The clever part of Beck Kitsis’ thriller The Three Men You Meet at Night is that it highlights an often disregarded form of male abuse – that the intention is just as wrong as the action. Her film follows a young woman who whilst walking home after a night out, encounters three separate men of different roles, ages and circumstances. Yet, they each exude the same brand of toxic masculinity. It’s a bold and acerbic short, and we were delighted to speak with Kitsis about embracing the visceral conventions of horror to tell a story which encapsulates this prevalent, yet difficult to articulate threat.

Was there something in particular that sparked the concept for this film?

The Three Men You Meet at Night was actually in part inspired by a dream I had. When I was growing up, I would often walk home alone at night. There was a particular road, it was very dark and it seemed to go on forever. It was like this tunnel of black. There was just one distant stoplight in the intersection up ahead. I would hold my breath for the entire stretch until I made it to the other end. One night a couple of years ago, I had a dream that I was back in high school, walking home alone on this desolate street. And it felt like I was on a treadmill, I kept walking, but never got any closer to the stoplight at the intersection. I was scared. I felt like I was on display and that anything could happen to me.

As I explored how I might develop this kernel of an idea, this fear of the male gaze and sexual violence, into a script, I started envisioning the film as a sort of surreal allegory. There isn’t much ambiguity in allegory, things are either right or wrong, good or bad, and I wanted to carry that unforgiving representation of morality through The Three Men You Meet at Night. In order to do this, I structured the film around interactions with three seemingly different types of men, who end up all sharing one thing in common.

I wanted to play with and ultimately subvert what a viewer expects to see in a horror film.

How did the structure of these three different but linked interactions resolve itself?

For a minute there, I actually considered having the same actor play all three men, but ultimately decided against it because I thought this sort of Brechtian alienation device might detract too much from the emotional impact of the horror genre. Similarly, in post-production, I removed the intertitles I had written into the script that announced each act (i.e. ACT I: THE STRANGER, ACT II: THE FRIEND, and ACT III: THE GUARDIAN) for the same reason. Instead, I decided to lean into the visceral effect of the horror genre, the suspense that brings you to the edge of your seat. A more experimental style would have gotten in the way of this.

That visceral effect is so palpable in the final film. Were you considerate of other horror conventions?

In terms of horror iconography and genre conventions, I wanted to play with and ultimately subvert what a viewer expects to see in a horror film. The fear we experience as women is universal and often genuinely horrific, however I rarely see stories about female fear depicted onscreen for any purpose other than entertainment or exploitation. With this film, I wanted to use the very genre that has normalised violence against women and positioned us as victims to explore the true horrors we face day-to-day. So right from the beginning of the film, we place the viewer in the world of a very specific type of horror movie and prime certain genre expectations. To do that, I drew inspiration from some of my favourite slashers like Halloween, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Suspiria. Then, as the film continues, it ultimately subverts those expectations for traditional genre horror and instead focuses on the more grounded monsters hiding in plain sight.

Monsters often don’t think they’re monsters because they haven’t physically acted. They don’t realise the horror lies in the intention as much as the physical act.

At the end of the day, I made this short film because I wanted to explore a type of sexual violence that can’t be reported, only felt and feared. I believe that just because a situation never escalates to the point of physical assault doesn’t make the overwhelming culture of toxic masculinity any less palpable or frightening.

How was the process of actualising the film in production?

The process of making this film was a whirlwind adventure. Usually, I’ll have an idea for a film and let it gestate for a long time, before suddenly feeling this urgent need to make it immediately. For better or worse, that’s my process, taking lots of time in development and then really just storming through pre-production. That’s exactly what happened with The Three Men You Meet at Night. I first had the idea in December 2018, began writing the script in earnest in May 2019, but it wasn’t until late July that I first emailed Producer Kay Sorin to see if she might be interested in helping me make the film. Between the time I first reached out to Kay to when we finished the film, it was less than eight months.

What was it about that preproduction period that was most vital to you? Did that result in an efficient production process?

During our four weeks of pre-production, we assembled our team, successfully raised our financing through a Kickstarter campaign, and secured our locations. Locking down locations was extremely difficult and expensive, that was the biggest challenge of pre-production. We shot the film over the last three days of September, two night shoots and one day shoot. I was extremely relieved and proud when we wrapped our final night of shooting in Northern Westchester at midnight, but then I had to go straight to the New York Film Festival for the Artist Academy, which started at 8 am the next day. It was brutal!

I made this short film because I wanted to explore a type of sexual violence that can’t be reported, only felt and feared.

What was your shooting set up given the requirement of filming at night and also capturing the foreboding atmosphere of that dark road?

Given the limitations we faced filming at night, our Director of Photography Adam Kolodny played a huge role in developing our shooting set up. I asked him to share a bit of his experience:

“I guess the big things for me were: Scouting to find a street that had streetlights in the distance to maintain a sense of depth in our dark sky, leaning into the great low-light performance of the Venice. Its dual-native iso allowed us to shoot clean images at night with a significantly smaller footprint than other cameras would allow, and using Astera Titan tubes as a moving key for Stella so we could travel further distances in each take without eventually seeing light sources in frame.”

Looking at the film’s festival journey, how was it getting prepped during the pandemic crisis? Did anything shift on the festival circuit?

We locked picture in February of 2020. Then, we sound mixed, colour corrected and finished the short in March in anticipation of our April world premiere at the Florida Film Festival. Of course, we all know what happened in March, so our FFF screening was postponed. Fortunately, we ended up world premiering virtually at the Maryland Film Festival in June 2020 and eventually screened at FFF once they rescheduled their event.

The film hit YouTube in late October, an audience not known for their comment etiquette. How have the discussions been over there versus on the festival circuit? And overall do you feel audiences (of all genders) are engaging with the core themes you built the film on?

It’s been difficult to measure reactions of festival viewers because I was never able to see the movie with an audience due to the pandemic, and most festival platforms didn’t include opportunities for audience interaction, with the exception of Fantastic Fest, which actually had a fantastic live comment section. So when the time came to release the film online, I have to admit that I was a little terrified! I feared backlash from certain audiences. However, to my surprise, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I know people always say “don’t read the comments section,” but, in this case, I have found it absolutely fascinating.

The film has spurred some pretty interesting conversations about what women should and should not be ‘allowed’ to do.

The comments are less about the film itself and more about the choices made by my main character; what she’s wearing, why she’s outside alone, why she’s walking at that time of night. So, in that sense, it seems like the film has spurred some pretty interesting conversations about what women should and should not be ‘allowed’ to do, and these conversations have mostly been productive. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses over on YouTube – there are definitely people with views that I find quite horrifying, but I was heartened to see how passionate viewers are about this topic of gender inequality.

What’s next?

I recently finished co-writing an episode of television with my friend and bandmate Aida Riddle. It’s part of a horror anthology for one of the streamers. COVID has put a halt to lots of filming, but I hope to have a chance to direct that episode in 2021 if filming is safe.

In addition, together with my partner Chris McNabb, I’m currently co-writing and plan to co-direct a new short called Valentine. The film is about a couple that heads to the Catskills for a romantic getaway, but over the course of the night, issues surrounding gender identity threaten to unravel the seams of their relationship. We’re also co-writing a feature-length slasher film, which I can’t share much more on just yet, but we are very excited about it.

Finally, together with my friend and frequent collaborator Carlen May-Mann (one of the producers of The Three Men You Meet at Night), I’m co-writing and producing a feature-length film entitled Strawberry Summer. It’s a horror film about a young girl’s coming-of-age, and we plan to shoot it next summer.

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