Genre fans must prepare themselves for a date with the Devil…at an unassuming roadside diner. The mystery of why a patron was targeted by the fallen angel is explored in the new horror short, ‘Scratch.’ The film was written and directed by Ronan Jorah, and produced by Carey Van Driest, both of whom also star in the thriller. The movie is now streaming on YouTube, and can also be viewed above.
Playing with myths and legends surrounding the Devil, ‘Scratch’ follows an increasingly bizarre sequence of events that play out in real time. The story is told entirely from the point of view of the faceless and silent patron of a roadside diner on the night of a double murder.
Jorah and Van Driest generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing, producing and starring in ‘Scratch’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed that the short was a challenging project to put together, in part because of the distinct point-of-view in which the story is presented. But they were determined to do whatever it took to make a modern retrospective on theology. They also chronicled how they became involved in starring in the thriller, and how the supporting cast was a combination of actors they personally knew, as well as performers who were recommended to them.
ShockYa (SY): Ronan, you wrote the new short film, ‘Scratch.’ What was your inspiration in penning the script, and what was the process like of scribing the screenplay?
Ronan Jorah (RJ): I actually wrote the script very quickly. I grew up the son of a Methodist minister, so I was steeped in all the theology and myths around the Devil. ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’ also influenced me. I was trying to come up with a what a modern take on that would be.
So we set the story in a diner in New Jersey. I like the idea of doing it from this point-of-view-it puts the conflict in the audience, and makes them complicit. You’re not really sure if the Devil’s actually there, or if this guy’s just crazy, and thinks he sees him.
SY: Ronan, in addition to writing the script, you also directed the thriller. How did penning the screenplay influence the way you approached helming the movie?
RJ: It was kind of a challenging film to put together, because of the different point-of-view. We were able to get a helmet that we were essentially able to mount on the camera operator’s head.
We also had this tremendous crew with Shannon Madden, who was our cinematographer. She and her gaffer (Mitchell Perrin) wired the diner to do the gags in camera.
We also found the great cast, some of whom we knew before. Some knew Carey, including Mark Delabarre, who appears in the beginning of the film. I had never met him before this project, so he and I took the time to sit down and talk through his monologue a few days before we shot it. That monologue really needed to work, because it’s a few minutes of one guy talking.
There’s also a lot of visual efforts, so we had to be very precise in how we executed all of them. So we took a few days to make sure the effects would work later on.
SY: Carey, you served as one of the producers on ‘Scratch.’ How did you become involved in producing the short, and what was your experience like of serving as a producer?
Carey Van Driest (CVD): When I first met Ronan, the first thing that stuck me was how clear he was in his vision as a writer and director. It’s so incredibly sweet. So I immediately knew that I wanted to work with him. So I suggested that we form our own production company, and ‘Scratch’ would be our maiden voyage.
As it turns out, we ended up becoming a couple in our personal life, as well. So we have a wonderful working and personal relationship. I think we’re pretty lucky to be able to have both.
SY: Carey, you also starred as Elise, and Ronan, you portrayed the title character, in the film. Why did you both also decide to appear in the thriller?
CVD: Full disclosure: at first, I only wanted to produce the film. But Ronan told me, “I see you in the role.”
It ended up being a wonderful experience. It was a role that I have never played before. This character has to be kind and quiet almost the entire film. We don’t quite know what to expect from her; she kind of disappears. So it turned out to be a really wonderful opportunity. I got the taste of being both an actor and producer, and I want to continue doing both.
RJ: The thing that hit me before I wrote even one line of dialogue was the voice of ‘Scratch.’ I thought about his Louisiana bayou accent. I realized that I could do it, which is how it organically came about.
We reached out to a couple of different actors we thought might be able to do it, just to make it easier for me; it’s easier just to stay behind the camera when you can. But one of the actors we were interested in casting in the role got a TV show, and another one of the actors was out of the country. So I wound up doing it, and it was an interesting experience. But it was difficult jumping back and forth in front of, and behind, the camera. I’m not trying to do that on every project, but it was fun this time.
SY: ‘Scratch’ also stars Mark Delabarre, R.J. Foster, JR Carter, Peter Daniel Straus, Tiffany Peach, and Rob Eigenbrod. What was the casting process like for the rest of the cast?
