Interview with Horror Director Andrew Jones
INTERVIEW WITH HORROR DIRECTOR ANDREW JONES
ANDREW JONES IS MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF IN THE HORROR GENRE. Involved not just in directing, but also in scriptwriting and producing, his titles are gaining a following from fans of dark film. His filmography to date includes The Amityville Asylum, Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection, and his latest release, Robert.
As a big fan of horror films myself, I was drawn to his work, and wanted to find out more about the man himself – his work, his attitudes, his hopes for the future of horror.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, AND HOW YOU BECAME INVOLVED IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?
My love of film began at the age of 5 when my parents would take me to a local VHS rental store in my hometown of Swansea. I was particularly struck by the lurid artwork of the horror films and would beg my parents to let me see them. They eventually relented on the condition they would watch the films with me and explain how the horror depicted on screen was not real and created by special effects. The first horror films they allowed me to watch were Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and Sean Cunningham’s ‘Friday the 13th’. Because the filmmaking process was explained to me I became very aware that a film was created by people behind the camera. I became fascinated with the concept of making movies.
I began my production company North Bank Entertainment with the intent to produce marketable low budget films utilising the same aesthetic as American producers Roger Corman and Charles Band. They have sustained long careers in an ever changing business by being responsible with their budgets and commercial with their concepts. Financing is always the toughest part of filmmaking so I knew that to stand a good chance of getting films made I had to keep the budgets low to reduce the risk for investors. I had some early experiences directing films that never got released so when I formed my company I wanted to work directly with distribution companies to ensure that the films I made had a place in the market. I was fortunate that the first film I produced secured worldwide distribution despite the miniscule budget, it had a theatrical run in UK cinema chain Cineworld as well as a DVD/digital release in quite a few countries. It also got picked up by Lionsgate in North America so I had a taste of dealing with people at a major studio level.
HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF WRITING AND DIRECTING SO FAR BEEN DIFFERENT TO YOUR INITIAL EXPECTATIONS?
I feel my writing and directing improves each time I make a film, I learn a lot every time I go through the process and I’m fortunate enough to be getting lots of practice. The key thing working at this independent level is accepting that my imagination is unlimited but my budget is not. I love writing and it’s great to let my imagination off the leash, but when it comes to assessing a script as a director I always need to tailor the screenplay to the tight budget and schedules. So what I focus on more than anything else is writing characters who are dealing with social issues or personal problems and ensure their relationships and motivations are what drive the story. In the horror genre I know some people couldn’t care less about characters and want lots of gore and horror set pieces. We try to provide that when possible but on a restricted budget and schedule we can’t produce movies that are wall to wall special effects. So I try to tell a character led story.
My concepts appeal to the modern market but I must admit that my influences and filmmaking approach are from a bygone era. I particularly love the 1970s when filmmakers were allowed to give their story and characters room to breathe without worrying about giving the audience a chase scene every ten minutes. If people watch 70s movies like ‘Play Misty For Me’, ‘Burnt Offerings’, ‘Magic’, ‘To the Devil A Daughter’, ‘Audrey Rose’ and throw in a dash of 1980s flicks like ‘The Changeling’, ‘The Entity’ and ‘The Stepfather’ then they will have a pretty clear idea of what I’m aiming at. I’m not saying I make films at the same level as those classics, far from it, but my approach to telling a story on film is definitely influenced by the pacing and presentation of older films. I understand that making character based films for a generation more used to seeing frenetic cutting and explosions makes my films somewhat divisive. But as a writer and director I am always more interested in spending time on character archs rather than taking weeks to film action which amounts to 30 seconds of screen time.
Silent Night, Bloody Night – one of Jones’ projects as a director (above)
LET’S TALK ABOUT YOU NEW RELEASE, ROBERT. WHAT INSPIRED THIS FILM?
When developing a slate of films each year I pitch a selection of my ideas to the investors and distributors to see which ones they would like to move forward on. But occasionally the distributors will come to me and ask for a film on a particular subject and ‘Robert’ was one of those requested projects. ‘Annabelle’ proved there was an audience for films about supernatural dolls so I was asked to make a doll film based on Robert’s real life story. I had already been influenced by some of Robert’s back story for a clown doll which featured in my film ‘Poltergeist Activity’ , so I was already aware of the case. But the real life story of Robert doesn’t really work for a narrative film because it had no natural ending. It would have been tough to build a film towards a definitive resolution sticking entirely to the true story. In real life Robert continued to live with Gene and his parents until their natural deaths which is a pretty uneventful conclusion. The true story element included in the film is that a disgruntled housekeeper gave the sinister doll to the son of the family who fired her and the boy subsequently got the blame for Robert’s mischief. But there isn’t a great deal of back story out there for Robert’s origin beyond that, nor is there any great detail about the Otto family. So I had to embellish on the characters’ personal stories and also give Robert some additional back story to add more drama. The distributors wanted a creepier look for Robert as it was felt the real life version was a little plain for horror artwork. Obviously some people find filmmakers changing aspects of real life stories a little irritating, but it’s the nature of the beast.
