The Arrow interviews Ryan Shifrin
Son of composer Lalo Schifrin (Amityville 2 / The Dead Pool), Ryan Schifrin will soon bless us with a cold, icy and hopefully gory can of horror fun times: a killer snowman movie named ABOMINABLE! When\'s the last time you saw a good psycho Big Foot movie? EXACTLY! I had the opportunity to chit-chat with the young writer/director about his hairy feature length directorial debut recently and here\'s what he put on the slab!
ARROW: How long have you been a horror fan?
I’ve been a horror fan since I saw Halloween…I was waaaay to
young to be seeing it, and it gave me nightmares, but I was hooked
from then on. I still read Fangoria magazine every month, and
I’m there opening night for every horror movie that comes out.
ARROW: What’s your favorite horror movie?
RYAN: Oh boy… You mean I have to pick between Re-Animator, The Thing (Carpenter’s), Day of the Dead (I prefer Day over Dawn) and Evil Dead II?
ARROW: You just directed your first feature length horror film, the upcoming ABOMINABLE. What was the creative spark that triggered you wanting to create a killer snow-beast opus?
RYAN: Bigfoot – The Abominable Snowman – they are such iconic creatures. I’ve been into cryptozoology since I was a little kid. UFO’s, The Loch Ness Monster, etc. It occurred to me that I haven’t seen a theatrical Bigfoot movie since Harry and the Hendersons, and that was a “family” movie. I think the time is ripe for a scary Bigfoot movie, where he’s not cuddly or misunderstood. Not all people are nice, why should Bigfeet be any different?
ARROW: Where did you write the screenplay and how long did it take you to bang it out?
RYAN: I wrote the screenplay in L.A. I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but the first draft came together fairly quickly (a matter of a few weeks). Usually I like to have an extensive outline done before I start the screenplay, because then I can get through a first draft in a short period of time. Also, I like to have the characters feel like ‘real’ people before I start writing, because I often find that they almost write it themselves – they end up saying or doing things you never planned on, which I think makes for a better story. It’s important, especially in horror movies, to be able to relate to the main characters, so that we are emotionally affected by what they are going through. If we don’t care about them, how can it be scary? It doesn’t matter if you have 5 million or 50 million dollars – the emotional ride you take the audience on is what counts, and no amount of money can fix bad characters.
ARROW: Was locking financing for the picture a battle or a smooth ride?
RYAN: Originally I was going to do the project with another company, but once we put the LLC together, and talked with our investors, we decided to do it independently. Once we were able to put together the cast we had, the decision was made to add days to the shooting schedule, and the budget was raised. So, I would say that it went relatively smoothly. I actually think we were incredibly fortunate, and I would never expect to be so lucky again! I also have to credit our D.P. Neal Fredericks (who tragically was killed in a plane accident in August), for guiding us every step of the way and making our shoot one of the smoothest, most wonderful experiences.
He went above and beyond the role of what a cinematographer does on this production – he was there from pre-production through post, helping us immensely. We dedicated this film to him, and people will see what a versatile talent Neal was, someone who could create the shaky-handheld documentary feel of Blair Witch, and then turn around and do a slick, studio-looking film on 35mm as he did with Abominable. We could not have pulled this movie off without Neal, plain and simple. I can’t tell you how much we all miss him.
ARROW: I commend you on your casting. Having Dee Wallace Stone and Jeffrey Combs in the mix is a treat for all genre fans! Were they your first choices?
RYAN: Absolutely! I put together a wish list, and gave it to our casting director. I was so nervous meeting them for the first time! I grew up watching their movies, and a lot of the reasons I even went into this business was because of being influenced by their work. They were very enthusiastic about the script, and we really hit it off. They are so gifted; they made me look good! I also wrote the lead part with Matt McCoy in mind. His character is very much like Jimmy Stewart’s in Rear Window, and I needed someone who has the charisma and acting ability to pull it off, which is a hard thing to find. I was so thrilled when he said he’d play the part. Another person on my wish list was Paul Gleason, the principal from The Breakfast Club. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast.
ARROW: What would you say was the biggest hindrance during the actual shoot? How did you overcome it?
