Horror movies &stuff Interviews "Live Animals" Writer/Director Jeremy Benson|
Recently, we chatted with Jeremy Benson, indie filmmaker, and writer/director of the upcoming young-people-in-peril horror flick Live Animals. Due out this fall, the gritty horror pic tells the story of a group of college kids, tasked with deciding what price they are willing to pay to gain their freedom after being kidnapped by a ruthless White Slave trader.
MR. H:Tell us about your road to becoming a filmmaker.
JB:I got started in film making in college. I had written a short story and a guy at school said he wanted to make a short film from it. I didn't know this was even possible. At the time, he was getting ready to shoot a spoof on cops, called NINJAS about a trained task force of ninja's that would show up on the scene of a crime, but...they were...less than talented. Harry, (the guy I'm speaking of) let me direct the first scene and I was hooked. It was like opening up an entire new world. I mean, I had always been interested in movies and story telling anyway. When I was a kid, I would see Ghostbusters or Superman and spend the next three weeks acting out new scenes and drawing out new stories. It was fun. So this was like someone had just given me permission to act out a childhood dream.
MR. H:Back in 2005, you directed a horror pic called "Shutter", which ironically bares the same title as the asian horror film "Shutter", and it's respective remake. Did you encounter any issues with the title of your film because of this, and do you feel those two movies have overshadowed your "Shutter"?
JB:Yes. And no. Both of those movies are better than ours. (a lot better). When we first started making "Shutter" we had just finished shooting a drama called "The Smallest Oceans" and I spoke with a guy named Dennis Fallon (whose now a good friend of mine and has recently written an online book called So You Wanna Be A filmmaker --a must have for anyone wanting to learn how to make movies and sell them. This thing will save you thousands of dollars) who was making and selling movies for a living. It was Dennis who told us to make a horror film. I loved the idea because I have been a life long horror fan. Matter of fact, our first attempt at making movie on our own was a horror picture called "Sixteenth Section" (in which I misspelled the title on our VHS copy, it's titled "Sixteeth Section" -- go figure). Anyway, when Dennis told us to make a horror film I was stoked! Virgin on prom night happy.
Mark Williams and myself were riding around that Thanksgiving morning and found a house, an old run down piece of shit out in the middle of the woods. While we walked around we did a lot of "what if this happened" and "What if that"...that's where the story came from. I wrote the script, gave it to my wife and asked what should we call it. She said, "Shutter". So that was it. We didn't think about the title again until it came time to shop the movie around. That's when we started hearing all this buzz about a Thai movie called "Shutter". (which, I don't know if they kept it or not but the DVD art at one time said "Shutter: The Orignal." I would like to think that was because of us.) Sorry, I ramble. In the long run, that was fine, because I think our "Shutter" had a lot of problems and needed to be tightened up, a lot. It deserved to be overshadowed by those movies.
MR. H:You've done a substantial amount of filming in Tennessee. Have you found that it's a great place to shoot movies?
JB:Well, actually, we shot "Shutter" in Mississippi and shot half of "Live Animals" in Mississippi. But I live in Memphis and it just makes it easier.
MR. H:Okay, your latest genre project is "Live Animals". The film deals with a group of kids who are kidnapped and forced into the white slave trade. Explain how you came up with the idea for this project.
JB:The idea came from a dinner with Mark Williams. Mark is my producing partner, and we had just finished "Shutter" and I was working on a script called "Gallow Mills" that had been optioned, at the time. Mark and myself would go and eat dinner together at Waffle House (I'm on a low carb diet and they have cheap bacon and eggs) about twice a week, just to talk over movie ideas and such. One night we were talking about a story where someone kidnaps people and keeps them in a horse stall. But I didn't want it to be just some crazy guy grabbing people and doing bad things to them...been there done that. Call it "Shutter 2".
We had also been talking about things, like primal fears type stuff and how most movies that work play on some of those fears. Mark Brought up "Pinochio" the old Dinsey movie and the scenes where all the little boys are tricked and turned into Slave Donkeys. I remember it was like a light went off in my head. I droped my fork and just started saying "That's it! That's it! Slave donkeys!" and I saw Mark's eyes when he caught what I was saying and that was that. We started plotting out the story that night.
MR. H:Were previous "nabbed teen" movies e.g. "Hostel", and "Taken", the film with Liam Neeson which just recently came to DVD, any inspiration to your film?
JB:No. I really liked "Hostel", a lot, but we had already written the script for "Live Animals" before I saw it. I haven't seen "Taken" yet but I hear it's really good. But, really I would say inspiration wise that should get laid at a lot of feet. I grew up watching horror films. My friend Wallace Morris and his Mother would rent horror films (like six or seven) every Friday night and we would stay up all weekend watching them over and over. And my dad was always watching some horror or science fiction movie. I can remember when I was a kid and my dad telling me the story of "The Shining" as a bed time story.
Freaked me out, but I loved every second of it. And on Saturday afternoons on a local station, they would always play lower budgeted movies and most of the time those were horror films. "The Frogs," "The Fog," "Demons," "Friday the 13th," "Swamp Thing," and we would watch those together. where most kids bonded with their dad's watching football or basketball, we were bonding over the latest installement of "Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Stephen King's Silver Bullet". It was a lot of fun. I can still remember a night when I was like...eleven, and my mom was out for the night. Me and my dad went to the video store and got two movies, one my little brother could watch (I don't remember what that one was) and the other was "The Texas Chainsaw Mascre".
It scared the shit out of me. And for weeks I couldn't get it out of my head. My mom got really pissed at my dad and he got mad at me saying he'll never let me watch another scary movie again...luckily that didn't stick. For "Live Animals" we felt that having younger people, people in their upper twenties was perfect for this because they still have their entire lives to live. It felt that taking their freedom and ultimatly their lives away felt like more of a threat. But I did really like "Hostel" and I can't wait to see what he does with "Cell". I loved the book.
