Monster in a House, released in September of 2014, is a hauntingly-imaginative short film about divorce, neglect and finding the courage to stand up to one’s fears. Evoking memories of Poltergeist, the film was written and directed by 27-year-old Christiano Dias and stars Golden Globe winner Joseph Bottoms and Lisa Roumain as the parents of Miah, a young girl portrayed by talented newcomer Kitana Turnbull. Filmed in a single shot in order to provide a more immersive viewing experience, Monster in a House follows Miah as she attempts to elude and chase off a creature that she fears is tearing her and her parents apart.
Dias, whose previous work includes King Eternal, which received a CINE Golden Eagle and Gold Remi Award and was recently offered a worldwide distribution deal, began experimenting with cameras at the age of 12 after being given a hand-me-down camcorder and was later nominated for a Lonestar Emmy Award for his role as director and co-creator of a college-run television program at the University of North Texas. He currently has over 20 short films to his name, and he is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Audience Award Winner at Hollyshorts Film Festival and Best Student Film at LA Cinema Festival of Hollywood, and he has twice been recognized at the Cannes Short Film Corner.
Dias is currently writing his first feature and is in post-production on his original, comedic, silent-superhero web series, Heatman: The Series. To learn more, visit www.chrisdias.com or www.monsterinahouse.com.
Both Monster in a House and King Eternal deal with tumultous parental relationships and the affect they they can have on a child. What role did your parents’ divorce have in shaping who you are today?
This is a very tough question! I wish I could hit it right on the nose but I’m not really sure. Maybe I’d say that it’s affected me and my stories as a filmmaker the most. Lately, (not always), but just lately, as in the past two years, I’ve been really interested in telling stories that deal with “magical realism.” At least that is how I would describe the style; you sort of get the best of both “worlds.” It’s a very rich and vibrant way to tell a story, but it’s very specific. Anyway, I think that’s what I’m attracted to, so finding a way to tell these stories through the veil of a tumultuous thing like divorce is just something that (maybe unfortunately) I have experience with. Yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposition but it’s all part of filmmaking, right? We don’t have many rules…
Who are your biggest creative influences?
I like Paul Thomas Anderson a lot and Kurt Vonnegut as a writing influence. But some of the conversational and free stuff from Italian Neorealism and Tarantino’s films are kind of guilty pleasures but can get me into trouble. Spielberg is a biggie. Also, some of the indie guys like Robert Rodriguez and Linklater have an influence more in how they got started than their actual films for me. They’re all sort of molded into one in my mind and nothing real specific but more of how their work “feels” is what I love.
What initially drew you towards filmmaking? What do you find most exciting about the field?
I was given this old run down Sony camcorder when I was about 10 or 12. We lived in a middle class suburban neighborhood in San Antonio, TX that I cherish to this day. What an amazing place to grow up. We knew all knew the neighborhood like the backs of our hands, in our sleep, and my friends and I just sort of used it as our canvas. I was the only with a camera, so we would go out and do the silliest stuff that kids our age did then. I’ll never forget it. The most exciting thing that holds true from back then to now, is that you can do anything you imagine when making a movie; it’s truly a privilege. It’s really limitless at this point really. So that maybe will never change.
How have you evolved as a filmmaker since you first started experimenting with that old camcorder?
I think I’ve evolved by noticing my mistakes; maybe that’s how all filmmakers do it. I hope! Because that’s what I’ve sort of done, so I hope it’s the right track. I think, generally, I’ve found my own specific style that is true to me and what I like to do and am comfortable with; that is the most important thing as a filmmaker. Because you have to fail one thousand times to get one success and then do it all over again. And the goal, whether it’s possible or not, is to think that you can get that one thousand down to zero. I’ve come to realize that maybe not having perfection, just having something a little off center, or a little crazy, is the best way to do it.
What are the biggest challenges you faced in creating King Eternal and Monster in a House?
This will probably be the same all my life, but it was raising money to make it. We funded both of them on Indiegogo as a crowdfunding platform. Both reached their goals. That was tough but we did it. With MIAH it was supremely challenging because the idea came last November and we didn’t begin production until June of this year. There was an eight-month pre-production schedule, a one-week shooting schedule, and like a month post-production schedule. So planning it to be that way was super important and I’m happy to say that everyone really pulled throuigh. The Director of Photography I used on both films, Michael Helenek, was up for the challenge and excited about doing a film all in one take like we did with MIAH, so when you have people excited like that, the challenges become more like goals.
From your perspective, what are the pros and cons of using IndieGoGo as a fundraising platform?
It’s hard for me to say, because it’s only been a pro for me so far. The cons with something like that is that you don’t raise the money. The percentages will change depending on what they take out and what they don’t. So there is definitely incentive to raise your funds. They are pretty straightforward pros and cons, you either raise money or you don’t.
How did you first meet Joseph Bottoms, and what is the experience of working with him like?
I met him when he came in to audition for King Eternal last year and we talked a lot about anything and everything before even getting to the sides for the film. He of course nailed the part, and from that point on, it’s been this wonderful friendship. We talk on the phone for an hour or so every so often and just bounce ideas off of each other. He is very creative and very conscious of the story. Sometimes you get people worried about the film, but get the story right first and the film will sort itself out, if that makes sense. And I should add, Lisa Roumain is the same way. I worked with her on King Eternal and MIAH, as I did with Joe, and talk about an endlessly humble, emotional Swiss Army knife of an actor. They are the kind that can do anything and I’m very fortunate and grateful to have worked with both of them. I plan to continue to do it and already have some ideas for them in my feature, if they would so choose to be involved! But still a ways to go until that can happen.
Which current actors and actresses do you most enjoy watching? If you had your choice, who would you most like the opportunity to work with in the future?
There are so many! If I had to pick one of the top of my head right now, Shailene Woodley. My girlfriend and I saw The Fault in Our Stars and aside from nearly crying every five minutes, she was masterful. So, I’ll enjoy what she does next. There are so many really: Bryan Cranston and/or Daniel Day-Lewis would be a dream.
What’s the best film you’ve seen recently?
Gone Girl was phenomenal. I’ve got a list a mile long for this fall of movies I want to watch, but that one has sort of started it off. To me, it’s close to the perfect horror film.
Aside from filmmaking, what are you most passionate about?
Football, music and Apple. I like to think if I wasn’t making movies, I’d be trying to be a football coach or something. I also love music and appreciate musicians so much, because I can’t for the life of me play a guitar, piano, or any other musical instrument for that matter, musicians are really fascinating. So, they’re definitely wired for that and I can’t understand it, so I just appreciate it. And I’m a huge fan of Apple and the way they do business, their products and their passion for the arts, and how their secrecy plays a big role in their success.
Do the Spurs have what it takes to repeat as NBA Champions? If not, who do think might dethrone them?
I’ll summon Gregg Popovich and give you one of his answers: “Yes.”
If you could craft the perfect sandwich, what would be on it?
Haha, this is awesome! I would start with either a brioche bun or soft pretzel bun, the circular kind that’s just light and airy right out of the oven, cut and buttered and toasted just on the buttered side (inside) of each slice. Then I’d have a rare roast beef or black pepper crusted ahi tuna, arugula, grilled shallots and crispy onion strings, and the mustard from Carnegie Deli in New York City, and some buffalo mozzarella or cheddar. Wow, I’m hungry now. Thanks!