This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Joe Lo Truglio has been making audiences laugh for decades, starring in the likes of hit cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine as well as box office smashes Superbad, Paul, and Role Models. Now, Joe has shifted from fits of laughter to shrieks of terror as he makes his directorial debut with horror film Outpost.
Speaking to FILMHOUNDS, Joe talked to us about the perils of filming on location, working with his wife in the lead role, and how his Brooklyn Nine-Nine castmates helped make the film what it is today.
Outpost is getting a digital release. What has the reaction to the film been like so far?
It's been really wonderful. I think the movie has surprised a lot of people. Some people are really excited about it, others are a bit unnerved by it, but overall, it's been wonderful to have such a warm reception for something that is very different from what I normally do.
What was it that inspired you to take the leap from acting into writing and directing?
It has to do with my love for the horror genre, which began very early on when I was 12 or 13 years old. I was very much into horror movies, comics, Stephen King and Fangoria, even before comedy. And I would make home movies when I was a kid too with big special effects. And so this was a love that I've had for a long time. After Brooklyn Nine-Nine ended, it seemed like the right time to do it. I'd been writing the movie while we were still doing the show and then we finally shot Outpost in the summer of 2021.
Do you feel that your work in comedy prepared you at all for making a horror film?
What I learned from comedy was more of an atmosphere and production setting, rather than anything in the writing or performance. This is to say that, in comedy, you need to have a very collaborative and safe atmosphere on set and among the people that you're working with because you need to feel safe to act. You need to feel safe to act in terror as well and know that you're still safe, so it did help me in that respect. And all the great comedy projects that I've been involved in involve terrific ensembles and less egos, so I brought that general vibe into Outpost. In terms of the actual content, comedy and horror are similar in that they both evoke immediate reactions to the material. Both comedy and horror require a commitment to the premise and to the joke or the scare. And so I think it was pretty simple for me to make that transition. Ultimately, you're bringing a story to fruition, whether it's a funny story or a terrifying story. You're still trying to hit all the beats of the narrative and you're trying to create some emotional honesty in the scenes.
I read that on the first cut of the film, you showed it to cast members and friends from Brooklyn Nine-Nine – would you ever work with any of them in a horror film?
I'd work with any of the cast in any capacity because they're beautiful and talented people. Chelsea (Peretti) is a terrific director, and he has a terrific director, and Melissa (Fumero) and Stephanie (Beatriz) have directed as well. They all provided amazing notes that I took. I was fortunate enough to have been in this business for so long that I have a lot of talented writer and director friends who were quite harsh with that first director's cut. I went in with a confidence swagger and they really took me to task because it wasn't ready. They were very supportive, but very clear about what they felt was working and what wasn't and I used a lot of their notes. It's a different genre than comedy, so the Brooklyn Nine-Nine group were able to provide notes on the story and pacing which certainly was something that they were able to relay from their experience in comedy. I'm grateful for all of them for helping to make the movie better.
To watch the film, despite its horror, the location is impressive and really serves the tension in the film. What was it like to film on location?
I think the film works because we actually use the real fire tower. I think adds to the authenticity of this outrageous story that we're telling. I'm proud of Outpost, but it's not breaking any new ground. It's a familiar story about a person who's afraid to ask for help and gets trapped in a situation that is too much to handle. So we've seen that before we've seen these stories before but shooting at a real tower and having an actor be able to guide us through this nightmarish journey are the two variables that I needed to work and I think I think they did.
We had a producer do a location scout in Spokane, Washington, to find surrounding fire towers in that area. As soon as we saw Sundance Fire Tower, my director of photography, Frank Pereira, said he knew that was the one. I rewrote the script to kind of tailor it specifically for that location, including the trapdoor and the balcony. We were supposed to go into production in the summer of 2020 but we had a lodging hiccup that pushed the production an entire year. The biggest challenge of that tower was that we only had a very small window to shoot there. There's snow at the 6300 feet summit from September until the end of June, fire season, and it's an active fire tower so the fire season really ramped up for them in August. So we really only had July to film and if we missed it, we had to wait another year. Altitude also was another problem, but luckily none of our actors had any altitude sickness. We went up there a couple of days before just so they could acclimate and not have their experience for the first time start as soon as the camera rolled. In terms of equipment, the biggest challenge was a gigantic telehandler that took three hours to get up that mountain. By regular truck or car, it took an hour to get up the mountain and an hour down. So we were losing two hours of production time every day. We shot the movie in 16 days, which is eight days on top of the mountain at the summit.
You work on the film with your wife Beth Dover – were there any challenges to that?
Luckily for us, there were no big hiccups. I think there was one scene where I was under quite a bit of duress, and probably didn't give clear enough notes to Beth, but that was the only hiccup. We both work together very well and we've acted together before. During the during the shoot, we stayed in separate hotel rooms, which I think really helped us not kill each other.
The film covers a lot of heavy topics as it deals with domestic violence and PTSD. How did you and the cast prepare to tackle this?
I tried to first approach it through the script and read a little bit of research, there's a great book called The Body Keeps the Score by an author named Bessel van der Kolk. And that revolves around the power of PTSD and how the body represses that and doesn't ever forget it. Even if you repress it in your mind, avoid it, or are in denial, which we see in our main character, Kate (Beth Dover). A lot of that work was done before we even got to set in terms of what the actors had to prepare for. I was fortunate enough to work with all these friends, actors I've known for over 20 years, with the exception of Ato Essandoh. They're all spectacularly talented and understand what it's like to deal with those types of emotions in their character, so I didn't really give them much direction, in that respect. For Beth, I think the biggest challenge in her character was the tonal and performance shifts she performed, and I thought she did a terrific job.
The Outpost is available for digital download from September 11