For up-and-coming filmmaker Alex Craig Mann’s feature film debut Detention of the Dead (review here) he mashed up his love of all-things John Hughes with a horde of flesh-hungry zombies for a coming-of-age horror comedy unlike anything fans have ever seen before.
Detention of The Dead stars Jacob Zachar (“Greek”), Alexa Nikolas (Red State, Children of the Corn remake), Christa B. Allen (“Revenge”), Jayson Blair (“The Hard Times of RJ Berger”), Justin Chon (the Twilight series), and Max Adler (“Glee”).
Recently, Dread Central had the opportunity to chat exclusively with actor-turned-director Mann about his transition to filmmaker as well as more on some of the difficulties he faced while shooting Detention of the Dead in Michigan and his experiences working with his ensemble for the flick.
Check out the highlights of our chat with Mann below and look for more news on Detention of the Dead coming soon!
Dread Central: So how difficult was it making the transition from actor to director when it came time to start production on Detention of the Dead?
Alex Craig Mann: You know, on one hand I was ready because I was ready to handle that kind of responsibility so I could get the final creative say for my own vision but on the other hand, the first time doing something like this always has its challenges. But I think that artistically, I was turned on most by getting to do things on my own terms; it’s freeing.
I come from a theater background and I also teach acting as well; I directed the stage play version of Detention of the Dead and it opened back in Halloween 2009. It did incredibly well and was a really great experience creatively to work on.
Dread Central: We’ve seen a lot of theater productions make the transition successfully to film and sometimes, the opposite way too. And while the success rate is pretty high for stage play movie adaptations, it can still be kind of risky. What was it, in your mind, about Detention of the Dead that made it feel right for a big screen adaptation and take that kind of risk your first time at the helm?
Alex Craig Mann: Well, I think that at the heart of it, there’s a good story. The film version is different from the theatrical version; in fact, I wasn’t necessarily convinced we should make it into a movie because the play had an sketch comedy/improvisational style but as I really took a look at the story, I saw what we could do if we just changed some stuff.
So that’s when we added in the John Hughes-esque moments to the story and fleshed things out. I was pretty happy with the results and after a year of development, we raised enough money to make the movie. We shot it last May for 20 days and it was great.
Dread Central: As someone who grew up during the 80’s (and right down the street from where he shot a lot of his movies), I’d love to hear more about the John Hughes homages you used in this.
Alex Craig Mann: I have a genuine love for John Hughes- Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, all those movies really- so I wanted to bring some of the aspects of his stories into this movie because his movies mean so much to me. Basically, I wanted to do The Breakfast Club if they were trapped inside the library surrounded by zombies and yet, they’re still figuring things out like who they are, they’re still falling in love, they’re still being teenagers despite everything else.
Dread Central: Because of your acting background, did that help you in preparing your own case for Detention of the Dead?
Alex Craig Mann: Oh definitely. The most important thing I think to making everything work for the movie is that I had all of them play their roles for life or death, not comedy. I wanted it be authentic and if it was authentic, those slight comedic moments come naturally and it really worked out great that way.
In general though, I worked with everyone as extensively as I could but they were a great bunch; all up-and-comers which was exciting to me to get to work with because they all had so much potential coming into the project and really nailed it.
Dread Central: Because this was your first time at bat as a director, how did production go? I know the world of independent filmmaking isn’t ever really easy.
Alex Craig Mann: It definitely had its challenges (laughs) but not like you’d expect. See, the first week of production was in what you might call ‘not a great neighborhood’ in Michigan but it had a great aesthetic so we really wanted to shoot there despite the neighborhood. There was this great closed down school that was completely at our disposal there but it was nothing but headaches when we were there.
The first night, there was a break in and they sprayed graffiti everywhere so we had to deal with that. Then on the second night, someone burned the school down; it was kind of like watching your dreams burn because I really had no idea what we were going to do.
We ended up finding another school in Pontiac that was just housing endless school furniture and supplies and it worked out that we could shoot there. The school was in a bit of a better area too so while having your location burn down on you just two nights into production certainly caused some problems, in the long run it ended up working out better all-around for us with the new location.
Dread Central: I know that right now you’re primarily focused on spreading the word about Detention of the Dead but are you looking at any new projects just yet?
Alex Craig Mann: Honestly, I’m pretty open to anything and everything right now. I have some theatre writers that I work with developing some scripts right now but nothing is on the immediate horizon. I would definitely be honored to be in the position one day to get hired on to direct so I’m hoping maybe that door will open in the near future too. I am keeping busy as an Executive Producer now on some stuff which is definitely a different part of my future in the industry; the business aspects aren’t nearly as fun as the creative side of things but I feel like it’s important to know all sides of the business to be successful so that’s my plan.
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