• Waking Nightmare is a new indie horror film available to stream on VOD that follows a young woman struggling with the loss of her friend.
  • The film’s co-director Steve Craig discusses the challenges and experimental opportunities of directing his first feature film.
  • The film explores a mother-daughter relationship in a toxic environment and mixes different styles of comedy, drama and slasher elements.

Currently available to stream on VOD, Awakening Nightmare is a new indie horror film from Terror Films that follows a young woman struggling with the loss of her friend. Jordan is prescribed Ambien to stop her sleepwalking, but she soon begins to suffer from memory loss. When her mother discovers her clothes are covered in blood, Jordan fears her worst nightmare is about to come true.

Steve Craig is co-directing the film alongside screenwriter Brian Farmer. In addition to a number of acting roles, Craig previously directed the short films LA’s last parking lot And For ever friends. However, Awakening Nightmare is his feature film debut. The main cast includes Shelley Regner (Pitch perfect), Diane Franklin, David Naughton and Jamison Newlander.

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Steve Craig chats exclusively screen rant about directing his first full-length feature film and breaking up the mother-daughter relationship at the center of the film. Note: This article was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the film discussed here would not exist without the work of writers and actors from both unions.

Steve Craig talks about Waking Nightmare

Screen Rant: This is your feature film debut! How was the process?

Steve Craig: It’s pretty wild. It was a low-budget production that we wanted to push stylistically as much as possible. There were many challenging moments and many hurdles. But at the same time it was a concept and a process that allowed me to experiment a lot with different styles and different inspirations. It’s really what I envisioned as the first film, so it turned out really well for me.

Did you notice anything special about the script?

Steve Craig: Brian Farmer came to me with the script. We had worked together before and he wanted me to bring my style to it in some way. It’s a script that allows me to combine different styles. It blends comedy, drama, and slasher in a nuanced way, particularly nuanced with respect to the slasher element. I don’t know if I would call it a slasher movie, but I think it kind of follows the structure of a killer who kills individual characters. This killer is unaware that she’s killing people, so I thought that was a pretty interesting idea. She’s kind of an everyday girl who finds herself in a crazy world with a lot of toxicity that she probably would like to escape but can’t. By following her into the madness of it all, I saw many opportunities for me to experiment visually and differently.

When you watch a horror movie, what do you think really makes it scary? Has that influenced your directing style?

Steve Craig: I’ve been a horror fan for a very long time. One of the things I love about the horror genre is that I think it allows for a lot of experimentation and trying different things. We see this becoming even more mainstream with the A24 horror movies. There are several things about horror that I love and have seen in horror movies. Obviously, horror as a genre is so diverse.

But I would say the kind of emotional thrill and brutality that I think this film manages to pull off. There is a little shock that I think is fine. I think shock can be underestimated. But also that psychological turning of the knife, digging its claws into your inner psyche. I like to think that we managed to do that with the performances in this film. I think it’s a good mix of psychological horror and sheer brutality.

I’m always fascinated by characters who use humor to cover up their problems. Why do you think Jordan continued to downplay everything that was going on with her in the beginning?

Steve Craig: That’s a great question. For me, Jordan is a likeable character. If she had her way, she’d be just normal and lead a normal life with friends, but she’s growing up in a very toxic environment, as we’re finding out more and more. Her family life is overwhelming and her relationship with her mother is overbearing. She lives in an area that seems to have a lot of poison and is trying to escape. In the beginning we learned that she went to college and almost dropped out of this life but ended up right back. You have a normal everyday girl just trying to be accepted or find some stability but just living in a world of madness. To me, she’s the normal girl next door just trying to make sense of everything that’s happening.

I also liked the inclusion of the diary. It gave us a deeper insight into Jordan’s thoughts.

Steve Craig: I feel like there’s room for interpretation as to how far along she’s actually progressed or how stable she is mentally. But she’s also just the victim of her circumstances. She does her best with the cards she’s been dealt.

What did you want to take away from the mother-daughter relationship for the actors here? Whichever way you look at it, it’s an important aspect of the film.

Steve Craig: We’ve worked with Shelley before. We’ve worked with her a few times. I really trust her as an actress. She is very technical and can toggle her power on and off in a split second. It’s amazing to look at. When Diane read the script, I knew she was very excited to play the character and we were excited to have her. It was mostly a collaboration. It gave them an opportunity to show off their skills in a performance they would not normally be cast in.

I think that in some ways Shelly wasn’t the normal lead in a horror movie, but I think that added to the overall unique experience. We trusted the performers. I think with Diane she would rev up and just get out of hand and you can see that in a couple of the scenes. She’s just completely beside herself. When that happens, just step back and let them do their thing and trust their processes like they trust ours.

How was the collaboration with the actors and how long did it all take for the shooting?

Steve Craig: I’d like to say we shot over the course of a year, but it could be more. Things happened, there were scheduling conflicts and as I said, there were many hurdles to overcome. There were small days here and there, but not many days either. There were days when we had to film 15 pages in one day and that was a challenge. The cast handled all of these challenges very well, and I was really grateful for that. Watching the film gives you an idea of ​​what Shelley has been through as an actress – how many times she’s been on the floor or suffocated. She has to do a lot of physically demanding performances. There was never a moment when she wasn’t on point, and she never made a positive impact on everyone on set.

I was really thankful to have Diane. She kind of came out of retirement to do that. She just had this spirit, which I can imagine stretched back to the 80’s. She was so passionate about acting and just wanted to do her job no matter what it took. When you’re running low budget, sometimes you need to figure out the rules. May I smoke a cigarette here? Are we allowed to get blood on the floor? Her mentality was always, “We just have to do whatever it takes to get this film done.” I feel the same way a lot. It was really cool to have that ambition and to watch them at their craft. It was really cool working with everyone on this film.

What do you hope to do next after your first feature film comes out? Do you hope to direct more in this genre?

Steve Craig: Brian and I live across the country. He directs there and I have directed commercials and videos here in California. I am working on a short film and would like to make a feature film as well. It’s similarly about exploring the realms of horror. I think it’s a combination of the Saw and Dogtooth movies. That’s something I would really like to do. But the real world demands that I also have to focus on my business. I also really enjoy doing commercials.

About Waking Nightmare

Jordan suffered manic episodes after losing her friend. Her mother has her family doctor prescribe Ambien to help her sleepwalk. Over time, Jordan has a hard time remembering what happened.

Check back soon to see our interview with Awakening Nightmare Star Diane Franklin too.

Awakening Nightmare is currently available on VOD.

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