Gulager, Dunstan & Melton (Feast)
It was a beautiful sunny day on Hollywood Boulevard when Feast director John Gulager and writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton met up with me at Hollywood Book and Poster where there was a signing taking place for The Devil’s Rejects. We hung around there for a while socializing with the Rejects cast, then headed down the block towards the Pig and Whistle for a bite to eat. We couldn’t get more than fifteen feet at a time without someone stopping them to say hi or ask for a picture. It felt like I was walking down the street with the likes of Tom Cruise, not three contest winners. Some say that people weren’t tuning into the third season of “Project Greenlight”, but I find that hard to believe by all of the people that stopped us in a two block radius that made a five minute walk to a restaurant take nearly a half hour. Once we arrived at the Pig and Whistle we sat down, ordered and talked about life after Greenlight.
Sean Clark: So first Marcus and Patrick tell me what the experience was like of having your script chosen for Project Greenlight?
Marcus Dunstan: It was like getting hit with hard paddles.
Patrick Melton: We wrote the first draft in ‘99 or 2000. We had done bigger scripts, but then you realize after a while that there are only seven people in this town can make that movie, so we wanted to do something for a million dollars in one location. The draft we sent to Project Greenlight was much, much different than what our first draft was.
SC: So your first draft was around a million and then you kicked it up to around fifty-five million?
PM: Well, the problem is you get into it with the intention of writing a million dollar movie and then your like, “Well, you know what if? Let’s write it for the best it can be and then worry about that later.” So yeah, by the end of it, it became a forty million dollar script, but our original intentions were a million dollars.
John Gulager: And then it went back to a million. I would be interested in seeing the original version and how different it is than what we ended up with.
SC: You’ve never seen it?
JG: No, everything got cut out but eventually because of the money situation.
PM: But you’re talking about the original, original version not the 2000 version.
PM: What we turned in in 2004 was rewritten dozens of times.
JG: No, no that’s the one I saw. It had the Mad Max car crash with flying monsters dropping people out of the sky and ripping trucks apart. And then slowly but surely all of the stuff you guys put in got taken out piece by piece by piece. I went to – well actually I was on the internet reading the original version (laughs).
PM: And we had shopped it to people in 2000 and nothing happened. So we had no intention of going into the Project Greenlight thing or anything like that. Then my wife was driving home and heard that they were looking for horror movies. They wanted horror, so we submitted horror. One of the strange things I noticed about the process was that we had to read three scripts and you see the names of all of these scripts and I would say that half of the scripts were not even horror. Of the final three, one was a crime drama and the other was a straight comedy. Either someone is playing a horrible trick on us or we’re going to win once we got the top three.
JG: I heard Ben Affleck say, “If you have a script where someone’s head gets chopped off or someone fucks a pie, send your script to send your script in.”
PM: We had started at 4200 scripts or something like that and then down to 1000.
SC: How long was it in between each round?
PM: It started in February and then it was a month or two for the first one and then a month for the second one. It started in February and we won on July 8th I think. Just over a year ago. So it was a thousand and then down to a hundred and then down to five. At five we had to do a rewrite and then after the rewrite it was down to three and then they took us to the Roosevelt Hotel just down the street here and found out the first night that we won.
SC: John, was the process with you being chosen similar to Marcus and Patrick’s?
JG: Similar. What happened was my friend enters the contest every year and I usually work on his little piece; I’ll shoot it and we’ll edit it at my place or something like that. Each year when we would finish his I would be so far behind and broke that I never have time to do one myself (laughs). So this year he just sat down at his computer with his credit card and entered me in the contest so I wouldn’t have a choice. So that’s basically how I got into it this year. It’s a thirty-dollar entry fee for each piece so he entered me twice so I could enter two things. You can enter as many times as you want because they might like one piece and not another. I don’t know how the judging goes. I actually entered three pieces, and since you’re supposed to read three scripts for each piece you put in, and I didn’t do it (laughs), I got one of them disqualified. So I ended up with two pieces and made the first cut.
Then they ask you to do a bio, and I think that’s from fifteen people, then it goes down to ten and then they send you a script that is sort of three pages of gibberish. You have to pick two pages but on those two pages you have to do it verbatim. You have about two or three lines you can add yourself to try and make some sense of it. So you do that and send that in and eventually it’s narrowed down to three. We actually got cell phones so we could get the call (laughs). We were not of the cell phone age yet. So it worked out pretty well. It went down to three, though I’m not sure how they choose the three. I was surprised because some of the films of the ten from the other contestants were really good so I was a little frightened. I don’t know how they chose the final three.
