ARTICLES

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 Shayne Ward, star of The Ascent
Posted on Thursday 22nd October 2020
SHAYNE WARD NEW PROMO HEADSHOT 2020-6

A special ops team on a mission in a war-torn country find themselves trapped on a never-ending staircase that they must climb - or they die! This is the premise for Tom Paton's superb, action-packed horror The Ascent which is having its UK TV premiere at 9pm on October 23rd. Here its star, Shayne Ward tells all about his career to date and how he became involved in this sci-fi shocker.

HC: How much did the X-Factor change your life?

SW: Oh, like anyone can say who has been on it, who has done well on the show, it does change your life because it catapults you into the limelight, into the public eye. One day you are relatively unknown...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Ryan Kruger, writer and director of Fried Barry
Posted on Sunday 11th October 2020
Fried Barry

Anyone who as been to Grimmfest will know that the team behind the event try their very best to bring to their audience films that challenge and push as many envelopes as possible. Fried Barry from director Ryan Kruger is such a movie. Packed with mind-bending imagery and and emotional punch, this polarizing movie has to be seen just for its creativity and strong storytelling. Here, Ryan chats about this incredible movie.

HC: Where did Fried Barry come from?

RK: Fried Barry was born out of total frustration where I was in my career. I am known in South Africa as a music video director for doing narrative story telling within music vids and sharp visuals. Although I al...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Deiondre Teagle, star of Death Ranch
Posted on Sunday 11th October 2020
thumbnail_Brandon Blood

Grimmfest 2020 is packed with new talent and one actor that stands out is Deiondre Teagle who styars in Charlie Steeds' grindhouse homage, Death Ranch. Here Deiondre explains his role and what it was like being part of such a bold movie.

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

DT: I've definitely known my whole life I've wanted to be an actor. One of my favourite movies of all time is the original Men In Black. When I was little (about 3 or 4 years old), I would re-watch my VHS copy of that movie over and over and over again. I would re-enact every scene. Since then, my love for acting and film has just grown. I have such a love for the...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Faith Monique, star of Death Ranch
Posted on Sunday 11th October 2020
FAITH MONIQUE INTERVIEW PHOTO

Grimmfest 2020 is packed with world premieres and none so bold as Charlie Steed's Death Ranch. We chatted to one of its main stars, Faith Monique about her role in this brutal and brilliant movie.

HC: Was there one person you saw at a young age who inspired you to want to become an actress?

FM: Funny fact, I grew up without a TV! So, at a young age, I never had an actor that inspired me and to this day I still don't. Acting did not become a dream of mine until 2016 and for inspiration, I like to dig deep into my own soul to find truth to bring into each character.

HC: Are you a big fan of horror movies and were you aware of grindhouse and e...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Charlie Steeds, writer and director of Death Ranch
Posted on Saturday 10th October 2020
CHARLIE STEEDS EDITED-23

Horror movies and controversy always go hand in hand but when they tackle serious issues by using extreme violence to hammer home a point they can be very worthy. Death Ranch from Charlie Steeds is having its world premiere at Grimmfest so we chatted to him about this very strong movie.

HC: What inspired you to write Death Ranch?

CS: I'd always wanted to try making a movie with a 70s Grindhouse/Exploitation style and was watching old Grindhouse trailers for inspiration. I came across the movie Brotherhood of Death, where black characters fight back against the KKK for some of the film (the tagline is 'Watch these brothers stick it to the Klan!') and that conce...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Nicholas Santos, writer and director of It Cuts Deep
Posted on Saturday 10th October 2020
It Cuts Deep Image 2

At Grimmfest we're used to comedy horror but none as well written as It Cuts Deep from writer/director Nicholas Santos. Here he chats about this true dissection of a romance going terribly wrong.

HC: Have you always been a big horror fan?

NS: I've been a big horror fan since I was a little kid. Some of my favourite childhood memories are seeing Event Horizon with my dad when I was in second grade, being absolutely terrified by Chucky from Child's Play at every waking moment and watching Psycho for the first time on VHS when I was 7 years old.

HC: Where did the idea for It Cuts Deep come from and did it take long to write?

