A guy walks into a bar… There’s no joke here. It’s how I met Joe Lo Truglio, a comedic actor with over 100 credits to his name, including The State, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Wet Hot American Summer, and so much more. But we immediately started talking about horror, because he arrived at my usual Wednesday night Hollywood hang spot after a theatrical screening of his directorial debut, Outpost.
The indie horror film stars his wife, Beth Dover (Orange Is the New Black), as a domestic abuse survivor who seeks solitude and healing by volunteering to live and work in an Idaho Forest Service outpost during fire season.
What unfolds is a psychological, trauma-induced nightmare that is getting more good reviews than bad, with a consensus that the film (now available to stream on demand) is a solid first effort from Lo Truglio, who spent the last five years making it happen. He’s fired up to make more through his production banner, What’s That Noise Films.
“The projects that I’m developing, either myself or looking to collaborate with, I’m hoping our projects are bold and provocative and incendiary, and yet enjoyable and entertaining,” he tells MovieMaker. “Filmmaking is hard. So, if you’re going to do it, I say do something that really sticks out, and adds to the conversation.”
Filmmaking is hard, and it can be discouraging when roadblocks far outnumber green lights, so hopefully Lo Truglio’s odyssey through the production process, detailed in the candid Q&A below, can comfort and inspire filmmakers who don’t yet have Lo Truglia’s decades of experience, good reputation, and strong industry relationships.
Greg Gilman: What were some of the biggest challenges and obstacles that you had to overcome in this process to get Outpost made?
Joe Lo Truglio: Arguably, the most difficult process of making any movie is the funding, but it was the least of the variables that were challenging, because I was financing a lot of it, along with two other investors that believed in the script.
I think distribution was the biggest learning curve for me. I think the market played a big part in our lack of success there, as well as the movie itself, because I think it was very hard for people to label and therefore hard to sell. And so, for me, that was the biggest challenge, because you’re entering an area of self doubt in terms of whether or not you’re good, whether it’s the quality of the movie, or whether it’s the subject matter of the movie, or whether it’s the marketplace.
But this is not a new struggle for any artist and anyone that’s trying to move forward. You know that you weather that storm, and you’re doing it because it’s got to come out not because you need the money.
In terms of production, I have to say that I was lucky enough to use a lot of social capital. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I used social capital in both my actors — all in the movie, I know very well, and are close friends — and then with vendors that are fans of my comedic work.
Locals in Spokane, Washington, and Idaho who just wanted to be involved in a movie. These were things that I’m so grateful that I was able to use to kind of leap ahead of normally very challenging aspects of making a movie.
Shooting on a mountain was very difficult, but that was an invigorating challenge. That was something like, Hey, man, can I do this? Can we do this? How do we figure this out? I found that directing, besides asking and being able to answer a lot of questions, is problem solving.
And I’m really proud of what we did, just on a pure logistical and physical level, where we made our day, suffered no injuries, and everyone had an experience that they took back with them as a positive one.
Greg Gilman: Yeah, watching the movie I was thinking, like, logistically, to shoot up here in this outpost on top of a mountain and getting all the equipment up there — that alone must have been such a huge struggle.
Joe Lo Truglio: It was enormous. Finding the location, of course, was the biggest thing we had to take care of that was going to make or break the movie. My director of photography, Frank Barrera (Reno 911!), I’ve known since I was 17. We’ve been wanting to make a movie for a long time. And he and I decided that if we were going to do Outpost, we were going to shoot it in a real tower.
And we got it through a freelance producer in Spokane, who was gracious enough to do some location scouting in the area. She found about three of them. And we knew immediately that the one in Idaho, on Sundance Mountain, was going to be the one.
Then, we established a relationship with Dan Brown, the head of the Idaho Department of Lands, who was very welcoming. Without him the movie was not possible. And that took a good two years of relationship building and trust, exchanging scripts and drafts, and eventually we got there.
We were set to go in the summer of 2020, but Covid shut it down two weeks before we rolled. We had to wait another year. Access to the mountain was very limited; as soon as it snows in September, snow is up there until mid-June. And fire season gets into it in August, so we really just had about four weeks in July to do it. And if you missed that window, you have to wait another year. So, it was a lesson in patience.