PM: I think it was not only the scene but also the other things you submitted.
JG: Mine was more like a crime sort of deal.
PM: Everyone was pissin’ and moaning about that whole thing.
JG: I was thinking that maybe they put the three people with the three scripts in some ways but when I watched the show it didn’t really look like that. Matt told me later that he was always picking me so that was cool and I’m sure had something to do with how I got in there. I had read the three scripts and I actually thought that Feast was going to be the one that they were going to do even though I thought it was going to be really expensive. I was saying at least forty million dollars and other people said like twenty so I don’t know.
MD: We were still insisting it was one point five (laughs).
PM: We actually had a friend do a budget on it before we won and he got it to about nine point seven. We knew right away that it was going to have to change majorly.
JG: So they tell you half way through the little thing at the Roosevelt and they choose the script first so then you know what the script is. It was Feast and I was right, so it was good. Then you prepare a presentation to give to Matt, Chris, Wes Craven and all of these guys from Dimension who I didn’t know who they were yet.
SC: Now I don’t know how they edit the show, but I’m sure they try to make it as dramatic as possible. What was it like to hear some of the unflattering things that Wes Craven had to say about you guys?
PM: You know he never said any of that stuff to us.
SC: But when you saw the show what was your reaction?
MD: Yeah it was rough (laughs).
JG: I had to take these guys home the night of that show and they got so pissed drunk (laughs). Actually I took Patrick home and he fell in the bushes and Marcus I left with my dad.
PM: He’s been wanting to get outside of the horror genre for many, many years like he did with Music of the Heart. Red Eye isn’t a horror movie, it’s a thriller. He didn’t want to do a horror movie. He wanted to do a crime drama and Wild Card was a crime drama. He liked it so much that he actually optioned it. At least he put his money where his mouth was. He didn’t just want to do that kind of movie, which is understandable because it’s not for everyone. This isn’t The Ring. It’s not going to please everyone. It’s for the horror gore audience that likes that kind of movie. Like I’ve told everyone; if you like Night of the Living Dead or Evil Dead you’ll like this movie. If you are expecting The Ring then you’re not going to be happy.
JG: Wes had just had a bad experience with Cursed. I remember when we out to dinner he was talking about the mechanics of the monster and the mask and where is the guy going to be able to look out of, you know? Things that he had actually went up against and felt didn’t turn out well, things that he felt would be tough, and that was interesting. Even during the interview stuff, I don’t know if it made it on the show or not but I think he was actually talking about one of the other directors about the mask, and this came up with me too.
MD: Yeah how are you going to make the suits?
JG: He was just feeling like crap about that and I think that is what worked
against you guys with Wes, because he did just go through this with the man in the suit and had huge problems.
PM: We had this friend who worked for Jerry Bruckheimer’s company and in all earnestness he had said to us once, “Jerry’s philosophy is ‘Why make a movie for sixty million dollars when you can make it for one hundred and twenty?’” So often with a lot of these directors that are bigger and used to these big budgets they sort of forget how to make a one million dollar movie. That’s why John was such an asset. So when Wes asked us how we were going to do this he sort of harkened back to what James Cameron did on Aliens where he got acrobats and gymnasts in these small little suits.
JG: A little Englishman in our suit.
PM: And you have them running around and doing things and you hide it.
MD: They would ask, “How are you going to do these big animatronic jaws?” Well you don’t have animatronics jaws. You fix it to the actor inside and he moves opens and closes it.
JG: We did have an animatronic jaw eventually.
PM: But we never thought CGI. Our idea when we started writing this was to do something that wasn’t the CGI Van Helsing.
JG: Although originally I thought that we would end up doing some puppetry against a green screen and stuff, kind of a combination of everything.
PM: Puppetry would have been fine. We don’t have anything against puppetry; in fact it would have made sense and is something that is under utilized. Like Star Wars, I love them all but there is something special about the first ones where when you see the sets you can touch it, it’s there. When they are talking to Chewbacca he is standing right there, you can touch him. In the new ones the eye line is not quite right or the dimensions are slightly off.
JG: If you touch him you have to go wash your hands.
