Steven Morana has taken his werewolf dreams to Hollywood. The Ontario-born actor, producer and director is celebrating the digital release of his award-winning werewolf film Beast Within, a modern take on the classic beast movies.
Beast Within tells the story of August, a lead gaming developer, looking forward to finally meeting his online girlfriend, Cheyenne, at a launch party for his new gaming app ‘Werewolves Awaken’. They plan to meet at the VIP event, which is being hosted by an eccentric billionaire at his country estate. However, the festivities are interrupted by a priest who condemns the party guests as “marked for the beast.” Convinced it’s a publicity stunt, the party-goers disregard the protest until a dead body is discovered. August and Cheyenne, along with the remaining guests, become players in a deadly version of the game.
The film has received a few awards at film festivals around the world, including Puerto Rico, the Spooky Empire Film Festival and ZedFest.
Shot entirely in Ontario, the film stars Morana and US actor Colm Feore, who appeared in Thor and Chicago.
Morana checked in with 519 to chat about werewolves, Canada and his first big film.
What’s it like being a Canadian in Hollywood during the pandemic?
Initially, I was bunkered down in Canada and stayed with family there in Toronto. I was there for about five months, and then I flew back to LA in August. For the most part, I was like everybody else, we just bunkered down. I just kept on working on my laptop and running phone calls and emails to prepare for the launch of the film, and submit everything to broadcasters leading up to the launch that we had in September.
How has it affected you as an indie filmmaker?
For the Beast Within, it didn’t affect us too much because it was already filmed and so we were able to submit everything digitally. Sometimes, as far as if a post-production house needed a hard copy like a hard drive or something to be shipped, that was more difficult. Because if we needed to mail things, they would take a really long time or get delayed. Or if you needed to drop something off at an office, there was limited hours and time when someone could pick something up. That was a bit of a challenge. But for the most part, luckily, we were basically done all the major filming aspects and we just needed to submit things digitally moving forward.
Now, as far as filming things, I’m not planning to film anything this year, but I do have fellow producers that I work with that are planning to film stuff by the end of the year. And they have discussed how there are protocols being placed and a lot of new precautions and testing. It’s yet to be seen how things will play out. But for the most part, I think we’re just doing the best we can with what we need to do to keep everybody safe.
Before we get into the good details of Beast Within, let’s talk about your background and where you grew up.
I was born in Scarborough, and then I was raised most of my life in Markham and Richmond Hill. I lived in Richmond Hill and went to school in Markham.
I spent a lot of time in the downtown core going to the Toronto International Film Festival where I was heavily influenced, and I met a lot of the people that I work with up until right now that I met at the festival. It started as me just going to the festival and feeling excited to watch the new films as a film fan. And then it became more of an event where I got to meet a lot of people in the industry, and you meet people that you’re going to work with and do productions together with on the business side. Toronto had a huge piece and influence on shaping my film career.
Why did you choose Campbellville /Milton as the location for Beast Within?
Well, the estate, the mansion was freaking awesome, so we were very excited when we discovered it. Actually, it was through a friend of mine who recommended I check out this spot because I had discussed that I was looking for mansions and big estates like what was described. And I came across it because it was a place where he was considering doing his wedding and that’s what it was kind of used and known for, up until we came around and did a film shoot. I believe we were the only film shoot that ever went there. It was an exciting place that we found that was just absolutely perfect for our film.
Can you see using that in the future again?
I mean, if the opportunity arises, sure. Why not? It was great in so many ways because it was more than just the mansion. You had this forest that it backed on, you had all these roads on the property. We were able to store all of our equipment on the property. And a lot of people, because it was such a big place, were able to sleep over. It was basically a one-stop shop. You didn’t even have to go to a hotel. You just sleep at the mansion and film the next day, which kind of helped us out because we were doing such late shoots and everybody was exhausted afterwards. If I could use that location again or anything like that and have it all contained, then that makes it easier on us as producers.
You don’t usually find a place where it’s all in one location, which is really awesome.
We did film a few other scenes away from Milton as well, some interior stuff, but I’d say the majority was filmed at the Milton estate.
With big Hollywood blockbusters mostly on hold, have you noticed indie films like Beast Within are getting more exposure? It’s like more and more people are discovering indie films than ever before.
I think with how technology has set up things, we are consuming way more indie films than ever before. A lot of that has to do with the streaming options that we have now and how titles are being picked up from all over the world, not just indie films in North America but across the globe. I think it’s a great time for indie filmmakers to get more exposure for that very reason. Just there’s so many options, so many platforms that has given new accessibility to having your film seen. I think that’s a huge part.
And then obviously with the world that we’re living in right now, people are staying at home more, trying to stay safe and people are discovering maybe new titles or opening themselves up to new movies that they might’ve not had the time or taken the time to watch. I’m sure there’s a combination of things happening. But definitely, yeah, where we’re at right now, it’s a great time to be an indie filmmaker and have your stuff out there.
Tell me about the story of Beast Within in your own words.
It takes place over a frightful night where there’s a big launch party for this new hyped up gaming app that’s coming out. Brian Fender is this eccentric billionaire who’s throwing the party. And the character that I play, August, is the lead developer, who PR and Brian, they all want to push as the poster boy to be the face of the company to launch this game out. And so August, being an introvert, anxious and timid about the whole situation, doesn’t want to deal with the spotlight in the media, and really just is looking forward to finally meeting his online girlfriend, Cheyenne, who he’s invited to the party.
He’s all excited about that and they get acquainted. And then suddenly, the plot takes a turn for the worst when the party-goers that are there for the after party discover a murdered body and more murdered bodies end up starting to happen as the night goes on. And before you know, they’re in this murder mystery where they’re becoming suspicious of one another and wondering, who is the killer? My character August kind of struggles with needing to step up and being the leader with survivors that are trying to figure out how to get through this night and just stay safe.
Beast Within, it’s not strictly a horror movie, it has that murder or mystery aspect to the film. The balance between horror and murder mystery seems very important to you.
I feel in this story what excited us about it in the first place is that it was a combination of these different genres. It just kind of is the way it worked out. We were attracted to the story because we thought it was a great story and that this combination of genres made it stand out as its own work.
Why the werewolf? Did you feel like it was the right time to bring back werewolves?
I think we definitely were excited about werewolves. I mean, we’re a fan of werewolves. But I think beyond that, it was really just that the story was great. And so, because the story and the premise of the story was exciting, and I do love a good murder mystery and having that feeling when I’m a film where you go, “Oh my God”, and there’s that crazy twist that happens, I think that’s what really attracted us to taking on this project. It was just a combination of all those elements coming together that made it stand out in the end.
You were a fan of werewolf movies, and we’ve had some phenomenal werewolf movies ranging from horror to comedy. What are some of your favorites and why?
I think you got to start with some of the classics first and foremost. The Wolf Man from 1941, An American Werewolf in London, and I really liked the Underworld series as far as a modern werewolf series of films. Definitely in this film, there was a homage to the old great werewolf films, the classics.
And then it also had an influence of others genres like your whodunit, like a Scream or Agatha Christie novels as far as storytelling is concerned, or even some of the creature features like your Jurassic Park or Jaws. And we definitely played with that element. With even the score, where we made a thematic song for whenever the werewolf appeared on screen or for certain heightened moments, it became the theme that you kind of associated when the creature appeared very much like you have in some of those iconic creature films, like your Jaws and Jurassic Parks. I think all those elements kind of came together in our influences when we made this film.
If there is one werewolf movie from the past that you would hope Beast Within emulates, which movie would that be?
I don’t think we ever were trying to emulate any of the great werewolf films from the past. We respect them as classics and admire them as great, great films that definitely influenced us, but didn’t want to emulate. We definitely had those inspirations going into this and we wanted to pay homage, but we wanted this to be a standalone film that could be appreciated as its own story and combination of all the elements put together. We definitely don’t want to say this is just a horror film or just a werewolf film or just a murder mystery, it’s a mixture of all of them, right? Creature feature, comedic relief, it has romance, it has slasher, it has murder mystery and it has werewolves. It’s Beast Within.
You produce, direct and star in Beast Within, but you didn’t write it. How did you come across the script and what drew you to it?
My fellow producer, Nic Izzi came across the script and he got me involved, introduced me to the script and it got evolved from there. And so we just were always attracted to the story, the premise. We just started to build a team around it and made it happen. I started as only an actor in initial stages and then came on as producer, and then later came on as a co-director. It was just an evolutionary process.
When you were reading the script, were you surprised who it was at the end or did you figure it out?
I think I was surprised, and I don’t want to give spoilers on it because you got to watch it to understand the surprise. I’ll just say there were elements in the story that surprised me for sure. And I was hooked after the first read and I was really excited to be a part of it.
Is it harder making a movie like Beast Within because of the need for effects and makeup?
As an indie film, definitely. You have further budget constraints. There’s a lot more things you have to contend with. If it was just a killer film without any of those special makeup effects, it would have been a lot easier, but I’m happy we stepped up to the challenge. And the butcher shop, which was the special makeup’s effect studio that did all the gore and all the werewolf practical effects, really knocked it out of the park. And we were so pleased because that was where we were feeling the pressure, especially on not screwing up the creature. Because if you screw up the creature, the whole film crumbles. You need that to be right for all the other aspects to come together and you to really dive into the film and get engaged. We’re just happy that we stepped up to that challenge and it all worked out.
Did you ever play the game before you read the script or did you play it after?
We all played it as a cast to get into the zone, into the right mood of what the film was based on. I hadn’t played the game before that, before I discovered the script, but we definitely all partook in playing the game and getting into that environment of what our story was telling.
Is there a part of you that wishes you were the werewolf?
I would love the werewolf powers without killing or hurting anybody. If I could have werewolf powers and just eat food from the grocery store, I think that would be kind of cool. I think the issue I’d have is hurting or killing anyone or not having the self-control to control the transformation. Now, in our story, our lore, we do have that control, so that was cool to turn it on when you need to and go back to human form when you need to. If I could have control and not hurt anybody in the process, I think having the werewolf powers would be pretty cool.
Beast Within really is your breakout film with not only a leading role, but as director and producer. Did it become everything you wanted?
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity and to take on the challenge of completing the film, let alone being not only the actor, producer and co-director. I couldn’t have done it without a very strong team around me and people more experienced that guided me along the way. We finished it, so it’s definitely I think mission accomplished. As far as, is there more to go in my career? Are there things I want to do or things I want to improve from all aspects from production to other projects? Of course. I feel like I’m learning, developing, evolving. I’m looking forward to growing and taking what I learned on this experience and bringing it into the next project, projects for that matter.
That leads into my last question. What’s up next for you?
We are in the early stages of working on Beast Within 2. We got our hearts set on making this a grander and following through with August’s story. I think there’s a lot of story left to tell. Yeah, that’s where we’re headed on that. I’m excited to take it on as long as we stay safe and the most important thing is that we’re all taking the proper precautions on any productions that happen in the next year to come and in the following years, depending on how things are going. So that’s what we’re working on right now and just in the development stages.