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From Short Film to Blumhouse Blockbuster: Dive into the Terrifying Origin Story of Night Swim

Night Swim writer/director Bryce McGuire explains how his short film evolved into the Jaws of pool movies. 

By Tara Bennett

For filmmaker Bryce McGuire, the release of Night Swim in theaters on January 5 is the culmination of a decade-long journey that started with a short film staged inside and around a darkened pool. 

In 2014, McGuire and his collaborator and co-director Rod Blackhurst had an idea to try and reframe a standard backyard swimming pool into something unsettling and menacing. Hoping to prove their story and writing prowess to others in the industry, they created the economical yet effective four-minute short, Night Swim, starring Megalyn Echikunwoke (Arrow).

Watch the Short Film That Inspired Night Swim

"When I made this short film, it really was proof of could you make that environment scary and evocative," he explained to NBC Insider about the short's suburban pool setting. "And then, did other people share the same irrational phobia that I did? That the pool can still be scary as an adult, or still conjure that feeling that you had when you were a kid and your imagination was running wild, the lights were off and you were convinced that Jaws was beneath you? Could you still tap into that and have other people feel that same thing? Turns out that other people did feel that same thing and carried that irrational childhood phobia with them as adults."

RELATED: Night Swim: Everything to Know About James Wan and Jason Blum's Post-M3GAN Team-Up

Released in October 2014, the Night Swim short went viral and allowed McGuire to get hired as a fledgling screenwriter and producer. And then the concept just idled as he tried to think of where the idea could go next. He was absolutely certain that he didn't want to go the easy route and just repeat the same gag from the short, stretched to fill 90 minutes. "That's not a good movie," he said with certainty. 

Figuring out the horror story outside the pool took three years to crack

McGuire said it took about three years of research until he cracked expanding the idea around the Waller family, led by newly retired baseball player Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell), his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) and their two kids. "I had to figure out who this family was, what they had to gain, what they had to lose, and what the pool kind of tempted them and offered them," he said of the film's character-centric story. Figuring all of that out gave McGuire enough meat on the proverbial bone to dive into the arduous task of writing almost 40 drafts of the screenplay, until it was good enough for it to get support and financing. 

The short idea had already been optioned by James Wan's company Atomic Monster for development into a full-length movie, and was then recommended to Jason Blum and Ryan Turek at Blumhouse Productions. Turek said after reading McGuire's screenplay, it felt like it had the perfect synergy to connect the two companies.

RELATED: Jason Blum and James Wan on What Makes Night Swim So Scary: "Anything Could Be Beneath You"

"It brought with it philosophies that we all believe in," Turek explained to NBC Insider. "Obviously, they're known for The Conjuring films, while we do the Insidious films. They're all family dramas, and all human dramas. And then it's about what's the scary element that gets in the way of all of that? Bryce wrote a really strong script about this family that moves into a house, but it's not the spooky house movie that we've seen before. It's a spooky, pool movie... So that really got us excited."

Night Swim hits theaters exclusively starting January 5. Get tickets now! 

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