Colin Minihan and Brittany Allen are an unstoppable force in cinema. This dynamic duo first joined forces with Minihan’s ‘Extraterrestrial’ in 2014 and have continued to build their creative chemistry with their latest project, ‘It Stains The Sands Red.’ A truly unique zombie film, ‘It Stains The Sands Red’ centers around Molly (Brittany Allen), a troubled woman from Las Vegas who finds herself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Stranded in the desert with a ravenous zombie on her trail, she easily outpaces her undead pursuer initially, but things quickly become a nightmare when she realizes the zombie doesn’t need to stop and rest. Running low on supplies and beat down by the harsh environment, Molly will have to summon the strength she never knew she had to face the zombie and the demons that chased her all her life. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with director Colin Minihan and leading lady Brittany Allen to discuss their creative journeys, the challenges of bring ‘It Stains The Sands Red’ from script to screen and what the future holds for them!
What attracted you to the arts early on in life and led to you pursuing your passion as a career, Brittany?
Brittany Allen: I was one of those kids who, as soon as I could walk and talk, I was singing and putting on shows in my backyard. I was always trying to get my parents and neighbors attention by doing shows! When I was in junior kindergarten, when I was about 4 years old, I begged my parents to ask one of my teachers if I could audition for the school talent show. Now, I can’t even fathom that I was that ambitious and driven as a 4-year-old! [laughs] I did and my parents were always so supportive and awesome! They asked the teacher, I auditioned and I sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from the “Wizard of Oz,” which was my favorite movie at the time, in front of the whole school. It was always something that was in me and because I did it from such a young age, in my adult life I have kind of had to reassess what it is that draws me to it. I’m not doing it for the same reasons I was at 4 years old but, even through the trials and tribulations of this rollercoaster of a business, I have always come back to it and I love it.
What drew you to filmmaking and captivated you about telling stories?
Colin Minihan: Oh, good question! For me, I grew up in a really small town. I’m just one of these guys who stumbled upon his mom’s VHS camera at the age of 8 and never put it down! Maybe it was the sense of escapism that I needed in the situation that I grew up in within the town and with whatever problems I might have been facing at home. Being able to see the world through a different lens and create a fictitious tale within that I think is something that played a big part in my initial discovery of appreciating cinema and how it can take you to another world. That was a big thing for me as a little kid. Then I developed more of an understanding and appreciation for it is an art form, in terms of the technical side of it. Once you get going down the rabbit hole, it just kind of goes and goes and goes! So, here I am! [laughs]
You have been hard at work crafting a resume, Brittany. Which project had the biggest impact on you?
Brittany Allen: I would say “It Stains The Sand Red” is one of them, for sure. It’s challenged me in a way that I’ve never been challenged before. I think, for a lot of years, I was achieving a certain level of work in my acting classes, in a small circle of friends and even in auditions but I had yet to be given the opportunity to showcase that work in a substantial way. This was the first film to really give me that platform. It forced me to work through any habitual ways of approaching the work and allowed me to dig deeper, get more truthful and vulnerable in front of the camera than I ever had before. I was incredibly grateful for this film. Colin and I actually just finished another film about a month ago that was equally as fulfilling. He tends to write these really incredible roles for females. Leading up to the shoot, sometimes the feeling I find taking over me is fear of how the hell I am going to do this physically, mentally and emotionally! Then you show yourself that you can do it and you come out feeling so powerful and inspired, so much so that you think, “Okay, I just proved to myself I can do that. What more can I do? What other challenges are out there?” There is often more opportunity in independent film to have roles like that.
How did the idea for “It Stains The Sands Red” come about and what made it a tale you wanted to bring to the screen?
Colin Minihan: The idea came about pretty organically. I had just relocated to Los Angeles after making another film called “Extraterrestrial.” “It Stains The Sands Red” came out of the desire to want to create something new and build on what I had done in the past. Moving to California, I was seeing a lot of the desert for the first time and was really inspired by the landscape. The whole zombie element came out of a conversation I had with Stu [Ortiz]. We had just finished watching “World War Z” and were like, “Jesus, man. They’ve really done everything with zombies now. It’s not even like a horror thing anymore. It’s an action/tentpole kind of a thing, ya know. What hasn’t been done with zombies?” He was like, “I don’t know, man. Maybe like … just one zombie.” I was like, “That’s a great idea!” We combined that initial thought with our bleeding desire to shoot something in the desert for whatever reason … whether it was to conquer it or, well, I don’t know. The story eventually started to find itself. At first, it found itself as a film about a guy struggling to outrun this zombie. Eventually, we changed it to a girl and I think that made the script really come together a lot better.
What is your process for bringing a new character to life, long before you step on set?
Brittany Allen: It is something that is always evolving for me. It depends where I’m at in my work and maybe with some new techniques that I might have learned. It’s a combination of things. I have studied with a lot of teachers and learned a lot of different methods and approaches to acting, so I pull from all of them. It’s a combination of really understanding who the character is on the page, their history, where they are at in their life and what they need from the people around them. I really try to visualize and empathize with who this person is but I also work a lot with substitution. Substitution is the process of using facets, relationships and experiences from my own life to channel into the character and relate back to the character. If I haven’t experienced something they have, I can think, “OK, what’s the core thing that is going on here and how do I feel that in my own life?” For this film, there was a lot of that because Molly is so different from me. She had a very different upbringing than I did and sees the world through different eyes. On a surface level, at least, I had to find the ways that we were similar. In fact, it really did tap into a lot of my own insecurities, fears and struggles with the things I have run from in my own life. It was an opportunity for me to confront those things and make it more real and personal for me.
