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Guest blog

Fred Dekker on Night Of The Creeps

21 Aug, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Directors, Guest blog, Writers

Night Of The Creeps was written in three weeks.

At least, that’s what I read on the Internet. To be honest, I don’t remember how long it took. What I do remember is that my fledgling career circa 1985 was shifting into a higher gear with each passing day — I’d gone from being an English major at UCLA to a working member of the Writer’s Guild of America in less than a year.

My first writing job was an American Godzilla movie to be produced and directed by Steve Miner who, after helming the second and third Friday The 13th installments, decided it was time to fry bigger fish… or bigger prehistoric reptiles.
The movie was never made (its $30 million budget was considered too exorbitant!) but working with Steve opened the next door on my journey…

I’d wanted to be a director since the day I saw Jaws, so for me screenwriting was really a preamble to the director’s chair. I had an idea for my first film. It would be a low budget shocker, albeit with some redeeming social value, about a Vietnam veteran who decides to face his demons by writing a no-holds-barred memoir about his war experiences. I decided he’d hole up in a house alone, and slowly but surely the proverbial scary shit would start to happen. The audience, in turn, would wonder if he was suffering from PTSD, or if the house was actually haunted (spoiler alert: the latter).

I wanted to call it House (clever, eh?) and shoot it down-and-dirty in the very house I grew up in — my parents’ Victorian in Marin County, California. I mentioned the project to my college roommate, Ethan Wiley, but for various reasons – the Godzilla script, girl watching, making short films with my friends or having dinner with James Cameron about working on his script for Aliens (yes, that happened)… whatever the reason, I just never got around to writing it.

So Ethan asked if he could take a crack at it. I said. The script he wrote was more comic in tone than the movie I’d imagined, but liked it enough to show to Steve Miner, who loved it and showed it to Sean Cunningham — producer/director of the original Friday The 13th. The next thing I knew, my first screen credit –“Story by”– was in front of the cameras (three sequels followed, although I never saw a dime).

Somewhere in the midst of all this was the apocryphal “three weeks” during which Night Of The Creeps was born. Again, I don’t remember exactly. What I do remember is this: a sleepless night, and a vision of a hard drinking, hard-boiled gumshoe picking up a phone and saying, “Thrill me.” (After I saw The Terminator, I named the character “Cameron” after my one-time dinner companion. Because why not?).

So…  I had a character, and one line of dialogue. That was pretty much it. But I knew he was a detective, so the question for me as a writer became: what was he investigating?

The floodgates, as they say, opened.

Because long before I was writing seriously, long before I’d come to Los Angeles to break into “the business,” long before any of that: I was a movie nerd. Correction: genre movie nerd.

So I allowed the library of genre movies in my head to spill out. I loved Animal House and the films of John Hughes, so what if there were a college romance plot? And what if that was the reason the detective’s investigating something? What if a sorority were besieged by an axe-killer? Or better yet – a zombie axe-killer? Or better yet – a zombie axe-killer infested with alien parasites?

Calling Night Of The Creeps original would be an error. But calling it an affectionate nod to all the B-movie tropes I’d absorbed in my misspent youth? Bingo. I was doing the mash-up to end all mash-ups long before anyone knew what the hell a mash-up was.

My agent found a producer who liked the script (his name was Chuck Gordon, and he would go on to make movies like Die Hard and Field Of Dreams and Waterworld. Nothing big). The first studio Chuck showed it to said yes.

It was official. I was going to be a director! I was also officially having an anxiety attack. But I soldiered through, and with the help of an amazing cast and crew, managed to cobble a movie together.

I had never had any formal training, and everything I knew about making movies was learned on the fly when I was young, shooting and cutting 8mm films or video. That, and watching anything I could, from any era, in any genre.

My “self-taught” approach made for some awkward moments on the set and in the cutting room, but my naïveté was also responsible for the film’s occasionally bravura style (my favorite scenes are Detective Cameron’s dream/nightmare, and the scene where he tells young Chris Romero the deep, dark secret that’s been haunting him for 27 years).

What did I learn from making my first feature? Three things, mostly. 1) Cast properly. I think it was Martin Scorsese who said that’s 90% of the job right there, and he’s right. 2) Keep an eye on pace, and get enough coverage so you can speed a scene up or slow it down in editing. And 3) Be veeery nice to the executives who are giving you the money to make your movie.

(Quick side-note on casting: I didn’t have an actor in mind when I wrote the detective, but Tom Atkins read for us and the second he left I turned to our casting director and said, “That’s the guy.” To this day, I think Tom is the glue that holds the movie together.)

As for the in-joke character names? An extension of the homage tone I was going for. After all, if you’re going to rip off a bunch of other movies, why not at least acknowledge the guys who made them? (Romero, Landis, Corman, etc.) More importantly, since this was my first feature – and it was ostensibly horror – I chose to specifically reference directors who had started out, or specialized, in the genre. That’s why there are no characters named Kurosawa… although Spielberg, Kubrick and Peter Hyams were probably my biggest influences at the time.

