LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview with Jackson Stewart, director of Beyond The Gates
By James Whittington, Wednesday 22nd January 2020
Jack Stewart's sublime retro horror Beyond the Gates was recently shown on Horror. Jackson is one of the strongest creatives around at the moment but he took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about this contemporary classic and his future movie plans.
HC: Was there one film that you saw growing up which gave you the idea that you wanted to work in the film industry?
JS: There were definitely a number of them; I think the ones that stick out strongest in my memory were Temple Of Doom, Batman '89, Nightmare On Elm Street 4, Raising Arizona, Back To The Future, Marnie, Army Of Darkness, The Frighteners and Dirty Harry. All of them had a big emotional impact on me. Dirty Harry and Nightmare On Elm Street 4 (as odd as that sounds) were the first ones that really made me feel the point of view of the directors behind them. In Dirty Harry, there is a scene where Harry chases the Scorpio Killer from pay phone to pay phone until he ends up at a church. Scorpio confesses he's double crossing him and is going to let the hostage die. The way the scene is shot is in punishing close-ups, the towering, ominous neon cross looming over Harry and a sudden shock of explosive violence. It really disturbed me and gave an unsettling look into the duplicitous evil that mankind can be capable of.
HC: Where did the idea for Beyond the Gates come from?
JS: Steve Scarlata (my co-writer) and I were involved in an anthology project that we both ultimately withdrew from. We met for coffee at Susina across the street from the New Beverly and discussed our various movie ideas. Steve mentioned that he always wanted to do a movie about brothers who find a haunted VCR board game in their Dad's video store. I loved the idea and I insisted we immediately start on an outline. A lot of my own life experiences and the inevitable death of my own Father was injected into the story - but it was really kind of a nice blend of both our sensibilities. Steve's a great guy and I thank God every day that I met him. I really appreciate him as a friend and a creative force.
HC: Did it take long to write, and did it change much as you went along?
JS: We worked on the script constantly. I was completely obsessed with it, but all told, the money came together extremely fast and we were writing basically up until shooting with a day or two of pick-ups after the initial edit.
HC: Was it written with a cast in mind?
JS: The roles of Gordon, John, Margot and Elric were written specifically for Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant and Jesse Merlin. Jesse is one of my absolute favorite performers, totally hilarious and an utter genius. I think he's one of the funniest people I have ever met and he just brings such vivid life and dimensionality to his roles. I can't sing his praises enough. If I remember correctly, Chase was the first one to come aboard and then I think Graham and Brea followed suite shortly after. Chase is also dream to work with and so effortlessly funny.
HC: Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson have a natural chemistry, did they rehearse much?
JS: We did a table read, I spoke with both of them about the tone and their back stories to their characters. I believe they knew one another already before shooting started and Graham officiated some sort of meeting with Chase - I picked them because they fit the roles well and I knew they'd be great together. Weirdly, I can't think of anyone else playing those roles now - it just feels totally suited to each of them.
HC: What's it like working alongside a legend such as Barbara Crampton?
JS: She's a dream. Once she knows the direction you want, she is absolutely perfect. I had worked with her for a day on another short and just adored her. She's been a very good friend to me and like the others, I can't imagine anyone else playing her role.
HC: The film looks amazing, which sequence was the hardest to shoot?
JS: Thank you! Very kind. Oh, it's hard to say, the fight scene at the end was extremely complicated and so much ended up getting cut out to quicken the pace of it. The blocking had a lot of different moving parts from each of the actors and it is the largest scene with the biggest cast. We did have some surprisingly difficult bits to get like Graham pulling up in his car outside the house - the street was super busy and we kept having to stop cars and keep them there long enough to get Graham up to the door. It's an easy shot but the elements around it were a pain.
HC: Can you recall the first movie you ever rented from a rental store?
JS: I so wish I could - I think it might have been Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Possibly the Richard Donner Superman movie or the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man TV movie. I would have been 4 at the time.
HC: Why is it, do you think, that people have such affection for films from the 1980s?
JS: I think there's a cyclical aspect to all of this stuff although weirdly the 1980s seems to have lasted the longest. I remember in the late 90s, the 1970s were suddenly very IN and there was a huge retro resurgence. There's a warmth and sincerity to a lot of 1980s movies that many films nowadays don't carry. I suspect it's people's desire to drift back into a somewhat less cynical time that was full of wonder and genuine love for other characters. It's been very cool to see a movie like IT become a box-office juggernaut.
HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?
JS: I'm currently attached to do a remake of Cherry 2000 with Ed Pressman (American Psycho, The Crow) producing, a movie with Giles Daoust about sleep deprivation and I'm working on a very dark comedy thriller about a toxic relationship that I can't talk about quite yet.
HC: Jackson Stewart, thank you very much.
JS: My pleasure. It's an honour to have Beyond The Gates on your excellent channel. Give my best to Emmy Booth!
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(Photo credit Dawson James Photography)
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