In 2019, Disney continued its annexation of the entirety of the American studio system through the acquisition of 20th Century Studios. There were some casualties. One of these forgotten projects was a modestly budgeted horror film, the debut of writer and director David Prior. Prior had been given that rarest of gifts for a first-time filmmaker; near total creative control.
Shot partially right here in Cape Town, The Empty Man is a loose adaptation of the comic series of the same name, a supernatural horror going on detective story, cobbled out of Prior’s best ideas from his many attempts at getting a film off the ground. The producer who took a chance on this out-there movie left 20th Century, and the tax rebates from filming in South Africa had a time limit attached, so a not-so-final cut was assembled, and shortly thereafter the studio was acquired by Disney, who weren’t sure what to make of the product.
They settled on an answer when the pandemic struck: Dump it quietly into theatres while no-one is going, with no advertising to speak of. Unsurprisingly, the film flopped, but in the months since its unceremonious abandonment, positive word of mouth has begun to spread among horror fans. The Empty Man is developing a cult following, and topic-hungry critics will no doubt begin to take notice. Before long, in horror circles The Empty Man will be the little secret of every man, woman and reviewer alive. Two popular publications have already issued revisionist takes on the film.
So, before David Prior really really takes off, have a listen to this hour long interview on the film for The Nick Taylor Horror Show. Get ahead of the pack and catch a glimpse at a director who may be the next David Fincher, before the mainstream gobbles him up and sings his praises as a forgone conclusion.
David gives some interesting advice, the sort that doesn’t often make it to aspiring filmmakers; advice from someone whose production was squashed before his eyes right before the finish line. Take note of Prior’s highlighting the importance of prep, writing for a mid-budget film, communication and
miscommunication, when to fight for an idea and when to move on, and the iron will required to survive the land of Murphy’s Law: the studio system.
And the most accurate of all: show your work in progress to people not working on the film, and without even asking them, you’ll pick up on what needs to change. Faster, slower, switch these scenes, cut that line. The alchemy changes when viewers are present and you aren’t just staring down the barrel of a timeline. Get excited for his next film, as it’ll either make The Empty Man a retroactive must see for horror fans, or seal the deal on his false start.