Craig Singer made his debut in the horror world with "Dark Ride", a film chosen as one of the first "8 Films To Die For" at the inaugural "After Dark Horror Fest". Two years later, he's back in After Dark with his film "Perkins 14", which took unprecedented steps to involve the online horror community in its development. From the story, to which actors actors were cast... even to the poster, fans had a chance to vote on what this film would be. On the eve of the third Horror Fest, Craig sat down with us to talk about the film and how it all came about.
At one point this would have been considered very experimental, and now it really seems inevitable...
So let's start off with the basics... what kind of horror films influence you the most?
When I was 6 my parents took me to see "Night of the Living Dead" in a drive-in movie theater in Paramus, New Jersey, and that effected me deeply. I had reoccurring nightmares for literally 15 years. As a matter of fact every once in a while I'll still have them. That really was that not only the power of cinema spoke to me, but horror in general, and how it could really get under your skin. And after that you had stuff like "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage", "Deep Red", "28 Days Later'" I'm a big fan of. I've always been a huge fan of the genre.
So a few years ago you made "Dark Ride". How did you go from having this indie film to ending up in the After Dark Horror Fest? I'm sure a lot of indie filmmakers would be interested in your secret.
I did a film with a producer who just passed away named John Daly, who was a 13 time Academy Award winner. And he introduced me to an actor named Gary Stretch, and Mickey Rourke. And Gary and Mickey and I were going to do a film called "A Good Night To Die", which we eventually made without Mickey. He hung in the project for a year and a half and eventually he was replaced by Michael Rappaport. And it was kind of a gangster/noir film that we shot in the city. It premiered at Cannes and the Tribecca film festival had a screening as well. In France one of the executives at Lions Gate came up to me after the screening and he asked me what I wanted to do next. I told him I had a love and passion for horror, and they said "we're your partner".
So I wrote "Dark Ride" with Robert Dean Kline, which was based on growing up on the Jersey shore and going into a lot of these dark ride attractions. At the time I was very young they had a lot of these walkthrough attractions. And at 6 Flags Great Adventure there was actually a tragedy, a fire that killed some people who were walking through. So I kind of combined that tragedy with my memories with those old ride-through attractions, and we wrote that script and Lions Gate was our partner. Then it was acquired by After Dark. We never dreamed it was going to have a theatrical release. It was kind of like intended to be a very small, Direct to DVD film. So we were really pleased. I think it was the most successful film of Horror Fest 1, and they invited me to a meeting in New York and they asked me if I could direct a second film for Horror Fest. And that was kind of the birth of "Perkins 14".
I know a lot of people I've talked to have sort of mixed feelings on After Dark. Like every year there's one or two good films, and a few that really aren't up to snuff. I was wondering your impression on that, and what your experience working with them was like.
I think that obviously they marketed the films with this "extreme" campaign, and I think that maybe rubbed some people the wrong way because some of the films were ghost films and a little tamer in nature. I think the expectations were that they were going to be a little more hardcore if you will. It's almost like the marketing for the film "The Village", where a lot of people felt it was marketed as a horror film and it's really a love story so a lot of people felt miffed. So in some cases I think that backlash effected After Dark. But again, if you love the genre, if you're a true fan it's undeniable to have the opportunity to view these films the way the filmmakers intended, which is on the big screen. It's a blessing and a privilege, and I try not to confuse rights and privileges. It's a real privilege that I get to do what I do, and I don't take that for granted.
So they came back to you with this Massify contest idea that led to "Perkins 14"?
Actually they came back to me just to direct a traditional feature film and my partner Chris Williams and myself had been working for years on a fan-crafted horror film. We were partnered with Massify to do a fan-crafted horror film and it was just good timing to put the two parties together; Massify and After Dark, to make the film happen. We were going to do the film one way or another, but it was just good timing. At one point this would have been considered very experimental, and now it really seems inevitable with respect to what's going on online, and having fans participate and "touch the cloth" so to speak, in a deep meaningful way. Not just "choose Ending A or choose Ending B", but really in a robust, fun environment.
Did that make you nervous? Giving fans all that input? Was there ever a point when you were thinking, "oh God, what if this idea wins?"
Not really because I believe there's a lot of creative energy out there. I started out as a fan because I couldn't afford to go to film school. So I really believe that there's a lot of creative people and I believe that the cream rises to the top. They had hundreds of ideas and it scaled beautifully. The fans voted on the finalists, and then they did video submissions and kind of had an opportunity to do a mini teaser-trailer. Similarly with the cast, there's fans in this film, people who have no acting experience. Even the poster design was from a contest. So it's really given the fans a chance to have a voice. I would have been first in line when I was a kid, to have the opportunity to get near a 35 millimeter camera. So I know what that passion is like and I have a lot of respect for it.
Are there main characters that won this contest?
I'm not going to say they're the "leads" in the film, but they're decent roles, they're all decent roles. It's a great opportunity not only as a professional feather in their cap, but to be in a film that's distributed nationwide on theater screens, it's a wonderful opportunity for them. it was tough too because there was a lot of talented actors who wanted the slots.
I absolutely loved the retro poster that the fans chose.
It's a funny story, there were maybe 400 submissions, and that poster that won... I kind of went behind the scenes and gave kudos to the fella who submitted that. Never in a million years did I think he would win because it never works out like that, but he ended up winning and I had nothing to do with that. I didn't vote or have any say in it. It was just a happy accident that the one poster that I thought was so fucking cool won, and we've got this incredible Grindhouse, retro-horror poster that I don't think if you had paid top money to a New York or LA design team would you end up with such a kickass poster.
How would you describe "Perkins 14" to someone who's thinking about going out to see some of the After Dark stuff?
I'd say that it's a very very scary, very well performed horror film that's got an emotional core. It's not just a slice and dice, but it actually has a very well thought out story and exceptional performances. I'm very proud of my team I worked with. Very proud of the film and I think people are going to be entertained by it and they're going to look past any of the online novelty, because that only takes you so far. The film has to stand on it's own and I think it does.
Do you feel this represents a step forward from Dark Ride? Do you think you've matured as a filmmaker?
I do, and a lot of people who have seen Perkins have given me that compliment which I think is really the icing on the cake. My intention with "Dark Ride" was to create something that was very accessible and fun, and had a kind of dark-humor camp to it. With "Perkins 14" I wanted the opposite, I wanted it to have a much more somber and serious tone and feel, without the camp. I think I achieved that.
Have you seen any of the other films from this year's fest?
No but I look forward to seeing them. My son CJ Singer actually co-stars in "Slaughter" and has a role in "Perkins 14", so I get to see my son in two films.
So what's up next for you. Will you be back with After Dark or are you moving on?
That's a great question. My partner Chris Williams and I are doing a film with Warner Brothers called "Fear 101", that's the working title. It's really going to take the user-generated element to the next level, even moreso than "Perkins 14", and give the fans an extremely robust opportunity to kind of participate in the feature film. We're very excited about that, I always wanted to do a film with Warner Brothers, and we're just starting the process as we speak so I'm pretty psyched.
Anything else our fans should check out?
Well I don't know when this runs but the [After Dark] Horror Fest starts this weekend, and if you or any of your readers are in the New York City area, we're doing a poster signing with myself and some of the cast of "Perkins 14" on Sunday [01/11/09], at the AMC 7 in the village at 5 O'clock. I'm pretty psyched to see what people think of the film. I hope people enjoy it and they're entertained, and we get to do it all over again.