Sponsored feature: Jason Byrne Productions
Button Man is a new Australian horror/thriller short written and directed by Josh Todaro.
Inspired by true events, this visceral Australian horror/thriller follows two sisters on a hiking trip gone wrong, when they realize they aren’t alone in the Victorian High Country.
A Q&A with writer/director Josh Todaro
Congratulations on the upcoming release of your horror short Button Man! I had a chance to check it out and I was shook! The film is inspired by the true events of the Victoria High Country disappearances. What was it about these events that made you want to make the film?
Well firstly, I’m glad you enjoyed the film and that it shook you haha that was the goal and it makes me very happy to hear!
So the term ‘inspired by’ should be used quite loosely when it comes to a film like this. There have been a handful of ‘eye-witness’ accounts and stories of people having encounters with an ‘old man’ out in the High Country. Those stories, coupled with the fact that a decent number of people have mysteriously disappeared in the area over the last year or 2 was enough for the media and ‘theorists’ to believe that they’d found a correlation. I can’t say that I necessarily buy into the connection but the possibility of it was enough to creep me out and I thought it would be cool to see something along those lines on the big screen!
I would hate for people to go into this film expecting an accurate retelling of an event in particular, or for the film to point fingers and offer a ‘theory’ on what happened.
In a nutshell, the film takes the very basic idea of – imagine if you were out camping in one of the most beautiful yet eerie places in the Australian bush… all alone. Then when you least expect it, in the middle of the night when you are most vulnerable… there is an old man lurking outside your tent by the campfire. What would you do? Whether he is a killer or just a recluse… it is still a terrifying situation and I think that taps into a lot of people’s subconscious camping fears.
Whether or not the ‘Button Man’ is real… or if he is just an urban legend that has been born out of multiple stories combined, it doesn’t really matter to us. The concept of a mysterious bushman like that is a great starting point for a suspenseful horror like this and I hope people get a thrill out of it and enjoy it for what it is.
In the middle of the night when you are most vulnerable…there is an old man lurking outside your tent by the campfire. What would you do?—Josh Todaro
During Button Man, another backpacking horror Wolf Creek is referenced. Did you draw inspiration from any other horror films during the filmmaking process?
Yeah, it’s no secret that people will make comparisons to Wolf Creek, so I decided to just acknowledge it and make the characters self-aware of their situation and how camping in the remote wilderness can feel like a horror movie. But honestly, the horror film I drew the most inspiration from would be John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). It still stands as probably my all-time favourite horror. To me, the way the suspense is built with very simple scenes of Michael Myers just standing still in the background…. always watching… always lurking… unknowingly to the main characters, then when the characters turn around, he’s gone. Scares like that, I felt would be the best way to tell a story like this… of a man who can stalk someone for days on end without them knowing.
There are a lot of suspenseful and tense moments through its 22-minute runtime. What were some of your methods for building tension?
Thank you! I’m glad you felt the suspense and tension. Coupled with the inspiration from Halloween, I guess I just tried to put myself in the situation of the main characters (2 sisters camping alone). I go camping every now and then, and every time… I’ll admit… I get really freaked out when it gets dark and quiet haha. Literally, the darkness alone is enough to scare me, then if I happen to hear noises around the campsite that sound like footsteps or weird animals, I’m the first to start imagining there is a killer out there!
So I leaned into my fears with the writing and really tried to work out what would scare me the most if I was out there. It turns out that I wasn’t actually afraid of being killed… I was just afraid of the possible confrontation with an unknown person or the idea that someone was hiding in the darkness.
Then I just hoped some other people out there could relate.
I really feel like the actual suspense of the film was created in post-production… with the edit and the score. For me and my collaborator Jamie ‘Pees’ Lehman, dragging out a shot to an uncomfortable length was a powerful tool. These edits, coupled with an unsettling score, were the recipe for building tension.
Also, keeping things feeling as realistic as possible, I think helps draw the viewer in and feel the experience with the characters.
The cinematography is really well done, with beautiful shots of Victorian High Country. Were there any challenges of filming out in the wilderness?
Thank you, that was the handy work of the talented David McKinnar and Jamie ‘Pees’ Lehman. They did an incredible job to capture both the scale of the location and the intimacy of the characters, which are a hard balance to juggle.
Well the first challenge, was about trying to actually film in the real locations where people have gone missing in the High Country. The more we looked into it though, it just wasn’t going to be possible on our micro-budget… and logistically it was going to come with more cons than pros.
We opted to adapt the locations to a different mountain range closer to home.
