Blink Filmmakers Talk About Their New Horror Short, Possibly Adapting It Into A Feature, And More [Interview]

Sony's genre label Screen Gems has created an incubator program called the Scream Gems Horror Lab, which collaborates with rising filmmakers to produce horror shorts with the hopes of developing them into full-fledged feature films. First out of the gate is "Blink," which had its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival yesterday and is now available to watch in full on YouTube.

Directed by Spenser Cohen (a writer on "Moonfall") and co-written by Cohen and producer Anna Halberg, "Blink" stars Sophie Thatcher ("Yellojackets," "The Book of Boba Fett") as a young woman named Mary who wakes up in the hospital and finds herself almost totally paralyzed, limited to using the act of blinking her eyes as her sole form of communication. And as you might expect from a horror short, things begin to get even worse from there. While a feature version has not been given a green light as of this writing, Cohen and Halberg are already seeing the fruits of their labor: After writing several drafts of the screenplay for a feature adaptation of a 1992 novel called "Horrorscope," which follows a group of college pals who begin dying in ways connected to recent readings of their horoscopes, they've now been hired to co-direct that movie based in part on the work they did on "Blink."

I spoke with Cohen, Halberg, and producer Scott Glassgold about the things that went wrong while making their short film, kicking off the Scream Gems program, casting Sophie Thatcher before she hit the big time, and more.

'We actually reverse-engineered this'

Congratulations on your short. How much, if at all, did the Tio Salamanca character from "Breaking Bad" inspire you when you sat down to write this?

Cohen: [laughs] I mean, it just inspires us every day.

Halberg: Yeah, what doesn't that inspire?

What was the actual inspiration for this?

Cohen: So the initial inspiration was I woke up one night and I had sleep paralysis. It was the only time I've ever had it, and I remember waking up and I couldn't move my body. I couldn't move anything but my eyes, and I was trying to will my body to wake up, and then I heard a noise. My eyes ping ponged into the corner of the room, and it was just darkness, and I remember being so terrified at that point. I was shaking inside, trying to wake myself up, and I told Anna about it. I was like, "This is the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. I was in my bedroom. I thought I was safe, and I'm traumatized now." And she said she had a similar experience happen to her. So just as a jumping off point, we spend a third of our lives in bed and it's supposed to be a safe, comfortable place. And it can quickly not become that if you've woken up at 3:00 in the morning –

Halberg: Yeah, and even though this movie isn't about sleep paralysis, I think the idea of being in your body but not able to move if something is in the room is a very scary feeling.

There's at least one movie I can think of that has tapped into that idea. So Spenser, from a directorial standpoint, did you watch any movies or TV shows in order to give you ideas about what to do or what to avoid?

I never really watch anything that would be related to something that I'm doing. I'll end up watching older movies, so actually the things that we looked up for this, we watched "Rear Window" a bunch. We went back to Hitchcock and also all the James Wan movies — the first two "Insidious," the first two "Conjuring" movies — because he's just a master craftsman. But really going back to Hitchcock and how he is able to, just using pure cinema, move the camera in a way and create tension and build suspense. "Rear Window" is just a masterclass.

You have the first project out of the gate with this new Scream Gems Horror Lab. Do you already have a feature adaptation of "Blink" written, and the studio is just looking to see how this performs before deciding whether or not to move forward with it? How does this work?

Halberg: We haven't written the feature, but we actually reverse-engineered this. So we didn't start with a short. We had a feature idea for "Blink," and then when Scott came to us and told us about this lab that he was starting with Screen Gems, we went back and wrote a short proof of concept after the fact. So we haven't written the feature, but we definitely envision it as being one.

In your minds, if you're able to make this into a feature, would the events we saw in the short film be a scene in that larger movie?

Cohen: This would definitely be part of the movie, in the first act of the story.

I know making this short helped you to get the directing gig for "Horrorscope," which sounds like it has a bit of shared DNA with the "Final Destination" movies. What can you tell me about that film?

Halberg: We can't go into details about the plot of it, but I do think that this is a really great example of studios backing filmmakers. The fact that we were able to make this short film and then they've believed in us and are giving us this opportunity to make this feature is fantastic. Spenser and I wrote the [script] for "Horrorscope," so it's been really nice because we were able to direct on the page in all of the drafts that we've been putting together, and are now so excited to bring it to life.

Cohen: And it's an original idea, and we see it as the start of a horror franchise. We think it's going to be surprising and really scare the sh*t out of people.

Do you have a schedule in place for that? Do you know when you're going to start shooting?

Halberg: This year.

Cohen: Very soon.

Since there's no such thing as a production that goes exactly as planned, what were some unforeseen obstacles that you had to maneuver around during the filming of "Blink?"

Halberg: What I think was so fun about this is we really went back to our film school roots. So everyone who was involved in the project really wanted to be there because we didn't have a lot of time, we didn't have a lot of money. Nobody was here for a paycheck. It was people who were passionate about the project or friends that we had worked with and gone to film school with. So that made it really fun, but it was definitely challenging because, again, having not a lot of time or money, you have to think on your feet quite quickly. I mean, you can talk a little bit about some of the special effects.

Cohen: Basically anything that was practical didn't go well. All the things that you are like, "Oh, it's a window rising or a door closing or a bed going up into a window." You feel like, "Oh, that's easy, you tie a wire." But it always failed and we would have to huddle together and be like, "Guys, we have 18 minutes and we have to move on to the next shot. What are we doing?"

Glassgold: It was totally "MacGruber."

Cohen: We MacGruber'd it. I think that's the best way to say it. Every shot had a "MacGruber" element.

Tell me about casting Sophie Thatcher, because this character obviously has to convey a lot under very specific circumstances.

Glassgold: I was fortunate enough to meet Sophie on a movie I made called "Prospect" and her talent was inordinately evident there. So we obviously stayed in touch, and anytime I have something that remotely would be for her, she's the first person I think of. And she was kind enough to agree to do this. But as you saw in her performance and all her success this year, she's probably the most talented young actress out there today.

I read a Hollywood Reporter piece where you joked about Sophie maybe being too busy for you these days. Have you actually spoken to her about potentially reprising this role if "Blink" does turn into a feature?

Halberg: That was the initial plan, was to have her on board. So hopefully she can make time for us.