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INT: Stewart Hopewell

02.02.2009by: JimmyO

Recently, After Dark films returned with the latest 8 Films to Die For. One of those films is SLAUGHTER, from director Stewart Hopewell. It tells the tale of two very different girls who end up finding solace in each other. But this is After Dark film, and you know this relationship is going to have a few bumps in the road. What is really surprising is that SLAUGHTER feels like you are traveling down a certain path, but you soon realize it was not the one you thought you were on. While the title may offer up images of bloodshed and torture, the film itself is more grounded in what is a dark, psychological thriller. And if you can let go of the implications of the title, you will find a well acted and moody chiller that is quite refreshing.

When I sat down to talk with Stewart in front of the Western Bagel in Burbank, California, we talked about the title. He was very open as to what it meant and why it was chosen. He was also very open as to the making of the film and the experience of going to Romania to make a horror film for After Dark. Mr. Hopewell is a talented fellow who seems to have a unique vision as a genre filmmaker. I really appreciated his excitement for filmmaking, and I also appreciated the film he made on a very limited budget. If you happened to miss SLAUGHTER when After Dark came and went, it is well worth checking out upon it’s DVD release.

Was SLAUGHTER the original title?

Yes, it was the original title.

You were just doing that to f*ck with us weren’t you [Laughing]?

It’s kind of an existential thing, I think, if you really start talking about the post-modern implications of Slaughter… No, but it was a working title from when the concept was living in our heads, and we were like, ‘Alright… let’s just call it Slaughter. Let’s just do it.’ So we did it. And then we went into production on the film, actually, me personally, I wanted to change it to FAITHLESS. Which some could argue that it was a lame title or a better title, I found it kind of humorous at the time because of the pun [the lead characters name is Faith]. I just thought it would be a better title for the film. Kind of what happened is that there is another film called Slaughter that’s in production from… I don’t know Victor Garcia, but I think I met him once, we have a mutual friend who’s producing another project of mine. I felt kind of weird about having a go picture with the same title as his, and it was supposed to come out the same year. Now his didn’t end up coming out, which is fine, but I still felt kind of weird about it. So we changed the name to Faithless. We shot the film under that production name and then when I got the comp posters back from After Dark, they said SLAUGHTER on them [Laughing]… I was like, ‘Oh, really? We’re changing the name?’

Did they say anything to you about that?

They just decided to change it back to Slaughter.

That’s gotta be kind of weird.

It was a little weird. I think what their idea was, they felt if really fit within the titles that should be in a horror fest. And from a marketing standpoint it worked. I think from an expectations standpoint for the fans, it might be a little misleading. Although, personally I still like the title. I mean it’s not a bloodbath of a movie, but I think it fits for what it is. You know, I totally think it fits.

Have you heard from fans that say they wanted something different than what it is, which I would call it a sort of, emotionally charged thriller?

Well what you just said is exactly what we set out to make. But have I heard comments about it…? Yeah. I mean, a lot of the bad reviews… I mean the movie has come out and it’s gotten some really good reviews from people who were really happy that it was kind of, what they ended up seeing. I think a lot of the bad reviews were from people whose expectations and perception of the movie was that it was going to be a gorefest. So if you go into a movie expecting like, twenty cool kill gags and you don’t get it, then yeah, I would be pissed off too. But I think that colors their perception of, is it a good movie as a whole… well it wasn’t the type of movie you went to go see.

I think what that is part of the charm for me, it is very unusual to see a horror film and have no idea where it is going. At the beginning if felt like another torture porn flick, but once you get past the opening credits, it becomes something entirely different which was great…

Yeah, and even if you distill it down to torture, or someone hurting someone else… it’s not gratuitous in terms of everything… nobody’s just doing it for shits and giggles.

Are you a fan of that genre? Did you ever want to instill the kind of atmosphere at all?

Well when we first were conceiving of the script, I think HOSTEL was either about to come out or coming out… or had come out recently. We didn’t want to latch on to the whole torture porn thing at all. But some of my representation at the time was like, ‘Yeah, this stuff is really selling! Sell it!’ and we’re like, alright, we’ll explore it. So what we did is just try to think of a different “outside of the box” approach to it. And what makes this one different is that it is not gratuitous, there’s a point to everything and it’s not over the top. And we really pitched it [as a psychological thriller] around the industry, like people at After Dark and everywhere. We were like, this is a dark thriller, this is a psychological or dark thriller basically is what we called it. We didn’t want to call it a horror movie because I don’t think it really is one.

Okay, let’s look at that, because you have After Dark films who focus on the films that are gory and violent, you know, the films that are too intense for theatres or whatever. And here you are… you’re not the goriest, not the most terrifying, and much more subtle than most of those films. How did they pick you? What was it about your film that they thought would make it an After Dark film?

You’ve gotta ask them about that [Laughing].

