Interview with Justin McConnell, director of Clapboard Jungle
By James Whittington, Sunday 30th August 2020

A couple of years back, at FrightFest 2018 a movie named Lifechanger played. This deep, engaging and original movie was a thought provoking and intelligent piece of work. Its director, Justin McConnell is back at FrightFest but this time with a rather different piece of work, looking at how the industry works and showing people just how hard the film making business can be. We chatted to him about this look at the business.

HC: What was it you saw or read about that made you want to have a career in the industry?

JM: Maybe it's a thread of insanity of some kind? I honestly can't remember the exact "ah ha" moment, more of a generally growing love of film when I was a younger. My family watched a decent number of movies, and my dad in particular would rent me horror from a young age. I do remember The Monster Squad being very influential on making me really see the magic of film. To a kid that film is a wonderful show of smoke and mirrors, so to speak. Some of my favourite childhood memories were film related, either seeing them on the big screen or watching them with friends. I come from a really small town so there was an allure to the world outside that. I had a subscription to Fangoria when I was a teenager, and the internet was just coming into use so there'd be pages with rudimentary fake blood recipes I was finding. And the movie blogs were starting to gain a foothold in the late 90s. So, it all kind of just pushed me to try and chase the thing that brought me the most joy. Got the bug and didn't look back.

HC: This is a very raw, emotional, and honest account of the industry, and yet very inspiring, what do you hope people take away from it?

JM: That the effort is worth it, if you realize that for most people, to get where you want to go, there are going to be a lot of road bumps along the way. A lot of moments of self-doubt and defeat. That you have to put a piece of yourself out there for the world to evaluate and be prepared for everyone to have an opinion and keep going. Basically, that everyone has different paths to their dream, and many will never make it to their ultimate goal, but the effort is worth it provided one thing: that you truly love the medium of film/visual storytelling.

HC: What singular thing is the most frustrating part of making a movie?

JM: I don't think there is one singular most frustrating thing, as it's more like a bunch of tiny cuts amounting to an overall series of wounds on the path to finishing a film. But my least favourite thing is fundraising. It's a lot of effort to continually try to put various people and teams together toward a shared vision, knowing that you need every piece of the puzzle to get something made, and knowing full well a key piece of the financing puzzle may drop out at any time. Or some much larger world event may kill your momentum dead. Sometimes you get lucky and a project comes together quickly without much of a hitch, sometimes it can take years. Sometimes you can put your life and soul into trying to get something made and it just sits there after a long series of false starts. It's a rollercoaster and can be very disheartening.

HC: Have you ever wanted to quit and walk away from the industry?

JM: Yes. Absolutely. But usually that feeling doesn't last very long. A good example was this film I made in 2010 called "The Collapsed". It was this tiny feature that was made for like $40K up front, shot way too fast, from a script that I wrote too fast. I was pretty green still, at the time. Anyway, it punched above its weight in the market, sold to a bunch of companies (including Anchor Bay and Lionsgate), and did a theatrical run across Canada. In the long run the reviews were mixed, but in the short run the night before my Canadian theatrical most of the national Canadian papers tore the film to shreds. It was a tiny movie competing in theatres next to studio fare, but it just filled me with so much self-doubt. But that didn't last long, as you take things like that and plan to do better next time. I don't think the film is terrible, given what I had to work with, but it was definitely a great learning experience of what not to do, and that I needed to take my time refining my work more. I'm always learning. I have to be.

HC: You cover the lack of diversity and under representation in the industry, did any of the facts surprise you?

JM: Not particularly. It's hard not to notice the voices calling for better representation the past few years. And rightfully so. I'm just trying to be an ally the best I can, and that carried right into our crew on LIFECHANGER. The majority of our crew was women, and in casting I actively tried to make sure the faces in the film reflected the reality of Toronto in real life. There's this common thread in Toronto indie production where a lot of projects are whitewashed (though that has been improving), and we put in effort to make sure that wasn't the case there. Even though I'm a tiny indie filmmaker operating on the fringe of the business overall and have had plenty of doors shut in my face, I still know I have a degree of privilege other people do not. Proper representation does appear to be on the way to becoming more widely accepted as a practice, though. Still work to do, but I do notice progress.

