Jon Knautz made his feature length directing debut this year with the quirky independent horror film "Jack Brooks Monster Slayer". Helped by a classic performance from genre vet Robert Englund and some fun practical special effects, the film has been a certified festival hit. Now that it's seeing a DVD release from Anchor Bay, we sat down to see what he's been up to.
I've got nothing against CGI, I loved "Iron Man", but for this we wanted to go back to the old school 80's stuff.
So what were your biggest inspirations for Jack Brooks?
Well the guy who plays Jack, Trevor Matthews, we work together. We run Brookstreet Pictures together, and we knew we were gonna get financing for a low budget feature so we were trying to decide whatt kind of feature we were going to make. We had a few different scripts we were looking at and one of them was this idea we came up with when we were drunk with monsters and stuff, and we just thought let's roll with that one so we started developing that. We figured for our first feature it would be a smart move to target an already existing genre. So we ran with the story from there and had fun with it.
So are you a big fan of the genre?
Oh ya, totally. I'm a huge horror fan, ever since I was a kid.
Given the nature of the film, I always figured there were some awkward looks from investors along the line, but it sounds like you already had the funding lined up when you chose to do the film, is that right?
Yes and no. We had started our company and done a few short films, and then our main investor, Trevor's dad, he said let's move into the feature world now, and he wasn't crazy about Jack Brooks Monster Slayer. He was kind of shocked when we picked that script. I just don't think it was his kind of flavor, he was a little more old school. Once he saw that it was a business plan, and not just us wanting to make a monster movie, he jumped on board. there was definitely a period of time there where he was questioning the script and we kind of had to explan things.
I've heard the film compared to shows like Xena or Hercules. Was any of that intentional?
Not to those particular shows no, but I know Rob Tapert produced a lot of those and worked with Sam Raimi on the "Evil Dead" Trilogy, and we watched a lot of that stuff. "Evil Dead", "The Fly," "Big Trouble in Little China", "Gremlins", "From Dusk Till Dawn", those were ones we looked at a lot while making Jack Brooks.
So how did you end up getting Robert Englund involved?
Pretty standard stuff. We literally just sent him the script. We had a little wishlist of genre guys that we wanted to try and get into the film, and Robert was obviously one of the first. So we sent him a script and we also sent him a copy of a short film we made called "Still Life". Robert really liked the short, and I guess that sort of helped show him that we were serious, and not just kind of screwing around.
What was it like working with him on set?
It was really good. He's pretty grounded. You figure when you meet the guy, he's been Freddy for the last 30 years, that he might be a little more like a Hollywood type, but he's not at all. He just loves movies. He watches so many movies it's unbelievable, he's an encycopledia of film knowledge. He really takes his job seriously too. He's there to get his work done and he comes to set very prepared. So it was awesome. I've got a lot of stories (laughs). Sometimes we'd be like "ok, we've got to shoot now", because he'd have a group of people around him and he'd be telling stories about Hollywood in the 60's and 70's (laughs).
Besides Englund another thing that really sold me before I had seen it was that poster art. Who was responsible for that?
That was made well after the movie was done. It was our foreign sales guys, Epic. A couple of those guys wanted to do a poster, and I wanted to do that old 80's style kind of stuff like "Army of Darkness", or "National Lampoon's Vacation". That sort of look. They just nailed it. They went out and did that kind of style and we were all pretty happy. I was kind of thrown off at first (laughs), because it's so in your face. It was just hilarious looking at Trevor's ripped abs and stuff. But after a while we realized a lot of people were digging it so we just kind of stuck with it.
The film has been marketed as being all practical effects. Was that the idea from the beginnign?
Ya, that was the game plan from the start. The only CGI is wire removal. That kind of stuff doesn't bother me. But as soon as you've got to actually create computer generated imagery, it's a different movie and we just didn't want to do that. I've got nothing against CGI, I loved "Iron Man", but for this we wanted to go back to the old school 80's stuff.
So I have to ask the inevitable. Will there be a sequel?
Yes, we're definitely doing a sequel, for sure.
Is there a script yet?
We're currently in script development, we haven't actually spun out a draft yet, but we're quite far into development. Far enough that there's no turning back. We knew we didn't have the money to do a full blown action/horror movie with part 1, we just didn't have the money. So the gameplan was to make a movie about a guy who becomes a monster slayer, and then the action hits you at the end. With Part 2 now, we're looking to raise quite a bit more money... people will get what they want in this one for sure, if they like the end of the first one.
So will there be more monsters?
Oh ya, there's already twice as many in this one as there was in the first one, and they're way cooler. Everything's a lot better. We learned a lot from making the first movie. This time around it's funnier, scarier... as of now it's definitely creepier, more action. All around better. It's gonna be a matter of getting the cash, which isn't 100%, but it looks good. So we'll go for it and then it's a matter of surviving the shoot... it's going to kick my ass man. The first one was hard enough but, this one's going to fucking destroy me (laughs). I'll just drink Red Bull and get through it.
So when should we expect that?
We would like to be shooting next summer. We want this one to go really well, so we're going to spend at least another 4 months on the script, and then give it maybe 5 months of pre-production and then start shooting next summer. So that's what we're looking at.
Any more plot details?
There will be new characters, and Jack sort of partners up with someone else. Actually, It's more like they are forced to work with each other. He kind of gets caught up in this scenario where he's taken advantage of and then realizes later on that he was sort of used to kill monsters he wasn't necessarily supposed to kill, and it kind of leads him into this whole new adventure he gets caught up in.
You mentioned the first almost killing you, what was the most difficult part?
Well, I wouldn't say there was one particular thing, it was more doing those kinds of effects, dealing with those effects within our time constraints was really tough. With CG it's like you throw up the blue screen and you don't worry about it. We had to shoot everything. The thing I think that really opened my eyes was "reset time" for the creatures. You kind of forget about that.
You do your shot with the guy in the suit, and then you call cut and you need another take and the FX guy has to come in, sit the guy down, he's hot so they have to take off the mask which takes 10 fucking minutes. Then he's got to cool down and they've got to do touchups... and you want them to, you don't want your monster to look like crap, but all of a sudden it's like 25 minutes between two takes and it's like holy shit man! You feel like you're moving like a snail covering the shots. You've got 35 shots to do today and it's already been 2 hours and you've only done 2 shots. So that was really tedious.
So are dreading doing it all over again?
No. I love it man, I love that stuff. Plus I'm way more prepared for it now. I understand all the reset time. I mean I want to basically double the length of our shoot. Part 1 was a huge learning experience. I will not use computer graphics. Matte plantings, that might be fun to fuck around with, or some composting. But I don't want to digitally create creatures for effect. I want to do that all practical, that's just the flavor of Jack Brooks.