FrightFest Interview: Steven Pierce for HERD
Directing... and survival
Following on from lead actors Ellen Adair and Mitzi Akaha, Herd director Steven Pierce lends some perspective on his zombie thriller and his hopes for the genre after we all experienced a global pandemic.
What inspired Herd?
Being from small-town America but now living in New York City for 15 years, Herd was inspired by the feeling that I can sometimes be caught in between worlds. I’m not a city person but don't totally fit in back in my original rural environment either. Beyond my experience, I have many friends and family who feel this to an even deeper degree than I do, and I've seen being on the outside of the accepted group can take a toll on people emotionally and physically. Herd was myself and co-writer James Allerdyce attempting to create a world with the highest of stakes. Where every decision you make is life or death in order to explore how groupthink can cause good people to condemn and destroy as a first measure.
Ellen and Mitzi weighed in on this, but were you conscious that COVID may have killed off the genre, having lived through a very real apocalypse?
I think COVID-19 definitely could have an influence on stories where disease and the spread of disease are at the centre of the story. We all got a first-hand look at that experience in real life. But Herd focuses more on how individuals treat each other when put under stressful situations rather than the disease itself. For us, the outbreak is a given circumstance; a terrible situation you are suddenly dropped into without warning, and the plot really focuses on who steps up to be the leaders, who follows those leaders, and the lengths to which they will all go to save themselves and their community. I do hope that Covid doesn’t end the epidemic-zombie genre but, instead, gives it a fresh infusion of ideas.
In terms of the performances, what was the most crucial aspect of developing the relationship between Jamie and Alex?
Jamie and Alex have a complicated relationship. The film starts with them going on a trip to try to save their marriage after losing a child. Jamie just wants to run away, and Alex just wants to cling on in an attempt to save what was once there. That’s a tough place to ask an audience to start with your protagonists emotionally. Ellen Adair (Jamie) and Mitzi Akaha (Alex) both are so charming and have such incredible chemistry on-screen; the hardest part was tuning up what felt like real marital conflict in the beginning. But they both do a great job in my opinion. And when watching the film, I love that we get to watch such an intense set of sequences happen to them and it only serves to strengthen their relationship.
What do you feel the film and its characters say about humanity?
James and I worked extremely hard to make sure all the characters were real humans with real dreams, real needs, and real flaws. Often characters in this world will surprise you, just like they do in real life to me every day. Very little is in black and white in the actions of the characters. Many times, they are forced to make hard decisions that might damage others and they all struggle — or don’t struggle in some cases — to make those hard decisions. That for me is a lot of what Herd is about. It’s about how we each, as individuals, are capable of both in the good we do and the justifications we make for the bad we are forced to do. It’s one thing I love about the film: no one is a caricature. They all struggle to find their line of right and wrong and I hope the audiences go through the test on those decisions as well and have to think about where they would land themselves.
Herd has its world premiere at FrightFest on Saturday 26th August. Book your tickets now.