That being said…. it was still filled with challenges as we were still out in the wild, at the mercy of the elements.
I can’t say lugging all the gear through the bush, only to have torrential rain hit you and keep you trapped under the 1 undercover gazebo you had set up… for hours, was very fun haha. An added bonus to that night was being covered in leeches…. all of us. Leeches everywhere. That night ‘shoot’ was the worst and definitely made me realize that sometimes things are out of your control on a film set, and you can try to ‘roll with the punches’ and ‘make it work’ all you like…. but some days just aren’t meant to be. But it’s okay because there is always another day. Did I mention the giant spiders crawling all over our gear?
Another challenge… sometimes there were no bathrooms. And if you happen to lose something out there…. it’s probably lost forever. Spending a night looking for a set of car keys til’ 4 am is a memory I’ll laugh about forever.
Don Bridges does an excellent job portraying the incredibly creepy Button Man. What was it like working with him on the film?
If there is anything I can say about the legend Don Bridges, it’s that he is probably the loveliest actor and human you will ever meet. There was rarely a time on set he didn’t have a big smile on his face or a great idea up his sleeve.
An absolute pro. A veteran of the craft. He was the first person I sent the script to, as I had worked with him previously on a TV Pilot that I created called ‘Hell Patrol’, because I knew he would be perfect for the role. He wrote back almost instantly something like “Terrific. When are we filming it?”. That right there was the moment I knew we were making this thing!
We would often bounce ideas back and forth via phone calls and onset, about who we thought this character was…. What his backstory could be…. what makes him tick etc. We really found the character together, which was a dream come true for me.
I look forward to working with Don again, hopefully, many more times in the future.
I noticed a fellow Canadian, the talented Wade MacNeil of Alexisonfire and Gallows, composed the score for the film. How did the relationship form and what direction did you provide to him in what you were hoping to hear?
I’ve always been a fan of Wade’s career, especially growing up listening to Alexisonfire and in recent years his film scores. Myself and ‘Pees’ have a close connection to the heavy music scene and a lot of our friends are in really well-known bands. It was a coincidence that when it came time to find a composer, I had just seen Jay Baruschel’s ‘Random Acts Of Violence’… and I realized Wade did the score. Although I had never met Wade before, I thought to myself “Surely I know someone who is friends with him”. And sure enough thanks to our friend Josh Merriel, who is the host of a punk segment at a national radio station over here, I was speaking to Wade within a matter of hours.
I sent him a rough cut of the film right away, and he seemed really interested in it and wanted to start bouncing ideas. I was over the moon and things just really seemed to align for us in terms of timing, as he was basically ready to start right away.
I guess in terms of direction, we had an initial Zoom call where I was just saying every idea that came to mind in a chaotic mess haha. “I want it simple… stripped back… but crazy and weird… with only nature sounds. Like there’s no instruments… it’s music made up of manipulated nature sounds… blah blah blah”. I didn’t really know what I was hearing in my head…. and I don’t think he did either, because he came back to me a few days later with something completely different haha.
In a good way! It was incredible! It was not really like I had explained and I’m so thankful that he just went with his gut and his instincts. That’s what a good composer should do.
Everything that I thought might be ‘too much’, was actually exactly what the film needed. I find it hard to imagine the film with a more subtle and stripped back score, now that I’ve heard the intensity that Wade brought to it.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. Having Wade work his magic on this project was an absolute highlight in the whole experience. Not only did he compose the score, but the closing track of the film is a song from his new solo project ‘Dooms Children’, whose debut album is dropping soon!
I truly hope I get to work with Wade again on a feature-length version, because I know he has an endless stream of ideas… and I can’t wait to hear more!
I know Button Man is premiering at ‘Monsterfest’ in Melbourne on November 4, which is really exciting! Where else can horror fans look forward to seeing the film?
For me, MonsterFest was one of those goals I had my sights set on well before making the film. I knew it was going to be the perfect place to premiere something like this in Australia. So you can imagine my excitement when I was contacted by the head of Monster Pictures, Grant Hardie, for a chat about the film’s future!
With our Aus premiere locked in, we set our sights on the international film festival market. With a few official selections in the bag already, we are holding back on announcements until we decide which one is going to be our International premiere. From there we will be able to announce the rest.
But rest assured, it is definitely hitting film festivals in the USA and will eventually find its home online in the new year. We are aiming for a streaming service, with a worldwide platform but more to come on that soon.
Button Man has its Australian Premiere at ‘Monsterfest’, Melbourne on November 4, 2021.