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With the Full Moon feature Reel Evil releasing tomorrow, December 4th, on DVD and VOD, we caught up with director Danny Draven and writer Shane Bitterling to chat about their found footage film, which is an interesting detour from the fare producer Charles Band has become known for.
Written by Bitterling, Reel Evil follows (according to the film’s synopsis) “struggling filmmakers Kennedy, Cory and James, who finally catch the break they are looking for when they are hired to shoot a behind-the-scenes documentary for a major studio production. But their dream job quickly turns into a nightmare when they explore the legendary haunted location and find something far worse than anything Hollywood could create. Terror becomes reality for the filmmakers as they uncover the malevolent secrets of the hospital and the sinister doctor who once ran it.” Rounding out the cast are Jessica Morris, Kaiwi Lyman, Jim Tavaré, Kyle Morris and Jamie Bernadette, among others.
“Somewhere in the middle of writing Puppet Master X: Axis Rising, Charles (Band) told me that Full Moon was going to do their first found footage movie,” Bitterling said of how he became attached to pen Reel Evil. “ I was immediately excited about it because it was something different for the company and for myself. I assumed that it was going to be another ‘puppet movie’, which could be interesting, but I didn’t know how it would work. But that wasn’t the case at all.”
Chatting regarding the development process of Reel Evil, Bitterling related that he soon learned that it would be a complete departure for Full Moon.
“It’s a total ‘180’ from anything they have ever done,” offered the writer. “There are no puppets. No dwarves. No evil bongs. This is straight-up horror. Danny (Draven), who was already set as the director, and I spoke on the phone after Band told us to get cracking on it. Neither of us knew what Reel Evil was going to be, but Danny had heard that Linda Vista Hospital was probably going to be used. That opened everything up. Basically, we had free reign over what the movie was, as long as we came in on budget. Actually, our budget was bigger than most other found footage movies. We discussed what we thought was scary and a general tone. We also wanted to make sure that our characters are always doing something. With these movies the audience expects a large amount of characters doing little but talking, and we didn’t want that. The movie had to keep pushing along without long breaks in action or scares. Within an hour we had a fuzzy overview of who the characters were and a solid placement of where they were going to be.”
“Shane and I spent a lot of time on the script,” added director Draven, who previously has edited dozens of titles for Full Moon, of the process of conceptualizing Reel Evil. “We had a lot of freedom, and that allowed us to lock in a solid blueprint of the film. I say ‘blueprint’ because that was what the script was for me, a guidebook, not a definite shooting script. We did a lot of improvisation on the film – something we needed to do to keep it real. The film was not easy to shoot from a technical standpoint. Hiding the lights, the crew, and the director was always an obstacle to overcome. In films like Quarantine they simply build a mega-set and light it all from above, and we did not have that luxury.”
“We knew we weren’t reinventing the wheel,” continued the writer. “That wasn’t a concern, really. Our goal was making it scary and having characters that are likable. I’m a big fan of less is more, creepy scares so I designed a quick treatment for Danny to look over. We both agreed it needed more nudity and gore, which you usually don’t see in found footage movies. Once we were satisfied with the skeleton of it all, I began the script. Since it deals with a film crew shooting a ‘making of’ for another movie, I sprinkled it with characters based on people that I’ve dealt with over the past fifteen years of working in film, like the ‘jerk producer’, the ‘kleptomaniac starlet’, the ‘douche director’. They all make an appearance. I had fun writing those scenes, but we never wanted to lose sight of the dread and of the horror elements.”
Given the production value the location of Linda Vista brings to any production, as well as the ‘creep’ value, we asked Bitterling how much the former hospital influenced the narrative of Reel Evil during the scripting process.
“It was a vitally important factor when writing,” he offered of the grounds, which reside just outside of downtown LA. “I hadn’t been there for almost ten years so I wrote the initial draft from memory, which, as it turns out, is entirely suspect. We did a location scout of the place and decided which scenes were going to happen in which parts of the hospital. We found locations that didn’t correspond to anything in the script, but we wanted to use them, such as the boiler room. I hate when people say things like this, but Linda Vista is as important a character in the film as any of our actors. It doesn’t need set dressing. It doesn’t need a ton of fake history. It is scary as hell in there. During our location scout I screamed like a little girl when I found what I thought was a body with its head bashed in. Danny shined a light on it and found that I just screamed at a sandbag and red ice skate. That’s the type of tricks Linda Vista plays on you.”
“The rat in the broom closet was real, however,” Bitterling continued. “To not organically use what the hospital had to offer would have been stupid so I wrote or re-wrote entire scenes or chunks of the script to utilize the location. Even while shooting, the script was fluid. Actors reacted to locations. Shots were changed to accommodate the place. The original script is on the DVD so interested people can see what changes were made. A big one is a scene that takes place in a restroom. It was very clearly devised and promised to be one of the biggest scares. When the crew got to the restroom to film the scene, it was too hazardously disgusting in there for anybody with a nose. So bad, in fact, that we moved all the way to the other side of the hospital in order to re-work the scene, and it ended up being far better and scarier than originally written. Make-up FX wizard Dave Corsile and I even shot B-roll with and without actors of asbestos-ridden, dilapidated areas that the production hadn’t seen before and which we couldn’t move into, due to size or time. Very cool that Danny incorporated that into the final film because it would have been a shame to not capture those hideous places for a movie like this.”
“I’ve been a part of the Full Moon family for over ten years,” offered Draven of his prolific work with the company, “and I know the fan base very well. Reel Evil is unique because it simply doesn’t fit into the Full Moon mold of films. No mini-monsters, no clowns, eyeballs, possessed cookies, or other crazy concepts that we love about the Full Moon brand. It’s Full Moon’s first found footage-style film, and it is a straight-up horror film. My approach was back-to basics horror, something I learned from producing and directing a film for Stuart Gordon. There was only one rule for me and the actors on this film, which was to ‘Keep it real.’”
Of the DVD, “It’s one of the most loaded DVDs from Full Moon in a long time,” said Draven, who will be on hand with Bitterling and Reel Evil cast and crew on December 8th at 2pm at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA, to sign copies of the release. “It’s chock-full of extra features for the fans.”
As for whether Reel Evil is intended to launch a new franchise for Full Moon, “It wasn’t intended to, but I hope it does!” Draven concluded. “I’m sure that Shane and I could make at least ten sequels, and if the fans want more, we can surely go out and make REEL EVIL 2! And go even more extreme!”
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