As we were shooting, I concocted another “mash-up” that was near and dear to my heart; a comic-horror adventure that would pay tribute to the “Our Gang” comedies and the Universal monster films. I asked my talented college chum Shane Black to write it and we were making a production deal for The Monster Squad even before Creeps was finished. Suffice to say, there wasn’t much time for me to reflect on the cultural impact of the work I was doing, and frankly, I was having too much fun to worry about it. It was only after both these films were released… and bombed horribly… that I realized they were barely blips on the Hollywood radar. I had committed the cardinal sin of any fledgling filmmaker: I had made two unsuccessful films in a row — a critical blow to my directing career.

It was years later that both films began to find their audience via cable TV and video rentals and word of mouth. Although considered “cult classics” now, at the time they came out they were redheaded stepchildren, beloved by only a few discerning genre buffs. Frankly, the disappointment was crushing.

So what’s the moral of the story? Well, for one thing, if I had it to do all over again, I might not have made two “comic horror” films — an oddball hybrid in any era, and rarely successful on a blockbuster scale (Zombieland notwithstanding). My true loves are adventure films and thrillers, and had I gone in that direction (i.e. more mainstream), my career might well have gone a different route, too.

But hey, hindsight is 20/20. And I’m truly gratified that at least Night Of The Creeps did find its audience… eventually. And maybe as part of Film4’s FrightFest, it’ll attract a few new fans, as well. You know what that would do?

Thrill me.

Fred Dekker
Los Angeles — August 2014

Alan Jones’ FrightFest 2014 highlights

Film4 FrightFest’s Alan Jones on the horror festival’s move to the Vue Cinema and his own personal highlights of this year’s festival, running from 21st – 25th August 2014 in Leicester Square.

The Guest starring Dan Stevens

The Guest starring Dan Stevens

I’m not afraid to admit that Film4 FrightFest’s move to the Vue cinema Leicester Square has given me sleepless nights. I mean, we had everything at the Empire running smoothly… but their redevelopment plans meant we had to uproot ourselves and literally start from scratch. Because that’s what making our new home at the Vue has entailed – from management understanding what the FrightFest community is all about, to ensuring their staff were on board in terms of mind-set and approach. It took the Empire 12 months to fully appreciate our ethos and here we were again facing the same early questions like “What do you mean people queue up for 48 hours before the tickets go on sale?” and “But where do we put all these goodie bags?”

For die-hard FrightFesters though it’s par for the course on the 15-year long haul from the Prince Charles to the two Odeon West Ends and then the Empire. But this 2014 change is markedly different because for the first time the main films will be split over three auditoria, rather than just a massive one, with our much-loved Discovery and retrospective strands expanding into larger spaces. So we knew going into this August Bank Holiday’s event that we would have to ensure the programme choices were about as tip-top as we could get to help soothe any misgivings about losing the FrightFest essence. I think we’ve done that. Our line-up is always highly anticipated and the feedback so far suggests we’ve hit all the want-to-see bases. Hopefully job done and everyone can now relax in their new comfortable surroundings to watch the best examples of what the genre can offer.

The Samurai

The Samurai

Speaking personally, my list of absolute must-sees is topped by Till Kleinert’s superb The Samurai, which I keep describing to people as Dressed To Kill through a Jorg Buttgereit filter because I so want people to respond to its extreme slasher gore and playful homo-erotic subtext. Kleinert is such a horror fan, and it shows, and he’s already said he wants to attend the entire festival. Another stunner is William Eubank’s quite astonishing The Signal, which I found enigmatically mesmerizing and unusually resonant in thematic terms. Closing with an all-stops-out science fiction fantasy is unusual for FrightFest but when people witness the final five minutes, they’ll understand why we chose it.

I must also mention our terrific opener The Guest, which is one of the best horror thrillers of the year and features a break-out performance by Dan Stevens that I can only liken to the one Julia Roberts had in Pretty Woman. No, honestly! And for those who loved Inside, but thought Livid was a disappointment, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Among The Living will restore your faith in French shockers with its daring concept and wonderful studio backlot setting. Must mention Home, Housebound, X Moor and Doc Of The Dead… too many, in fact, to do justice to. Best people just come along and find out for themselves.

Find out more about FrightFest 2014 and buy tickets

 

 

The Dos and Don’ts of making your first feature

15 May, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Guest blog

As her award-winning debut feature Concussion hits UK cinema screens, writer-director Stacie Passon runs through her top 10 tips for making your first feature film.

Screen Shot 2012-01-25 at 11.32.12 AM | Jan 25

1.  DO a few things every day to get you closer to the TRUTH. Go on that scout. Put in those LLC papers. Do an alternative budget. Test a new camera.

