The German Black Forest is filled with countless myths and legends. From old gods to nature spirits, this is a place ripe for exploration in film. This is where the film Demigod by director/actor Miles Doleac takes its characters. This is a place filled with darkness, secrets, and things few can understand.
The film is an exciting horrific journey, and one that Miles Doleac brought to life with a fantastic team and concept. Known for his acting and directing, Miles Doleac is no stranger to the world of horror and thrillers. CGMagazine was lucky enough to get to sit down with the Demigod director to discuss his career, horror, and the process of producing a film during the pandemic.
CGMagazine: What made you create and work on Demigod?
Miles Doleac: I’ve always been fascinated with religion and mythology. This was an opportunity to play around Nerthus myth, (goddess of the earth, called by the Romans Terra Mater). The Germanic nature deity, Master of beasts and wild places. I’ve always found it to be a fascinating and complex deity. So, we got to futz with the cult of carnonos and gave our take. At the same time, Demigod is more than just a genre piece about a cult and a God creature. It has some deeper layers.
We’re asking questions about family and lineage and how to break free of generational trauma. It has a deeper layer and resonance and a little commentary on the sanctity of the natural world. The project had a lot going on as we developed it. It was also an opportunity to shoot a film that was largely an exterior film. Most of the film takes place outdoors in the woods and that was supremely important during COVID-19.
CGMagazine: What drew you to the horror genre, and why do you believe the genre is such an important aspect of filmmaking?
Miles Doleac: I think horror and psychological thriller is such a rich sandbox of creativity, there’s so much you can do. We’ve seen in the past years, that comes to full fruition with films like GET OUT. These are films that are squarely in the genre. They have scars, they give you the chills up your spine, but at the same time, they have something to contribute to the social dialogue. I think horror is so unique in that way.
Whatever it is, whether we’re talking about religion, politics, historical events or family, we can see the ghosts of those things and figuratively playing out on screen and how they impact and affect our characters in the film and then oftentimes society at large. I think there’s a lot of opportunity and possibility in the genre and I certainly had a fulfilling experience playing in that sandbox over the past few years.
CGMagazine: How do you choose your characters whether it’s hero or villain?
Miles Doleac: I love playing the villain because the villains are more colourful and given more interesting things to do. They’re tortured souls and there’s a lot of meat on the bone there. But I’m attracted to any character that is fully three-dimensional and represents a complicated, flawed human being. I’m most interested in those characters who are a bit grey because most of humanity is grey.
There are very few real heroes and villains in my experience, it’s so much about how you react to a given set of stimuli and the circumstances that are thrust upon you. Acting is reacting and how characters respond to events is the measure of who they are as characters. So, as long as that character is rich and has interesting responses to the circumstances, I’m in. I’d be lying if I said I don’t love playing villains, villains are always more fun.
CGMagazine: What is it about Demigod that draws attention and might change the minds of viewers?
Miles Doleac: I don’t make slasher jump-scare type horror movies. In my last couple of films, in particular Demigod and The Dinner Party, they have a couple of moments where there’s a bit of gore for the gore-hounds out there, and I feel I’ve done pretty well. But there’s a lot more going on. We are, at the core of Demigod, we have our hero couple played by Rachel Nichols and Johan Smiles. They are going back to Rachel’s character’s birthplace to collect her inheritance; they’re trying to rekindle their relationship a little and the implication is they’ve spent a year in the pandemic under lockdown, and they need an adventure.
They quickly meet other locals and forge a connection with them. And questions begin to arise about Rachel’s character’s past and there’s a lot of character drama there. There is a rich tapestry of relationships. I think that appeals to any moviegoer. A movie is only as good as its characters. And we have some perfect ones in this film.
“Demigod is more than just a genre piece about a cult and a God creature. It has some deeper layers.”
I am also really pleased with the fact that we got Rachel Nichols, who I’ve been a fan of for many years and her chemistry with Johan Smiles. This is my second film working with Johan. He is just tremendous. They were both terrific in the film. And I’m pleased with the look of the film too. The visual aesthetic of the film is going to appeal to a lot of moviegoers, it’s shot in anamorphic widescreen.
