the script that we ended up saying “We’re not gonna even try that,” because we were on such a time crunch and this and that, it would’ve just really pushed our limits. So, there were definitely some things that got cut, but I was really pleased with the way the things that we left in and the things that got pulled off, ’cause we were able to do everything practically because we were shooting in this old abandoned, it was an animal shelter actually. And they basically gave us the keys and said “Have fun. Bring it back when you’re done.”

So, we were able to string pipes up through the ceiling and we could rope stuff up there and actually do practical effects when we need things to get flung across the room or swirl around in mid-air. So, we got a lot of really great practical work in that I think really elevates it beyond what people probably would’ve guessed if we had told them how much money we were doing it for.

LRM: Right, right. Are you allowed to say how much money you were able to do it for?

Haughey: Yeah. We did it for less than $100,000.

LRM: Wow. That’s impressive.

Haughey: Yeah. That’s the gist we’ve gotten from a lot of people is that when we took it out for even distribution a lot of the distributors were saying “Okay. We’re gonna try and sell this as a $1,000,000 movie.” And we were like “Yay.”

LRM: I think it definitely passes for that for sure.

Haughey: That’s obviously a big compliment to us because, but we worked really hard to get all that stuff together and had to do tests and all that kind of stuff too. And luckily Brian’s pretty skilled. He’s an editor by trade and he’s pretty skilled with after effects as well. So, he actually did all the effects work.

LRM: He did great with that as well.

Haughey: Right? Shout out to him for making it seamless. No one … Everyone … The effects have been pretty universally complimented throughout our whole festival run and with everyone that’s seen the movie.

LRM: Interestingly enough the one that stands out to me the most, I’m not sure it’s one effect specifically, but it’s just the metal table getting slammed around very convincingly. You could feel the weight of that thing. That’s pretty well done.

Haughey: Which is crazy because that’s actually, when it’s getting flung around, we actually just made basically a faux table out of very light plywood and stuff like that and then were able to just really wing it around the room and we put some metallic tape on it and everything and it really matches up pretty well and makes it for a very convincing. And, obviously, our sound designer brought, I think, that weight you’re talking about, is all sound.

LRM: For sure. I think this is a weird tangent, but I know a lot of people give CG a bad rap and the thing about CG, for me, that it always brought to the table that — in the past, for me, the practical effects didn’t tackle explosions very well.

Haughey: Right.

LRM: To me, I can’t help but see balsa wood floating around, floating down, and that aspect is lost with CG, most of the time. But this, to hear that it’s all practical and was lightweight wood, that’s very cool.

Haughey: Right, yeah. No. I hesitate to … Of course, I love the practical effects. I think that’s always cooler to find a way to actually do it in camera, but I think that people push that to an extreme and act like it’s either one or the other. I really think that CG and practical effects working in tandem is always, to me, where the coolest effects come from. It’s where you know can do something practically, which gives you baseline that then the CG can then build out or build upon or put into something that makes it all work together and all look organic. I think it’s a very interesting time.

And yet we had a lot of stuff that we did in camera that Brian, and again he knows how to use after effects really well, and he was able to change out this half of this frame for a separate take because this guy was standing in front of the wrong person at this time. The way he was able to tweak and touch up our movie was very impressive. I don’t know what the movie would’ve looked like if he had not been so apt at that process.

LRM: Sure, yeah. What do you think was the biggest overall challenge in this movie for you?

Haughey: The biggest overall challenge, for me, for sure was just the organization and it was the producing elements of it because Brian and I, we got together and wrote the script and did all the casting and things like that together. And that stuff was all going well, but once it got time to shoot I was still managing all of the administrative parts of the shoot while trying to direct and make sure everything was set up and all that stuff on set. So, it was very much a challenge, our shoot, because we shot for 12 days basically, two weeks straight, six-day week. And it was long days and then longer days for us ’cause we’d then wait till everybody left and then plan out the next day and set everything up for the next morning. And, meanwhile, when a prop wouldn’t show up or the toilets started overflowing or whatever else went wrong on set it was like “Well, that’s on me to go figure out how to make sure everybody can still function.”

LRM: Right.

Haughey: So, it just got to be a very overwhelming experience at certain points. And I remember afterwards we were both so exhausted and we just didn’t even know what we had and I remember thinking “Oh, we’re just gonna have done all this and it’s gonna be for nothing. We’re not even gonna have the movie that we thought we were gonna have.” And were all downtrodden and then finally we put that first assembly cut together and it was like “Hey, this isn’t so bad at all.” So, it was a very odd experience too. It turned around on us like that.

LRM: Sure, sure. So, overall I would say this is a very optimistic movie, when all is said and done.

Haughey: Yeah, yeah.

LRM: What is overall message or feeling do you hope people to get having watched the movie?

Haughey: After being in it so long what I really settled on was that I think it’s a movie about the way that we hide our true selves from other people. And the movie, to me, is about just how deep we’ll bury our real selves and how hard it is for somebody to really dig that out in certain circumstances, but that that is a worthwhile process and that’s really how true connection and catharsis comes about is when people are really dedicated to finding out who someone really is and what really makes them tick.

LRM: So, what’s up next for you? You have another thing coming on the horizon?

Haughey: Yeah. You know, I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently, I have a script that I finished actually before this one that I’m trying to shop around and get some attachments for. And I’m hoping that the release of this movie will help bolster that. And then I’m working on a separate script that I’m really excited about. I think it’s a really good idea, which I’ve got a couple people interested in reading, which is good. And then I’ve done some work in video games as well, which I am working with my collaborator there as well to set up a video game title, which looks like we’re gonna be able to get off the ground this year, which is really exciting. So, I’ve got a lot of plates spinning right now. It’ll just be whichever one falls into place first. And I just had a … I’ve got a four-month-old at home so that’s been consuming a lot of my time and energy as well.

LRM: Well, congratulations on that.

Haughey: Thank you so much.

LRM: What else do you want to tell our readers about your film?

Haughey: I think that our movie, it’s a really cool indie genre piece. It has a lot of different elements and appeals to a lot of different audiences. We’ve had people who like horror like it. We’ve had people who like sci-fi like it, drama, thriller. It has a lot of stuff thrown into it. And I think that there’s a real heart to it that coagulates all those pieces together and is what really leaves people with a warm and fuzzy feeling, even after all some of the movie has been a little bit darker when it’s all said and done.

LRM: Cool. Alright. Well, thank you so much for coming on.

Prodigy is available for pre-order on iTunes, and will be half-off for the rest of the week.

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.