Rodney Ascher is a film director, film editor, film producer, screenwriter and cinematographer.
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Hey Everyone! My name is [Rodney Ascher] (/u/rodres). I directed Room 237 and just recently released my new film, "The Nightmare," a horror documentary about sleep paralysis, now in theaters and video on demand. The response to the film has been amazing as more and more sufferers of the condition come forward and share their stories. The film features the experiences of eight individuals. One of these interviewees, Forrest Borie (/u/floristboring) , joins us on this AMA. We may have another interviewee join us as well.
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Let's talk about sleep paralysis, the film, film making and anything else you can think of!
Why did you choose to not include any doctors or experts in The Nightmare explaining the science behind sleep paralysis?
I think that stuff is better delivered in text online or in a book. I wanted to do a more immersive trip into the heads of people going through this, show what its like and see how it affected their lives. At the end of the day the subject spreads across disciplines and history, I thought I was best off narrowing my focus to eye-witness accounts.
Thanks for the reply! Really enjoyed the film when I saw it at Hot Docs in Toronto. Follow up: was there anyone you interviewed who you felt might be giving you an unreliable or exaggerated account of the affliction to make it more dramatic for the film?
well there were people I talked to (I skyped with dozens of people before filming many of them) who didn't come off as genuine to me (though who knows if they were embellishing or just talked that way?) At the end of the day it came down to gut instinct of who was compelling and sounded sincere. Luckily nobody's death row sentence is hanging in the balance of this particular documentary!
Do you have any advice for aspiring independent filmmakers (like myself) as to how to grow from doing short film projects to larger ones that screen at festivals? How difficult is it to make that leap?
Well - before the S From Hell played Sundance I was pretty close to throwing in the towel (I'd been doing this for a looooooong time to diminishing returns) but that gave me the incentive to do Room 237. I guess my best advice is do something that you and only you are most suited to doing, and one that you have the time and money to pull off. 237 was an incredibly modest production but you dont need a20 million dollars to play at major festivals so much as a unique point of view.
Hi Rodney, I research sleep paralysis and really excited to see the film. Any ideas when/how we can watch the film in the UK?
There will be a theatrical/digital release of the Nightmare in the UK soon (don't have the dates yet though) via the fine folks at Altitude Films.
Do you ever get scared or creeped out from watching your own films?
a little - it would probably be different it I just made it all up, but since these ideas are coming from other people in some ways I'm just another audience member
Hello Rodney and thank you for being here !
I watched "The Nightmare" the other night and found it thoroughly terrifying and it takes a bit to scare me (life long horror fan). I used to have similar paralysis issues as a child and almost complexly forgot about it until I heard the 8 people talking about their experiences. It all came back to me in a huge rush of fear; the shadow people, the colors in vision, trying to move anything to wake up etc etc... When it came to the part about when they were disusing about the possibilities of talking about the experience can cause a trigger to make it happen again I almost turned it off, which is rather rare for me. I was afraid to go to sleep for the first time in 15 years. Luckily, I Was fine!
So , my question is, has anyone contacted you about something like this actually happening to them ? They watch your film and it induces sleep paralysis all over again? or for the first time? Is it truly contagious to some people??
Also, as a child a VERY common theme that would happen to me was I would close my eyes and look into the darkness and then as I was falling asleep my vision would start "Shaking", quite slowly at first then more radically until it was almost like I was "high" from it. My body would get fuzzy and my closed eye vision would be shaking like crazy. I do not know if this goes hand in hand with sleep paralysis but this stopped happening when the paralysis stoped as well, when I was 11 or 12. Has anyone talked to you about anything like this?
Thanks for the response!
This is Forrest. Curious about the last part of your question regarding the "shaking." When you speak about your body feeling "fuzzy" did that include sensations of dilating (ie growing or reducing in size)? This happened to me all the time as a child and still does from time to time.
This is Rodney - as for the film being 'contagious' not a ton, but a few (including one guy who reported getting SP after reposting the trailer!) of course without rigorous testing its hard to discern between correlation and causation.
What are some of your favorite horror films?
Recently I really liked Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch. Going back I'd say Halloween 3, Videodrome, The Martian Chronicles, Kwaidan, Spider Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Demons (1/2), Suspiria, Lair of the White Worm, Night of the Hunter, Songs from the Second Floor, Twin Peaks; Fire Walk With Me, The 'magic mirror' episode of Lost in Space, Re-Animator, Phantasm, Let the Right One In, the plastic surgery scene in 'Behind the Candleabra', Hello Mary Lou, Prom Night 2
How did the interviewees feel about their particular reenactments? Were any not happy, feeling they were not accurate enough? Were any not happy, feeling they were TOO accurate?
Well Forrest just leaned over and said "it was a beautiful synthesis of my experience through someone else's lens" - the other folks all like the movie. Its funny, though, accuracy is not the first thing the people in the film wanted to talk about after seeing the movie. Most of them were more interested in comparing their experiences to what other people went through.
Hey Rodney, you helped me with a high school project about 4 years ago called Logophobia. I still get comments on that video to this day, even though it's horribly made. Just wanted to say thanks!
How much time do you spend doing research for your films, and how do you get inspired to tackle the subjects you do?
Sure - hey Alex, I dug it. These last two projects germinated for a year or so before production really began in earnest. At a certain point, after collecting enough kindling they just seemed to catch fire. There are others that never hit that critical mass...
Anything starting to catch fire right now?
lots of kindling....
Hi Rodney and Forrest. I was really fascinated and frightened by "The Nightmare" and have been a fan of Rodney's work for some time now. The documentary hints that there may be something going on that is not purely psychological (i.e. the woman who was spared by uttering Jesus' name and the experience with the "demons" in the forest). Do you feel that sleep paralysis is something that is purely psychological/physiological or do you think there is some otherworldly component to it?
That's one of the big questions the movie tries to ask (rather than answer definitively), my personal needle has moved back and forth over the course of it. I tried to this in a way where my opinion isn't any more relevant than the audiences.
Stephen King is famously not a fan of Kubrick's The Shining. Have you read King's original book? If so, do you prefer the book or the movie and why?
I love the King book but the movie created a place that felt so real I can imagine waking up there somehow, maybe after I die
What entity/character do you see in your SP episodes?
Once I saw the shadowman, and once I saw sort of a rainbow kaleidoscope with Alien faces weaved through it