Greg Gilman: You mentioned social capital — using your reputation, your friends who are actors, and then also building relationships. It seems like much of the capital was entirely social, and that relationship building is such a key part of filmmaking.
Joe Lo Truglio: For sure. Although, I think you are able to do that as a young filmmaker without having to be on a television show, or have any type of the steps I’ve had as an actor, because what you’re ultimately doing — or should be doing — is surrounding yourself with a community of filmmakers.
And like anything, the cream rises to the crop, especially the longer you’re in the biz. And you’ll find those people that you create a relationship with that are going to come around on your next project, or who are going to recommend you, or will give you a reference to someone else.
So, the asterisk you put next to social capital is, “Don’t be a dick.”
Make it about the work. That’s it. And then you get social capital. You don’t need a TV show. You need an attitude that revolves around the work and collaboration, and self-respect, and that’s it. And people will give that back to you.
Joe Lo Truglio on Comedy and Horror
Greg Gilman: You’re known for comedy, but it seems like you’ve been a lifelong fan of horror, so I’m curious: What were the movies that really got you into the genre?
Joe Lo Truglio: The main movie that got me into it is one that got all of us into it, and that was Jaws. Aside from just being thrilling and scary, it was the first movie that made me want to know how they did that. So it kind of got me interested in filmmaking. Like, I was aware of the camera in the water; how did they do that?
A lot of these shots in the movie — the editing, the jumps, how long they linger on a shot before Gardner’s head comes floating out of the hull — I was like, Whoa, this is working on me. What is doing that? So that movie kind of kicked it off for me.
Outside of movies, I was reading a lot of Stephen King, I was collecting Fangoria magazine; this is between 11 and 13 years old, the peak of nerd geekdom. These are the interests that propel and drive you right into your creative adulthood. I was writing horror short stories, I was drawing illustrations of gore, I was trying to do my own Faces of Death videos.
And then watching on cable Joe Dante’s Piranha and Lewis Teague’s Alligator. I grew up in Florida, so I was into the creature monster movies, as well. And my favorite horror movie to date is still David Cronenberg’s The Brood. Those little creatures were living in my dreams for like a long time. So that’s where it all began.
And really, aside from Mad Magazine, there wasn’t a lot of comedy going on. I was a funny kid; I had my own version of Mad Magazine I did with friends, and so I loved to laugh. I was a funny guy, but like in terms of my obsession, it was the horror genre.
Then, when I got to NYU, you know, I ended up in this sketch comedy group, The State, which ended up kind of launching my comedy career — which I love and want to keep doing — but this was a return back to something that was bubbling up very young for me.
Greg Gilman: What were the movies you were watching kind of as references and inspirations for this particular movie and story?
Joe Lo Truglio: The two guideposts that I used were The Shining and then Repulsion. And then there were a few others that I was looking at in terms of mood. Like, the very palpable kind of mood paranoia in the movie, I was watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1978 version; I was watching Amityville Horror just to kind of see how they were shooting the house and the structure, and how it lived as a presence and a character.
And then anything that had some daytime horror in it, as well. We were well into working on this when Midsommar came out, which is a movie I love. Then there’s John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy, which people rip apart all the time, and you know, it’s not the greatest. I love it, because I saw it very young, but they had some sequences that took place during the day.
Greg Gilman: It’s taken you a long time to direct a feature film, and there’s all sorts of factors, I’m sure too long to list, but I think a lot of artists go through almost like an impostor syndrome.
Joe Lo Truglio: Yeah, I’m still going through it!
Greg Gilman: I’m curious what your journey has been with that, to be like: I am going to be a director and I can make that film.
Joe Lo Truglio: That’s a great question, a hard question, and one that I’m still struggling with.
I think my imposter syndrome, and any other issue I have with not being good enough, will always live with me. But it lives with many, and how I’ve learned to deal with it is to just acknowledge that that’s there. But it’s not going to limit your ability or talent. It may rear its head in the dark periods of the project, but I’m not my thoughts and I’m not my feelings. And so, I kind of push that aside when I can and know that it’s a fluid anxiety.
Hearing myself talk about how I’m going to make a movie, and being tired of hearing myself say it and not do it, ultimately got me to do it.
It’s s— or get off the pot. Like, why are you doing it? And for me, it was, when you’re about to slip away to wherever you’re going to slip away, are you going to have this regret of saying, Man, I wish I would have just taken a shot at it and fell on my face. But now I can’t even fall on my face, because I’m slipping away.
