Exclusive: J.D. Dillard Talks SWEETHEART, SLEIGHT, and THE FLY Remake

Available tomorrow on digital, Sweetheart was one of the most outside-the-box films to screen at Fantastic Fest in Austin last month. Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with the film’s director and co-writer J.D. Dillard to discuss this unique tale of isolation and survival. We also discussed his first feature film, Sleight, and plans for an upcoming remake of The Fly.

Give our conversation a spin below the trailer and synopsis for Sweetheart.

Jenn has washed ashore a small tropical island and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s completely alone. She must spend her days not only surviving the elements, but must also fend off the malevolent force that comes out each night.

Dread Central: I’m a big fan of Sleight, which came out in 2016. Now fast forward to 2018 and everyone’s talking about Black Panther and saying, “Finally, there’s a superhero African-Americans can relate to”. Do you ever sit back and go, “Damn, I created an African-American superhero years ago and no one seemed to notice?”

J. D. Dillard: I’m happy and glad we got to build a character but you know, Marvel has their movie playing on a thousand screens worldwide. It was funny to see in a couple of pieces that came out around that time being like, “Don’t forget the little guys”, and gave us some love around when Black Panther came out.

DC: That’s good to hear. You know, something else that I was considering as a journalist: When Sleight came out, we were still in the Obama administration, with people were talking about a “post-racial society”. Now that Trump is in office all these issues surrounding racism have simmered back to the surface with a vengeance. Do you think that Sleight might have been seen as more important or better received if it had been released during the Trump administration?

JDD: It’s sort of like catching up for lost with this medium so, no matter what, we continue to have more stories that feature people of color, in terms of my own personal crusade, stories within genres. While I wouldn’t say my work is only this, there’s definitely a part of me that wants to go back to all the movies I’ve always loved and remake them with people like me, so I am curious, existentially, how Sleight would be received right now. But regardless, the issue was always urgent regardless of the environment.

DC: Very well said. You know, I’ve been in this horror journalism game for a minute and I remember being very excited a few years back when I heard you were going to potentially remake The Fly and that you were working on a script. Can you tell me what happened with that?

JDD: I’m not necessarily shooting that film tomorrow but we have a script that we’re very, very happy with. We’re really looking forward to moving forward and taking steps to bring that story to life.

DC: Fantastic. I grew up in the ’80s and The Fly was one of those that made a huge impact on me so I’m really excited. I’m glad to hear that it’s not dead, just in this limbo. I know you want to keep things close to your chest but can you just tell us a little bit about how you plan to make The Fly relevant again for the 21st century?

JDD: Yeah, all I want to do is start these genre stories with a character and look, The Fly is such a remarkable film and regardless how you look at it, whether it’s technological, performance, direction…I mean, I was even joking with some friends the other day, it’s one of the most efficient stories I’ve ever seen. You start the movie and five minutes later it’s the main cue; seven minutes later it’s “Let me show you something”; fifteen minutes later an exciting incident has occurred and it’s remarkably efficient. You know, what’s so fun about it being 2019, looking at the opportunity to do that one first, with the technology to tell a body horror story is just so exciting. Looking at what we’re doing today, it’s certainly a bit more difficult thirty years ago, it’s certainly an exciting prospect. That said, just sort of socially looking up, women’s right to their own bodies, this whole gender thing, the sort of threshold of pain that doctors assume people of color or African Americans can stand. There are a lot of things in that headspace so The Fly, should we get to make that, it will be done in a way that excites me. It collides a lot of interest and a lot of love, even a lot of social issues in this day and age.

DC: That’s exciting, and I’m even more excited about it now than before. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that it comes to fruition. Let’s talk about Sweetheart since that’s the film of the hour here at Fantastic Fest. What were your inspirations for that film?

JDD: My writer is Alex Hyner, and we wanted to create a smart genre experience. We wanted to see what it would be like to reset the vocabulary a little bit and grew to know our character through action and not necessarily labor, like a complicated backstory. So on one side, there’s that. On the other side, loving Alien, loving The Fly and wanting to take a swing at a practical creature feature and all that comes with that. Lastly, and probably most importantly, half of what I do is making movies I think my sisters will want to see. Jumping into that and not necessarily the movie being a social statement. I really like to make movies where people who don’t usually get to do the cool things do the cool things.

DC: Was it difficult to do a film that had very little exposition? Did you find it more challenging or less challenging?

JDD: I think in some regard you do have to reset your vocabulary. The way I shoot her is tool of productivity, in a strange way back to basics to tell the story. Obviously it’s a moment in the film where exposition is more of the story. In that way it actually ended up becoming a little harder working with exposition because you have been, for forty-five or fifty minutes, not using it as a tool at all. So then the words are so much louder and so much older because there’s been so much discussion up to this point, so it really felt like we had to choose our words even more carefully to have access to the dialogue.

DC: A buddy of mine and I were talking about the film last night and he was like, “Ask him what the title means”.

JDD: We could have called it Deep or Not Alone; we had a plethora of options on that side but you know honestly, it made sense that we center it on her journey and it should not necessarily sound like a horror film. Honestly, I have to counter-program that a little bit. It has been kind of fun to put a creature feature out that doesn’t have a creature feature name.

DC: Fantastic. It’s been a real pleasure. Like I said, I’ve been a fan of Sleight since day one, and I’m really excited for what you’ve got cooking. I hope people love Sweetheart as much as I did. Congratulations!

JDD: I appreciate that.

Are you looking forward to checking out Sweetheart on digital this week? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.



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