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Director Zachary Donohue on Making THE DEN

It’s been a long journey for director Zachary Donohue and his techno-thriller feature film debut, The Den. Shot in 2012, the film was acquired by IFC Midnight at the end of last year and hits select theaters and VOD this Friday. The Den tells the story of Elizabeth (Smiley actress Melanie Papalia) and her graduate thesis project: a study of people as they interact with one another online through a forum called The Den, a website similar to Chatroulette. Elizabeth stumbles across something horrifying during her experiment, and her life is forever changed.

Nerdist got a chance to speak with Donohue about the themes of the film, his leading lady and, of course, found footage. “It is a found footage movie, but I think it’s different than what you’d expect… it’s very different than a person running around with a camera.” I had a chance to screen the movie before our interview and while it is found footage, something horror fans are very familiar with at this point, it definitely serves the story as opposed to working as a gimmick.

Donohue co-wrote the film with Lauren Thompson and the story is based on an idea that came to them from Thompson’s real life experience. Donohue explained, “My writing partner, when we moved out to L.A., got a job working for a website that’s akin to Chatroulette… Basically she was hired to go around and chat with people and she (asked) what they thought about the website. So, it was noble intentions, but she wound up encountering a lot of weirdos and a lot of creeps, and I got to sit in and watch a lot of these chats and they were all very surreal.”

Using creepiness found on the internet to tell a horror story is no big stretch, Donohue continued: “YouTube message boards and message boards in general are just always so nasty and creepy and, you know, I think the movie was about Chatroulette and that kind of, you know, what you can get away with on that, but it was also about trolling and how there is a real nastiness and perverse[ness] to the internet.”

One of my favorite parts of The Den was the performance of leading actress Melanie Papalia, who plays Elizabeth. Since it was her first lead role and his first feature film, how did things go for Donohue on set? He said, “Melanie was awesome. She really was very dynamic… she made a lot of interesting choices. She definitely brought the intensity when she needed to… when I asked her to do very intense scenes of action and violence she was very down. It was a solid working relationship.”

In addition to Papalia’s performance, the direction of the film was its strongest element and I’m definitely looking forward to what Donohue does next. The Den opens in select theaters and on VOD Friday, March 14.

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