We embraced anamorphic flair and the beautiful vistas we shot at the campground in a park near Little Black Creek. We had some great wood locations, hills, trees, ponds, lakes and doubling as the Black Forest in Germany and had a great design team, production designer Julie Toj, costume designer Lindsay Anne Williams delivered on the visual aesthetic. So, I think there’s a feast for the eyes there. Then for the intellect as well in whom these characters are and what they’re going through. And then for the genre themes, it’s scary stuff and gore. So, hopefully we affect where it appeals to lots of different personalities and perspectives.
CGMagazine: What is your opinion about practical versus CGI in a film like Demigod?
Miles Doleac: I would always prefer to get a camera if possible. Now some of that has to do with the fact that I’ve never had the types of budgets to get truly high-end CGI effects. But commonly we try to get as much of the effect as possible in-camera and then enhance it digitally after the fact. That has worked well for us over the past few films. One of our producers, Wesley, also serves as our visual effects’ supervisor. So, we’re going into the film, we have an idea of what we’re going to try to do with effects and having a game plan helps.
Occasionally, we do some straight-up digital effects. There’s an eye gag that our creature in this film has Blazing red eyes. Sometimes it’s practical, sometimes it’s CGI. Sometimes it’s practical but enhanced with CGI. It depends on the circumstance but, as a general rule, if you can get it on camera, in my experience, it’s always better to at least give you something to build upon after the fact.
CGMagazine: You have done in front of camera work and behind the camera as well. What is your love?
Miles Doleac: I do love both. I initially started directing films to give myself more opportunities as an actor, I started as an actor. I was in South Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, working on really cool, independent projects and just got inspired. I thought I could be making my own films; I could be telling stories that are meaningful to me and at the same time writing roles for myself because very few actors work enough. Actors want to be working all the time, we want to be doing this thing we’re compelled to do all the time.
So, I wrote The Historian, my first film, with that in mind and I didn’t even intend to direct that film. We had a couple of directors on the hook and things kept falling through. And finally, one of my producers on that film, Mackenzie Westmoreland said, why don’t you just direct it yourself? I thought about that and talked it over with my partner in life and art, Lindsay Anne Williams, and decided to do that.
I have now directed six features and four shorts and a couple of music videos, in all manner of theatre. It has become a great passion and love for me in its own right, but in the beginning, it was acting. That’s why I went in that direction.
CGMagazine: What made you want to dive into German mythology?
Miles Doleac: There’s just a rich history there. It helped because I spoke a little German. I have a graduate degree in ancient history. And as a result of that, I spent some time at the Gurdon Institute’ in Munich. So, German was a language that I felt confident in and could direct a film that had probably 30-35% German dialogue.
Then, allure and the mystique of the Black Forest were big for me and Wild Hunt narratives that we build upon in this film, I thought were fascinating. In music, I’m always thinking about music. I’ve worked with the same composer, Clifton Hyde, on all of my films, except one, and we’re always thinking about what the music is going to sound like, even before we shoot the film.
There were a lot of antecedents in traditional German folk music that we were building on. Foundationally, it seemed to be a culture that I had some comfort level with that had history and mythology. Germanic deities are creepy. There are a lot of ancient deities that are creepy, but these guys eat babies. It’s terrifying. It was something that we could have a lot of fun with, and we could capitalize on.
CGMagazine: Anything else for people, why should they watch Demigod?
Miles Doleac: If you are a fan of something like ‘Midsummer‘ or ‘It Comes at Night’, it has that cult element, it has that natural mystique creep factor but has rich characters. There’s enough gore to keep gore fans on the hook. I think visually it’s a really beautiful film. It’s got an amazing score by Clifton Hyde. And it was shot during the pandemic and, as an independent filmmaker, I think there are a lot of indie filmmakers out there still quaking in their boots about the possibility of trying to shoot a film, as long as COVID is around.
We managed to do it safely and efficiently without a single onset case of COVID without shutting down. So, it’s a testament to what can be done at the independent level. Rachel Nichols had such a storied career from GI Joe to the first JJ Abrams Star Trek to Conan to Man in The High Castle and God bless her for taking a chance on this indie film, and she delivers a fantastic performance in it, it’s worth a look. I hope people will give our film a shot.
A lot of people are saying nice things about it. We’ve got scooped up by the largest distributor that has ever distributed one of our films, Gravitas Ventures, so they believe in it. I think folks are going to be glad when they give it a watch.
CGMagazine: Thank you so much for your time and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
Miles Doleac: Thank you.