Arrow in the Head Interviews Mike Hurst
Writer/Director MIKE HURST has been a busy genre bumble-bee now of late. In 2005 he gave us HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2 and this year will see the release of ROOM 6 (Hitting the DVD shelves on June 13, 2006), a supernatural thriller in the veins of Jacob's Ladder. Oh did I mention that he also has THE HARVEST in the wings awaiting Distribution, that he's presently shooting PUMPKINHEAD 4 and that CABIN FEVER 2 might be in the cards for him? Well...I just did. Mike was kind enough to jab with yours truly and here's what came out of the bout.
What are some of your favorite horror films?
I love a lot of different horror movies. My favorite film of all time, in any genre, is Jaws, which is obviously nothing but a brilliantly made giant monster movie. I also love The Terminator and the remake of The Thing. I am one of those people who felt the American remake of The Ring was actually better than Nakata’s original, although to be fair I did see The Ring in a double bill with Ghost Ship, which probably helped it seem brilliant by comparison.
You co-wrote your most recent film ROOM 6 with Mark Altman. Who came up with the story?
I came up with the story whilst walking back from a theater with my brother, after we’d just seen Freddy vs Jason. I pitched it at a lunch with Mark Altman, who I’d known socially since we’d met at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999. Mark told me he was starting up a new film company so I agreed to write the first draft of the Room 6 script (then called Room 666, it was Mark who changed the title to the more subtle ‘6’) and I gave it to him, on the understanding that if he got the financing sorted out then we’d do a rewrite together and shoot it.
Well, I kinda forgot all about it for a while, worked on other stuff when one day I got a phone call from Mark saying, ‘Good news, I’ve sorted out the financing for Room 6, but I also need you to come and direct House of the Dead 2 first. So Mark ended up giving me an incredible two-for-one deal, all because I’d shown faith in him and written a script on spec. That kinda stand-up attitude is why I like working with Mark and his partner Mark Gottwald. They have a great no-bullshit approach and they care about the films they make.
How long was the writing process and how arduous was it for you?
The script for Room 6 came pretty easy, my initial pitch to Mark at that lunch was reasonably detailed and had the twist all laid out etc. The first draft is structurally very similar to the finished film, but Mark came in and did a great job with the character stuff, which I personally think is his greatest strength as a writer. He particularly changed the character that Jerry O’Connell ended up playing, because in my rushed first draft he was a bit of a bland stereotype and we definitely needed more from it.
The other big change Mark implemented in the screenplay involved a change to the lead character’s backstory which gave the whole piece more depth. Then we had a script which we showed to IDT, who were financing and they actually had a great note, a great idea for a change which Mark and I both loved, so we quickly incorporated that and then we were off and running.
What was it about this particular tale that inspired you as a director?
The genesis of the idea started with my absolute and total fear of hospitals, and of any kind of white-coat wearing type people. I mean, hospitals are full of sick people, just full of ‘em. And how many buildings are there in society where you go in and may never come out? Plus they smell funny. The other thing I liked was the chance to make a film that’s set in a different kind of reality, giving us the chance to do some hopefully interesting effects and shots.
The sexy Christine Taylor in ROOM 6!
How would you describe casting the picture? Smooth sailing or a pain in the neck?
The casting on Room 6 went really, really well. Christine Taylor was the first actress we approached and she said yes, so that made everything else fall into place. The hardest thing to do when trying to put together the jigsaw puzzle that is a film’s cast is finding that one key piece. Once you’ve got that then it gives you a great boost and then you can around with your head held slightly higher and say to people like Jerry O’Connell, well, Christine Tayler’s gonna be in it.
She was the lead and the keystone of the arch. After that we tried to put a few horror names in it, for the fans, Kane Hodder as a homeless man with an evil alter ego, Chloe Moretz, the little girl from the Amityville Horror remake and finally Shane Brolly from the Underworld movies, who came in almost at the last minute, after we’d been messed about with by another actor I won’t name, and he came in and he was great and really saved us. He’s a hell of a lot more charming and real as an actor when he doesn’t have to wear plastic fangs.
Congrats on having cast the criminally underrated Christine Taylor, she’s a solid and charismatic actress. What was it about her that made her “the lead” for you?
I remember seeing Zoolander at the theater a few years ago and getting one of those onscreen ‘crush’ things on her during the movie. She’s a very beautiful lady. Added to that, and more importantly, she instantly likeable and she’s a very good actress. I figured that the whole story was one woman’s attempt to find the man she loves after he’s been mysteriously abducted by other-worldly forces. So…if you didn’t like the woman and care about her plight then the whole film would be boring. So we needed someone like Christine to anchor the whole movie.
How would you describe her on set? Was she a director’s actress?
As much as I know it makes great copy I can’t say a single bad thing about Christine. She was an absolute dream, one of the kindest, sweetest people I have ever met. She had time for everybody, even the strange extra who kept insisting he should be co-starring in a comedy with Ben Stiller. Christine had great focus and worked incredibly hard. She said upfront that the nature of the film, where her character spends a lot of time running from things that weren’t always actually there on set.