RYAN: Snow! We were hit with a series of blizzards. Luckily, we were able to move indoors and shoot interiors, then go back out once things calmed down, clear off the snow, and keep shooting. We did spend several freezing nights shooting as snow fell, which slowed us down but added some beautiful production value. Another problem we hadn’t anticipated was bark beetles. They are killing off the trees in the forests in several states, and the dead trees near electrical lines are fire hazards, so the electric company is scheduled to be on the mountain cutting down the trees for the next year.
Our first day of shooting, they showed up and cut the power and told us they’d be in the area for a few weeks, cutting down dead trees. After some discussion, they were kind enough to move their operation to a different area until we were done shooting. They basically cut us a break, which if they hadn’t, would have shut the production down. We are very grateful for their kindness, to say the least.
ARROW: Were you happy with how your killer snowman suit turned out (i.e. are we going to see the darn beast in the movie?)
RYAN: I think our monster suit is superb. It was created by Christien Tinsley, who worked on The Passion of the Christ, XXX, Chronicles of Riddick and many other studio films. He’s an amazing talent, and he made a really scary monster. If you’ve seen the Drew Struzan poster, that is pretty much how it looks. And yes, you will absolutely see the beast. I’m a fan of Jaws, where they withhold showing you the shark, but eventually they reveal it in all its glory in the 3rd act. I followed this same model, especially since we are dealing with an iconic monster. If I go to a Dracula or a Frankenstein movie, I darn well expect to see the monster, and I feel the same way about Bigfoot. I understand that often times, the imagination is scarier than anything you can show, but at the same time, you don’t go to see a Michael Myers movie expecting him to stay in the shadows the whole time. I personally feel ripped off if I never get to see the monster in a monster movie. Luckily, we have something that is worth showing, and is worth the wait. And it’s not CGI! Old school all the way.
ARROW: Are you playing the flick straight or as a horror comedy?
RYAN: We play it fairly straight. There are in-jokes and horror references, and of course, you need to lighten the suspense with humor on occasion, but the tone is straightforward and serious. We looked at a variety of movies, from Pumpkinhead to Signs, and wanted to really put the audience up there in the isolated forest – make them feel in the moment, as though they were there alongside the main character. It’s not brutalizing though. If The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake is the Saving Private Ryan of horror movies (in terms of tone), this is probably more along the lines of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a fun ride.
ARROW: How graphic/gory is this bad boy going to be?
RYAN: This is not PG-13, for sure. We have some gory kills, which comes from my guilty pleasure in enjoying Tom Savini’s work in Friday the 13th and the Romero zombie flicks. I didn’t want a watered down movie, because if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. This film was made for horror fans by horror fans. I remember freaking out in Creepshow when the monster in the crate bit off a huge chunk of the guy’s face! I wanted to have moments in this film that will affect people in the same way. If it appeals to mainstream audiences beyond that, in the way that Jaws did, fantastic. If not, we know who the loyal fans are, and we won’t let them down!
ARROW: Any female TNA in this monster stew? Yes…I’m that guy!
RYAN: Joe Bob Briggs, from Drive-In-Theater ingrained it in my head, from years of watching cable TV: A good horror movie has The Three B’s: Blood, Breasts, and Beasts. So, to answer your question, yes, we have all three.
ARROW: Where is the film now in terms of distribution? Are all your territories locked?
RYAN: We’re in the process of setting up screenings for distributors now, we have kept this movie under wraps until it was finished and now we are ready to unveil it. Luckily, we didn’t run out of money and have to crawl to someone begging for finishing funds. We got to make the film we wanted to make, without interference, which very rarely happens nowadays. Skywalker Sound did all of the sound FX, and we knew they would do an incredible job, so we decided to wait until it was totally finished before showing it to distributors. That time is now upon us, and we’re very excited. Wish us luck!
ARROW: Good luck!! What’s next on your plate? Any other projects on the horizon?
RYAN: I have several projects in various stages of development. A lot will depend on what happens with "Abominable" of course, so I’d rather not reveal too much now. I do love monster movies, however, so expect more of those!
I\'d like to say mucho thanks to Ryan for dropping by the site to talk shop! I\'m really looking forward to Abominable (perfect X-Mas movie), so let\'s hope that it delivers the big foot goods!