NS: It Cuts Deep is a hor...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Robert Woods, director of An Ideal Host
Posted on Saturday 10th October 2020
Robert Woods

Ever had the dinner party from Hell with people you don't really relate to and seem alien? Well this is the premise of the the hilarious horror comedy An Ideal Host from director Robert Woods. Here he tells Horror about this cracking movie.

HC: What did you think of the script when you first read it and what made you decide that this would be your first project as a director?

RW: Tyler and I had been writing theatre together for a decade, but movies are our first love and we wanted to give it a crack as well. Tyler came up with the initial idea but we worked on the story together and it evolved a great deal from the initial pitch. As it was my first time directing, I think we were j...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Chad Ferrin, writer and director of The Deep Ones
Posted on Friday 9th October 2020
Jeff Billings and Chad The Deep Ones

H.P. Lovecraft's influence on horror cinema is immeasurable and continues to this very day. In fact, today at Grimmfest a movie called The Deep Ones is showing so we asked its writer and director Chad Ferrin and how the great man himself has influenced his work.

HC: When was the first time you heard or read anything by or about HP Lovecraft?

CF: My parents worked nights, so the television was my babysitter. I must have been around six years old when I saw an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery called "Pickman's Model". Seeing that monster carrying off Louise Sorel terrified me beyond belief and seared the name H.P. Lovecraft into my...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Cody Calahan, director of The Oak Room
Posted on Friday 9th October 2020
The Oak Room - Director Headshot (Calahan, Cody) (Photo Credit - Miz Monday)

If you like your horror to have a "Twilight Zone" style twist then The Oak Room is for you. Showing today at Grimmfest we chatted to its director, Cody Calahan.

HC: We show your movie, Let Her Out on the Horror Channel here in the UK, what was the best thing you remember from making that movie?

CC: Experimenting. I definitely played more on that film than any other film I've done. Whether it was with the camera movement or editing, everything seemed very experimental. That was very refreshing.

HC: What did you think of the script for The Oak Room when you f...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with actress Mary Madaline Roe, star of They Reach
Posted on Thursday 8th October 2020
Mary Madaline Roe

Grimmfest continues to champion new talent in front and and behind the camera. Mary Madaline Roe is the star on the superb retro chiller, They Reach and here she chats to Horror about this festival favourite.

HC: For someone so young you've built up an impressive resume, can you recall how you felt when you first walked out onto a movie set?

MMR: When I first walked onto the film set, I was very excited and ready for this day! I had been anticipating the first day of filming for about a year. All the cast and crew were delightful to work with and felt like we were a family. I've learned so much from They Reach as it was my first major role.

HC: Are you a fan of ...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Brea Grant, the writer and director of 12 Hour Shift
Posted on Wednesday 7th October 2020
Brea Grant BW35-020

12 Hour Shift is one of the best from Grimmfest 2020. The movie stars Angela Bettis, David Arquette, Chloe Farnworth and Mick Fole and is a grim, funny, dark and hugely entreating piece which has been written and directed by Brea Grant. Here she chats about this superb movie.

HC: Did you know from an early age that you wanted to be in show business?

G: Not really. I grew up in a small town and I didn't know anyone who made their living in the film industry. I acted in plays at the local theater but Hollywood felt like something for other people. It wasn't until I was in college that I started realizing that you could make a living making movies and I moved to Los Ange...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interview with Toby Poser, co-director, co-writer and co-star of The Deeper You Dig
Posted on Friday 2nd October 2020
TheDeeperYouDig-Ivy_and_candle

Themes of family, loss and survival intersect on the thin line that separates the living from the dead in The Deeper You Dig, the latest feature written, directed by and starring filmmaking family the Adams Family. Here, co-director, co-writer and co-star Toby Poser tells all about this superior chiller.

HC: Where did the idea for The Deeper You Dig come from?

TP: Horror Channel, hey! We are still floating from our time with some of you at FrightFest 2019. Ok, so my husband and creative partner, John Adams, is always having these crazy nightmares about burying people, so it seemed appropriate to slap that concept onto film. I'm hoping that if he ca...

SHARE: READ MORE
Interviews Archive: 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006
PICK OF THE WEEK
The Disappearance Of Alice Creed
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED
Tuesday 3rd November
10.45 PM
Tales From The Darkside
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE
Sunday 8th November
8.30 PM
Cabin Fever
CABIN FEVER
Wednesday 4th November
10.55 PM