PM: And that’s because he is organic. Like in the special editions when they put in the Jabba the Hut scene it was kind of weird. It just didn’t seem right. So with Feast, our idea all along was using the sort of old techniques of like Carpenter’s The Thing. That was part of the fucking movie because it was real it was right there.
MD: If you look at a very low budget movie like Piranha or The Howling and Rob Bottin figured it out.
SC: Most writers that are established can sometimes go through their whole lives never being recognized on the streets. You two don’t even have a movie out yet and are probably recognized more than most writers ever will be. How do you feel about that?
PM: When we won, Arthur Miller was still alive and a friend said to me, “It’s absurd that you and Marcus can walk down the street next to Arthur Miller and more people will recognize you than him!” Actually we don’t get recognized as much as you may think.
MD: There is something nice about the horror fan community…I mean they don’t have drama conventions.
PM: Yeah they do it’s called the Oscars (laughs).
MD: Okay there you go. But the great thing about horror movies is that there is always a bit of shyness around it because there is affection for it that kind of shapes all of us in very obscure and odd ways. It’s not a badge; it’s just something that we kind of have for ourselves and I like that a lot. Plus there was more unity on that dog gone set. We were all covered in blood and we were all going through the trenches and it was a lot of fun.
SC: Did any of you have cameos in the film?
MD: Not at this point.
JG: Not yet but we have something in mind.
SC: So how much is actually left to be shot on the film? I know you had told me previously that the sets were in storage.
JG: You know the sets were up until June but we just couldn’t get anything shot on them. So it just depends. I mean personally I have stuff in the film that I want to do and I know that Bob has something that he would like to have in the beginning. We’ll just see what happens. Me, I feel that there are some holes in the boat and I’d like to patch them up.
MD: Sure, I mean John’s editing schedule was trisected. His shooting schedule was bisected. It was tough.
JG: Yeah for me it was tough because I’m a new guy, whatever. Pick your reason but for whatever reason I feel it would have been nice to have a few extra days.
SC: So do you think you will get those extra days?
JG: We don’t know yet. Everything stopped when the Weinsteins left Disney. I know it’s going to be that whole wait, wait, wait now finish, finish, finish! And maybe that’s just the way it always is. I think it’s gone on way longer than any of us thought it would. I know in the past the film was usually done by the end of the show’s run.
MD: Originally Feast was to come out against Revenge of the Sith (laughs).
SC: So in a way this may have been a blessing in disguise.
MD: Exactly. So we were set to go on the chopping block and that was it as per the rules and obligations of the contest. Somewhere along the route, John’s work found itself in the right hands and they regarded like a real movie. So that was flattering.
JG: Well, Bob liked it and once it went off of the TV schedule he was like, “Well what are we making a TV show or a movie?” And that said it also got caught up in companies dividing so we were left to wait until now.
PM: Because now it’s on hold and it is one of four movies going over to the new Weinstein Company. It just had to stop because they had to bring it over and get the new money: set everything up. Who is going to be in charge of marketing department and all of that.
JG: That whole money in the pipeline thing.
PM: We will be starting all up again with new test screenings. We wrote like seventeen new pages.
JG: There’s more than that. More like twenty-five (laughs). We’ve got tons of pages.
PM: There are just all of these new pages because we are enhancing certain beats and stuff like that.
SC: Since the show has ended what has been the coolest thing that has happened to you guys?
JG: Being interviewed by the Horror Channel.
SC: Well that’s an obvious one but what about career wise. Has it opened a lot of doors for you?
MD: However sappy it may seem, I saw this young man come up to John and just thank him for not stopping. That made a big difference for how he perceived his chances in this city, and that’s pretty great. That’s permanent and you can’t take that away. I thought that was pretty wonderful. I also heard that some kid was getting in trouble in the Midwest and loving it because he was trying to make a few videos because he heard that some kid from this small town near by had made one. Lord knows I stayed up too late hoping to get inspired by these horror movies, and ultimately did, so that fact that maybe we will have some person stay up too late and get to share his nightmares with the future…that would be great. I think that would be the biggest honor of all. Get a fan and create the opportunity for someone else to achieve.
PM: The best thing that has come from it is the opportunity I suppose. And being giving opportunities, it’s almost twice as difficult now because we are not “amateurs” anymore. So now we have to achieve with the masters of the genre. Now every time you go out there everyone is sort of expecting you to knock it out of the park, which has been a blessing and a curse at the same time.
