INTERVIEWS

LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS

Interview with John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies the co-directors of Unearth
By James Whittington, Wednesday 7th October 2020
UNEARTHGrimmfest gets underway today and as usual has a superb collection of genre movies for all to enjoy and this time, due to global circumstances is online.

One movie that stands out is the very original, Unearth which is a deep and effective movie with a message for us all. Here it's directors John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies talk about this powerful piece.

HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work in the film industry?

JCL: Growing up in 80's America, I have the typical story of entertaining myself and my family with a variety of audio and video recorders. My first love though was drawing. I was really into Detective Comics, but besides drawing Batman characters, I liked to create original stories which I tried to get our neighbors to pay subscription fees for. A creative entrepreneur even then. In grade school, that creativity grew into short movies I would make with my friends. At the time I didn't like writing, so it was a way around writing book reports, but ultimately making a film was a lot more work. We didn't even realize it at the time. It was just a lot of fun.

DS: Poland at that time was behind the iron curtain with very filtered cultural entertainment. The film industry was limited and not female friendly. When I turned 6, I went to study classical music. It was a very strict and isolated environment requiring constant practice. When I was finally done with that chapter, I got accepted into art school. There I got into photography.

HC: Where did the concept for Unearth come from?

JCL: I was horrified and inspired by a pair of documentaries that were produced in the U.S. a decade ago: GasLand and Triple Divide. These docs told the story of the effects of the natural gas industry on the environment and citizens in rural communities. A story that was otherwise absent from the leadership and media of our country and the state of Pennsylvania, where we filmed Unearth. Instead we were always told about the job creation and that's where the story always ended. The health of those living and working in these industrial boom towns and the contamination to water, air and land were all glossed over in the name of jobs. With fracking, we saw an opportunity to use the horror genre in a fear of the unknown story, because we don't have cameras underground, we don't know what surprises all this drilling may turn up. And then growing up on farms myself, and knowing the life of stewardship and struggle, and how unappreciated that important work is, wanting to shine a light on these important people and give them a voice.

DS: I wanted to create a one-location theatre play-like drama with a small cast. Where I could focus on the performances, dialogue and visual qualities. Unearth shows an isolated community with a few conflicted members, so I thought it could work.

HC: It's a timely, serious movie which covers issues such as mental health as well as the importance of conservation with a slice of horror. What was your writing process as you wrote it with Kelsey Goldberg?

JCL: For the first couple years, I was developing the script on my own. Receiving feedback from a trusted group of readers. My first readers were horror hounds. I started with wanting to impress them with those elements. When they were that gave me the confidence to make the impact of those moments truly land in meaningful ways. Then when cast members Allison McAtee and Marc Blucas came on board they really invested themselves in the project and provided addition feedback and ideas. With so many complex women in the story we wanted to make sure I was getting the voices and characters right, so for the year leading up to production, Kelsey Goldberg was brought in and we would take turns doing a full pass on the script.

DS: I stayed away from the script until the final versions. Where I then reviewed and refined it further.

Unearth poster for Web

JCL: Working class people have long been living paycheck to paycheck, job to job for decades. And doing so in isolation, where life mainly revolves 24-7 around the work, can be taxing on the body and the mind. We wanted to create an environment for these characters where even if the viewer isn't a farmer in a small town, I think especially during COVID-19, they can empathize with those facing these issues every day. The real-life horrors of these issues feed into the story's genre elements.

HC: The movie takes its time, lets you invest your feelings in the characters, was that hard to achieve?

JCL: I believe we were able to attract this level of talent specifically because of the slow burn, character-driven approach to the story. Everything came back to character, theme and building dread for us. Some films set out to be roller coaster rides of pure entertainment. Some do that really well and you want to take that ride again. Others can be a quick, forgettable sugar rush experience. But we wanted Unearth to be different.

DS: From the beginning, I saw it as a slow, reflective drama. The film is about coming to the surface. With our feelings, needs or fears. The camera movements were planned in a raw, intimate style. Early scenes were relatively steady, but as the story progresses, the experience becomes more shaky, sometimes with a hint of a psychedelic, surreal vibe.

