While a student at New York University, Marc Cartwright studied the psychology of mass media.
The 1993 Riverhead High School graduate learned how audiences respond to subtle signals on screen and figured out what objects he said can “steer people’s ideas, beliefs and ideologies.”
Those can be pretty useful tools for someone with a career in advertising. But, as the fledgling movie director discovered this year, those same principles can be used to make one very scary film.
Mr. Cartwright’s micro-budget directorial debut — a six-minute-long horror short entitled “Sloven” — was named Best Horror Short at the Los Angeles Independent Film Awards last month.
“With horror, it’s very psychological,” Mr. Cartwright told the Riverhead News-Review. “It’s about the music and the indicators in the film that lead people’s emotions.”
“Sloven,” which was written, produced, directed and shot by Mr. Cartwright, also won the Best Sound award at the Independent Horror Movie Awards and earned nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Writing and Best Scare.
“To get that acknowledgement, it’s amazing,” he said. “I feel like when you are in the right place and when you’re where you’re supposed to be, things fall into place. I feel like I’ve chosen the right path.”
Since graduating from NYU, Mr. Cartwright has had a successful career as a Hollywood photographer. He’s shot portrait photos of celebrities like Ariana Grande and Shailene Woodley and has even acted in commercials for Coca Cola and Tommy Hilfiger.
But his work shooting for a comedy web series in 2013 sparked his interest in the movie business.
“I wanted to be a part of the film industry in some facet” be it producing, directing or shooting, Mr. Cartwright said. He brought an actor from the web series on board and got to work on “Sloven.”
The short film follows a young man as he cleans up after his untidy roommate. But the man soon realizes something unnatural may be behind the mess.
Mr. Cartwright said the inspiration for the story came in part from Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.
“I’m not into slashers, no blood and guts,” Mr. Cartwright said. “I like how [Hitchcock] takes a very normal situation and puts a spin on it.”
The idea for Mr. Cartwright’s horror short came to him during one of his daily morning walks along the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. After that, he got to work on a script.
The film was shot for less than $4,000 and features just one actor. Mr. Cartwright used shadowy lighting to set the mood instead of creating big sets. He kept the flick’s monster low-budget too, going from Halloween shop to Halloween shop in Hollywood looking for the perfect costume.
“I didn’t want any sort of CGI or anything,” he said. “I think when things are done real; that makes it a little more scary.”
Mr. Cartwright also used his NYU training to include “little things in the film to trick your subconscious to guide your emotions and your feelings,” like having the monster lurking in the background, just in the frame.
That attention to detail has paid off. A movie critic at HorrorFix declared “Sloven” a “shining example of a short script done right” and the film is an official selection at Los Angeles CineFest.
Mr. Cartwright’s mother, Pam, said she was surprised by how “professional” the short looked.
“Pretty soon he’ll be going to the Oscars,” she joked. “I’m really proud of him. Not just for this. He’s a good guy, a good son.”
At a recent film festival where “Sloven” was featured, Mr. Cartwright got to observe the crowd’s reaction.
“When you’re sitting in an audience watching people watch your project, it’s always fun,” he said. “People screamed at the end. It was funny.”
Mr. Cartwright said his next project is a longer horror short film called “The Dream People,” which is nearly ready to be released. He’ll be gunning for more awards.
“That’s inspiration to keep going,” he said, laughing.
Top Caption: Marc Cartwright, center, is interviewed with his film’s star on the red carpet. (Credit: Courtesy)