Filipino movie director dishes on his project: A grim horror film

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

Norbert Caoili admits, with a smile, that his last name is pronounced “cow-wheelie.” In fact, he does almost everything with a smile. Sitting in a Seattle coffee shop, dressed smartly with a sweater and crisp jeans, he radiates confidence and warmth. He hardly seems like one of the masterminds behind a grim horror picture which opens with a woman who is slowly and savagely beaten to death.

His film, “Frayed,” is inspired by “Halloween” and other classic ’80s horror films. “Frayed” starts with the brutal murder of a police officer’s wife in their home. Their young son is blamed for the crime and sent to a maximum security psychiatric hospital. Years later, the son escapes. A brave security guard and a deranged clown enter the picture … but all is not as it seems. What will the climax reveal?

Caoili co-directed and co-wrote the film, and it was shot entirely in Washington state. He was responsible for editing, composing the music, and managing the sound effects and sound design.

His company, Quantum Productions, produced the film, which was recently released to video by Lions Gate, the most successful independent film distribution company in the United States.

If all that sounds like a lot of work, Caoili admits that it was. But he’s used to hard work. He grew up in Kent. His parents, Filipino immigrants, worked for Boeing.

He graduated valedictorian at Kent-Meridian High School, earning only A grades all four years. A computer class he took during his senior year left him “this close to getting a B plus,” but he pulled the grade up at the last minute.

From left to right: filmmakers Rob Portmann, Kurt Svennungsen, and Norbert Caoili (Photos provided by

From left to right: filmmakers Rob Portmann, Kurt Svennungsen, and Norbert Caoili (Photos provided by

Throughout his childhood, Caoili watched horror movies with his close friends Kurt Svennungsen and Rob Portmann. “Halloween” and its sequels fascinated them, although Caoili confides that for him, the series goes “downhill” after the second film.

Caoili admits that those movies cost him “a few sleepless nights, and nightmares.”

“[It’s] like riding a rollercoaster,” said Caoili, talking about the horror genre. “You like the rush, having your emotions brought to places you aren’t comfortable with. If you’re lucky, you don’t live a horror-movie life, so you go to the movies to go to these dark and scary places.”

The Caoili family owned one of the first VCR/video camera combinations in their neighborhood. When the boys weren’t watching their favorite movies, they were running around outside making their own.

“My parents had their rules,” Caoili said, “But they let me borrow the camera.”

The trio spent hours filming each other. “[We were] falling out of trees, lighting firecrackers on each other, [and had] a couple of run-ins with the cops,” he said. On the whole, though, Caoili defends their hobby. “The camera kept us on the safe side. Other kids were getting into drugs, into drinking — we stayed away from that. Our creative outlet was to make these movies.”

Caoili entered the University of Washington and got involved with the Filipino Student Association.

He also felt himself pulling away from engineering and hard sciences. He wrote music, formed a rock band, and graduated with a double major in political science and broadcast communications.

Seven years ago, Kurt Svennungsen phoned Portmann to propose making a feature film. Portmann agreed, and they roped Caoili back in.

The three old friends hadn’t seen much of one another in several years. But their love of filmmaking came right back to them, sometimes to the consternation of their families and spouses.

“Frayed” took several years and $200,000 to complete. Two benefit screenings took place in October to aid victims of Typhoon Parma. Caoili’s father is active in the Filipino habitat-building charity Gawad Kalinga. The father and son enjoyed working together for relief.

When asked if his young daughters had watched the film, Caoili chuckled and said, “They won’t watch it for a while. But they’ve seen the trailer a number of times. They know what [‘Frayed’] looks like.” ♦

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at

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