A Texas Found Footage Horror - Interview with Thomas Burke

Last year I was looking for a very niche Japanese horror movie, so niche its only trace was a letterboxd log by a certain “Tom”. I found his infos and sent him an email, in which I asked him for some insights on the movie and how to watch it. At the time I didn’t know that Tom, or rather Thomas Burke, was a director and a true expert on the genre. After some initial short movies at university and some roles in various productions (ranging from editor to actor to producer), in 2020 Thomas directed “Camping Fun”, a found footage type short movie that can be watched for free on Youtube, and this year [ed: 2022] he directed another short, that I had the honour to preview, in its non-definitive version, called “SHC: Freak Accident”. He also worked during this year at a new editing with the addiction of new scenes for Stockton Miller’s movie “Trident: The Land We Call Home”, then called “The Barbados Project” (filmed in Barbados in 2019), and as an editor, sound designer and dubber on the terrific “A Town Full of Ghosts”, an upcoming found footage directed by Isaac Rodriguez that will be one of the topics of the following interview, with some sneak peeks too.
Without further ado, here’s the interview with Thomas, about his movies, inspirations and current works in progress:

Robb: Hi! I've known you for a bit now, but some of our readers may not be familiar with your works. How would you describe 'em?
Thomas: Hmm they’re usually all over the place, but I guess I would almost say that is the purpose as well. Because storylines are supposed to be engaging with the viewer and I really enjoy telling stories that can be relatable to people, but what I particularly enjoy is taking that facet and then inventing something new with it- perhaps something out of left field that may not only alter the general storyline, but in many cases the primary genre as well.

R: Do you have any major inspiration?
T: I grew up primarily invested in the music industry, so I’ve found when writing or creating something, that music tends to play a big role. So many composers inspire me, such as Max Richter. But in a closer relation, my colleagues and peers truly inspire me to hone in on my craft every single day.

R: Which one of your colleagues would you like to meet the most and why?
T: Hmm good question! I’ve been doing lots of voice work in Finland lately, with an up and coming director by the name of Kalle Saarinen. His team puts together such phenomenal work, and so I’d really like to meet those guys in person one day.
R: Talking about your work as a director, what is the movie you're the most proud of?
T: I’d say the film “Camping Fun” because it allowed me an opportunity to sort of break into the found footage horror community and I didn’t really expect so many others would react so positively towards it.

R: I've met you thanks to found footage movies as well! What are your favourites of the genre?
T: That’s a tough one because I just love so many of them. But my top 5 (today) are: “The Poughkeepsie Tapes”, “Followed” (from director Antoine Le), “1974: La posesión de Altair”, “The Blackwell Ghost Part 3” and “Lunopolis”.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes” offers a really disturbing and authentic look to found footage- this also comes from the early work of the same director who perhaps made one of the best found footage films known today, “As Above so Below”. “Followed” has taken an approach to narrative storytelling in a way I have never really seen before, mixing both real-life story elements with fictional elements as well. “1974” is probably one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in the genre, and provides an ending that is very difficult to see coming. If you’ve seen “The Blackwell Ghost 1 & 2”, then 3 takes the viewer into a new storyline, as well as a new setting that I can’t help but admire the way they pulled at the heartstrings. And “Lunopolis”, while not perfect, is probably one of the best independent found footage films ever made. Delving into secret rooms, time travel and the end of the world, it’s hard not to get invested in this one too, [laugh].
Exclusive first look at Andrew C. Fisher and Mandy Lee Rubio on the set of "A Town Full of Ghosts" (2022, directed by Isaac Rodriguez)
R: Still keeping up the found footage topic, you recently worked in "A Town Full of Ghosts" (which I loved), can you tell us about the production and your involvement in that one?
T: Thanks! Yeah that one was a lot of fun, I didn’t work during the production portion of it but I did edit the film and work on the sound design. However I do know quite a bit about the ghost town they recorded at because I filmed a couple of my earliest shorts there. It’s called the J. Lorraine Ghost Town- located here in Texas. And the owner has been slowly adding more and more infrastructure to the town, dating back to the 1980s!