MD: Although at the same time we should be so lucky to have such problems (laughs).
PM: That’s true, and that is the only thing that keeps you going. You say, “Well how many people have been able to get this far?” You just keep on working and working and working and trying to get that next thing. The one thing with the Project Greenlight process is that we will probably never have it that good again. Marcus and I because we were on the TV show we couldn’t be fired.
JG: It was like the three of us going through the process together instead of being totally compartmentalized. It was more like a bit of that Three Musketeers mentality because we were the contest winners. I can visualize it being slightly different for all of us in the future on different projects you know, when you ban the writers from the set and that kind of thing. “You’ve ruined it! You’ve ruined it!”
PM: One thing that we sort of learned with this is a lot of it has to do with trust. Marcus and I were doing the writing so it was easier for us early on to trust. So we earned it on like by the third rewrite so they go, “Okay, they know what they are doing so we trust them.” But John had it harder. He couldn’t prove himself until we got back assembled scenes or dailies.
JG: There’s more trust now than before. It was rough. Watching TV I felt like two characters watching a Quiz Show. I felt a bit like Charles Van Doren, you know like a bit of a fraud in a way. Because on the TV show you feel like people maybe think that you are better than you are, or you could be worse. As rough as it was for you guys on that first episode, there is no way to get around that I don’t think. You just feel like you just have to come through with the goods not only on this movie but the rest of the films that you make. As corny as it is it is kind of like that Saving Private Ryan thing, “Earn this!” But you kind of feel that way you, know that you have been given this great opportunity, this great gift of possibly having a career. You guys are younger and you guys still felt like you were going to have one. I just figured I was going to be totally in obscurity forever.
SC: So what has happened since the show? What kind of offers have you had and what are you working on now?
MD: Well actually we are really excited because we have an idea that we had started to work on before Greenlight happened.
PM: We did the Highlander thing. That was during the show.
SC: What happened with that?
PM: Well it was going to be Highlander 5 and had two writers on it previously. The script was just too expensive so they wanted to do a lower budgeted Highlander that sort of reset the series in terms of reestablishing what the rules are. So we were brought in because we owed Dimension two movies.
SC: You owed them two movies? Is that part of the Project Greenlight contract?
MD: Yeah, but that is a nice thing actually.
JG: It’s like having a three-picture deal, and this is one of the three.
SC: So are you doing a Hellraiser any time soon?
PM: (Laughs) We wish.
MD: Actually that would be a lot of fun to kick that one in the pants.
PM: So we did that, and we were really excited about it. The studio was really excited about it. Then, when Dimension left Disney, they didn’t take the franchise with them and it reverted back to Panzer/Davis. So Panzer/Davis were suddenly in a position where they could call their own shots and they’re going to continue the franchise from where they are in terms of making another trilogy at Lion’s Gate.
SC: So you guys are basically not involved anymore?
MD: Our story was completed and we completed that assignment. They had a twenty-five million dollar script and we were brought in the write a two million dollar script. So we did and now I think they are back up again budget wise. So we’re out of that loop and they’re making a trilogy with Lion’s Gate. Now we’re hopefully finishing up a deal any day now on another script that we will have a chance to be involved with as well. It was an idea we had before Greenlight that we now have the time to flesh out. It’s with a company by the name of Fortress Entertainment.
PM: It’s a two million dollar single location horror film.
SC: Who is the director?
PM: Marcus is going to direct it shot in Louisiana at a plantation.
SC: Does it have a title yet?
MD: I was thinking of one last night.
PM: What was it?
SC: Have any of you been offer any of these parade of remakes that are in the works?
MD: Actually we went in and talked about a couple of them.
PM: Dawn of the Dead 2.
SC: You were approached about Dawn of the Dead 2?
JG: Dawn of the Dead was 2. What about Morning of the Dead?
SC: Maybe they should call it Day of the Dead (laughs).
PM: Afternoon of the Dead (laughs).
SC: What other ones?
MD: Terror Train.
SC: I love Terror Train. I’ve always been a big fan of that flick.
MD: I like it too!
SC: I think something cool could be done with that.
MD: The Man With X-ray Eyes. There was a bunch of them. It’s weird. They will remake anything even bad ones. Oh wait Terror Shock?
PM: Shock Corridor? Wait, no…
MD: Yeah Shockwaves!
PM: So we have taken meetings on all of those things but nothing really struck our fancy.
