SXSW Exclusive Interview: Don Coscarelli Talks John Dies at the End and More
Definitely one of the more anticipated flicks for us here at Dread Central is Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and screened recently in Austin during the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, which is currently under way.
While in Austin, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Coscarelli about his latest project as well as his thoughts on staying independent throughout his career. We also spoke with the Master of Horror about his entire body of work, the issues behind Bubba Nosferatu and a whole bunch more- look for that extensive interview coming this Monday as part of Dread Central’s continuing Indie Horror Month celebration.
In the meantime read on for Coscarelli's comments regarding John Dies at the End, and then make sure to head back here on Monday for so much more from one of the most inventive and surprising horror filmmakers of the last 30 years.
Dread Central: So, it has been a few years since you were last in the director’s chair on Bubba Ho-Tep; what was it about David’s (writer Wong) novel John Dies at the End that felt right for your next project?
Don Coscarelli: It’s funny- a ‘robot’ actually led me to John Dies at the End. I had been reading a bunch of books from Bermuda Press, and I got one of those ‘robot’ emails from Amazon saying, “Oh, you like this book…well then you’ll also like John Dies at the End.” The synopsis was what really intrigued me- a street drug called soy sauce and everything- and I thought it all sounded absolutely great so I ordered it and just fell in love with the story.
But John Dies at the End was the right project for right now for a lot of reasons. First off, the story itself just has so much going on and works on so many levels that were appropriate to me and the kind of stories I like to tell as a director. On the surface it’s an interesting adventure about these two friends, but on the second level the story is also about this psychoactive drug and the effects it’s having on the world at large. Thirdly, it’s about inter-dimensional travel, and fourth, it’s also about the evil at the center of the universe. There are all these levels interwoven, and I thought that was an interesting, contemporary take on all these themes.
I really love David’s work because I feel like he’s got this great voice - a voice that speaks for this generation - and he’s got such a great understanding of the world and culture right now. There are elements in this story that I don’t think I could have written myself because there’s almost this apathetic quality to the two main characters; they see really weird stuff and they just kind of respond to it all in a very underwhelming sort of way, kind of like, “Oh, okay…that was weird. Let’s move on.” Most of us would be freaking out at what these guys are seeing but not them- nothing fazes them.
Having kids that age myself, I kind of see that sort of nonchalant kind of attitude in the youth culture of today so I really responded to the fresh approach and attitude David took when putting together all these elements in the novel because it was all right up my alley.
DC: Did David work with you at all while you were fleshing out the screenplay?
Don Coscarelli: I worked on the screenplay myself, but in retrospect I think it would have been really cool to have been able to work with him because I’ve now gotten to know David and I really like him a lot; at the time, I only had limited funds so I bought the rights and developed the screenplay from there. But David’s an incredibly talented guy and a brilliant writer.
DC: Even though you’ve always been an independent filmmaker, did you go to the studios at all when you were putting John Dies at the End together?
Don Coscarelli: I did in fact go to the studios for John Dies but was quickly slapped down by everybody. I kept hearing over and over that this was not the type of movie that studios made and that no major company would ever want to put major dollars behind the script, too. I was actually kind of surprised- even though the story is definitely ‘out there,’ there are still a lot of traditional-style elements going on, too, that I thought Hollywood might embrace if they just gave it a shot.
But if a studio HAD made John Dies, they would have had to water down all of these great elements that David crafted into his original story so that the movie could appeal to the widest audience possible, and it’s kind of depressing to think about that’s how so many movies get made- because they’ve been watered down enough to be consumable by the biggest audience possible. That’s not the route I like to go as a filmmaker so had this been a studio movie, it would probably be a completely different movie altogether.
It’s actually kind of funny, maybe sad, too, but I did see coverage by a studio about this movie and the person really ‘got’ the book- they seemed like they understood all of the themes and the feel of it and praised all of its fascinating elements. But once I got the last paragraph, they said, “And this is exactly why a studio can never make this kind of movie. It’s almost too interesting.”
DC: Well, making a movie on your own terms has its perks, too- especially creative freedom. It has to be somewhat satisfying to know that the independent approach for John Dies was the right way to go, considering the great responses the film has been getting so far during your festival screenings.
Don Coscarelli: Oh absolutely! That was the truly great thing about John Dies at the End- I had complete creative freedom on this; there was no one to answer to on it, which was wonderful. But at the same time I also gave myself enough rope to hang myself with in case this didn’t all come together (laughs). I’m kidding, of course- I’m so incredibly happy with how the movie has turned out, and the fan response throughout the festival run has been just amazing. It just feels great that so many people love what we’ve all worked so hard on for the last couple of years.
Look for more from Coscarelli on Monday, March 19th, as part of Dread Central’s Indie Horror Month celebration!
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