Indie film director Christopher Witherspoon interviewed – do not read this if you are of a sensitive nature!

Christopher’s desire to make movies started at age 12 when he first saw “Star Wars”. He persuaded his parents to buy him a Super 8 film camera and began making his own little movies. He has worked for many production companies, in every area of film production, gaining a full understanding of the process. In the early 80’she worked as a production assistant on such films as “Ghost Soldiers”, “Angel”, and “Hollywood Vice Cop”.  Always a huge fan of horror movies, he persuaded John Carl Buechler, head of MMI Effects, to give him a job.  By age19 he was designing effects on the films “Re-Animator”, “Troll”, “From Beyond” and many others.

In the following years, Witherspoon returned to working in production on several independent films in positions ranging from production coordinator to production accountant.  In 1995, he co-founded Yellow Brick Road Entertainment.  There he wrote, produced and directed several music videos, short films and coming attractions for companies like Solar Records, Center Films, Pirate/Giant Records and Turner Pictures.  During this time, Witherspoon also produced and directed “Hubble”, a television pilot that was picked up by the Learning Channel and was to be produced in Portland, Oregon.  “Hubble” was a live action show about the adventures of a group of rag-tag misfit toys but sadly, due to budgetary issues at the Learning Channel”, the series was cancelled  just a week before filming was to begin.

Looking for a fresh start, he decided not to return to Hollywood and now calls the city of Portland his home. In 2004 he produced and directed a drama entitled “Middle Man”.  The film played in several festivals and received critical acclaim. In 2008 he started a new film production company, “Big Screen Ventures”, with RAGE, a horror-suspense tale as its first production.  The film centers on a thirty-something suburbanite, Dennis Twist, who unintentionally provokes the wrath of a mysterious, homicidal motorcyclist. Next up for Witherspoon and Big Screen Ventures is “The Twilight Hotel”, a horror anthology in the style of HBO’s old “Tales from the Crypt”. It is expected to go before cameras in late 2012 or early 2013.

Tell me one little-known fact about Christopher Witherspoon.

A very little-known fact about me is that in addition to being an independent filmmaker I am a still photographer and for the last 25 years or so I’ve been compiling photos for a coffee table book.  The subject matter of the book are nudes and semi-nudes and only a few of my closes friends know about this.  The coffee table book wasn’t planned, it just sort of came into being.  I photographed a girlfriend many years ago and one thing lead to another… she told a friend and that friend told a friend and so on and so forth.  I’ve always been a big fan of many, many illustrator, pin up artist and photographers, i.e., Boris, Frank Frazetta, Ron Cobb, Sid Mead, Olivia, Herb Ritz, Horst P. Horst, Greg Hildebrandt, Alberto Vargas, George Petty and many, many others.  I am in the process of milling thru thousands of photos and tracking down the photo subjects and getting releases signed.  I’ve attached a few pictures so that you can see some of my photography work.  And that’s my little-known fact.

I can’t just ignore a book about nudes. Tell me more about how it developed. Who approached who, after the first shoot? Have you got a publisher lined up?

The origin of my coffee table book started nearly 25 years ago in the mid to late 80’s.  An ex-girlfriend of mine asked me to photograph her and I said okay…. I didn’t know that she wanted the photos to be nude!!  I had been taking pictures for years but not nudes so when she asked I was shocked… happily shocked mind you.  I remember being very nervous which was reflected in the fished product, most of the shots, after they had been developed were out of focus.  A few of the shots did come out okay, nothing mind blowing but good enough for her to ask me to do many more photo sessions.

After about a year of taking nudes of just her the end product started looking better and around that time she asked me if I would be interested in taking some nudes of a friend of hers and I told her that I’d have to think about it… just kidding, I said “HELLYES!!”  The crazy thing about this was, the girl that she asked me to photograph was girl that we both had attended high school with and…. and I had the biggest crush on this girl.  The day of the shoot I remember being even more nervous than the first shoot with my ex.  Once again there were several shots that were out of focus but much fewer than with my ex but once again there were enough pics that were good enough for her to show some of her friends and that’s kind of how it all got started. The subjects that I photograph would tell a friend and that friend would want nudes done and it’s been that way ever since.

Somewhere along the way the nervousness went away.  What I believe happened was, I started seeing things in my work that made me feel the way that I did when I looked at the works of artist that I admired so much… the composition, focus, exposure and the entire balance of the shots started feeling like…it was just right.   I honestly admit that my initial reasons for doing nudes was purely about getting some sort of “sexual jollies” but as I said, at some point that all changed and something happened in me.  There is still asexual attraction but it is different. It is a visceral feeling, not exactly tangible but it is a real feeling and you want it more and more almost like a drug.

At this point I do not have a publisher.  I am in the photo selection process and I have done a rough design of the cover… or I should say covers.  What I am thinking of doing is a book that is actually two books in a single bookcase.  One horizontal and one vertical but they will slip into a single book case holder.

I attached a few of the potential covers for the vertical and horizontal books… these are only a few.   Thanks a lot for asking about my book, I love talking about art.

Reluctantly moving on from the nude photography, expand on how your career got moving in the early days and the steps to becoming a director.

After years of making my little super 8 masterpieces I thought that I should probably get a formal education so after high school I enrolled in film school and was quickly asked to leave for reasons that maybe I shouldn’t go into.  Let’s just say that I kept having “issues” with some of my professors and instructors regarding a variety of “issues” so the Dean of the school called me into his office one day and “suggested” that I seek a formal education elsewhere.  Instead of finding another school I was lucky enough to get a job working on a small independent film, which lead to more jobs on other films in a variety of positions, everything from production assistant to production coordinator, and almost everything in between.

The desire to be a film director was always with me and grew even more after meeting special effects guru, John Carl Buechler.  One year at a Fangoria Magazine convention I corned him and showed him an alien creature puppet that I had made.  As a result, he offered me a job at his effects shop Mechanical Make-up Imagery.  There I did a lot of sculpting, painting and foam latex work on films like “The Re-Animator”, “Ghoulies”, “From Beyond” and many others.  It was on the sets of some of these films that I learned how professional movies were really made, the actual mechanics of how a scene is filmed and what the function of each member on the crew was, the first and second assistant director, the camera crew, etc.   Every chance I got I watched the directors closely to see how they worked with the crew especially their relationships with the actors and the director of photography.

After awhile I decided to leave the effects business to pursue opportunities that would possibly lead to me directing feature films.  Luckily I ran into an old high school friend, Will Robinson, who was working in the music business as a producer.  He told me about some of the acts that he was working with that they needed someone to direct the videos.  Well, of course I through my hat in the ring and convinced him that I could do it.  After directing several videos, I just put my hands in the air and quit one day. Unfortunately, I never really liked making music videos there were just too many egos, too many chefs and just too difficult.  My time doing music videos was not a total waste it was a great education as it relates to working with different personalities.  Also, music videos in ways are like cliff notes to a larger story, so learning to tell a narrative within a 2 ½minute to 3 ½ minute time frame is very challenging.  It teaches you to be very creative and very fast.

Around this time my girlfriend, who was also my partner in a little production company, and I decided to produce a television pilot for a children’s program entitled “Hubble”.  We produced a 24-minute pilot and shopped it around town and ultimately got a deal at the Learning Channel but unfortunately before filming started the deal came apart.  Like everything that I had done before it, I found something good to take from it.  The big thing that I learned from the whole experience was don’t count on anything until it actually happens… and even then you can’t be too certain.   Also, I remember taking a lot of care as it related to the arch of the individual characters and the overall story which I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never done before, but the reality is there are many filmmakers who only understand the technical aspects of filmmaking (point camera and shoot) and don’t have a clue as it relates to the very, very important nuances of story and characters manipulation.  That was the first of many lessons that I learned and continue to learn to this very day.   That is one of the things that is so very exciting about directing films, with every project that you do you find a new piece to the puzzle of how to be a better storyteller.

After failing to get the children’s series off the ground I felt very low and demoralized so I took a very long break from filmmaking and got a job at a bank and spent time on other things like photography and watching and studying movies.  During that time I also wrote several screenplays.  One of them was a drama called Middle Man, a story about a streetwise guy who set up illegal deals between buyers and sellers, deals involving things like prostitutes, guns, drugs…etc.  Anybody who has seriously aspired to be a filmmaker knows that ”Filmmaking is a drug.” I’m sure that there are people who will read this interview and understand exactly what I’m talking about when I say that.  Filmmaking is an addiction, a very expensive addiction. What happens is a period of time will past, since your last project, and you start to “jonesing”.  You just get this desire, this need to express yourself or an idea that you have and nothing can stop you from pursuing it.   Well, almost nothing can stop you there is always that money thing.   But even still you will find a way and that’s what happened with the Middle Man project.  I didn’t have any money so I made the film the ole’ B.S.B. method, which stands for Beg, Steal, and Borrow.  And I did plenty of all three to get the film made.  I finished the film in 2004 and it played in a few festivals in the U.S. and also in Europe.  Not many people saw it, which is cool because I was never really happy with it. Now it sits in a drawer somewhere in my house and that’s okay because there was no investor’s money involved so it was no great loss.  Also, it was a really good primer to making Rage and the same way that Middle Man prepared me for Rage, Rage has prepared me for my next project, The Twilight Hotel, which is much bigger in scope.   Amongst the most important lessons learn on Rage was how truly important discipline, patient and creative is needed to make a good independent feature.

Tell me about how Rage got put together and the team involved.

First of all the idea for Rage was inspired by Steven Spielberg’s 1971 film classic “Duel”.  I saw it when it originally aired on television when I was a little kid and the thing that struck me about the film was the amount of tension that Spielberg created and I remember thinking that one day I wanted to learn how to do that. A couple of years ago Duel was on television again and I watched it, for like the 50th time, and was amazed at how effective it still was after all these years.  Around the same time I had just finished the first draft for The Twilight Hotel, and it didn’t take too long before I realized that there was no way that I would be able to raise the amount of money necessary to make that film.  Another month or two passed and I started thinking about Duel a lot. Also, at this time I was dealing with some personal issues that were taking place in my life that had to do with the fact that I was having an affair and the mother my children found out and that brought about a very destructive end to our relationship. Regretfully, it was our three children, who were completely innocent, ended up being the biggest victims. At that point I had an epiphany, which I believe was very cathartic in retrospect.  I decided to make a film, a much, much cheaper film and what I did was take the things that happen in my personal life and formed the majority of the subtext of the film and Duel would serve as the inspiration for the surface stuff…i.e., being pursued by a faceless antagonist who wants to destroy you for reasons that you are not completely aware of.  At the end of the day Rage is about the decisions that we make and how those decisions affect those around us, especially, the innocent.

The screenplay was written in about six weeks and the very first people that I sent copies to were Darrell and Shawn Smith, also known as the Smith Brothers. I have worked, off and on, with the Smith Brothers for many, many years.  They produced all of the music videos that I did back in the day and they are also my cousins.  They are amazing guys who really make it possible for me to do what I do. Darrell is the “organization” person who makes sure that all the production necessities are taken care of and Shawn is the “money” guy who counts all the pennies, keeping Darrell and me in line.  Also, there is Suzanne Mitchell, the other producer of Rage who is one of the smartest people that I know.  These three people, Darrell, Shawn and Suzanne are the real reason that Rage even got made.  Also, what most people don’t know about Rage is that there was only a crew of 10 and the real budget was only 47K, and not the amount that is stated on the IMDB website. If you look at the films end credits you’ll find the names of a lot of people that we borough from old school yearbooks.  We also managed to get in a few inside jokes like John Holmes (the infamous, deceased porn legend) is listed as the films “crane operator”.  Making movies is a very hard thing and it usually takes an army to make it happen and considering what we were able to accomplish on Rage, I have nothing be praise for entire cast and crew.

With such a small budget, many of the people involved must have worked for shares or promises or nothing at all. How do you make that happen?

It is a well-known fact that a lot of independent filmmakers get people to work on their films for no pay or very little pay.  I have never liked the idea of having people work for free even thought I have worked on plenty of no-pay indie productions myself when I was younger… now that I think about it I’m still working for free because I didn’t pay myself anything on Rage but I  did  make sure to pay everybody else, at least something.   The entire cast received sag-minimum and all of the crew was paid $100.00 dollars a day each.  On a no-pay indie or on a film like Rage where there is a small amount of pay there is a trade off which goes like this: People who are just trying to get their start in the film business, and are eager to learn, will work for little or nothing in exchange for the opportunity.  They get the experience and the production gets some free or cheap labour. The great Roger Corman was really good at doing this.  Many, many filmmakers including myself worked for free on Corman movies back in the day.  Other than a paycheck the thing that a production must do… I repeat, must do is feed your cast and crew very well.  I made sure that on Rage we ate extremely well.  In the mornings I made sure that everybody had their coffee, bagels, pastries and whatever else they wanted so that they were in good spirits and ready to go.  The same is true for lunch and dinner because filmmaking is hard work with long hours so at least the production should see to it that the cast and crew are well fed.   And finally you must give credit where credit is due, including special thank you credits to everyone involved because without the help of crew members, family and friends most independent films would never get made.

What is, for you, the difference between filming your own screenplay and using a script written by a third party? Will you/would you like to film other people’s scripts or are you purely an auteur?

Well in order for me to answer that question I would have to speculate because I have never worked from someone else’s screenplay. For me there is a process that I go through when writing which is influenced by how I see the film directorially.  My screenplays have a lot of screen direction in them, for example most screenplays might read like this:  The door swings open and John runs into the room, looks around and spots an open window with a fire escape just outside.  He quickly runs over, dashes out the window and down the fire escape. My screenplay would read more like this:  The door to the room swings open and John runs into the room and stops right in front of the CAMERA, HIS FACE IN ANECU (extreme close up).  He frantically looks around. JOHN’S P.O.V. (point of view) as he turns and spots an open window with a fire escape just outside.  The CAMERA PULLS BACK from Johns face as he runs for the window.  The CAMERA CONTINUES BACK until it backs right out the window and BOOMS UPWARD as John exits. The CAMERATILTS DOWN and we see John disappears down the fire escape. These screen/camera directions are like notes because I intend to direct the film myself.  Basically, as I said, my writing is tailored to how I plan on directing.  Also, I don’t believe that a screenplay is gospel, written in stone and is to be followed action for action and word for word.  Many other writers do believe that their screenplays are gospel so another writer might not appreciate my approach to their material.  But having said that I am not opposed to directing someone else’s screenplay if the screenplay blows me away.

Regarding me being an auteur, I really hope that I am because all of my favorite directors are or were auteurs.  Directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick amongst other.  A lot of people think that directors that are auteurs are either very vain or some kind of control freaks but I disagree. When a person has a personal creative vision and they go out and put a project together, write it, get it funded and bring in all the key players necessary to make the film, then that person should be able to do whatever the hell he wants to do.  There is another reason that I wear a lot of hats on my films and it’s because of necessity.  I’ve never had a lot of money to work with so instead of having to beg someone to come on board and perform a job for little or no money I have found it easier to just do it myself.  For instants on Rage I fit the physical build of The Biker, 6’2”, 250lbs and I’ve riding motorcycles my entire life.  Also, I was going to be there everyday and most importantly I worked for free.  It wasn’t too hard doing several things at one time on Rage because when you love doing something as much as I love making films it never feels like work.

You name-checked a number of director’s in your last answer, which directors and what films most influenced you growing up and who is most likely to nowadays?

As a kid growing up in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970’s, I watched movies all day long on television, which I preferred doing to just about anything else.  Also, I spent a lot of time at the drive-in.   My mother use to take me there and we would watch every genre of film, westerns, kung fu, blaxploitation, sic-fi, dramas and tons of horror movies. The films that initially had an effect on me were the Hammer House of Horrors movies and then films from directors like Mario Bava and Sergio Leone.  As I got a little older I started to dig the films of great directors like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Terrence Malick, John Carpenter, Wes Craven…etc.  It was later, during my time in film school, that I really discovered and truly appreciated the genius of directors like Hitchcock, Truffaut, Lynch and Kubrick.  These four directors had the most effect on my development as a director, especially Hitchcock. The films that had the biggest impact on me were “Psycho”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “Breathless” and “Blue Velvet”, but my favorite film of all time isn’t by any of my favorite directors, Orson Welles’ made it and that film is, of course, “Citizen Kane”.  The reason that I do not consider Welles as one of my favorite directors is because he doesn’t have a body of work that knocks me out.  I loved “Touch of Evil” and the “Magnificent Ambersons”  but they pale in comparison to Citizen Kane but so does most every other film ever made.   Today, there are very few directors that inspire me because of the lack of originality and vision.  Of course there are a few current directors that I think are at the top of the class, they are Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Gaspar Noe.

Looking at the list of directors, which of them would you like to meet (living or dead) for a drink or dinner or whatever.

To qualify this question, I have a fascination with John Lennon as an artist but if I was to meet one of the Beatles socially, John wasn’t really a very nice person as far as I can see – exciting and interesting to be with – but for a quiet pint with a nice guy it would be Paul.

This is a very difficult question and one of the best that I have been asked by any interviewer.  Of my top four favorite directors I would have to say that Alfred Hitchcock would be my choice to meet.  He is arguably the best director whoever lived because he did all the things that a master director is suppose to do and did it extremely well.  He had the confidence, a strong work ethic, passion, patience and impatience (and the wisdom to know when to use each), dedication, leadership, creativity, imagination, inventiveness, knowledge of film history and tons of other attributes that made him the very best. Over the years I’ve read and have heard people say that he was not the friendliest person to be around and that he was very cocky and self-absorbed.  I believe that his cockiness or “confidence” is what motivated him to place himself in his own movies in the form of cameos and to do so many interviews over the duration of his life; Like the great boxer Muhammad Ali and the great writers William Shakespeare and Stephen King he walked it like he talked it and could deliver like no one else…“consistently”. Some might call it bragging but it is for that very reason that I chose him.  I would love hear him talk about how he did this or that, why he did this or that.  I would just sit there, pen and pad in hand, and take notes.

And for your next movie I’m granting you an unlimited fantasy budget. If a you have a script ready to go give me a brief rundown of the characters and then the casting. Bu also a cast that you would love to write a script around. Don’ forget a cameo for me.

I have just finished the rewrites on the screenplay for my next project, “The Twilight Hotel”.   This is the project that I originally wanted to make before Rage but do to the huge price tag I had to reconsider.  Now that I have an unlimited “fantasy” budget to make it, sky’s the limit!! The film is a horror anthology, composed of four short stories and a connecting element, in the style of HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt” and George A. Romero’s “Crypt Show”.  The idea for this film came out of a question I’ve asked myself for decades… “What would happen if Alfred Hitchcock had directed episodes of the Twilight Zone?” The film will embody all the trademark qualities; the suspense and mystery of Hitchcock and the surprise twist-endings and supernatural aspects of the Twilight Zone. The history of the Twilight Hotel is one of violence, greed, corruption and death.  The once gorgeous, 13 story, art deco structure, built by super capitalist John Burnside in the early 1920’s, is now a rundown, shabby image of its former self.  It now serves as a magnet for people of dubious character, who once checked in, must deal with their personal baggage and I’m not talking about their suitcases.

The stories have a wide variety of characters in them, everything from an identity thief to mobsters, a demon, zombies, serial killers, and carnivorous, man-eating bed bugs.  The first episode, “Monster”, is a kind of rip on the Little Red Riding Hood story.  It focuses on a 15 year old, little girl, Angel, who is staying at the hotel with her mother. While riding her razor push-scooter thru the hotel hallways she encounters another guest, Roger, a middle age man who isn’t exactly what he appears to be.  Casting: The actors that I most want for these roles are, Chloe Moretz  (who might be a little too old), from the film “Let Me In”, to play the part of Angel and for the part of Roger I’d really like to cast actor / musician Dwight Yoakam.  The second episode is called “Who’s Who” and is about an identity thief who is using the Twilight as a meeting place to sell his stolen merchandise to some underworld figures, Big Joe, E and Henry, Big Joe’s son.  In the middle of the deal they start to suspect the identity thief is in fact some one from their past.  25 years earlier they were screwed over by a partner, during a bank heist, who ratted them out to the cops and kept all the money. This betrayal landed Big Joe and E in prison for several years.  Now it’s payback time and these mobsters are intent on getting the truth, one way or another, even if means unmercifully torture him until he comes clean… but are they wrong? What if it’s all just a case of simple mistaken identity?  Casting:  CollinFarrell as the identity thief, Bob Hoskins as Big Joe, Mark Strong from the film “RocknRolla” as E and Toby Kebbell, also from the film “RocknRolla”, as Henry.  Episode number three, “BedBugs” tells the story of, Zim Getz, a night watchman who has just been fired by a large, corrupt and greedy chemical, corporation for being unfit and overweight.  Feeling wronged, Zim steals a sample of a top secret, illegal product that the company has been selling as a food additive to an unaware public.  He threatens to go to the police and the media unless he is paid a huge sum of money and is given his old job back.  While waiting for his demands to be met Zim holds up in a room at the Twilight where he also, unfortunately, ignores the pleas of the company’s CEO, Mr. Kenneth Murdoch, not to open the canister containing the extremely dangerous substance. Unknown to Zim a single drop from the canister spills onto the bed where two regular house hold type, bed bugs consume the highly concentrated chemical. This sets in action a battle between Zim, who refuses to be a victim, and the bed bugs, that are intent on making a meal out of him.  Casting: Kevin James from “Mall Cop” to play the part of Zim and Saturday Night alumni Darrell Hammond to play CEO, Mr. Murdoch.  The fourth and final episode is “Pushing Up Daisies” and features a beautiful, young lady named Janet.  She is meeting a man, Norman, in person for the very first time who she has been having an online relationship with for the past several months.  Taking it to the next level the pair agrees to rendezvous at the Twilight Hotel, of course.  In her room at the hotel Janet prepares for their meeting, taking a shower, blow drying her hair, walking back and forth to the bathroom but she is unaware of reports on the television of a serial killer who might be linked to internet dating.  When the big moment arrives there is a knock at the door and Janet is shocked to find that her visitor or, more correctly, “visitors” are five daisies clutching, flesh starved zombies who only have one thing on their minds… eating Janet! Casting: Jessica Alba from “Sin City” as Janet and Channing Tatum from “21 Jump Street”.  And finally for the film’s narrator, who is also the Hotel’s manager, I would cast the one and only Mr. Christopher Walken. Oh yeah, how do you feel about playing a zombie Bob? LOL!

Fuckin’  typecasting. I was hoping you might have a transsexual sex-addict on speed to cast. Something that might stretch me a little.

My memory of these portmanteau movies is that they were all , in one way or another, a disappointment and i suspect it may be because of the format. Why do you think you can make a success of it – either artistic or commercial or both?

Well, first of all I do agree with you that these types of films have not been very successful but I do think that the idea of an anthology as a film is, and has always been, a very appealing thing in spite of their failure record. This format or structure has always done better in book form and, unfortunately, even when there is an adaptation of one of these books they always seem to fall flat.  At the end of the day I think that it all boils down to the script.  Most of the past anthologies, story wise, have not been very strong.  There always seems to be one, maybe two very strong stories and the others pretty much suck, so equally strong stories are a must.  Another thing that I think could be a problem with film anthologies is that there is a possible disconnect resulting from shifting from one story to the next.  People have to mentally reset each time to accept new characters, locations and storylines, which can make it very hard for the audience to invest themselves in.  And last but not least is the “wow factor”.  These are all short films and there is only a short period of time to “wow” the audience and keep their interest.  All of these things that I have mentioned are the problems that plagued past anthologies but I truly believe that I can overcome this.

I will be successful, both commercially and artistically, with The Twilight Hotel because I plan on avoiding all of the pitfalls that I have listed above.  The script is very strong, each and every episode.  When it comes to writing I am very patient, and I will not go into production until I am perfectly happy with the screenplay which must meet a certain criteria to be considered complete; which includes interesting storylines, attractive characters, and I don’t mean physically but substantively.  It’s important that they aren’t just caricatures that we’ve seen a million times before.  Also, one of the most important things is there must be a very relatable subtext or theme in each story, whether the audience is aware of it or not.  For instance, the “Monster” episode, subtextually, is about the corruption of innocents and the “Who’s Who?” episode is about guilt, innocent and justice.  The “Bed Bugs” episode is about greed, the greed of the Zim character, both physically and morally, also, the greed of the corporation and even the bedbugs who’s ravenous desire to eat Zim has no limits.  And the last episode, “Pushing Up Daisies” is about revenge and the cyclical and senseless natureof revenge.   Structurally, the film is more like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” than the traditional anthology.  All of the stories take place at the hotel on the thirteenth floor so there is no change of location from episode to episode and even though each episode is a complete story onto itself they are linked in very interesting ways, which I can’t say anything about because I don’t want to give too much away. Finally there is the “wow factor” which has to do with the visuals of the film…the production design, cinematography, the effects…etc, and they are gonna be amazing, and that’s a promise!

Do you write your stories as film scripts right from the word go and how much planning goes into a script?

When I write a script, my process is to first do a lot of thinking.  In fact most of my scripts evolve from ideas that I may have been developing or “thinking” about for over a period of several years.   These “ideas” might be a “scene description”, a “subject / topic” or just a “potential film title” on an index card.  Every now and then a new story-element, for one of those index cards, will come to me and I will store it in my mental rolodex.  I have index cards that are several years old, some for even a decade or more, and all it takes is just seeing one of those cards and every story-element related to that card will come rushing back to me.  The Twilight Hotel script started out as one of those decade old index cards.

When I decide on the project I want to write next I, then, use a combination of a big, blank apartment wall and a couple of index pin up boards.  I pin all of these index cards up, move them around, add to and take away any ideas that don’t work.  I do this until I have a structure worked out… a first, second and third act.  This whole “index card” process takes about a month or two… or three.  At that point I move on to writing a first draft, including more in-depth scene descriptions and character action and dialogue.  After the first draft is finished I move on to a second draft, third draft or however many drafts it takes to get the script right.  The actual time I put in on writing The Twilight Hotel, including the index card process, was approximately2 years.

Do you do your own storyboarding/do you work with an artist who draws it for you?

Actually, what I do is draw some very crude sketches and then I sit down with a “real” artist who then does fantastic storyboards and illustrations.

Have you ever considered adapting a comic – very popular at the moment – and with instant storyboard?

I agree that a comic adaptation is a great idea. This is something that my partners, Darrell and Shawn Smith, and I have been thinking about for some time now. If I found a comic that I was excited about and could get the rights to, and the financial backing to make it, then I would be extremely up for it.  Also, I’m looking to produce a graphic novel for The Twilight Hotel.  I’ve been a big fan of graphic novels, which are basically comic books, since I got my first ones back in 1986, “Batman: The Dark Knight” and “Watchmen”.

A good soundtrack is particularly to the feel of a movie. With the right finance would you prefer to use an original score or ‘popular’ music on a soundtrack?

I like popular music and there are some classic films, like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Top Gun”, that have used pop music to make up their soundtracks, but for me, I just love an original score more than anything else!

What are the great cinematic scores?

Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Friday the 13th, Jaws, Rocky, The Sting, Halloween, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Chariots of Fire, E.T., Psycho.  These are only a few of the films that I can think of that have amazing music scores.  The thing that all of them have in common is that they are very unique and sound unlike all other scores.

Are there any forthcoming movies you are really looking forward to?

I’m not a big fan of the industry, as it exists today.  Well let me be a little more specific… I’m not a big fan of what Hollywood is producing.  I use to think, that starting in the late 90’s, Hollywood had become too formulaic with no originality.  Today to say that would be a BIG understatement.  It really sucks when you already know the ending of a movie even before the opening credits finishing running.  I think that it’s time for a major shake-up in Hollywood.  The same way there was when the studio system gave way to the original independents and film school students in the 1970’s.  As far as films that I am looking forward to seeing this coming summer there are a few.  I’d like to see the new Bond film “Sky Fall”; I’m a big James Bond fan and think that the recent instalments are pretty damn good.  Also, the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” and the reboot of “Total Recall” looks very interesting but even these films that I listed speak to my initial point of Hollywood not being very original.  These films are either continuations of a series or a remake.