HC: Was there anyone's opinion you didn't manage to get on film?

JM: Plenty of people. I tried to get Gale Anne Hurd, Christine Vachon, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Jason Blum, Ernest Dickerson and a few others, but for whatever reason those interviews didn't line up. I'm surprised I managed to get as many people as I did, though. So many people I expected to turn me down ended up saying yes.

HC: Social media is filled with "keyboard warriors" who all have a comment to make. How do you deal with any negativity?

JM: I used to eat my feelings (joking, sort of). But the reality is that absolutely everyone has opinions about everything, and one person's opinion is not the truth, it's the opinion. I'd be lying if I said negative comments don't hurt to some degree, but lately it's more like a little poke than a punch in the face. The important thing is to try to take any seed of truth in these comments and see if that can be applied to your future work. But if the current world political client is anything to go by, everyone thinks differently, there are lots of idiots out there, and you can't let those words get to you. You can't put too much value in any opinion, either positive or negative, or it affects the work in the long run. It's almost like a crowd-sourcing thing: pool the comments together if you're looking, find the seeds of truth in all of them, good or bad, and try to learn from that. Other people have every right to call my work shit just like I have the right to not agree with them. But let's be honest, every piece of art gets hated by some, liked by some. The only person who has to truly live with your artistic choices is yourself and those with vested interest in your work.

HC: Is test screening an integral part to film making?

JM: I think it is, but not necessarily the way studios test movies. There are two schools of thought. The studio way where an independent marketing company runs the screening and they are looking for problem areas to fine tune a film for the widest audience appeal can be good, but can also lead to a compromised vision, or an outright mess. The indie version of that, what I do, is test the film so that I have a pool of opinions to study and draw from, so that the core team also has the same opinions, then we can discuss the improvements that can be made from an artistic standpoint. You are still thinking about audience appeal, but it's more of a gut-check thing. You aren't bowing to pressure; you're trying to find the bugs in the film to refine it and make it better. But it's very important the opinions you get aren't just your circle of friends and family. You need distance from the audience, ideally people who don't know you and have no vested interest in your feelings. Then you start getting honest feedback.

HC: Has your film Lifechanger changed your life?

JM: The film did decently well so there's in pitches and meetings it has led to me being able to enter with people already knowing my work, which wasn't common in the past. It was bought by Netflix for a few territories, is now on Showtime, and is on SkyMovies in the UK, so there definitely are more serious meetings that have come out of that, and offers of small parcels of possible financing for future projects. But it remains to be seen what the next step is. We were beginning casting on MARK OF KANE when COVID hit and were supposed to already have been done shooting that by now, so that one is a priority. But even there, setting up and taking meetings for Kane were noticeably more productive after LIFECHANGER came out. Correlation does not equal causation, and so much of what happens in film seems like a butterfly effect kind of thing where you're never sure exactly what made an opportunity happen, but I think there have been some positive changes, sure.

HC: What's the single most important piece of advice you could give to a wannbe film maker?

JM: Your first few films will probably suck to some degree, unless you are one of the few who have a mix of good luck and incredible talent out of the gate. But they are necessary because this is a thing you learn by doing, making mistakes, and being open to learning from those mistakes. But everyone's path is different, so I'll boil it down to a stupid analogy I just made up: you need to eat a lot of sh*t to get to the soup.

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

JM: Beyond the client work we are in post-production on the 8 episode companion educational series for Clapboard Jungle (my story takes the backseat, each episode is a specific topic, so people can have a great deal more expanded info from the feature film). I'm also working on a new script (I have a massive drawer of old scripts, but this one is... unique). And with all the lockdown time I've recently gotten back the bug to write music, so I'm working on an album with an old resurrected music project called "Cathode Raid". I guess it would fit in with the synthwave stuff, but also tinged with elements of metal and industrial. Not going to attempt to define it. It's hobby stuff, but I think there's an audience out there for it, and writing it is keeping me sane.

HC: Justin McConnell, thank you very much.

