Cult Projections: Tell me a little about your background. You trained as an actor, but you had your sights set on becoming a filmmaker, yes?
John: I did two years of film school then I did three years of acting school. I was kind of searching for myself being that every facet of filmmaking, in front and behind the camera interested me. Once school was done, I acted in theatre productions, did the audition rounds while working as a script doctor for local production companies.
CP: You’ve been acting consistently since 2001, and you’ve had a love-hate relationship with the art, will you continue to pursue the acting career, now that you’ve made your first feature?
John: I always loved the art but hated the business side of it. I have since made peace with the latter though. Right now, I wouldn’t turn down a good acting role if it fell in my lap and I do have three upcoming roles already secured, but I am not actively pursing acting at the moment. Since directing The Shelter, I am hooked and I am in the process of getting my directorial follow up off the ground. Something with a bigger budget that is way more mainstream. That is where my energy is going.
CP: Did you have actor “heroes” growing up? Who were your inspirations and/or influences as you moved into acting professionally?
John: I looked up to Sylvester Stallone as a role model personally and professionally. He was a man that had nothing and earned his success through hard work and perseverance. That inspired me. And he could do it all: acting, writing, directing! So yeah, Stallone was my hero growing up and it is still a goal of mine to work with him someday (I did submit myself for Rambo). Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Clint Eastwood, James Dean, Marlon Brandon, and Mickey Rourke were also inspirations/influences.
CP: Can you tell me a little about your creative process as a screenwriter? Do you involve many others for feedback/input?
John: My process usually goes like this when writing on spec: I find the premise and the ending. Then I think about the project, figuring it out in my head, until I finally sit down, pour myself a whiskey on the rocks and write. I use the choices that I made and my instinct to get me from point A to C. After a first draft, I usually get feedback from my inner circle and then go back at it again with distance and an outside perspective. And then I’m usually done, until the script gets acquired and shot and more changes are needed.
CP: You’ve collaborated on some screenplays, and others you’ve written on your own. What are the pros and cons of both?
John: There are no cons on working alone. You’re in full control. And when you need distance because you’re too close to see what you truly have, you take a week off and then go back to it with fresh eyes. The pros of writing with somebody else would be that they of course bring a perspective to the material that is not yours; hence they can contribute something you wouldn’t have thought of. You also have somebody to bounce ideas with (I love a good bouncing session) and they can kick you in the ass when you just don’t feel like writing – much like a good gym partner.
The cons of working with somebody else? Having to make compromises when you don’t share the same vision is one of them. I also found writing by committee i.e. trying to please the director, the producers and yourself all at the same time to be challenging.
CP: How did you land the enviable editor’s position of website Arrow In The Head? Briefly describe a few highlights and a few headaches.
John: Working on a website was never a goal of mine. It was never even a thought in my mind. In the year 2000 my good buddy Berge Garabedian aka JoBlo asked me “Hey you know about that horror stuff, do you want to start a section on my fansite JoBlo.com?” I said “Sure only if we call it Arrow in the Head and you don’t censor me” And that was the beginning, I started AITH for fun, I figured it would keep my writing fresh. Websites and blogs were at an infancy stage then and I never expected it to become a full-blown career path. The pros of Arrow in the Head were that I travelled a lot, experienced many things, hooked up with many of my closest friends via the site and got to meet so many people in the film industry, some of them being my heroes. I mean I had lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of The Last Stand, that was surreal for me, something like that would not have happened without the site.
On the flip side, you are what you are known for hence for a long time everybody perceived me as a film critic/webmaster pretending to be an actor/screenwriter when it was the other way around. Hence I did harbor some resentment towards the site since even though it was giving me so much, it was also somewhat getting in the way of what I truly wanted to do. It was also a lot of work. I mean I remember doing every single thing on AITH myself for five years. I’d actually go to sleep in my clothes so I wouldn’t have to waste time getting dressed when I got up in the morning – I’d get straight to work; building, building, building …
CP: What’s your opinion on the current climate of movie review blogs/sites?
John: They are fine I guess. I can’t say that I really read any of them to be honest. Running a website for fifteen years, the last thing I wanna do with my time off is read other people’s websites/blogs. You’ll find me in nature, in the gym or reading a good book. Doing anything but being online.
CP: OK, so one word each to describe: acting, screenwriting, directing, film criticism.
John: Acting – fun. Screenwriting – control. Directing – war. Film criticism – opinion.
CP: Where does the story of The Shelter stem? It comes across as a very personal movie.
John: The initial creative spark that triggered The Shelter was seeing a homeless man sitting in the snow on my way back from a hockey game. I gave him some money and on my walk back home I started making up a story about that man. Who was he? Where did he come from? How did he get there? Where is he going? The seed for the Shelter was born. Once I sat down to finally tackle the screenplay: my own personal demons, themes that fascinate me (like guilt and forgiveness), and my spirituality seeped in there to result in what the film became.
CP: What’s your opinion on other religious-themed horror movies?
John: Too many of them focus on the same things: demons, the devil, and possession. It’s overkill. Solid horror films focusing on God as opposed to the Devil are few and far between. And I found that fascinating being that anybody that’s read the Old Testament knows that God can be pretty extreme in the name of “good”. One religious-themed film that I admire is Bill Paxton’s Frailty. It’s powerful, clever and well-acted picture that showed the dark side of doing “God’s work”. I wish there were more films like it out there.
CP: Was Michael Paré always the actor you had in mind, or did you have an audition process?
John: Having met Mike and spent time with him in Budapest on the set of Eric Red’s 100 Feet in 2008, I actually had him in mind when I wrote the script. The lead character looked like him in my head. But at the time I didn’t think he’d do the movie. He was very busy hence when it came down to it, I was looking for somebody “like Michael Pare” to star in The Shelter. That’s until co-producer Donny Broussard convinced me to just send him the script and see what happens. Mike read it, he dug it, I met him in LA, we talked it out and made a deal. It was meant to be. I didn’t audition him and I didn’t need to. I knew he was up the task and that he had that key quality this particular role needed: magnetism. The audience had to want to watch him being that he’s pretty much in every frame of the picture. Mike pulled it off and then some in my opinion; his visceral performance is one of The Shelter’s main strengths.
CP: What has been some of the joys of making your first feature, and what have been some of the headaches and heartaches?
John: Everything about the actual shoot was a joy for me, even the hard times. I love being challenged, it was a delight to see my script come to life and I felt very comfortable behind the camera, in my element if you will. Of course being that time and money were of an essence, I had to consolidate some scenes and looking at the film now, I wish I had done some things differently; but that comes with the territory. I have been on many sets and The Shelter was my favorite one. I couldn’t have asked for a harder working crew and a smoother shoot.
Alas, as the lead producer and the person that owns the project i.e. responsible for everything, the true headaches came after I yelled out “It’s a wrap!”. That has been and still is the true challenge of having made this film.
CP: What have been some of the movies of the past few years that have really impressed you?
CP: Okay, and finally, perhaps the most difficult question of all: Name your five all-time favorite horror movies.
CP: Thank you for your time John!
John: My pleasure! Thank you for having me!
The Shelter is currently on the international festival circuit.