JCL: From our crew heads to the cast, we had conversations before production so everyone was on the same page that we wanted these characters to feel like real life and the horror was motivated and as grounded as possible, so hopefully the viewer takes something more with them than just some great, inventive death scenes. That may require a more patient and deeper-thinking viewer, but it is a risk we felt necessary to take, especially at such an important crossroads where the planet is literally burning and flooding all around us. Thankfully "Horror" is a broad term, with room for a variety of approaches, and open-minded fans used to stories that break the mold.

HC: What's it like co-directing a movie?

DS: It can be very convenient for playing to each director's strengths. So with a peace of mind, John focused on logistics and performance, and I on the camera and visuals.

HC: The strong cast boasts iconic actress like Adrienne Barbeau, what was she like to direct?

JCL: Having Adrienne agree to do the film was a major development for Unearth. Her stamp of approval on the script meant a lot to us. She was thoroughly involved the moment she joined. Emails and phone calls with character background questions. On set with ideas and line suggestions. She really wants to create with you and make sure the character rings true to her performance. It was a creative partnership that was both fun behind the scenes and rewarding on camera. With an ensemble cast of talent like this you find the different ways each actor likes to work, and Adrienne is one that comes prepared and ready to fine-tune on set, without the ego that may come from some in the industry with her status, and we loved that.

DS: It was an effortless experience. I admire her energy and enthusiasm, especially when we had to film in such harsh conditions and odd, late-night hours.

HC: The superb effects are initially subtle but become ever more bloody, were they all done on set?

JCL: The mad scientists at TolinFX really did a masterful job of achieving the overall goal we set out for Unearth to ground everything as much as possible in reality. I had purchased the BBC's original David Attenborough version of Planet Earth while I was writing the script and I was fascinated by a particular scene involving ants and fungi that was the basis for one important aspect of the film. While we had seen the fracking process portrayed in animated form in a number of videos, no one had created a real, organic representation of this loud, violent and destructive process. These, and other scenes which I won't spoil here, really required SFX artists at the top tier and Steve Tolin and his team built everything and our DP, Eun-ah Lee, captured everything beautifully in camera.

HC: What are your personal feelings on fracking and its impact on the environment?

JCL: Coal, crude oil, natural gas. For over a century we have been reliant on fossil fuels to live our lives. They've heated and lit our homes, cooked our food, propelled our cars and made a few people wealthy. It is this last part that has been holding society back from evolving past these old, dirty, harmful energy sources from the 1800's. We've all known the alternatives for decades. We are all complicit in this slow transition and in the consequences we face now in this climate emergency. We've been spoiled and lazy and need to put the pressure on by forcing change through our dollars and our voices. We need to vote those out of power who live in a world disconnected from reality. We're well past the point of evolution on this.

DS: It doesn't have to be just about fracking but how, in general, we take the goods of nature for granted. Greed and ignorance has already destroyed our water supplies with chemicals, biological or radiological waste. Besides pollution and damage to drinking water resources, there are several disturbing drawbacks coming from living near an operational gas well. The film provokes and educates, because it shows that few profit from such ventures.

HC: Will you be nervous when the movie gets is shown at Grimmfest?

JCL: Of course we would love to be in-person with everyone in Manchester for the UK premiere of Unearth but Simeon, Katie and everyone at Grimmfest have went above and beyond to make the experience the best it can possibly be, under the circumstances. The Q&A's are nice mini-reunions so we're excited each time we have an opportunity to see everyone again. We really miss the cast and crew. Adrienne is expected to be on a Horror Icons panel discussion as well that we're looking forward to watching. The film is out of our hands now so the nerves are mostly in hoping it finds its audience.

HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?

JCL: I've been working on a sort of sequel to Unearth that would transition the story from the farms to the city. We are reading several others and also developing one with Mike Berlin that's a biting social commentary and an Altman-esque vibe.

DS: I'm finishing the Unearth website to get this film out to as many people as possible. We have signed with international sales agents, Reel Suspects, which is an exciting part of the process too.

HC: John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies thank you very much.


MORE INTERVIEWS
Interview with Michael Mayer and Guy Ayal from the acclaimed movie Happy Times
Posted on Saturday 16th October 2021
thumbnail_HT_set_Marie Alyse Rodriguez

Happy Times, which is showing at Grimmfest Online, is a movie that takes the home invasion genre and turns it inside out! Directed by Michael Mayer and co-written with composer Guy Ayal, the movie is a bombastic, bloody and hilarious piece of cinema. I chatted to them both about this dinner party from hell.