CVD: I think the casting was a bit of both of us. Like Ronan said, with Mark, I suggested him to Ronan very early on in the process. Mark had a history of playing comedic characters, but I still thought about him, even though Ronan hadn’t met him yet.
So when Ronan finally did meet Mark, the first thing Ronan noticed was how tall Mark is. Mark is 6’5″, and so is Ronan. So Mark’s this very imposing actor with a warmth about him. But he’s so big, he was able to fill this character out in a way that I don’t think Ronan expected, until they met in person.
Charlie, who’s one of the police officer characters in the film, is played by our very dear friend, R.J. Foster. I’ve worked with R.J. several times before. He was Ronan’s first choice for the role, so we were incredibly lucky that he was available. He did a fantastic job in the role. Then, JR Carter, who plays Ronnie, the other officier, came on board after the first actor we had cast fell through at the last minute.
When Ronan wrote the script, he didn’t realize how difficult it was to procure two NYPD uniforms. Our costume designer, Tristan Raines, had to get real with Ronan when they first sat down together. Tristan said, “This is going to be a big portion of your budget, if you can get them.”
So on a lark, I put a message out on Facebook, and asked “Does anyone happen to have an NYPD uniform that we could use for actors?” I had someone who recommended JR, who I didn’t know.
So I contacted JR and said, “I’d love to rent your uniform.” He said, “I’m actually an actor, and am an ex-homicide cop. I do have a uniform, and would love to be in the short film, if you have a role.” I said, “Actually, we do. So if you have the uniform, , we’d love for you to be in the short. Do you also happen to have access to another one?” He said, “Actually, I have two. What’s the other guy’s size?” I mentioned R.J.’s measurements, and JR said, “That’s the size of the uniform.”
Then Peter Daniel Straus, who plays Marc, the owner of the diner, came on board, and he’s also very talented. I knew him from another project. So the whole cast came together in a magical way.
SY: Once the other performers were cast in the short, what was the process of working with them to build the on-screen relationships between your characters?
RJ: Well, we had a chance to work with Mark, like I mentioned earlier. After I sent R.J. the script, we had a quick conversation, and it was clear that he just had it. He nailed it on the first take, and was great in every subsequent one. JR was a natural, since he was a homicide cop for 20 years. He helped with the dialogue, to make it feel authentic.
Then Peter Daniel Straus came in, and he was marvelous. One of my greatest regrets of the short was that we didn’t get close-ups of him behind the counter.
SY: Shannon Madden served as the cinematographer on ‘Scratch,’ like you mentioned earlier. Ronan, what was the process of collaborating with her on the way you wanted to present the story?
RJ: We were lucky to have Shannon. Based on this short, she was actually one of the nine winners of the Emerging Cinematographer’s Award from the (International Cinematographers) Guild, so she’s on the rise.
We got her because we had a connection to Adrian Correia, who has shot episodes of ‘House of Cards’ and ‘GLOW’ for Netflix. He was going to do the short, but then he got called to do reshoots for that. So he recommended Shannon, who was his protégée and first camera operator, and was moving into cinematography. So she came in and hit the ground running, in only about eight days before the shoot.
We brought Shannon through the storyboards, and she got what we needed to do. She got the precision, so that we could put it all together in one seamless shot. Our camera team was fantastic.
SY: With the short being set entirely in the diner, what was the process of securing the location where you filmed ‘Scratch?’
CVD: This is one of my favorite stories. The diner where we shot was the last location we visited. Ronan fell in love with it at first sight. But we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get it, because it was listed as a 24-hour diner, and we needed two overnights to shoot.
The first time we visited it, we sat in a booth, and ordered something simple. The owner came over and helped us. So we decided to go back a second time, and when we did, the owner came over again, and he said, “I remember you all, and what you ordered.”
So we started having a conversation, and we learned that he and his family have owned the diner since around 1985. It’s been a diner since 1946, but it’s never been updated.
The owner also said, “My sons and I work at the diner. It so happens that right now, my oldest son is doing his college entrance exams, and is applying to a bunch of Ivy League schools. So we’re closing temporarily in the evenings, so that he can study.”
So this diner was miraculously open to us for the two overnights that we needed. The owner was incredibly welcoming, and we felt at home. The morning after we wrapped, we got a phone call from the owner, and he said his son had gotten into Harvard. So overall, the shoot went very well, and it was a real honor and privilege to be a part of the family’s lives.