The Arrow interviews Jonathan Liebesman
On a rare moon, I interview somebody and it becomes more than just "interviewer" and "interviewee" talking...it becomes about two people shooting the shit. That's exactly what happened when I sat down with Jonathan Liebesman, the director of the upcoming fear flick "Darkness Falls" (also known as Don't Peek and The Toothfairy). As you will see, this interview just wound up being about two guys talking shop and for me, that made it one of the more memorable sit-downs that I've had in some time. Read on...
(Note: This interview took place in August 2002)
Jonathan: I read your review of "Signs" a couple of days ago...it was very good.
Arrow: Thanks, dude! Have you seen it yet?
Jonathan: No, Iím gonna see it on Saturday, if it's not sold out.
Arrow: Go during the day.
Jonathan: Yeah, Iím planning to.
Arrow: So I saw the trailer for Darkness Falls and it looked kick ass.
Jonathan: Thank you.
Arrow: Youíre going for "old school" and I appreciate that being that Iím a big horror fan myself. What rating are you guys aiming for with the film?
Jonathan: I have no rating in my mind, Iím just trying to keep it as fucking scary as possible. I donít know what theyíre going to make me cut out though.
Arrow: From the script as it is right now...is it an R?
Jonathan: Yeah, it seems that way.
Arrow: Did you write the screenplay?
Jonathan: No, I did not. John Pasano wrote the screenplay (heís also the producer).
Arrow: What was it about the screenplay that made you want to direct it?
Jonathan: I think for a first time director, when you want to sort of experiment visually, a horror film gives you the most potential to know what works visually. I think that the base of filmmaking is visual and with horror movies you get away with being visual and you also get to make another movie because hopefully, it gets to make some dough. Thatís what got me in, it was a film about darkness, light and dark-- which is great to play with visually and it's also about a guy who sees something and isnít sure if he saw it or not.
Arrow: So itís ambiguous.
Jonathan: Which I like a lot.
Arrow: Do you play that card a lot throughout the film?
Jonathan: We do, but I donít know how much of that will remain, it's being tested for audiences right now and if theyíre confused, weíll probably have to make things a little clearer up front which may work better for the movie. I donít know, being my first film...I go with what I feel but I donít know how it's going to come across.
Arrow: Do you feel that you worked so hard on it, that youíre too close and don't see it anymore.
Jonathan: YeahÖthereís one day when we needed more money for a few more days of shooting and they wanted to send back this one scene and I was like "please donít fucking send in that scene, itís a fucking piece of garbage, donít send it back" but that's the one they sent in anyway. The studio wound up really liking it and it's one of the more frightening scenes in the movie. I see that now, but I was way too close at the time. I know what I was going for, but I donít know how much I pulled off.
Arrow: In a perfect world, youíd get the time to step back from it a bit and come back to it fresh.
Jonathan: And I wish I could man, when you want to make films, you want to be able to take that step back while youíre doing it cause you wanna be able to make a better movie. I donít know what the fuck is cheesy anymore, I don't know what the fuckÖ
Jonathan: Right, itís so stressful. I think that most filmmakers are real movie fans too and we have the same fucking complaints about movies. In my mind, I think this movie can win awards, it's going to be the best thing ever, but then you have studios and other constraints that happen. The best way to make a good movie is to be able to take that step back and see everyoneís input but unfortunately the nature of directing, at least with this film, is that you can't take that step back...you always have to be involved.
Arrow: With that deadline looming over your head...
Jonathan: Exactly. And you have all this input coming in and youíre like...shit, shit, shit.
Arrow: How has the studio been with ya?
Jonathan: Very supportive, but at the same time, the studio is obviously going to be a little nervous about a first-time director. Theyíve helped me out when I needed it, sometimes theyíd come up with comments and Iíd be like "Oh God, what are they doing to the film?" but thatís when you try to take the time to step back and see their point and say "okay, maybe it's not working and maybe the audience is going to be bored" and you try it out. For my first film, I think Iím kind of seeing what works, I know what I want to do and Iím seeing how I can accomplish that.
Arrow: Have you screened it for an audience yet?
Jonathan: We had one little screening for an audience.
Arrow: How did it go?
Jonathan: I thought it went well because nobody walked out.
Jonathan: That was my first experience. Now I donít know, Iím not in the studio's head but I think that if they put in enough ingredients, theyíll get what they want out of it. I think thatís what they see...I hope...fuck I gotta tell ya...Iím just sitting here trying to guide the ship while it gets hit by a lot of stuff.
Arrow: So now, the movie works without the Stan Winston effects. It could work without them.
Jonathan: It's scary without them but I think this audience needs a bit more. In a movie like this, I think you need the creature to be a star too, to keep the movie going so youíre gonna have to show it.
Arrow: But then you have movies like "The Blair Witch Project" that didnít show anything and were quite effective.
Jonathan: Thatís very true too.
Arrow: I think that sometimes the studios underestimate their audiences.
Jonathan: I totally believe that too, so what I tried to do with this film is to hold back as much as possible to keep it ambiguous for the first half where you're not sure and you donít see...it's all shadow play: was that a shadow, was it in his head, what the fuck are we looking at?
Jonathan: Just keep it really ambiguous where youíre afraid because you donít know if this guy is going to kill someone or if there's something really there. And then, when you see it, we were going for something like the first part of "Alien" where you see pieces of the creature and you donít quite know what the pieces make and thatís kind of scary too, so you donít know what the big things are. So what I tried to do was to hold back to eventually give the audience a payoff at the end. In the trailer, you see a whole lot of stuff at the end and I have no control on what they want to show people, but weíre trying to keep things tense and unknown, knowing that once you demystify a monster by showing it...
Arrow: It stops being scary.
Jonathan: Right. And the audience is inevitably let down. So Iím trying to hold back as much as possible.
Arrow: One last quick question...when do you think the film will be released?
Jonathan: January 31, 2003.
Arrow: Well...good luck bro!
Jonathan: Thank you, John.
Arrow: No problem.
I'd like to thank Jonathan for taking the time to talk so honestly with me. Let's all hope that the studio didn't ruin "Darkness Falls". The trailer made it look subtle, creepy and "old school". And Jonathan, if ever you're in the Montreal, Canada area...give me a holler because the drinks and the loose women are on me!