It’s cool that they did…

Yeah, I’m happy they did. What After Dark wanted to do going in - and the crowds can decide whether they succeeded or not - but what they wanted to do was gain more control over the content of the 8 Films To Die For, before licensing and acquiring all the other films. This year they wanted to make two of them, so they made two of them… so they wanted to have more control financially and whatever about the films, but they also wanted to raise the bar in terms of quality. Because I think last year was a little dodgy for them, you know, from what I’ve heard. So whether they wanted to shift the focus around or… I haven’t seen all the films this year, but I’ve heard that some of the other ones are a little on the thriller side too. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know, but I think they might have wanted to shift it around or just try and choose films that they felt, at least internally, that they really liked or just thought were solid., good films. Now, having said that, the marketing for Horror Fest might’ve stayed the same… which is understandable because of the brand.

Now, I’d like to talk about the two leading ladies, Amy Shiels and Lucy Holt. Was it your intention to create a hint of a lesbian relationship between them?

Well, again, since I was a co-writer on the script I kind of remembered all the incarnations of the script that we had, and kind of, the journey to get to where it was. So definitely, at one point, we were trying to push the sexual tension between them a lot more then what ended up on screen.

It’s there though.

Exactly… well, what I tried to do when we were shooting the film is, wherever we could, without changing what the characters would do in real life… Just by the kind of, scenes and situations that they were really in, and try to create a scenario where there is this unsaid sexual tension between the two of them. But we couldn’t have Faith jumping off the couch and tackling Lola or something, because that’s just not her character. It would be totally bizarre for her to do that. But we tried to take it as far as we could, realistically, within the confines of the characters we created.

I was wondering how far it would go with that…

Well, honestly, it kind of became a joke but I was actually really serious about it to. Like, if we did set up this scene where people are sensing the sexual tension, that’s almost part of the suspense. Well, for guys anyways… like, you know, what’s going to happen…?

It’s true. You succeeded in that. I actually liked the idea of that happening with their relationship.

Well, I actually… I don’t know if we ended up in the right place with it, but when we were writing the script and coming up knocking ideas around about what the story should be, we did kind of back and forth on whether… not in an exploitative way, but just in a story way, but should these girls actually get together. Should they become romantically involved and what would that do to our story, how could that take our story to interesting places. And for better or for worse… well, I won’t spoil it.

What was the casting process like?

Well I’m very happy with the town we ended up with, but we had a rather shorthanded casting process. Just because of the lower budget of the film and the scheduling that needed to occur and just kind of the way things went down. We ended up doing some pre-casting in London, and I came out for a week where I did auditions with everybody. So we had about a week to really do callbacks. Honestly, I think we made the final decisions while I was in Romania. We had an offer out to one actress in particular, here, that we were trying to get and we just couldn’t meet her price. Which is understandable because we were a super low-budget.

Looking back at the experience are there things that you wish could have been done differently?

It was a learning experience. I think as a director you have to really… I think what it was, it was really a learning experience about knowing what questions to ask and what things to fight for. When I did my other films I was in school and it was laid out, you know, you did things this way. So there wasn’t too much to worry about. This, there was various circumstances where I’d be like, ‘Oh, is that how you’re supposed to do something or shouldn’t we do it like this?’ When you don’t have feature experience… when you’re trying to argue against a company that’s made movies before, it’s like well, where do you argue from? And that was kind of an interesting predicament to be in, but I think I handled it reasonably well. It was just a learning experience of knowing what to fight for and what to ask for, and what’s right and how things are really done on a bigger scale.

Do you feel that you made the movie that you set out to make? Did they give you a good amount of support?

Absolutely. They were into making this movie, same with PERKINS 14 too. They made these two movies back to back in Romania and they were very excited about these movies, because they were the first two movies that they made themselves, for Horror Fest… they were very supportive. They gave us budgets and we had to work with the confines of the budgets. But other than that, they were very happy to help us out. It was a good experience. It was a learning experience for sure, but it was a good experience.

How did they pick the script?

What happened was, I wrote the script with Tim Long about two years ago. We didn’t spec it out wide like they usually do, we gave it to a couple friends in the industry. Good feedback, but at the time it wasn’t really right for any of the places where those guys worked. And then my friend at the time, Aimee Barth, was a producer and she took it under her wing and attached herself to it and took it around town and shopped it around. And she actually ended up giving it to Eryl Cochran, who at the time worked for another production company. It wasn’t right for them, but… anyways, cut to a year later, Eryl calls me up, or e-mails me in the middle of the night and she was like, ‘Hey, do you still have that script?’ and it ends up she’s working for After Dark now and they’re trying to do their slate for Horror Fest. She remembered it, liked it and brought it in. I’ve gotta say this about After Dark, I’ve been attached to several other films as a director and they are in various stages of financing. It’s a long and tedious process, and it takes a lot longer than you’d ever think that its gonna take. Take about a learning experience there… that’s fun. But for After Dark, as soon as… I got her e-mail in late November or early December. I met with After Dark in late January and by March I was on a plane to Romania. So that was cool. Because I went into that meeting thinking, wow, I’m gonna get my hopes up… and then I’m going to have to cry for a week or something. But no, they said yes… and we were off to Romania to shoot the damn thing.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to [email protected]



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