What I was really interested in exploring with this film is what its like to be a person with a mental illness and also what its like to live with someone who has a mental illness. The lead character Jenny has schizo affective disorder, some of the symptoms of that involve hearing voices and seeing hallucinations. Her husband Paul is worried about her state of mind and also about whether or not the illness has been genetically passed onto their son Gene. So when Gene and Jenny begin to believe the doll is alive it creates a natural conflict with Paul who is worried the mental illness is destroying the family. The whole film is essentially Robert serving the same function as the mental illness, causing distrust and tension between the characters simply by his presence in their home. But of course you can’t put that sort of thing on the back of a DVD cover, most people would run a mile if they were told that a significant part of the story deals with the impact of mental illness on a family. People are probably more comfortable dealing with the “creepy looking doll comes to life” aspect of the film.
HOW CONSCIOUS WERE YOU, WHEN FILMING ROBERT, OF THE POPULARITY OF THE CHILD’S PLAY FILMS, AND ANNABELLE?
I was very conscious of it. I have enjoyed Charles Band’s doll movies over the years and I love the Child’s Play franchise so I knew I was working in an established genre. Don Mancini recently pulled off an amazing feat with ‘Curse of Chucky’, returning the series to its darker roots while not ignoring any of the other films. The perfect example of how to reinvigorate a horror franchise. I knew that the only reason I was asked to make ‘Robert’ was because ‘Curse of Chucky’ and ‘Annabelle’ had recently been successful. But when making ‘Robert’ I didn’t try to compete with what had gone before, I didn’t have the budget to do that anyway, so I just tried to tell a story I was interested in telling.
WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES OF DIRECTING ROBERT?
Budget limitation is always a big challenge. Chucky has the best effects people in Hollywood bringing him to life but we can’t compete with that at the independent level. So I tried to create atmosphere in place of effects. The only option for this kind of budget is to employ the same strategy as ‘Jaws’ – shoot a lot of POVs to create a presence early on and save the shots of the monster in action for the film’s climax.
Limited time was the other challenge. We had a schedule of just 8 days filming which meant we had to work around the clock. Also, child actors only get limited time on set so you have to make sure you get all the coverage you need with them before their hours expire. We only had Flynn, who played Gene, for 3 days so often we would shoot his side of every scene first then come back to shoot the adult actors after Flynn had finished work. The adults did some of their best work in those scenes acting opposite the First Assistant Director or in some cases a Teddy Bear!
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE CURRENT CONDITION OF THE HORROR GENRE? ARE YOU TIRED, OR INSPIRED, BY MODERN FILMS?
To be honest I don’t really pay much attention to mainstream horror these days, I always go back to films from the 70s or 80s for my horror fix, I find modern mainstream horror too slick for my tastes. I prefer a low budget feel which is why I like indie horror as that’s closer to the horror I grew up watching. The Home Entertainment market is over saturated with horror content but there are always gems that can be found. There are lots of filmmakers in the UK and America who have impressed in the independent horror field. To name a few -MJ Dixon, John R Walker, Lawrie Brewster, James Crow, David Ryan Keith, Tony Jopia, Brandon Slagle, Daniel Emery Taylor and Axelle Carolyn. Always worth checking out new movies from those filmmakers, all very different but all very good.
WHAT’S YOUR NEXT PROJECT?
At the moment I’m in the final stages of post production on two films shot earlier this year. ‘Kill Kane’, a crime film starring Vinnie Jones, and a demonic possession horror ‘The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund’. We currently have 5 projects being considered for shooting in 2016. I’m planning on taking the 2016 projects into a few new directions so it promises to be an interesting year!
AND FINALLY, CAN YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE HORROR FILM?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one. I’ve mentioned a few films in the previous answers which all have a big influence on me. But there are a few horror films which I have a sentimental or nostalgic attachment to. For instance I love ‘Friday the 13th Part 2’ because watching it reminds me of a time in my childhood when I went to a Megastore in Cardiff with my mother (who is no longer with us) and she bought me the VHS. I love ‘Halloween 4’ because I remember my father bringing home the VHS as a gift for me after he returned from a weekend trip. I love the original ‘Halloween’ of course and have great memories of putting it on as a child during a sleepover with friends at my house. One of my friends was so creeped out by the opening theme music that he left and went home before the film had even started! I also hold ‘Sleepaway Camp’ in high esteem because I was about 8 years old when I saw it and vividly remember how incredibly shocked I was by the twist ending. I still think it’s the most effective twist in horror film history. A really wonderful film that never gets the credit it deserves is ‘The Exorcist III’. A film that in my opinion perfectly balances horror, humour, theology and philosophical subtext. A very unique mix! Well worth checking out if you haven’t!
Thank you to Andrew Jones for his time.
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