R: That's insane! I loved how the town felt like a real character in the movie. You participated, in various roles, in other projects as well. Can you tell us some of your favourite ones?
T: I recently had a small role in a Gus Van Sant movie called “Age Out”. That one was a lot of fun. My friends and I also maintain this ongoing inside joke by making this avant-garde franchise called “Broken Glass” - but it’s basically a joke because we never promote nor publish the films, instead it’s just a fun way for us to film something for no budget and no added pressure. I guess this is the first time I’m publicly stating that this even exists [Laugh].
Exclusive sneak peek of "A Town Full of Ghosts" (2022, directed by Isaac Rodriguez)
R: That's an exclusive right here [laugh]! Talking about projects you instead directed, you recently worked on "The Barbados Project". Can you talk with us about that movie and its story?
T: Yeah! “The Barbados Project” is the first found footage/creature feature to come out of the island of Barbados. We filmed the entire thing there, it took us really a long time to make; but we finally just finished post production and have been screening at a few of the various film festivals. In it, we follow a team of journalists who are trying to uncover a mass global government conspiracy involving monsters that use time travel to gain entry into our universe. It’s a really crazy concept, but I very much admire it too because I’ve always wanted to work on a time travel film, so once I got brought in, I became very invested!

R: "The Barbados Project" has a giant monster in it, how was it realised and how did you come up with the design?
T: My co-director, Stockton has been working in visual effects for quite some time- where some of the monsters we created ourselves but other designs came out of Tippet Studios, who were kind enough to let us use in the film.
"The Barbados Project" (2022, directed by Thomas Burke and Stockton Miller)
R: Our staff is very into kaiju movie, so this question is due: if you had the chance to direct a movie about any famous kaiju, which one would you choose and why?
T: Well I would ultimately have to say Gamera because that’s the one I know the most about. But generally speaking I really love J-Horror. And director Kôji Shiraishi is one of my all time favourites too, so if I ever had the opportunity to make a monster movie and help bring some of his creature designs to life I totally would.

R: I'm a j-horror fan as well as you know so i'd like to ask you if there's one you've seen that really disturbed you.
T: Yes. A movie called “Celluloid Nightmares” from 1999. It’s very disturbing and I don’t think I would ever recommend it [laugh].
Less disturbing, and more so scary— I would on the other hand recommend this film called “Mount Nabi” from Seiji Chiba.

R: You know I have to watch them now, right? [Laugh].
T: [Laugh] Good luck! And you know, come to think of it… Mount Nabi is very disturbing too- but it’s actually a very enjoyable watch in my opinion. 
R: Are you working on something at the moment?
T: Yes. I’m attached to a few developments which I’m set to direct this year. We are scheduled to begin production of one during the summer, and then make the other during wintertime. Unfortunately I can’t really say too much about either of these- but one is going to act as a sequel to another found footage film many might know about. So I’m really excited about that one; and I’ll also share that we may or may not be diving into monster territory with it too…

R: That's awesome! I'm very hyped about them! To wrap it up: what would be your suggestions to an aspiring moviemaker?
T: I would say: try to be completely open to working with others. Too many people these days will not budge nor compromise on their original vision. So rather than making something that has to be done a specific sort of way, start by finding the right people to work within your reelhouse first- because the more you share and think things through and the more you communicate that to others, then the more you’re able to put utmost trust in them and give yourself more time and liberty to focus on the story and flow structure. Also while I did attend film school, most of what I actually learned was just from starting out on set being an “extra”. On these productions I was able to get a close look at how other people work, many of whom I look up to.

R: Thanks a lot for this interview! Looking forward for your next projects!
T: Thank you, this was a lot of fun!

You can find other articles of the English Section here and don't forget to check out Thomas' YouTube Channel!

INTERVIEW BY
THUMBNAIL BY


SPECIAL THANKS TO ISAAC RODRIGUEZ
REVISION BY GIULIA ULIVUCCI

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