So, as soon as you shift that perspective, and you realize that the only thing that matters is that you did it, or at least tried to take the first action to do it, then all that imposter stuff goes away; all the not-good-enough stuff goes away.
And friends, that like, slap you in the face. Like, Hey man, snap out of it!
I can’t tell you how many times I was, like, in tears of frustration with close friends, telling them how f—ing badly I wanted to do this, and it wasn’t happening, because money slipped through or a location slipped through or Covid happened. And that’s just part of it, man.
I knew that I really wanted to do it, because I was breaking down in front of my buds that I don’t do that with. So, that’s important to acknowledge as an artist. Like, wow, it’s a fire; I’m going to break if this doesn’t happen. It will definitely happen if it’s stirring up that much in you.
Greg Gilman: Let’s talk about your wife, Beth Dover, who plays the main character. Did you always envision her? Were you writing the part for her to play? And also, what was it like to direct your wife?
Joe Lo Truglio: I was writing the part with her in mind. I knew, first off, that she would do a fantastic job. I’m aware of her talent as a dramatic actress, not just a comedic actress. The second reason was because I knew it would be an independent feature. It was going to be in our household for a long time, and I wanted that collaboration and that support with someone that also had skin in the game.
We worked together as actors, and it was just the best time. We’re very much in sync, it’s fun, we have a shorthand, and so we both thought acting and directing, that relationship would probably work.
Beth is a type of actor that likes to have the director give her suggestions, notes, and guide her in a way that some actors may not want. I’m a type of director that knows exactly what I want and need, so it was easy for me to fulfill that role as that type of director, and it worked.
A big detail I think that was important was I suggested that we have separate hotel rooms and space. I felt after 12-14 hour days, we needed to be away from each other, and also just respect what each of us needed to do for our respective roles.
I’m going to be up doing shot lists and pacing, thinking about the next day. Beth, perhaps, will just want to go to sleep and rest or look at lines and get away. So, there was kind of a professional approach to that method, as well as a personal one, and I think it really helped us smooth out any of the rough edges.
There was one moment that was tough on set, that I wish I would have handled better.
We were losing time. It was during a climactic part of the movie, and I wasn’t clear with what I wanted Beth to do. And so she asked me what the motivation was, and I said, “The motivation is that we have 15 minutes left before we have to break.” [Laughs]
And she teases me about it. It was a terrible failing on my part as a director. It was fine and we got it done. But you know, I learned from it, and I was lucky enough to have my wife there and not another person, an actor that rightfully would have been like, “F— off.” It was cool that I was able to stumble in that way, but that really was the only moment between us that I felt I could exploit and indulge the relationship a little bit in an unprofessional way.
Greg Gilman: But there’s also some truth to that. We’ve got 15 minutes and we need to do this. That’s also a reality of filmmaking and what you need to accomplish as a director.
Joe Lo Truglio: It’s true. But I think, always, the director’s primary job is to create the atmosphere of trust and safety, which I failed to do in that moment.
And I think that yes, you want to get it done, but you know, part of that could have been me cutting some shots earlier in the day, or whatever it was. The director must, must, must always have the crew and the cast’s trust and back. Otherwise, the ship is lost. And, so yeah, it’s tough. That’s the line we walk, right?
Greg Gilman: And now you directed Outpost, it’s out; people can see it. Are you more fired up than ever to do another film?
Joe Lo Truglio: More than ever, yeah. It’s very difficult in the climate in the industry with the strike, all of which is happening, I think, for very important reasons and I support that. Pushing that aside, just on a personal accomplishment level, yeah, man, I’m raring to go.
Release day, May 19, was an exuberant day. But then as I was posting something about it, and thanking everyone that I wanted to thank, my body started buckling and I just broke down in tears. And it was this huge tension, this huge release of five years of whether or not I can do it. Not only that, but also, I no longer could protect my child. And so all those emotions were flooding me.
Ultimately, the movie is the world’s now. It’s not mine anymore, and they’re going to kind of do with it what they want to do with it. Very mixed emotions, but hell yeah, man. I’m ready to make another movie!
Outpost, directed by Joe Lo Truglio, is now in theaters and available on VOD.