Exclusive Interview with Glenn McQuaid, Writer/Director of I Sell the Dead
The stellar I Sell the Dead (review here) is finally hitting DVD and Blu-ray on March 30th, and in honor of the occasion Dread Central will be running a series of interviews with several members of the cast and crew. First up is writer/director Glenn McQuaid.
Elaine Lamkin: First, I have to say how surprised I was when during the behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD someone mentioned that The Scratcher pub in the East Village, which doubled for the interiors of The Fortune of War pub in I Sell the Dead, is owned by Irish actor, Karl Geary, whom I interviewed for his role in The Burrowers! The film world, particularly the indie film world, can be very small.
Glenn McQuaid: It's a small world all right, especially when you're working in the horror genre. Karl's a fellow Dubliner, too, but it's through his acting that I know him. I thought he was great in JT Petty's The Burrowers; in fact that movie is deadly! Typical example of a terrific film that didn't get the marketing push it deserved.
I've been drinking in The Scratcher for years so I knew the space pretty well, though the location did offer some challenges. Its ceilings are quite low so we lit most of those scenes with Christmas tree lights that we spread across the ceilings.
EL: I know that you have been playing with this idea of a film about grave robbers for quite some time. You even shot The Resurrection Apprentice with Larry Fessenden playing Willie Grimes for the first time and Daniel Manche playing young Arthur Blake, also for the first time back in 2005. When did you start writing the script, and what was the inspiration behind the whole idea?
GMQ: I've always loved Gothic horror and thought it would be a good challenge to try to make one in New York with very little money. And so I made the short film The Resurrection Apprentice, which became the basis for I Sell the Dead. A lot of my inspiration comes from music, and I was listening to British songwriter Martyn Bates a lot; he also scored the short, which was great fun. Films like The Body Snatcher and The Doctor and the Devils were an influence, but I wanted to do something a little different, too. Grave robbers have always been on the periphery of horror fantasy; by that I mean there are not many movies out there where the grave robber gets to meet the Wolf Man, and that is essentially what I wanted to do with I Sell The Dead, take them off of the sidelines and put them into the game.
EL: You have worked with Glass Eye Pix in the past, as a visual effects supervisor as well as a title designer. What convinced you that you were ready to, in effect, direct your boss in your film? And how was it working with Larry, Peter [Phok], and Brent [Kunkle]?
GMQ: Because I had already directed Larry in the short, I didn't think twice about the fact that he would also be producing the feature. Truthfully, though, Larry wears many hats in this business, from script notes to editing, so he was a great resource for me … not that he directed the film or anything! Peter really loved the script and he brought a ton of ambition to the project. It was his idea to cast Dom [Monaghan], and he put together a great production with Brent. The Glass Eye Pix team are a powerhouse and somehow manage to be lovable blokes, too!
EL: What sort of research did you do to prep for this film? You mentioned reading several books, including one entitled Gallows Speeches in 18th Century Ireland. Now THAT is pretty esoteric. What other books or films or whatever were influences for you?
GMQ: I read a book called The Italian Boy by Sarah Wise. That's a terrific read about three body snatchers, John Bishop, James May, and Thomas Williams, who were arrested in 1831 for attempting to sell the suspiciously fresh corpse of a teenage boy to a medical college. I also did some research on Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
EL: You mention in your commentary that you wanted I Sell the Dead to be a "comic book movie", and most viewers are going to see the references to EC comics as well as Creepshow. What was your reasoning behind wanting to make this film both comical as well as horrific?
GMQ: I suppose the comedy and slapstick of I Sell the Dead was a reaction to my initial disappointment with the The Resurrection Apprentice, which I thought was quite dull at the time. Sitting through it with an audience was enough to make me want to write and direct something a little more fun and exciting. I learn a lot about directing by looking at my work with an audience; it's always a priceless lesson for me as I really am bending over backwards trying to please them.
EL: The Glass Eye Pix family is a very close-knit one -- you had worked with Angus Scrimm on The Off Season as well as working with Ron Perlman on The Last Winter. And with Peter Phok being the HUGE Lost fan that he is, there was Dominic. How is it, being part of what is effectively a VERY extended family?
GMQ: As I say, the guys are lovable and their passion is obvious. Peter and Brent are both very talented and obviously have bright futures ahead of them. Glass Eye Pix has really become a force to be reckoned with. Larry set the foundation with his first few movies that, let’s face it, no one wanted to know about at the time. Take films like No Telling and Habit; he struggled to get them into festivals and out to audiences. He's suffered harsher criticism than any of us, but he never wavered. To me there is something beautiful in that struggle, especially now that history is kind to those early works and people are beginning to recognize his talent.
EL: How did you manage to make Staten Island, Long Island and the East Village look like 19th Century Ireland? When I first heard about this film, I was a little of the "They’ll never pull that off" mind, and yet, the film looks as though it really was filmed overseas.
GMQ: Firstly, thank you for getting the period right! There is a lot of mis- information out there about when the film is set. I've even seen mention of a 13th Century date! The trick with the production was to go find great locations that we could then dress if necessary. We scoured the five boroughs and found Staten Island to be the most fruitful. We ended up shooting over half of the movie there. The place kept giving -- terrific gnarled old cemeteries and wonderful old forts. Of course, you have to be careful where to place your camera; an inch off and you'll get the Verrazano Bridge in frame. I had a great costume and art department, too. Those guys really made it happen.
EL: In your commentary you mentioned that John Badham’s Dracula was a very big influence on you, especially in giving your film its vintage look. What is it about Badham’s movie that stands out so much for you? There have been SO many different versions of Dracula…why this one?
GMQ: That movie scared the shit out of me as a kid. There is a scene in there where all the inmates at the asylum are going berserk because Dracula is coming for Renfield, and the terror I felt watching that has yet to be matched; the scene is shot like a nightmare. I love the fog-drenched world that Badham created, and the palette is, to me, stunning. I don't think any of the adaptations have done the novel justice; I think most of them have their merits but fall short. Then again, it is my favorite novel, so I'm a hard sell.
EL: I know that you had a rather bizarre shoot due to Ron Perlman being in Hellboy II, but how long would you say your actual filming schedule ended up being?
GMQ: I think it ended up being about 21 days all together. We went on hiatus for six months while waiting to get Ron back from Hellboy II! I was initially upset by the break, but in hindsight it really helped the production. I came back more seasoned, and clearly the best stuff in the entire movie was shot after the break. The production was that bit tighter and I started having more fun with the camera and blocking. I also learned a lot from working with Ron, having him and Dom finally together in that dank cell made everything worthwhile.
EL: I have had other Glass Eye folks tell me that Larry is a very hands-off producer, and you call him your mentor. How did you come to work for Larry, and how is it WORKING for Larry (in nearly every Glass Eye Pix movie he has acted in, his director has killed him; hat must give poor Larry a complex :D)?
GMQ: Please … The man loves to die on camera! I met Larry at the wrap party for The Off Season, and we hit it off. Actually we hit The Jameson, but that's another story. He invited me to work on The Roost, and so I got a team together and we provided the CGI bats for that flick, which I think still look ace. Larry then invited me to work on The Last Winter as Visual Effects Co-ordinator. I also got to shoot 2nd unit on that film, which was a huge learning experience for me.
EL: Who are your biggest director/film influences?
GMQ: This is a tough question for me -- I'm a film geek! I love David Cronenberg. The world needs more Cronenberg!
EL: What are some of your favorite horror movies?
GMQ: Another tough question! Jaws, Piranha, The Howling, The Wolf Man, The Shining, The Brood, The Fog. I could go on all day.
EL: What recent movies have you seen that really impressed you?
GMQ: House of the Devil
EL: What is your opinion on the current state of horror with all of the remakes, the PG-13 fodder, etc.?
GMQ: I prefer original material; that's why I am so proud to be a part of Glass Eye Pix, but I have no real beef with the remake machine. I mean, it's annoying, but I live in a big old glass house so I'm not about to throw any stones!
I hold out hope for the Fright Night remake.
EL: What is up next for Glenn McQuaid?
GMQ: I don't want to jinx anything so mum's the word! I can tell you that I am working on three projects, one set in Ireland and the other two set in the States. I have reached out to two co-writers for the American films, and for me it's definitely the way forward, writing alone wrecks my head!
EL: What is one thing no one knows about Glenn McQuaid that you think they should?
GMQ: I'm a nice man!
Big thanks to Glenn for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us, and keep your eyes open for more I Sell the Dead interviews in the coming days!
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