HC: Where did the idea for Happy Times come from?

MM: The idea for the movie started forming when I was invited to a Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year's) dinner in Los Angeles. It was the first year of Trump's presidency and wherever you went all people wanted to talk about was politics. One thing to know about the Israeli expat com...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with D.M. Cunningham, writer and director of The Spore
Posted on Saturday 16th October 2021
DMC_SetPic copy

If you like your horror with a huge lashing of gruesome effects and a strong story then The Spore is for. Showing at Grimmfest Online, the movie from D.M. Cunningham is a smart take on the body horror genre. Here he chats about this movie which is guaranteed to get under your skin.

HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a director?

DM: I started out wanting to be a makeup effects artist. After seeing Night of the Living Dead and discovering Fangoria magazine I was hooked. Tom Savini was a huge influence on my trajectory toward becoming a filmmaker. It wasn't until later that I discovered that you could boss the monsters around on set being the director. That's...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Ben Charles Edwards, co-writer and director of Father of Flies
Posted on Saturday 16th October 2021
Father of Flies director

A vulnerable young boy finds his mother pushed out of the family home by a strange new woman in Father of Flies, and he must confront the terrifying supernatural forces that seem to move in with her. This intense and chilling movie is showing at Grimmfest Online Edition so we chatted to director and co-writer Ben Charles Edwards about this movie.

HC: Where did the idea for Father of Flies come from?

BE: It came from my childhood experiences. When my good friend and journalist Dominic Wells was talking to me about my next project, he told me to draw on real life experiences. So, I did. My own experiences were neither as heightened nor as traumatic as they may...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Marcel Sarmiento co-writer and director of Faceless
Posted on Friday 15th October 2021
Faceless Director

Showing at Grimmfest Online Edition is the incredibly inventive horror/sci-fi hybrid Faceless. Here, co-writer and director Marcel Sarmiento speaks about this superb movie.

HC: Have you always been a big horror movie fan?

MS: Definitely as a kid. My first movies made with my Betamax were all about scaring one other and how gross we could push makeup effects. We mostly strangled, stabbed, and threw each other off buildings. I think as I got older, I appreciated what you could do with horror more than horror for horror's sake. I love that you can make characters do things that in any other genre you couldn't make them do and still come out the other end liking them and routi...

SHARE: READ MORE
Tom Paton, director of G-LOC chats about his passion for survival stories and being compared to Roger Corman
Posted on Tuesday 14th September 2021
Tom Paton on the set of G-Loc-3-1

Ahead of the Horror Channel premiere of his sci-fi action thriller G-LOC, director Tom Paton reflects on why making movies is like solving a puzzle, his passion for survival stories and being compared to Roger Corman.

Horror Channel will be broadcasting the UK TV premiere of your Sci-fi adventure G-LOC. Excited or what?

It's honesty so strange to me every time Horror Channel debuts one of my movies. The channel has been such a big part of my life growing up and informing my taste in films, that it's always a "pinch myself moment" when I see something that I've made appear on their TV listing. G-LOC is much more of a SCI-FI adventure than any ...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Alexis Kendra, the writer and producer of The Cleaning Lady
Posted on Tuesday 15th June 2021
Alexis Kendra-4

Ahead of Horror Channel's premiere of The Cleaning Lady on June 26, the film's star, writer and producer Alexis Kendra talks about playing a 'Goddess', coping with lockdown and why she can't watch horror films on her own.

HC: The Cleaning Lady is having its channel premiere on Horror Channel. Excited?

AK: I love you guys. Always have, always will. I'm honoured.

HC: It's a very disturbing film, dealing with abuse, addiction and hidden rage, yet the characters are sympathetic and have real depth. It's horror with a twisted heart. As a co-writer, alongside your director Jon Knautz, what were the main challenges in getting the balance right between acting and writing? <...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Jen and Sylvia Soska, directors of Rabid
Posted on Tuesday 1st June 2021
Soska sisiters-WEB-1

Ahead of Horror Channel's premiere of Rabid on June 12, Jen and Sylvia Soska reflect on the challenges of re-imagining Cronenberg's body horror classic, meeting the great man and their new monster movie, Bob.

