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Jack Messitt - Director "Midnight Movie" Part: I

Jack Messitt with one of the Coolest Props from Midnight Movie

2vs8: How Did The Events Of Midnight Movie Come To Light?

Jack Messitt: The Midnight Movie script was greenlit by Bigfoot Entertainment before I came aboard. The project had lost it’s director and the producers were interviewing. So, I met with them and threw my hat in the ring. Being a longtime cameraman and never having directed, I didn’t honestly think I would get the job. But I thought that the worst that could happen would be that I get in for an early shot at shooting the movie.

At that meeting, I was pretty honest about the script. I told them what I liked – but more than that, I told them where I thought it was missing the mark and how I would go about fixing it. This tact must have worked because they called me back a few days later and offered me the job. And that’s when the work really started - I had to put my money where my mouth was…

So I sat down with Mark Garbett and we started revamping the script. The first major changes I wanted to make were to the movie within the movie. In the original script, this movie wasn't very defined. It was written to be a mish mash of images, like the video tape in The Ring. I just didn’t think that anyone would watch it long enough to get the action going before they stormed into the lobby demanding their money back.
So Mark and I started running through a different ideas, different eras of horror films. The first major rewrite made the movie in the movie into a 1930s style horror film. But this didn’t last very long. The problem was that, to today's audiences, the 1930s horror film doesn't really hold up as scary. In their own time, they may have been terrifying. But today's audiences are not going to have the same reaction to that style and - not to give too much away - but the movie in the movie needed to be a place that today’s audiences did not want to get stuck.

So I revamped it again into a late 60s early 70s era of horror films. I picked this era because films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead still hold up today. I think they are legitimately creepy – even to today’s audience. They portray a world that I would not want to be stuck inside. That was what Midnight Movie needed, so The Dark Beneath was born.
This change caused a ripple effect that really revamped the movie as a whole. And once this version of the script was finished, we slid right into the pre-production phase.

2vs8: Were You Involved In The Casting For Midnight Movie, If So How Is The Process Of Finding Actors... Is It Open Cast Or Many Friends?

Jack Messitt: In Pre-Production, the pressure starts to mount. Things are not just being talked about, but money is being spent and the reality of the situation you are entering is much more evident. But this is also when you see some of your ideas really taking form. It is really an exciting time.

Casting was a lot of fun. We had casting agents and saw a ton of different actors and actresses. The best part was listening to dialogue that just the day before lived only on the page. Now it was coming to life right before our eyes. It is the first real taste of what is to come. We were non-SAG by condition of funding, so this limited our pool of actors. But we were able to find some great talent that I think you will be seeing time and time again in the future.

2vs8: What Was A Good Day, Or A Bad Day On The Set Of Midnight Movie?

Jack Messitt: Actual production brings totally new set of problems… You never have enough time. You never have enough money. I’m sure that this is the case on $100 million blockbusters too, but at our budget, it is much more evident.

Our first two days of shooting were on a ranch north of Los Angeles. In those first two days, we shot about 90% of the movie in the movie - all the hippies and the creepy house - as well as the entire the final chase of the movie The end is not the ideal place to start – but we made the most of it. We had a ton of work to get done and I think that we were at least 4 hours into overtime by the time we left. Not an ideal start.

From there, we headed to the theater. The first day was pretty light as I remember it and I made up some of the time we went over at the ranch. But the best thing about the theater was that we could do just about anything we wanted to it. It was soon to be renovated into a sports bar, so the owners didn’t really care if we ripped out seats or whatever else we did. And, because it would be our home base for the bulk of the shoot, be could really hunker down and call it home.
The fun days were days we had big kills. They were fun and frustrating. Big kills take time and we had little of that. I tried my best to give each kill it’s own "personality." The one thing I didn’t want to do was put our best kill up front. I didn’t want to peak too early. I didn’t want everything afterward to seem like a letdown.

So to help with this, I tried to put the kills together into a kind of format that would mirror the history of horror movies. Not only would it allow is to best use our time and money to create some real marquee moments, it would also help give the film an increasing progression of kills, a nice arc. But as well as we did each day, we started to fall behind schedule again.

So I cracked the whip and we shot about 25 pages of the theater dialogue in two days. Again, not the ideal for the actors, but they totally rose to the occasion and we got back on schedule.

Then, at the 2 week mark, the unions came… That was the worst day for sure!

Having no money, we hired a non-union crew. Unfortunately, they wanted to be union. So halfway through production, they went on strike. We shut down for two weeks while a deal could be worked out. Really, I thought that the film was not going to start back up. But our financier gave us the extra money we needed for the union contract and we got back to shooting for two more weeks.The best day? That came in the second half of production. We were shooting the scenes in Radford’s basement. To me, these scenes would make or break the movie. So I had a long talk with Rebekah about the scene where Radford finally has here where he wants her… If Rebekah pulled it off, we were in the clear. If she didn’t deliver, the movie would be sunk. By this time, I knew Rebekah pretty well, so listening to her screams was not easy. But when I said cut, I knew that we had exactly what we needed! Rebekah sold it better than I had imagined.

2vs8: Inner Fears, And What Is Your Dark Side?

Jack Messitt: My inner fears… They had to be that the film didn’t work. In editing, you see the scenes so many times, in so many different forms, that you start to lose perspective. In the end, I had no idea what worked and what didn’t. The first LA test screening allowed me to breathe a little. I thought that we were going to get slaughtered by the audience, but the feedback was really positive. It also allowed me to talk to horror fans for the first time. And those conversations really helped me shape the one day of additional shooting I had. Those initial fans helped me focus on the areas that needed the help.

And while it is probably not universally loved, Midnight Movie has been really well received:

“Top 10 Best Direct to DVD Horror Movies Ever Made” - The Huffington Post
“5 out of 5 stars! - To say that this film is absolutely kick ass would be the understatement of the year.” - GoreZone Magazine
“Perfect Fear Fare” - DVD of the Month (March 2009) - Fangoria Magazine
“The #1 Horror Film of the Year” -
“One of the Top 70 Horror Movies of the Decade” - Skrin (Apresiasi Horror)

Not bad for a film that almost didn’t get finished…

My dark side… At the Chicago Horror Film Festival, my sister Jenny came to watch the movie for the first time. When Radford dumps a lump of Sully’s flesh to the floor, she turned back to me and said “You wrote this?” I just laughed, but it confirmed that, yes, I must have a dark side.


youngelfman said...

Awesome interview! Very cool to get an inside take on the production of a horror film...And that is one wicked looking weapon. You would definitely want to have had a tetanus booster if you came in contact with that!

I Like Horror Movies said...

Excellent interview 2v8 and thanks for stopping by Jack! I have been looking forward to seeing Midnight Movie for some time now, cant wait to read the second part of the interview!

Anonymous said...

that killer has an awesome weapon...