Michael Varrati talks ‘What’s Left Inside’

Following the award-winning Unusual Attachment, writer/director Michael Varrati is going in a slightly different direction with the apocalyptic drama What’s Left Inside.

We got the chance to quiz Michael all about the project, plus a quick word from composer Andrew J. Ceperley.

How soon after Unusual Attachment did you begin working on What’s Left Inside?

Believe it or not, the script for What’s Left Inside was actually written first. However, at that point in the pandemic, there was so much uncertainty about getting even the smallest of crews together to make something, we shifted gears to tell a digital story instead…and Unusual Attachment was born. But it was always my intent to return to Inside, and almost 9 months later, we were finally able.

As I’ve mentioned in previous discussion of this project, the actual process of making What’s Left Inside was still very much an exercise in filmmaking and the desire to take the constraints of a world that suggested making something was impossible and using that to our advantage. This piece was literally done (with all the safety protocol in place) with one actor, a camera, and a director with the goal of telling a queer and deeply human story about love, loss, and the things we hold onto. It was certainly an experience, but I’d like to think we achieved what we set out to do.

Tell us about putting the cast together for this project?

Interestingly enough, from the moment I started writing this particular story, I had Danny Plotner in mind to play Max, the lead. Though, because of how emotionally raw the character gets, I wasn’t sure if he’d be willing. Luckily, he said yes.

Danny’s a truly talented performer and we’ve worked together on a number of past projects (including A Halloween Trick, Unusual Attachment, and So Far, So Close). I think that familiarity only helped the material. This story goes to some intimate places, and I felt like we needed that bond to creatively push each other there. I can honestly say that the work Danny did in this film is outstanding. I’m truly grateful for him, both as a performer and friend. For viewers who are familiar with his YouTube work or things like HBO’s Euphoria, I think this will show you a new side of what he can do.

As for the voice cast, one of the great things we learned from the remote production of Unusual Attachment and So Far, So Close, is that we could really work with performers and friends from around the globe to populate the world of our story. So, it really was just a matter of seeing who wanted to come play. Ben Baur (The Office is Mine), who I collaborate with quite often, voices Max’s ex-boyfriend…and I love having Ben on projects because we’ve become something of a team and it just made this feel all the more like a family reunion. Similarly, Joshua Tonks (The Latent Image) and Lotti Pharriss Knowles (Chastity Bites) are dear friends and amazing genre performers who luckily are always interested in working together and bringing their extraordinary talents to these wacky projects . Also appearing in the voice cast is filmmaker Chris LaMartina, who directed cult hit The WNUF Halloween Special. Chris and I have known each other for years, and we always talk about doing more things together. I recently did voice work on a new project of his (no spoilers!)…and as I was doing so, asked if he’d be part of Inside…and that’s how, from the comfort of his home in Baltimore, he joined our cast.

What was the audition process like?

You probably gleaned this from my last answer, but the characters, both onscreen and voice, were written with the people who played them in mind. Thus, this was the rare case of a project where no auditions were really necessary. What’s Left Inside was made as a labor of love and means to tell a story during a time where most of us didn’t have a creative outlet. Everyone I asked to participate was actually quite eager to come play. More so, I remain deeply grateful that I’m surrounded by such a remarkable community of artists and creators who are willing to come get weird with me.

This is much more somber than UA, was this always your intention?

Absolutely. A lot of my work to this point admittedly has a bit of a dark humor to it, but this piece came from a very earnest place and I wanted to tackle some of those feelings in a much more stark, raw way. This last year, many of us felt cut-off from the world and as a result, had to grapple with feelings of isolation and uncertainty. While What’s Left Inside is quite intentionally not about Covid (the lockdown in the story is the result of a very different global event, clues of which are littered throughout), I would be remiss to say it wasn’t directly influenced by it. How could it not?

Also, since you brought up the two films in comparison to one another, I would like to say that in many ways I consider Unusual Attachment and What’s Left Inside to be companion pieces…at the very least, they’re set within the same universe. They both deal with a global event and people wanting to reach out to something beyond themselves. There are much more unifying threads than those, of course, but I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun in discovering them.

Were there any films you used as reference when putting the script together?

I’m very drawn to atmospheric stories and tales about encroaching madness. As such, I suppose one could infer that this movie was inspired in some manner by the work of Lovecraft. That being said, when I was writing it, the reference I kept returning to most often was Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession. I am absolutely obsessed with that film’s stark presentation of misery and madness, and how Isabelle Adjani’s character’s emotional anguish is so raw, it supersedes the otherworldly elements. We’ve just watched this poor woman come completely undone, so by the time we see the squid thing in her bed, we’re just like… “of course.” I thought about that movie a lot when writing What’s Left Inside.

Is the message of What’s Left Inside that loneliness can be a killer?

In some ways, yeah. For me, it’s all about how we manifest that darkness we all have within…and how we also have a choice over what things we allow to grow and foster in our little worlds.

It’s no coincidence that Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth is playing on the TV is it?

I could give an overly elaborate, film construction answer to this question, but instead let me just say this: When it comes to Vincent Price, there are no coincidences.

Andrew J Ceperley’s score is fantastic, what was the thinking behind this type of score?

Andrew is truly an amazing artist and collaborator and his work on this film is immeasurable. As for his score, I am absolutely obsessed with the lush music he put together. But, I also don’t want to speak for him or his process…so, I reached out and asked him this exact question and will allow Andrew, via an interview cameo, to tell you himself!

From Andrew: “Overall the idea was to create a score as big, dramatic and evolving as the character’s emotional journey, rather than one based on the confined aesthetics and oppressive tone featured throughout. I wanted to use recurring motifs as well as specific instruments for various relationships or situations in an almost old-fashioned “movie” style – something I don’t think a lot of short films have the space for. When I was alone and stuck in lockdown last year I sure wasn’t hearing synth drones looping in my head all day every day!”

Is the plan to release the film on the festival circuit or Dekkoo in the future?

We’re definitely taking the film out to festivals first. We’re very proud of the piece and really would like to share it with audiences. In fact, I believe this will be announced by the time this runs, but I know horror fans are going to get a chance to get their first look at What’s Left Inside at the upcoming SoHo Horror Film Festival Pride Event this summer…with more festival announcements to come. From there, we’ll start talking to streamers about giving it a place to land…but festivals first!

Look out for What’s Left Inside, which premieres at the Soho Horror Film Festival’s Pride event in June.


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