And her character has to go through all these emotions and be in different stages of distress and awareness, meant that she had to place herself in my hands entirely and she did that. I actually found out while we were shooting that she was 5 months pregnant at the time, which was amazing. We obviously used a double for anything too physical but otherwise Christine was 100 percent there every day, working incredibly hard.
The film’s nature somewhat gave you carte blanche in terms of trying new things on a visual front, what would you say was your favorite visual effect in the film?
One of the things we all liked about Room 6 was that it was a very different kind of film than House of the Dead 2. You see, we’d all just filmed HOD 2 maybe four weeks before we started filming Room 6 and we used 90 percent of the same crew. So, although we’d had a great time on HOD 2 and were proud of the movie, we all embraced the chance to do something different this time. Room 6 is set in a much more recognizable world most of the time, with supernatural flourishes and moments.
My favorite effect involves the building that can only be seen during flashes of lightning, that was an idea for a shot I’d actually had years before (I try and keep notebooks full of little ideas for shots or effects or characters or lines of dialogue or even whole concepts) and this was the time I got to use it. I thought the CGI guys really did a great job with it.
Kane "Voorhees" Hodder in ROOM 6!
ROOM 6 Part 2? A possibility for Mike Hurst?
I don’t think there’ll be a direct sequel, but in many ways the film Mark and I did next, The Darkroom, was a follow up in terms of style and genre, and in fact the first draft of that script was called, just as a private joke, Room 7. And there is a Room 7 in the film.
Where are THE HARVEST and THE DARK ROOM at in terms of distribution?
I don’t know much about The Harvest, it was shot for a very low budget and I’ve never seen it, I just wrote the script. The Darkroom is the film we made after Room 6. IDT were happy with Room 6 and asked Mark and I to come up with another one. I had an idea, Mark added to it, we pitched it and IDT said yes. It’s a psychological horror movie with, I think, our best twist at the end. We made it literally a few weeks after we’d wrapped on Room 6, with the same crew again.
It was an amazing rollercoaster rise, doing 3 movies inside 9 months. The Darkroom stars Lucy Lawless from Xena and Battlestar Galactica, Shawn Pyfrom from Desperate Housewives, Reed Diamond from Good Night and Good Luck and Greg Grunberg from Alias. All the actors were great, with both Lucy and Greg playing waaay off type. I’m really proud of the film and look forward to completing post-production when I get back from Romania, which is where I am right now.
You’re also presently directing the fourth installment of the Pumpkinhead franchise. What direction are you taking with the film? Will you keep the original’s tone or go for something new?
Right now I’m halfway through shooting Pumpkinhead 4: Love Hurts, from a script I wrote. It’s like Romeo and Juliet, set in the midst of a feud between two familes in the American South. Basically our “Romeo” decides to call on Pumpkinhead to avenge the death of his sister and wipe out all of his lover’s family so they can be together. It’s a dark horror movie, with a lot of blood and a lot of action. Almost like a Western, except there’s a big killer demon in it.
It should be a lot of fun. Lance Henriksen is reprising his role as the ghost of Ed Harley and he has been just great to work with. A great actor and a great guy. The chance to work with him was a major reason I took on the project and was able to write the script so fast. I actually have to go on set in, er, 3 hours time, for another all-nighter in the Romanian woods. (I have to stop writing EXT. WOODS/ NIGHT at the top of script pages. I MUST start writing EXT. BEACH / DAY, if only for my health!)
You’ve been working non-stop now of late, what does Mike Hurst do to relax?
I have been very, very busy but I’m definitely not complaining. Before House of the Dead 2 I spent 2 years failing to get anything off the ground and ended up directing a truly terrible TV show in England. To be able to make so many movies in so short a time has been great and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s hard work but it’s what I want to do. I used to be a kickboxing champion and still find time to train with the Californian State Champion from time to time and I enjoy that.
Apart from that I ride my bike a lot, go to see a LOT of movies, buy DVD’s and write a lot of scripts, sometimes with my brother Andy (who is a great writer with loads of credits now) and sometimes on my own, as potential directing gigs.
What’s next for you after Pumpkinhead 4? Any other projects in the works?
I’ve written a script for a potential Cabin Fever movie, and I’ve met with Lions Gate (who I did HOD 2 for) about that. They’re great guys and great to work for, so I hope something will come of that. I’ve written Vampirella for Mark Altman and Mark Gottwald and I know they’re working towards getting that up and running and I’d love to do that.
I’m also trying to write up a new idea, for a Sci Fi action film. I’ll finish writing that as soon as I get back from Romania, and intend to finance and shoot a short proof-of-concept promo for this, to show people the idea better than I can just pitch it.
What was the first drink you consumed at the ROOM 6 wrap party? And don’t tell me apple juice : )
Honestly, because of my kickboxing and martial arts background I don’t drink at all. Boring, I know, but at least I get to remember everything. So it probably was apple juice, sorry!
At least you remember the last 5 years of your life bro...AND I DON'T! Then again, for me, its probably better that way...thanks for the chat Mike!
One ugly mofo...in...yup...ROOM 6!
I'd like to thank Mike for stopping by the site and wish him the best with his present and future projects! One thing is for sure, the man is on fire now of late! Keep it up bro!