HC: Rabid is having its channel premiere on Horror Channel. Excited?

SS: The Horror Channel has supported us and our work since the beginning, so it's a special treat to have the newest film premiere there!

Js: We are so excited. Having Rabid on Horror Channel feels like coming home. They've been very kind to us. We are happy to have so many of our films on there.

HC: We all, of course, remember that Rabid was one of David Cronenberg's earli...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Mickey Fisher, creator of sci-fi series Extant
Posted on Thursday 6th May 2021
Mickey Fisher 1

Horror Channel will be continuing its commitment to bringing cult and classic sci-fi to its audience with Seasons 1 and 2 of the CBS Studios/Amblin Television production of Extant, starring Halle Berry as astronaut Molly Woods, who returns home to her family, inexplicably pregnant after 13 months in outer space on a solo mission.

The series begins on Horror May 11th so, we decided to chat to its creator, Mickey Fisher about how the series came to be produced and what it was like working with Hollywood royalty.

HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a writer?

MF: From the time I was maybe five or six years old I wanted to be an actor. Going to see Star...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Gary J. Tunnicliffe, writer and director of Hellraiser: Judgement
Posted on Saturday 20th February 2021
Gary J. Tunnicliffe doing SFX make-up on the set of Hellraiser Judgement

Director and long-time Hellraiser franchise SFX artist Gary John Tunnicliffe has a new entry into the Hellraiser series for us all to enjoy, Hellraiser: Judgement. Here he chats about this gritty horror.

HC: Was there one person or film which inspired you to want to be in the effects industry?

GJT: I can't remember one film that directly inspired me to be in the effects industry, it would definitely have been around 1982 (when I was 14) when The Thing AND American Werewolf in London came out (as well as a mass of FX laden movies) but more than anything it was when s...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Chee Keong Cheung, director of Redcon-1
Posted on Wednesday 17th February 2021
Director Chee Keong Cheung

Fast-paced British zombie thriller, Redcon-1 will be having its UK TV premiere on Horror on Saturday 20th February so we decided to chat with its writer and director Chee Keong Cheung about this acclaimed movie.

HC: Where did the idea for Redcon-1 come from and are you a fan of zombie movies?

CKC: I'm a huge fan of the zombie genre and in particular, Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later', Zak Snyder's 'Dawn of the Dead' and of course George Romero's original works which helped to pave the way for the genre and was a real inspiration for me growing up. I remember watching 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Black Hawk Down' on TV and had always been drawn to the men on a m...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Scott Reiniger star of the original Dawn of the Dead
Posted on Sunday 15th November 2020
DAWN_OF_THE_DEAD_3D_BD_SLIPCASE_PACK_ (1)

On the eve of a stunning new 4K box set of George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead from Second Sight Films, we chat to one of its stars, Scott Reiniger about this incredible film.

HC: How did you first become involved with Dawn of the Dead?

SR: Well, I was in New York, I was a stage actor in New York and I went to college with Christine Forrest, who later became George's wife and she asked me if I wanted to audition for this film called Dawn of the Dead, she wanted to know if I knew who George Romero was and I said, "Yeah, he was the guy who directed Night of the Living Dead". So, they sent the script over and I read it and it was pr...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Steve Speirs, star of Concrete Plans
Posted on Sunday 1st November 2020
Concrete Plans poster

Welsh, Scottish and Ukranian dialects clash in Concrete Plans, a stand-out movie from Will Jewell which has just been released by FrightFest Presents via Signature. Its a super and very dark thriller with an outstanding cast headed up by Steve Speirs. Here he chats about this amazing piece.

Be warned this interview contains some spoilers about the movie. If in doubt watch the movie before reading. You have been warned!

HC: Was there one actor of one film you saw when you were younger that made you want to be an actor?

SS: Oh, I've never been asked that actually. When I started to get into watching films, I'd always wanted to be an actor for as long as I can ...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interviews Archive: 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006
PICK OF THE WEEK
Urban Legend
URBAN LEGEND
Monday 13th December
9.00 PM
Tales from the Lodge
TALES FROM THE LODGE
Sunday 19th December
9.00 PM
Eat Locals
EAT LOCALS
Friday 10th December
10.30 PM