Interview with the legendary actress Lin Shaye about being part of The Horror Crowd
Posted on Wednesday 9th September 2020
Lin Shaye and Ruben PlaLin Shaye is an actress that need no introduction. Her screen work over the last few decades has seen her appear in countless movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Critters or more recently the Insidious series of movies. Here she chats about her career and her why she appeared in Ruben Pla's superb doc, The Horror Crowd.

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

LS: No, I never had the dream. Ever. I had the need to tell stories and from a very young age and my dad, when he tucked me in a night we would tell what we would call "Candyland Stories" and they were stories about a little girl named Linda, and they would start when she was just falling to sleep...

Interview with Steve Villeneuve, director of Hail to the Deadites
Posted on Thursday 3rd September 2020
HailToTheDeadites-1FrightFest 2020 delivered some incredibly entertaining and informative documentaries. Hail to the Deadites from Steve Villeneuve is a celebration of the the Evil Dead series of movies and truly gets under the skin of what the franchise means to those who created it and those who are mega fans! Here Steve talks about this amazing doc.

HC: Can you recall the first time you saw an Evil Dead movie and what it was that grabbed your attention?

SV: I guess I was 13. I actually saw Army of Darkness first on television. Years later, spot the cover of Evil Dead 2 in a video store. Then, rent Evil Dead one without knowing it was the first film because here in Quebec, The Evil Dead is ca...
Interview with our very own Emily Booth who stars in UK TV premiere of Shed of the Dead this Friday on Horror
Posted on Wednesday 2nd September 2020

The UK TV premiere of outlandish Brit Zom Com Shed of the Dead takes place Friday 4th September at 9pm. The movie stars Ewen MacIntosh, Lauren Socha, Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Michael Berryman, Brian Blessed and our very own Emily Booth. Here, Emily chats about this movie and what it was like to work with the legendary Michael Berryman.

HC: Are you a big zombie movie fan?

EB: If I'm completely honest it's not my favourite sub-genre within horror only because the genre has been so massively mined for all it's worth and I've never been particularly scared of them! However, there are certain stand out zombie films or even certain scenes that make me lo...

Interview with Guillaume Lubrano, director of Dark Stories
Posted on Monday 31st August 2020
Guillaume Lubrano image 1

There's been a number of anthology movies at FrightFest 2020 but one of the strongest is Dark Stories from director Guillaume Lubrano. Here he chats about this fun piece.

HC: Have you always been a fan of horror movies?

GL: I'd say I've always been a fan of genre titles, being it horror, science fiction, fantasy, every subgenre that plays with the ability to push our imagination forward always fascinated me. And this was born mostly with the 80s I think and the birth of modern era special effects... those comforted writers and directors in the fact that they could try to tell stuff about anything... and well that's what they did: anything... and among all this...
Interview with Michael Lee Joplin, star of Blinders
Posted on Monday 31st August 2020

We've already heard from the director of Blinders, Tyler Savage and one of its stars, Vincent Van Horn so we thought it would be cool to chat with its other star, Michael Lee Joplin.

HC: Was there one person who inspired you to become an actor?

MJ: I started acting in middle school really, but I had a wonderful theatre teacher in high school in Austin Texas, a Brit from Manchester, named Beryl Knifton. She instilled a love of acting and Shakespeare for me at an early age. I'm lucky to have had a lot of great teachers and mentors along the way. My acting teacher in college, the late Mr. Stephen Gerald pushed me along and more recently the Meisner teachings of Laurel Vouvray-Smith. My dad al...

Interview with Vincent Van Horn, star of Blinders
Posted on Monday 31st August 2020

The tense psychological movie Blinders is showing on the Horror Channel Screen at FrightFest today so we chatted to one of its stars, Vincent Van Horn about the movie and his character, Andy.

HC: Was there one person who inspired you to become an actor?

VH: I can't say there was one person in particular but more of a love for movies in general as a kid. Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers were definitely early influences with their physical comedy.

HC: When did you get your acting break?

VH: Hmm have I gotten it already? Ha ha. This is by far the biggest role I've had to date so maybe this is it? But as far as my first time acting in anything at all was when I was asked t...

