Truly understanding the feeling of being trapped by family history is a gripping notion that’s powerfully and universally understood by many people. In the new horror movie, ‘Inheritance,’ first-time feature film writer and director, Tyler Savage, stunningly uses drama to explore the internal conflict that the protagonist experiences as he tries to understand his biological parents. The main character’s emotional exploration offers a chilling twist on family and heredity through a framework that defies traditional genre expectations. The filmmaker, who also served as a producer on the mystery movie, grippingly showcases how everyone, like the drama’s protagonist, struggles with feeling trapped by their own heredity, and fears that they may be defined by darker aspects of their genetics.
This year’s Dances With Films festival will feature ‘Inheritance’s World Premiere tonight at 9:30pm PT at TCL Chinese 6. Tickets for the psychological thriller’s premiere at one Hollywood’s leading independent festivals can be purchased on Fandango.
‘Inheritance’ follows Ryan Bowman (Chase Joliet) as he learns he has inherited a $2.5 million beach house on the central California coast from his biological father, a man he’s never known and thought was long dead. Arriving in the charming town with his pregnant fiancée, Isi Rosales (Sara Montez), Ryan’s curiosity about his father soon leads him into an introspective investigation. As a looming family presence tightens its grip on him, Ryan pushes away his adoptive family and expectant fiancée. When he finally discovers the horrifying truth about his birth parents, he might be too late to stop himself from repeating a similar pattern.
Savage generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Inheritance’ during an exclusive interview. Among other things, he discussed how he was drawn to make his feature film writing and directorial debuts with ‘Inheritance’ because he wanted to craft a story that would allow him to approach personal themes, particularly involving family history, through a stylized genre lens. Savage also mentioned that he decided to cast Joliet as Ryan in the drama, because the helmer knew the actor would naturally be able to bring the protagonist’s struggles and emotions to the screen.
ShockYa (SY): You made your feature film writing debut with the new psychological thriller, ‘Inheritance.’ Why were you interested in crafting a story that focuses on family, specifically the exploration of nature vs. nurture? What was the writing process like for the script?
Tyler Savage (TS): From the beginning of this process, I wanted to craft a story that would allow me to approach personal themes through a somewhat stylized genre lens. Many of us have things in our family history that make us uneasy. For me, it’s mostly alcoholism and depression. My goal was to find a fresh way to dramatize the idea that we might be defined by our heredity, for better or worse.
SY: In addition to writing the screenplay for ‘Inheritance,’ you also directed the movie. Why did you decide to make your feature film directorial debut on the drama, and how did working on the script influence your directorial duties?
TS: That’s a tough one to sum up. Having worked for a few years as a screenwriter leading up to this production, I was more comfortable with the role of writer initially. But I also had a very clear sense early on of how I wanted the film to look and feel, which allowed me to integrate some of those ideas into the script itself.
SY: As both the writer and director on the mystery drama, what was the process of creating the universal feeling of being trapped by your family history, for better or worse? What kind of research did you into the psychology of family relationships, and how those connections influence a person’s mentality?
TS: I’d say that there was more introspective analysis than formal research in terms of getting a firm sense of how we can feel trapped by our family history. That being said, there’s an element of cultural inheritance that I tried to incorporate into the story as a haunting element, and that did require some research into this history of Native Americans in California. I was attracted to the idea of telling a story of a man who falls prey to powers that are beyond his comprehension.
SY: ‘Inheritance’ features a diverse cast, including Chase Joliet as Ryan and Sara Montez, , as well as Kate Norby, Dale Dickey and Drew Powel. What was the casting process like for the horror film, particularly for the role of Ryan?
TS: Chase was part of this from the beginning. After working together in Austin, we became close friends, and looked for something to collaborate on. He has a lot going on under the surface, which I wanted to integrate into the Ryan character.
As for Sara, she came into the audition with such force that we pretty much cast her on the spot. I was really pleased with the way she was able to counterbalance Chase’s heaviness. Krisha, Dale and Drew all came to the project through various personal connections, and I’m beyond grateful for their contributions.