2.  DO get a waiver – Unions get it.  Call them, work with them, get to know them, they don’t want to work against you, they just want to make sure their peeps are covered and safe.

3. DON’T try to be Chantal Akerman, Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, or Mike Leigh.  Just be you.

4. DO respect actors.

5. DO employ the same amount of women as men. Start the precedent now while you’re new.

6. DO get that visionary, wonderful, task-oriented, calm production designer right now. NOW.

7. DON’T take money from people who hate you.

8. DON’T let anybody tell you what’s marketable. They don’t know. They have no idea. That’s not your job. Your job is to tell the best story you can. Teach me something about human beings. That’s always marketable and always evolving. Maya Angelou once said to me at a BBQ when I was 15, I was eating my pulled pork and I said I didn’t know if the stories I wanted to tell were worthy or would be something someone wanted to hear, and she said, “I am human, therefore anything that is human is not foreign to me.” That means we can all try to understand and learn from each other’s stories, no matter what’s dangling between your legs or who your mom is or how you pray. Off my soapbox now.

9. DO collaborate.

10. DON’T stop takes early. The best stuff happens after the dialogue ends.

Concussion is released in UK cinemas on May 16th 2014. Watch the trailer here.

Producer Mark Herbert’s Top Five Stone Roses Tracks

With The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone premiering on Channel 4 this Easter Weekend at 10.50pm on Record Store Day – Saturday 19th April – producer  Mark Herbert shares his top five Stone Roses tracks

 

1. Don’t Stop

This is apparently Waterfall in reverse but for nearly 20 years I did not know. When I heard Reni play it live and saw his octopus hands make it look easy playing this rhythm, I was in awe. I love Mani and Reni at the end.

 

2. Breaking Into Heaven

I spent so long waiting for the album, stuck it on and thought “what’s the frig is this?”, then when it kicked in, I was in love with it. I’ve grown to love all of it and was blown away when I heard it for the first time live at Finsbury Park this year.

 

3. Mersey Paradise

Under 3 minutes of bliss. John’s dreamy guitar intro lulls you in & then the rest of them punch you in the under carriage.

 

4. Where Angels Play

“Ok, let’s fly she says, this carpet’s made for two.”

What a wondrous poetic line sung in proper Northern from Ian. Up there with “You taste of Cherryade” from Sally Cinnamon. They seem so simple, but the best art does. And both are dead romantic.

 

5. I Am The Resurrection

When making the film, you think you will tire of hearing the songs. Never did. When the crowd threw the green cushions at this performance last year in Lyon,  it made the hair stand up on the back of my thinning head as much as when I first heard it at 18. It was also played last at my brother’s wedding party this year and the dance floor went mental (in a quaint pub in Peaks)

 

Click here to buy The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone on 2 disc Collector’s Edition DVD or Steelbook Blu-Ray now

Watch the trailer for The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone:

 

 

 

 

 

Director Shane Meadows’ Top Five Stone Roses Tracks

With The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone premiering on Channel 4 this Easter Weekend at 10.50pm on Record Store Day – Saturday 19th April – director Shane Meadows shares his top five Stone Roses tracks

 

1. Sally Cinnamon

The song that gave us kids of the 80s our very own 60s. Rock and roll wasn’t what mattered, it was having something only you understood, that only you and your generation believed in that mattered, and we believed in the Stone Roses. This song was an indication of what was to follow in their debut album: unadulterated greatness.

2. Waterfall

I played this song on vinyl on my Matsui (low cost all-in-one stereo from Argos) record player, in my bedroom for my first girlfriend (not ever, just my first one in tie-dye) from art college. She was a painter, she was vegetarian and she had political views. I was pretending to be an actor, pretending to be a vegetarian and pretended to have political views. But I believed in the Stone Roses music and when I put this track on, she ignored my fraudulent attempts be a hipster and kissed me for ages.

3. Standing Here

The outro that runs for the last 2 minutes of this song is the purest, simplest, most beautifully jangly and moving moment of any Roses tune for me.

4. Made Of Stone

Every band should have an anthem and although Fools Gold comes close, Made Of Stone is that Record. I can’t drive to Fools Gold as I want to pull over and start throwing some shapes, and you have to be able to drive up the M6 to an anthem. Made of Stone is that tune.

5. Fools Gold

What can you say that hasn’t already been said at least a 1000 times. Is it indie, is it funk, is it a dance track? Frick knows, but it’s a belter! It defied comparison at the time and still kicks arse. I built the entire end of our film around this song. It’s iconic, it is one of the only songs I ever dance to and it sparked our summer of love. If it came out for the first time today, it would still start a fire.

Click here to buy The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone on 2 disc Collector’s Edition DVD or Steelbook Blu-Ray now

Watch the trailer for The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone: