LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Exclusive Interview With Beware The Moon Director Paul Davis
By James Whittington, Sunday 18th October 2009
Paul Davis wowed the FrightFest 2009 crowd with his amazing documentary Beware The Moon: Remembering an American Werewolf In London. Everyone can now enjoy this sensational retrospective piece (which is actually longer than the movie itself!) if they invest in the Blu-ray edition of An American Werewolf In London where it takes pride of place as an unmissibale extra. The piece is so good that we decided to track Paul down on local moors and take him to a secluded pub and find out why he made a documentary on this John Landis classic.
Horror Channel: Was there one horror movie in particular that you saw as a youngster that got you “into” the horror genre?
Paul Davis: Funnily enough, the first horror movie I ever saw was An American Werewolf In London. I was a huge Michael Jackson fan growing up and when Thriller and the 'making-of' came out on video in 1984 my parents bought it for me on Beta Max. I used to watch it over and over and of course there's a little bit in there in which Michael discusses how AWIL inspired him to hire John Landis to direct his now legendary music video. It was probably only a few months later I actually saw AWIL - my parents taped the British television premier on BBC1, and I fell in love with the film. I think what was significant to me was that through the making-of Thriller I grasped immediately that movies were stories. People made these things. And with that lodged in my brain at the tender age of three, I was able to go on to watch ANYTHING! I was one of those kids who would go in to a video shop with his dad and pick out the bloodiest, goriest cover on the shelf. I even went as far as obtaining a copy of The Exorcist (which of course was banned at the time) when I was eight or nine-years-old. I loved horror movies then and I still do.
Horror Channel: How did you get into horror journalism?
Paul Davis: When I was around 16-17 I was adamant that I was going to be an actor. Back then I could have sworn by it. I then saw a documentary produced by the BBC, written and hosted by Mark Kermode called Fear Of God - 25 Years Of The Exorcist and it made me fall in love with that movie on a whole new level. I opened up the ability to view filmmaking as a craft as well as a form of entertainment. From there I studied Media, English, Psychology and Politics at college and then went on to study a BA Honours degree in Cinema History at the University of East London. It was then that I started to write about movies and get work published on various online publications and eventually would grace the pages of Bizarre magazine and become a staff writer at US horrorzine HorrorHound. Working at HH gave me a lot of opportunities to write about stuff that I loved - I was mainly their 'retrospective' and 'Hall Of Fame' guy. Some of the articles I'm most proud of include a retro on the Video Nasties panic, The Making of Thriller, the missing Lon Chaney movie London After Midnight and I got to lay my 'Exorcist' demons to rest by writing a huge twelve page retro piece on that. I look back on the ten-years I spent writing with great fondness as I got to network and hang out with some of the coolest people in the industry. We're very fortunate as horror fans that we have a lot of opportunities to meet our heroes - and nine times out of ten they're NOT d*cks!
Horror Channel: OK, predictably the most obvious question (and one you’ll be asked probably a thousand times) to ask you is “Why make a documentary about AWIL?”
Paul Davis: An American Werewolf In London was one of my retrospective articles for HorrorHound in late 2006 - I think for the 25th anniversary of the film, and while writing that I thought back to seeing that BBC documentary on The Exorcist and remembering how I'd love to one day do the same thing for a movie I loved. Immediately a light bulb went off in my head and I knew there and then that it had to be AWIL. All the locations are practically on my doorstep, 70% of the cast and crew are here, what's to stop me? - Notice how naive I was? Universal owning the movie could have stopped me. In any case, I was determined to do it and I set up a production company (Kesslerboy Productions Ltd.) with my partner at the time (Romy Alford) and she came on board to produce with me and get the ball rolling. We had both met a young filmmaker called Anthony Bueno at a convention in Manchester a month previous. He had made a short film and showed interest in documentary filmmaking as well as AWIL - and he and his sister Claire had their own camera equipment, lights and editing software. Perfect! That said, we were underway.
Horror Channel: This movie is one of the most revered in the horror genre, surely everything that has to be said about it has been, so what new gems of information did you uncover?
Paul Davis: One of my favourite comments we got in a review recently was along the lines of it being very difficult to learn new things about a thirty-year-old film, but some how we achieved that. Only reason I can see for that is the very reason we set out to make the documentary in the first place - no one has ever delved that deep in to the movie! Everything that's preceded tends to focus on the origin of the story and Rick Baker's award winning effects. What about the actors? The behind the scenes stories? The great Piccadilly Circus stunt sequence? All of that was practically untouched. There are two stories in the documentary that floored me at the time and still do - both told by John Landis, one involving a particularly bad review and a response by the late, great John Belushi and the other involving a communication problem between Landis and his British crew. I won't spoil them though, you need to hear Landis tell them.
Horror Channel: How did you go about financing the project and what was Justin Lee Collins’ involvement in the project?
Paul Davis: You have to realise that we had ZERO budget on this thing. No money whatsoever. I applied for a credit card and the rest of the money came from our day jobs. Once we got paid we could go and shoot something. If we didn't get paid, we couldn't shoot. Simple as that. I think in total it cost us just over £7,000. Most of that was spent on flights to the US.
Justin's involvement was very, very late in the project. While we were making the main documentary I had the idea of doing a 45min version that we could sell to television. The main difference other than the running time would be the addition of interviews with notable British celebrities who love the movie. By the time Universal got involved in June 08 they rushed us out to LA to finish the 98min version and thus the TV cut was abandoned at just two interviews, Edgar Wright and Justin Lee Collins. It's a shame because both interviews are VERY entertaining. You can see Edgar's interview on my website (http://www.officialpauldavis.co.uk/?page_id=7) and I'm pretty sure I'll put up Justin's very soon. He really is a top guy. Have a lot of time for him.
Horror Channel: John Landis seems to be fully behind the project, was he on board from the start?
Paul Davis: John was cagey at first, and why wouldn't he be? A crazy fan from Britain emails him to tell him he's making a documentary about his movie... "Huh? Excuse me?" He was very flattered when I got in touch but was confused as to why we wanted to do it and more importantly what we expected to do with it. Universal own An American Werewolf In London so we couldn't sell it. He didn't discourage us and put me in touch with the right person at Universal, stating that once they were on board, he'd get on board. With that I emailed the head of DVD extras at Home Entertainment and they turned us down flat. I was told they had no interest in reissuing AWIL. At first I felt we were totally screwed as we had already started filming people at this point, but I knew as well as anyone that once The Wolf Man remake comes around, Universal would double dip on all of their 'werewolf' related catalogue titles. I then called the licensing department at Universal myself, told them what we were doing and they basically said that we wouldn't be able to release this thing independently as it would be a conflict of interest - but then said that she would go and talk to Home Entertainment for me and try to work a deal. I didn't expect to hear anything back but low and behold she mailed me thirty-minutes later with an address for us to send the finished piece to. Result! With that in writing I was able to forward it to Landis who then said that he was going to be in London very soon and wanted to meet us. We met John at his hotel in London, he was over for a Sci-Fi festival, and showed him a five-minute reel that we cut together for him. His reaction was mind blowing! He was thrilled by it. From that moment on he was cemented to the project and has literally ushered it to the finish line. He's been wonderful to work with and be around and I can't thank him enough for everything he's done for us.
Horror Channel: He seems a very energetic person, a bit of a dynamo, is he like this all the time?
Paul Davis: All the time. I can't keep up with him. He has so much energy - and it's contagious too. After an hour with John I find I'm a lot more animated then I usually am because his excitability really rubs off on you. If you watch any of the interviews I did at Frightfest I'm loud and almost bouncing. That's John's influence. He's really one of a kind and I feel really blessed to know him, let alone have the chance to work with him.
Horror Channel: Who were the actors or crew who you couldn’t track down or declined invitation to be interviewed?
Paul Davis: We were very lucky actually that all but five (I think) that we approached actually went on to appear in the documentary. Those that didn't include Frank Oz (Mr. Collins), Rik Mayall and Paul Kember (Sgt. McManus). We were given Frank's direct email by Landis but didn't hear back from him at all. Mayall actually graciously declined stating that he couldn't remember a thing about it and an unfortunate mishap in which we misguessed the gender of his agent (we asked for a Mister, turns out his agent was a Miss) didn't get us very far with Paul Kember. There were a couple of people that agreed to be interviewed but for reasons beyond our control didn't get round to filming (Albert Moses - Hospital Porter, Rufus Deakin - Little Boy With Balloons and Ivan Sharrock - Sound Recordist).
Horror Channel: The documentary lasts 2 minutes longer than the actual movie itself but is there a longer cut of your piece?
Paul Davis: The first cut actually was only about six or seven-minutes longer. The main thing that we dropped was a section in between the discussion of the first stage Jack Make-up and the second stage make-up that talked about the performance of both Naughton and Dunne in that first hospital visit scene and then the relationship between David and Alex. I snipped both because it made more sense to me to have Baker just talk about both of Jack's make-ups in one hit. The sections we dropped were nice but irrelevant. Other than that it was mainly just little snips to make it tighter and flow better.
Horror Channel: It was given its premiere at FrightFest 2009 to a packed auditorium and you were obviously nervous. Did you expect such a positive reaction to it as the crowd really did enjoy it?
Paul Davis: It was phenomenal. We were not expecting anything like that. I remember having conversations with Paul McEvoy weeks prior to the event, worried that no one was going to turn up and he kept saying that it was going to be fine and it would be packed out - he was right! The response during the movie was amazing. Hearing everyone cheer when the Universal logo appeared at the beginning was a trip! The eruption of applause at the end... man oh man. I could've died happy right there. The response from the fans afterward, again, was so humbling and unexpected. We felt so lucky to be part of Frightfest, let alone people actually liking this thing. It was one of the greatest experiences I've had in my life so far.
Horror Channel: What did you think of FrightFest itself?
Paul Davis: It's like a giant party! It was wonderful being around such like minded people. People who live and breathe horror films. It's nice every now and then to have a conversation with someone about H.P. Lovecraft and not have to explain who he is and what he did. My favourite aspect of Frightfest was the social interaction you get with other fans and filmmakers, and that to me is very unique and is the reason I'll be coming back next year - hopefully with something new to show you all.
Horror Channel: Surely this project must have given you a taste for doing more of the same, if so what movies would you like to cover?
Paul Davis: Hahaha, nope! I was very close to jumping on another documentary project in LA earlier in the year but that kind of got messy and I dropped out. I don't know, I feel I've done my definitive documentary. I don't think I could give my all to another movie like I did with AWIL. Having said that, I am going to be doing an EPK for an upcoming movie, but I can't say which at this point. I'm doing it because I have added incentive.
Horror Channel: The option is available for a remake of the movie; would you be tempted to pitch a script to bring your own vision to the big screen?
Paul Davis: I'd certainly have a crack at it sure. I thought about this before, how could you write An American Werewolf In London better? I don't think you could. It hasn't aged at all in my mind so it's still absurd to me that it's being remade. I wonder if they'll carry on the 'every song must have moon in the title' trend - if that's the case then do we really want Dancing In The Moonlight by Toploader or Can't Fight The Moonlight by Leann Rimes in there?
Horror Channel: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
Paul Davis: I'm currently developing a screenplay for my next project - that I'm hoping I'll get to direct. There is interest in the piece already so fingers crossed on that one. In addition I'm going to be making my big screen debut next year playing a Werewolf - so you know, you only have to do one piece on said subject matter in order to get type cast ;) I would say more but I don't want to get turfed out before I even get to howl at the moon!
Horror Channel: Paul Davis, thank you very much.
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