Interview with Tyler Savage, director and co-writer of Blinders
Posted on Monday 31st August 2020

Psychological horror is always well represented at FrightFest and this year is no exception and one of the stand out pieces is Blinders from director Tyler Savage. Here he chats about this emotional and atmospheric movie.

HC: Where did the idea for the movie come from?

TS: The original idea for the movie came from an unsettling rideshare ride I took. Something about the driver made me uncomfortable, and I hated the fact that he now knew where I lived. From here, Dash and I started talking about the many ways in which technology makes us all incredibly vulnerable. There's a dark flipside to the convenience technology brings into our lives, and we wanted to highlight that idea in a way that was ...

Interview with Adam Stovall, director of A Ghost Waits
Posted on Sunday 30th August 2020

One of the big hits of Glasgow FrightFest was Adam Stovall's A Ghost Waits. This acclaimed movie is back and has been through an edit so we chatted to Adam about this paranormal piece of work.

HC: Where did the idea for A Ghost Waits come from?

AS: The two main inspirations were a video game and a web comic. "P.T." was a first-person haunted house puzzle game designed by Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima. My friends Brian and Jenn wanted me to play it because it had scared the bejesus out of them, and when I did I had them cracking up laughing. When Jenn started filming me with her phone, I thought there might be a movie in someone like me having to deal with a haunted ...

Interview with Kapel Furman, co-director and SFX master on Skull: The Mask
Posted on Sunday 30th August 2020
Kapel Furman Image 1

FrightFest always tries to show the very best from around the globe and one of the stand out titles for 2020 is Skull: The Mask from directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman. Here, Kapel chats about the movie and his stunning SFX work.

HC: Is there a strong horror movie following in Brazil?

KF: Brazilian cinema, in general, comes and goes every ten years or so. Because our so called "film industry" is directly dependent on economic and political situations. So, we have to relearn how to be able to get a film done each and every time, and that applies to horror movies as well. Of course, in the past we had Jose Mojica Marins, our Coffin Joe, who did extremely import...

Interview with Majhid Heath, producer of Dark Place
Posted on Saturday 29th August 2020

HC: Where did the idea for Dark Place come from?

MH: Dark Place came from an initiative through Screen Australian and ABC Television to find the next generation of Aboriginal auteurs, asking them to tell their stories in the horror genre. After a number of workshops with Colin and Cameron Cairnes (EPs), Hayley and Majhid jumped on to shape the scripts and draw out themes as diverse as the treatment of Aboriginal women, (Scout) displacement from country and community (Foe), cultural genocide (Vale Light), identity (The Shore) and germ warfare during colonisation (Killer Native). The hook being that all filmmakers wanted to say a something about the treatment of Aboriginals ...

Interview with Phillip G. Carroll Jr. writer and director of The Honeymoon Phase
Posted on Saturday 29th August 2020
Honeymoon Phase-poster

More new talent comes to FrightFest 2020, this time its a husband and wife team Phillip G. Carroll Jr and Chloe Carroll. Here, Phillip describes how this intense and emotional, psychological movie came about.

HC: Where did the idea for The Honeymoon Phase come from?

PC: My wife, actress Chloe Carroll (Eve), and I got married in March 2016. We wanted our first feature film to be a marriage of both of our creative loves. I love sci-fi, thrillers, and drama films and Chloe is a horror nut. We thought a psychological thriller would be the perfect blend of both of us to create our first film baby together! We were lying in bed one night, trying to come up with a concept...

Interview with Alastair Orr, director of Triggered
Posted on Friday 28th August 2020
Alastair Orr

One of our favourite movies showing on Horror at the moment is Alastair Orr's superb shocker From a House on Willow Street. For FrightFest 2020 he has a new film for us all to enjoy, Triggered. Here he chats about both movies.

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

AO: I always loved films but it wasn't until my teens when I realised I could actually do it as a job. Growing up in a small town in South Africa, filmmaking was always seen as something that Americans do as a job - not us. We were very sheltered under the apartheid government in the late 80s so content was limited, if not censored. The video store was basically a Holy Grail where...

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Star Trek: The Next Generation
Wednesday 30th September
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Tales From The Darkside
Sunday 27th September
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Hannibal Rising
Sunday 27th September
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