SY: Once all of the actors were cast in the feature, did you both rehearse with them, in order to build the characters’ relationships and emotions?
TS: I rehearsed Chase and Sara quite a bit in the weeks leading up to the shoot. Their characters were clearly yin and yang, so we needed to find out why they really needed each other. But most of the other scenes were rehearsed just before shooting.
SY: What was the process of also collaborating with the actors, particularly Chase, on creating the physicality of their characters, including their costumes?
TS: Ryan is a blue-collar guy who works construction, so I asked Chase to bulk up a bit leading up to the shoot. The day after I mentioned this, he showed up at my house with a weighted vest on, which cracked me up. We talked a lot about how subterranean anger and rage might influence his physicality.
In terms of costume, (costume designers) Tasha (Goldthwait) and Kerry (Hennessy) helped design a sort of color progression for Ryan and Isi that tracked the emotional arc of their relationship. We also had a lot of fun with the various period costumes.
SY: The psychological film features distinct and ominous cinematography that matches Ryan’s mentality, which becomes increasingly gloomy the further he delves into his biological parents’ pasts. What was the process of collaborating with the movie’s Director of Photography, Drew Daniels, to determine how you wanted to visually tell the story?
TS: This was arguably the most enjoyable part of the process for me. Drew is a dear friend of mine, and an absolutely ideal collaborator. From the beginning, he made me promise that we wouldn’t allow for any sloppy or unmotivated shots, and we stuck to that. I gave him a nearly ten-page declaration of the visual approach to this story early on, and from there on out we were always on the same page.
SY: In addition to the cinematography, the effectiveness of genre films is also largely driven by its music. LA-based indie pop band Mini Mansions provided the score for ‘Inheritance.’ Why did you decide to hire the group to create the score for the horror film? What was your collaboration process like with them on the score?
TS: Zach and Michael have been friends of mine for years, and I’ve been a huge fan of the band since they started. So I knew early on that it would be a great fit; we actually locked them in months before shooting. We tried to avoid a typical genre approach, while still allowing the music to clarify the tone and drive the mystery. Those guys are incredibly talented, and it was a true pleasure to watch them work and hone each cue.
SY: What was the process of shooting the drama independently? Did the process influence the creativity on the set?
TS: I’ve been on all kinds of sets over the last 10-12 years, but this was one of the leanest and most streamlined productions I’ve been lucky enough to be part of. I’m not saying that just because I have a huge bias. There was very little excess or downtime, things that are often far too abundant on larger productions, which meant that everyone present was playing an essential role. I’m exceedingly proud of this team, and it was a shockingly smooth and fluid process considering all the constraints.
SY: In addition to writing and directing ‘Inheritance,’ you also served as one of the producers. Why did you both decide to also produce the movie? How did your producing and directing duties influence each other, especially on the set?
TS: As a first-time filmmaker, I felt that it was absolutely essential that I be a producer on the film. That’s not because I didn’t have complete faith in my team, but it really just came with the territory. While writing and directing are my passions, I have a deep appreciation for getting sh*t done, and that’s what a producer does. I was lucky as hell to have (fellow producers) Dash (Hawkins) and JP (Castel) with me all the way.
SY: The film was shot on location along the California coast. What was the process of finding the locations where you wanted to shoot the film, particularly the house that Ryan inherits from his biological father?
TS: I’m actually a fifth general Californian, so finding the right locations was deeply important to me. I’ve been visiting Cayucos (San Luis Obispo County) for years, and decided that it would be a perfect fit for Herald Point before the script was even done. It’s a magical little place filled with warm, lovely people. There aren’t chains of any kind, which is frighteningly rare these days. As for the house, it actually belongs to a close family friend who was gracious enough to let us film there.
SY: ‘Inheritance’ is having its World Premiere at the Dances With Films Festival (tonight) at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood. What does it mean to you that the thriller is premiering at Dances With Films?
TS: We’re thrilled to be premiering at DWF, and it’s a dream-come-true to be playing at the historic Chinese Theatre. Growing up on LA, I’ve seen some of the greatest works of cinema in that theatre, so it’s pretty surreal to have this opportunity.