MR. H:How did you decide you wanted to shoot this movie when it came to photography, camera angles, and the like...and why?
JB:I wanted the movie to look and feel like the movies I remembered liking from the 1970's where there wasn't a lot of hand held camera and the film just felt dirty. I made most of my decisions with that in mind. And it seemed at the time the shaky hand held thing was everywhere and I wanted to do the opposite. Mark and myself talked over the look of the movie a lot before we actually started shooting, I think we watched "The Shining" and "Halloween" like three or four times each.
We both agreed that we wanted more of a traditonal film style to the movie. Which, in my opinion, works well since we didn't have much money. We shot the movie on digital, and the dolly shots and the and locked down shots just seemed to contrast with the video in a very interesting way. I remember watching "28 Days Later" which is shot on the Cannon XL1 and my favorite shot in the movie is the dolly shot through the cages at the beginning. I don't know, something about that just appeals to me. I wrote out a shot list and we shot the shot list.
MR. H:Sarah Ewell, who appeared in your earlier film "Shutter", is also starring in "Live Animals" as Mother. But something tells me that she's not exactly going to be the cookie-baking, "can I get you a glass of lemonade?" type. Can you tell us a little bit about her character?
JB:It's actually a very small part. Ummm. Yeah. Nothing really to go into there without giving some spoilers.
MR. H:Will "Live Animals" boast a gaggle of personal villains each with a different personality, or just one with a few two-bit thugs working under them?
JB:The main villian in "Live Animals" is a business man.
He runs a business. He treats 'selling people' the way any old hard ass would treat their own business. Edgar is his empoyee. The other villians have some quirks, but again -- SPOILERS -- and I think it's best we keep those under our hats for now.
MR. H:Did you do any extensive research into the white slave trade and human trading/smuggling in general before sitting down to pen this feature?
JB:Not really. While we were still tossing around the story, Rusty White showed me some stories about it online and in some of his law books. I made some notes about those but when I write I have to let the story tell itself. If I start trying to force the story, then it doesn't come. So no, not really. Just those few stories that we based some of the situtations on. I think Stephen King said it best in his book "On Writing" a story about a situation "girl and son trapped in car by large rabid dog" can be more interesting than a plot laddened attempt. I hope I never get bogged down by plot and having to fit in as many facts as possible. Man, I just wanna tell stories.
MR. H:Mark Williams co-wrote the movie with you. You two have worked together on earlier features such as "Shutter". Tell us about the relationship you two have as industry partners.
JB:(laughs) Mark and I have been friends since like the third grade. In high school we started a band "Lady Lerp" and I was the singer and he played the guitar. Now, Mark is awesome on the guitar. I suck at singing, just ask my kids. That just turned into movie making. I'm not really sure how. I know he acted in the first three, and over time took on more of a producing role. Now it's great cause we're right there through the entire time together. And we make a good team, in the sense that our personalities work well together. He sees flaws that I don't and I see ones that he doesn't. I mean, we may stay up all night fighting about something, but rest assured when we're done we will have a compromise that works better than anything we could have thought of alone.
MR. H:Is "Live Animals" a downright serious, gritty, and horrifying indie horror movie from beginning to end, or does it have a little bit of humor mixed in with things?
JB:There's a little humor. The wheelbarrel 69 scene always gets a laugh. But for the most part it's pretty serious but, not over the top serious, at least I don't think so.
MR. H:Were there any scenes you yourself found so disturbing that you had to grin and bare while filming?
JB:Not really, because your shooting it one shot at a time. Hell, most of the time every one's laughing before I call "action". That's one thing that everyone always laughs about, they have so much fun working on the movie it surprises them to see it and be scared. We have a lot of fun on set. Scarlett Williams was laughing at the first Memphis showing at how John scares her in the movie and in real life he's a big teddy bear -- same thing for Pat.
Now, there was a scene that was in the script that I decided not to shoot. It had Pat's character "Edgar" forcing one of the girls to have sex with a dead girl. We ended up not shooting it, for a couple of reasons. One being that by that point we had already started editing the movie and I knew it would've been cut, and two because I felt it was crossing a line that wasn't needed in this film -- not to say it won't go in somewhere else...but it just didn't fit in this one. I beleive that each film creates it's own lines and it's important to stay within those lines. In "Shutter" we filmed an 'almost' rape scene; hand held and in your face. That same scene would have been out of place in "Live Animals." Where the shop scene in "Live Animals," where everyone seems to squirm and cheer, would have been out of place in "Shutter."
MR. H:What scenes did you shoot in real-time that came out better than you expected them to when you first wrote them into the script?
JB:The entire end of the movie, from the shop on. I am extremely proud of the way that plays out. We did it just having fun and you can tell. Also, the scene with Wayne and Edgar just talking in Wayne's office. To me, that scene works; when Wayne reminds him that it's payday and hands him his check, the smile on Pat's face is priceless. Of course, I think everything really is better because once an actor gives a part life, it's completely different from the script. The script is a blueprint to get to the final project. If that makes any sense? It does to me.
MR. H:If "Live Animals" does well, do you have a followup movie in mind? A sequel or prequel perhaps?
JB:We have several projects we would like to do next. I kind of would like to do a werewolf movie. I would really like to see a werewolf movie done where it's shot and treated seriously. No camp. Like, what would happen if a werewolf was really slashing up people in a small town? I can imagine it being pretty brutal. But I don't know, we'll see.
MR. H:When can we expect "Live Animals" to be released?