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Towson alumnus writes and directs Hollywood feature “Oculus”

Mike Flanagan received more than just an education from Towson University. He also made friends who have collaborated with him throughout his film career.

The Electronic Media and Film alumnus and director of the new film Oculus, which released in U.S. theatres April 11, graduated from the College of Fine Arts and Communication along with Jeff Howard and Courtney Bell. Howard, also an EMF alum, helped co-write Oculus and Bell, a theatre arts graduate, appears in the movie.

Oculus is the story of siblings Tim and Kaylie, who are determined to uncover the circumstances behind the nightmarish death of their parents caused by a malevolent supernatural force unleashed through an antique mirror in their childhood home. With the mysterious entity back in their hands, they find their hold on reality shattered by terrifying hallucinations and realize that their nightmare is beginning again.

Mike Flanagan, at the "Oculus" premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Mike Flanagan, at the “Oculus” premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Flanagan began his feature film career at the age of 21, just as digital video was beginning to become a presence in film production. After helming the digital features Makebelieve (2000),  Still Life (2001) and Ghosts of Hamilton Street (2003), he moved to Los Angeles and began working as an editor of sketch comedy shows, reality television, documentary programming and commercials.

In 2005, Flanagan turned to the horror genre for the first time with the short film Oculus: Chapter 3. Planned as one installment of an anthology series about a haunted mirror, the film shot on the miniscule budget of $2,000 and went on to win over a dozen awards at film festivals around the world.

From there, Flanagan directed Absentia, a Kickstarter-financed feature shot in and around Flanagan’s Glendale, Calif., apartment. The minimalist, dread-filled feature was met with critical acclaim and won numerous awards on the film festival circuit, establishing Flanagan as a “major new talent” (Sound on Sight) in the horror genre.

Flanagan wrote, directed and edited Oculus.

“When I wrote the script, I had a decade of professional editorial experience, so I was focused on the edit from the first day of writing,” he said, in an interview with the Towerlight. “The beauty for me was that I was able to control every aspect of the movie, but that also put me in a position where I had no one else to blame if the film didn’t work. It created more pressure than if I only wore one or two of those hats.”

Flanagan said his experience at Towson directly contributed to his success in creating a Hollywood feature film.

“I took Intro to Film my freshman year and fell in love with it. The faculty was extremely supportive, not only of pursuing [film] as a career, but they were also supportive of getting out there and trying to create independent projects as an undergrad.”

Flanagan’s next film, Somnia, is produced by Intrepid Pictures and stars Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane.