Private Project

Toad Boy

Todd is different and the other kids at school have noticed. After an upsetting incident with several bullies the Principal discovers a disturbing book in Todd's locker and fears a retaliation. He calls on Todd's sister Charlene to facilitate an intervention, but quickly learns the help Todd needs may require a sacrifice he's unwilling to make.

  • Phillip J. McLaughlin
    Fear the Walking Dead (AMC), Tales of the Walking Dead (AMC), Away (Netflix), The Path (Hulu)
  • Hillary Rust
  • Phillip J. McLaughlin
  • John Metzler
    Bleed American, The Things We've Seen
  • Phillip J. McLaughlin
  • Hillary Rust
  • Cliff Chamberlain
    Key Cast
    "Principal McKenna"
    Paper Girls, Homeland, The Chair, Dirty John
  • Soren Williams
    Key Cast
  • Tamir Tucker
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Horror, New Weird, Monster, Occult
  • Runtime:
    13 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    June 30, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    10,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Phillip J. McLaughlin

Phillip J. McLaughlin is a filmmaker from the Midwest. He started his career in animation, co-creating several series for Mondo Media and Machinima before making the successful shift to television and independent film.

As an editor he’s worked on high-profile series for networks such as Netflix, AMC, Hulu, CBS, Adult Swim, and Freeform. 2023 will see his directorial debut with his short film, 'Toad Boy,' and an episode in the 8th season of 'Fear the Walking Dead.'

Additionally, Phillip is a contributing editor and producer for the independent sci-fi/horror literary magazine ‘Dark Matter Magazine’ and its growing roster of trade imprints. When he’s not working, Phillip enjoys watching horror movies and making his three children laugh.

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Director Statement

I've had the image of a half-toad, half-human monster lurking in my mind for the better part of a decade, but never felt like I had the right story to bring it to life. That changed following a pandemic-motivated move with my family back the the Chicago-area suburbs where I grew up.

Beneath an otherwise pleasant veneer there's an underlying dread and tension to the Midwest. Unending commercial real estate developments spread into farm and wetlands as people flee the urban blight deeper into rural suburbia, leaving behind decaying strip malls and waste from a previous generation. Schools and neighborhoods haven't been touched for thirty or forty years and feel stuck in time, shells left for both new residents and those who refuse to leave. It’s a backdrop rich with potential when it comes to the horror genre.

With the setting came the story of our two misguided siblings and the question, “to what lengths would one go for their family?” It’s something I started to ask myself more and more following the move and reconnecting with my family. For Charlene, her love and empathy for her younger brother, someone chastised and outcast by the outside world, manifests in an extreme form of enabling but on her own terms.

Principal McKenna represents many of my own anxieties about parenthood. The facade of authority over these children, the genuine desire to help but the lack of real understanding or clarity with what is actually going on. He feels a bit untethered to me, repressing any personal demons as he grasps for a win to anchor him in the identity that he wants for himself. He wants simple, defined and solvable problems, but dealing with children is inherently complicated and the pursuit of simplicity can sometimes lead one to overlook the mess and the chaos that lies beneath.

Aesthetically I wanted to embrace and herald a nostalgic tone. It’s not a period piece, but because of the aforementioned qualities of midwestern suburbia, the setting and mood feel out of time. My years as a film and television editor were invaluable as we set to establish an intentional pace and visual style, utilizing a depressed color palette with a little bit of grit and of course grotesque practical makeup effects. Dennis Preston, our special effects artist, was the final and most necessary ingredient to bringing ‘Toad Boy’ to life. His artistry, and Cliff Chamberlain’s (Principal McKenna) patience are both unmatched.

The sound design is modern and immersive, grounding the short in a reality that makes the final punch that much more impactful. The score is haunting and unique, featuring absolutely no stringed instruments and rather leaning on woodwinds and bass-heavy reeds to support and elevate the amphibian and insect motifs of the short. The juxtaposition of the sound and visual styles are just one more elements that feels rooted in the midwestern setting.

All of this said, the story is not without its sense of humor, as black and warped as it may be. I started my career in sketch comedy and animated web series and often have difficulty taking myself too seriously…

On behalf of our cast and crew, to whom I am forever indebted, please enjoy ‘Toad Boy.’