Nick Madden is a world-builder. From his days as an adolescent working in a theater company, Madden prides himself on creating art defined by expansive landscapes. But with Head Trip, his first delve into full-fledged horror and a standout entry at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival, Madden is presenting an abstract story that combines the mysterious and the gruesome. In this exclusive interview, he talks about how his previous work laid the groundwork for this disturbing vision.
Head Trip is a bit of a departure style-wise for you in that it’s more direct than your subjective works like Heartwood and Planet Loss. How different was your creative process for this film?
Head Trip was very collaborative, unlike my other short films that all started and finished with my ideas alone. Heartwood and Planet Loss and I Want to Destroy You were all like me playing in my room by myself. I made everything for those films, from the sets, to the costumes, to the props, to the lighting.
With Head Trip, some close friends came on board from the beginning, when the idea was like a skeleton. They helped me flesh it out into what it is now by bringing on their own ideas and experiences and professional know how. I wanted to see what I could do with very professional camera equipment and lighting and a crew and cast that knew what they were doing. I enjoyed working collaboratively and will definitely do it again in the future. But every now and then it’s still nice to go back to your room and play alone.
Head Trip is the first time in your films that we get a visual glimpse of what’s going on inside a character’s head (the woman’s head). Why was this important to do over leaving it more abstract?
I still feel like Head Trip has an abstract feel to it. It ultimately leaves the answers (if there are any answers) up to the audience’s perception. But to your question, I’m very interested in how film can put you into the mindset of a character (no matter how unreliable that character’s mindset might be). I wanted to create an experience that seems like a straightforward, realistic, and gritty story told from the perspective of a man who thinks he has done an awful thing, and then definitely does do an awful thing by the end. But then have a shift at the very end that throws everything the audience has seen into question. I know it’s gimmicky but I’m a sucker for gimmicks if they’re done well.
An underlying theme I see in your work is how characters deal with isolation in nature. As a creator, what draws you to these type of settings and plots?
I love the loner. I crave isolation and need it to create, whether that’s making a drawing or a sculpture or just tinkering. I also love landscapes and world-building. I was in a theater company when I was 11, 12, 13 years old. That is world building from start to finish. And there’s something that has stayed with me from that time in my life, being on a stage with very fake looking sets and props but beautifully lit and trying to make it earnest and real while knowing it’s all make believe.
Do you see yourself indulging in more horror projects?
I’d be lying if I didn’t see Head Trip as just a scene from a larger film. The character that appears like an overgrown child who is rattled and confused and out of touch with reality, and then is forced to commit a gruesome act for some reason is something that I feel has legs and could go a good bit further. I was raised on 80’s horror so it’s in my bones. I’ll always want to have an element of creepiness or spookiness to my short films. But to be honest, the next thing I’m making is a fake 30 second commercial for a fake fragrance. [laughs]