Every project presents unique challenges. What were the biggest challenges in bringing “It Stains The Sands Red” to life?
Brittany Allen: One of the biggest challenges for me was the amount of material coupled with exhaustion and the cold! We were trying to avoid the drastic heat of the desert during shooting but none of us realized that it gets freezing cold in the desert during the winter! [laughs] We actually shot just before the winter but it was particularly cold for that time of year. Having to balance all of those elements was quite a challenge. There are hardly any other characters that speak in the film, so the amount of material for my brain to process every single day was huge! The hours we were working were really long and the role was also physically demanding, which led to incredible exhaustion. I would step on set and be freezing cold! Right before a take, they would spritz water on me to make it look like I was sweating from the desert heat. Meanwhile, everyone else is in their parka and I’m in a little tube top and tights! [laughs] Those things combined definitely made for a very challenging shoot but it was all the more rewarding because of that!
Colin Minihan: It was kind of a weird thing. Stu and I were about to step into a new project and direct a different film but that project kind of went away at the last second. We had the script for “It Stains The Sands Red” and we knew we had written it for a low budget. We just kind of said, “Ya know what? We’re shooting it by this date.” We had a friend in Nevada who wanted us to shoot it out there. We went and visited him and he convinced us that we could do it. I would say the biggest challenge was doing it on the money we had available. It’s always a challenge. The same challenges you have on a $3 million budget are the same challenges on a movie that costs $300,000. It always comes down to time. In this case, we decided to shoot in the winter, so the conditions would be better and people wouldn’t be dying of heat stroke but that meant they were horribly uncomfortable in the cold. It was challenging for Brittany, for sure, dealing with the weather and terrain. For me, I was constantly racing the sunsets. There weren’t a lot of hours of daylight. I would be shooting the last few scenes with just a sliver of the sun above the horizon. You are racing the clock every day, shooting in 20 days and could always use another 20 days! It all comes down to time. It’s a universal challenge.
You both worked together in the past and just shot another feature together. Brittany, what does Colin bring as a director and out of you creatively?
Brittany Allen: Great question! He’s a genius, pretty much! He has such a strong vision and is the hardest working person I know. He’s deeply passionate about filmmaking. The first film we made together about four years ago, “Extraterrestrial,” was the first time I had met and worked with him. Watching him was exhilarating. It felt as if his energy was contagious to the rest of us! His passion and dedication to achieving the best things he could out of everyone at any given moment really pushed people to rise to the occasion and made them feel like they were making something special. I think that level of passion, commitment and attention to detail is really great for everyone to be around. I really admire him deeply as an artist and he challenges me to be my best. Now that we have worked together so much and we know each other so well, he doesn’t let me do anything less than what I am truly capable of. With that said, he knows how to push my buttons and sometimes, in the moment, it might not be what I want to hear. Anyone standing nearby might think, “Wow, that was intense!” Then we look back and it’s like, “Oh, wow! If he hadn’t of said that, I might not have gotten to that place.” I’m so incredibly grateful for the partnership.
Brittany, you mentioned adding to your skill set as an actor as time goes by. How have you evolved at your craft?
Brittany Allen: I think the biggest thing I have learned, that I’m still learning and the most important thing I have worked on as an actor, is becoming more comfortable with myself as a human being. As I have gotten older, worked on different projects, worked with different teachers and worked on myself more, it’s been mostly about letting down my guard. It’s not about performing but being OK with letting people see the parts of yourself that, in your daily life, you might instinctively try to hide. It’s been about bringing down those walls, being comfortable and not only letting the people in your direct surroundings see that part of yourself but knowing that it’s going to be captured on film and seen by many, hopefully! I think that is the biggest area of growth for me. Our instincts as a society are to hide the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves, so it’s a long journey to let down those walls but I do think that I have made strides towards that over the past few years.
You have interesting projects on the horizon, Brittany. Where should we be on the lookout for you next?
Brittany Allen: Shortly after the release of “It Stains The Sands Red,” I have “Jigsaw” coming out in the fall, right around Halloween. That’s a film I was really happy to be a part of and I got to work with the Spierig Brothers, who are a really great directing duo. It was super fun to shoot! I think they have given the brand new life. Based on the trailer alone, I think that film is going to be pretty cool! That’s the next thing and following that will be the film that Colin and I just made. It’s called “What Keeps You Alive.” Hopefully, it will start playing the festival circuit soon and it will be out soon enough!
It’s inspiring to see everything you created on your own terms, Colin. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as a filmmaker?
Colin Minihan: I don’t like to take 100 pitch meetings and pitch on projects that are not my scripts, that I’m not passionate about or that I would just be doing as a job. I feel like I thrive the most when, although I am making it for an audience, at the end of the day I’m making it for me and I’m not trying to play anybody else’s rules to get it made. In the case of “It Stains The Sands Red,” we raised the money independently and just went and made it! I think it’s a doable thing in this generation and in this day and age with how advanced everything is in terms of technology and what you need to create a really high end result. You don’t really need a lot. You just have to have that creative spark and idea that you can do it on a lower budget and enough drive, determination and craziness to go out and do it! I don’t think the amount of money you have necessarily dictates how good the film is going to be. If you are willing to take the artistic risk, go there and put yourself out there, then that’s all that really matters!
Well, said! Well, seeing as you both have plenty of irons in the fire, I’m sure we’ll be chatting again soon! Thanks for your time today and I wish you both continued success!
Brittany Allen: I’m sure we will! Thank you so much!
Colin Minihan: Thanks for you time, Jason!
Colin Minihan’s ‘It Stains The Sands Red’ hits select theaters and on VOD and Digital HD July 28th from Dark Sky Films.