MD: I just don’t know why, they’re not finding the movie with a bum leg that you can fix with a remake instead they’re taking classics and just trying to throw a new coat of paint on them.
JG: Why would you want to remake a movie you really love? Wouldn’t you want to do one where you thought they botched it?
MD: But at the same time something like Shockwaves is something that definitely has got a bum leg and the other one is not so good either (laughs). And that is something where we could improve upon this concept.
SC: What about you John, what has been happening with you?
JG: Well the thing is that Feast is not quite done yet. I’ve had some general meetings and that kind of stuff. There have been some scripts but no firm offers yet.
SC: Has there been anything you have read that you really want to make?
JG: Not really. I always have in the back of my mind that I want to do this…well I have a couple of things I want to do but one of them is this traveling carnival situation. The problem is I’m not anonymous anymore. Used to I could go and get a job somewhere if I wanted to, now I have these friends who are fire eaters so I might go with them when they go to Texas or something like that. Just hang out for a couple of weeks and write a script or something.
SC: Are you looking to stay in the horror genre or are you looking to branch out?
JG: I don’t want to be locked into any genre. I like horror, but I like anything kind of. I think the thing about someone like Cronenberg or David Lynch is that they take their sensibility with them wherever they go because obviously they can do a movie about four people sitting in an interview at a restaurant and it’s going to have these weird overtones no matter what it is. One person’s horror is another person’s normal movie. So I think that is what I am hoping to head towards; where every movie will eventually have some sort of element that will be me.
PM: Well we have certainly been pigeon holed.
JG: Every script is a remake of Feast that I’m getting (laughs).
PM: We will get things that are sort of sent in cycles. For some reason one week we will get the prison movie, like the video game The Suffering.
JG: Did you guys get that?
PM: Yeah, but we didn’t go for that.
JG: I heard Stan Winston is doing that.
PM: One that we got a lot was the bunch of people showing up at some house in
the middle of nowhere and everyone starts dying. Unfortunately a lot of the stuff we have been sent is very uninspiring.
JG: Everything for me has been twenty something’s chased down a road or being chased through a house or being chased down a road to a house by someone in a mask.
SC: Speaking of inspiration what are your influences?
JG: Fellini, Cocteau, Kubrick…that is a terrible trio there. Growing up we used to show movies in the backyard like the Creature From the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, The Creature Walks Among Us. Since we went to The Devil’s Rejects I happened to read a review online and it happened to be a negative review and it said, “Who goes to a monster movie and identifies with the monster?” All growing up I only identified with the monster, like the Creature or Godzilla. I identify with Godzilla because he’s the good guy. In any of the monster movies like Frankenstein you don’t identify with the doctor, you identify with the monster, the tortured soul who can’t get a girlfriend, hello. That was like the teenage years but yeah, I always identified with the monster so when I was reading that review I was thinking like, “This guy’s head is up his ass. He’s totally wrong.”
PM: In terms of reading literature and such, I have always been more attracted to crime novels. Every year I go away on vacation for two weeks. This year I went away and I had to read stuff for work, but I read the new Bret Easton Ellis book, too. Reading good novels often revives me. I went to Malaysia for two weeks and I don’t speak the language at all, so I was in sort of a bubble and I read a Walter Mosely book, I love Walter Mosely, great writer. I read a Jim Thompson novel and then I read Bret Easton Ellis’ new novel Lunar Park. I love those kinds of pulpy crime dramas because the dialogue is always great and assorted characters.
MD: For me I have been really influenced by directors like Dario Argento, the great Hal Ashby and George Roy Hill.
JG: I just want to say real quick that I went to this Entertainment Weekly party a couple of weeks ago and finally it happened. A guy came up in the music business and said that he would like to get some music in Feast and he said, “What can I get you? Do you need something? Drugs? Girls? I can get you girls.” I am going, “Oh my God this is great!” Of course I ran right over to Diane and said, “Hey Diane, ha-ha, I just got offered girls! He said he could get me girls! In your face!”
SC: So will you be using his music (laughs)?
JG: I didn’t get the chance to take him up on it but…
MD: And that man was Burt Bacharach (everyone bursts into laughter).
JG: What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
I felt that was a good note to end on. I would like to thank John, Patrick and Marcus for their time. Feast is set to open in theaters nationwide in January, assuming they’re able to get the re-shoots done by the, of course. Be sure to stay with Dread Central for the latest!
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