Speaking of remakes – I did a blog a while back on Movies that should never be remade – is there a film that you would like to remake? And give me a top five worst remakes while you’re at it.

I’m not a big fan of remakes and to be honest, as I sit here, I can’t think of a single, successful remake but if I were going to do a remake it would be “Citizen Kane”… Just kidding!  Okay, seriously, I would remake the sci-fi classic “Westworld”.   The reason I picked that film is because it has such a cool concept and I could add some fresh story ideas that wouldn’t change the overall film too much.  The original was made back in 1973, so, with today’s amazing technology all kinds of very cool visual effects could be done.    And for my top five worst remakes would be:“Psycho”, “Nightmare On Elm Street”, “Arthur”, “The Bad News Bears” and “Rollerball”.

And while we’re on the subject of top fives – do you have a list of favourite movies?

Yes I most certainly do… “Citizen Kane”, “2001 A Space Odyssey”, “A Clockwork Orange” ,“Psycho”, “Rear Window”, “The Exorcist”, “The Godfather”, “Alien”, Halloween, “I Am Cuba”, “Dr. Strange Love”, these are only a few.

I can see an argument for all of these except I am Cuba which I have never heard of. Can you enlighten me?

“I Am Cuba” was made in 1964 as a co-venture between Cuba and Soviet Union filmmakers.  When it was initially released it was not well received and was almost completely forgotten until it was re-discovered some thirty years later.  I first saw parts of this movie when I was in film school many years ago and didn’t get to see the entire film until Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola re-introduced the film to America in 2005.  The film is considered by many to be Communist propaganda but politics aside, from a cinematic point of view; the film is nothing less than “revolutionary!”  It is composed of four short stories that focus on pre-revolution Cube and specifically the lives of a female dancer, politically activist, college students and a pair of farmers.  Each of these stories shows how foreign Capitalistic intrusions and rampant corruption has relegated the Cuba citizenry to a life of exploitation and poverty.

It was masterfully directed by Russian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov and filmed predominately with wide-angle lens and photographed in beautiful black and white by director of photography Sergey Urusevsky.  Even though it is a fictional narrative it has very little dialogue an often times feels more like a documentary.  It has a dream like quality to it that had an immediate visceral effect on me.  For the longest time I have wanted to incorporate some of the visually aspects of it into my work and I plan on doing so in my next film, The Twilight Hotel. I highly recommend this movie to all filmmakers and fans of movies.  I also recommend a great documentary about the making of I Am Cuba called Soy Cuba: O Mamute Siberiano a.k.a. I Am Cuba: the Siberian Mammoth directed by a Brazilian filmmaker, Vicente Ferraz. The doc features interviews with many of the people responsible for the film and also explains some of the amazing camera work and other technical achievements of the film.

If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film director etc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single piece of existing ‘art’ by someone else.

If I were to be an artist, in a field other than my own, and had only one piece of art that was a hit, I’d have to choose a song, a song by an artist who was anything but a one hit wonder.  The song I’m talking about is “Imagine” by John Lennon.  To me it is more than just a great song.  It transcends music and has not even reached its fullest popularity.  I think that the world is going to have to catch up with it.  The ideas that it promotes, I believe are possible and, will one day happen, maybe not in my life time, but they will happen… “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…I am a believer!”

How could we end without a look at the trailer for Rage. And if it is anything to judge by this is one hell of a film.

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About Bob Neilson

Bob Neilson lives in Dublin with his wife, two daughters, son, two dogs, one cat and a growing feeling of claustrophobia. In partnership with his wife he runs a successful retail business in Dublin city. His short fiction has appeared extensively in professional and small press markets and he has had two plays performed on RTE and one on Anna Livia FM. He also presented a radio show on Anna Livia for a year. He has had two short story collections published, Without Honour (1997, Aeon Press) and That’s Entertainment (2007, Elastic Press) as well as several comics and a graphic novel. His non-fiction book on the properties of crystals is a best-seller in the UK and Ireland.
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2 Responses to Indie film director Christopher Witherspoon interviewed – do not read this if you are of a sensitive nature!

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