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Set Visit: Skinwalkers (1/3)

Nov. 16, 2005by: JoBlo

PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 3

Introduction: (Oct 14, 2005): Today I went to visit the set of the upcoming Halloween 2006 Lion's Gate werewolf film SKINWALKERS. Since this was my second set visit, my nerves were intact, and I was prepared. I was even more excited to learn that this set visit was going to have a more laid back approach and atmosphere since there would be no press conference. All of us journalists would have a chance to interview the producers, the actors and the director throughout the whole day on the set. Before I get into my busy day, let me hit you with the essentials.

THE PLAYERS

This film has a great ensemble cast. It stars Jason Behr a.k.a "Mr. Topaz eyes"( Roswell , The Grudge), Rhona Mitra (Nip/Tuck, Boston Legal), Matthew Knight (The Greatest Game Ever Played), Shawn Roberts (Land of the Dead), Lyriq Bent (Saw 2), Sarah Carter (Final Destination 2), Tom Jackson (North of 60) and Elias Koteas a.k.a "Casey Jones." (Exotica). The screenplay was written by James Demonaco (Assault on Precinct 13 remake) and is being directed by Jim Isaac (Jason X). Also, this film's makeup and special effects will be done by the legendary Stan Winston (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Predator, Wrong Turn).

SYNOPSIS

Two packs of werewolves, divided by principles are signaled by the moon of the coming of an ancient prophecy. A small boy named Timothy (Knight) approaches his 13th birthday, unaware this marks the time of his transformation. Timothy has been raised by his mother Rachel (Mitra), his grandmother (Barbara Gordon), his Uncle Jonas (Koteas), his cousin Katherine (Carter) and her boyfriend, Adam (Shawn Roberts). Rachel and her son Timothy have been unaware that the rest of the family are good werewolves that have guarded Timothy since birth. They know that Timothy is a half blood, and will control the destiny of the family. They also know that Timothy's power will put him in danger.

But there are other werewolves that revel and embrace their bloodlust that are prepared to kill to preserve their way of life. These werewolves led by Varek (Behr), Zo (Kim Coates) and Sonya (Natassia Malthe) are hell bent on finding Timothy.....their kin.

ON THE SET (PART 1)

When I had arrived in Rockwood, Ontario on the set with the other journalists, I was amazed with the wonderful smell that came to my nose. What was it you may be asking? It was the smell of fresh air. A smell that I have never smelled before. This place was incredible. The scenery, the trees, the lake surrounding the set shocked me for I never knew that there was such a beautiful and serene place so close by to where I lived. I was ecstatic on coming to this set because I thought I would be able to see one of Stan Winston's werewolf creations. Unfortunately the rest of the journalists and I were immediately told that we were not going to see any of the werewolves today, which sucked, but we were able to make the best of the day and watch three scenes being filmed.

The first scene we saw being shot, took place in the RV "werewolf" mobile. In this scene, Tom Jackson (Will) has a very serious and stoical expression on his face and appears to be talking to someone. The other journalists and I were not given headsets yet, so we were staring at the monitor trying to make sense of the scene. Thankfully right after the scene, the very friendly Tom Jackson took the time to explain it in better detail. Here's the interview with Mr. Jackson:


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TOM JACKSON

Can you tell us about your character?

Will is one of the few characters in this project that is human. He protects the family that tries to not continue living under the curse. He's been doing that for thirteen years.

As a native actor, did you have any particular take on bringing Native-Canadian mythology into the werewolf mythology?

I found it interesting that I didn't have any reference to that in my knowledge. But I do have a reference to the wolf clan. I am in fact apart of the wolf clan in my history. It became that more interesting to me with regards to that. There is an understanding of wolves and endearment to wolves amongst my tribe. So, the legend of the skinwalker in this story, I've never heard it in this context. There is an infinity that is recognized to the honour of the wolf and the strength of the wolf, and that is where this myth is born.

Is there a sense of that in the story here as well, or is this more traditional werewolf fare?

This is more werewolf fare with artistic likeness. I think one can accept certain similarities.

Is this taking the story of the werewolf into a different arena?

I think it's very interesting writing. The writing intrigued me.

What specifically drove you to the role of Will?

It's less interesting. The character Will was all they were going to hire me for. I mean, look at me. (laughs)

What were the biggest challenges of filming so far?

I think there is a lot of emotion in this project. Even though Will stands apart from those emotional challenges or a little more stoic about his reactions. It's a tough project for people like Rhona [Mitra] and Elias [Koteas], who are locked in this thing. Yesterday, we shot a scene that was very, very strong on both their parts. This is about a woman and a child. She's at risk of losing her child. In the world of acting, yes, you maybe removed. But emotionally, it's a very tough scene to do.

Can you talk about the scene you just filmed right now?

This scene is the scene where Rachel (Rhona Mitra) discovers that she's been surrounded by wolf people. Sheep in wolves clothing if you will (laughs) for thirteen years, and she had no clue this was happening. She had no clue this was going on with her son, and we just came out of a battle at Creemore, and she had no idea that the people that she loved were so violent in their world and so committed to protecting this child.

It seems like there's a major coming of age element to this story as well with the character of Timothy.

I'd rather talk about the actor. I think Matthew [Knight] is a very talented actor. He's very mature. You'll see that. I guarantee you, you'll be impressed when you see this film.

How are you finding working with the prosthetics and makeup?

I am not one that transforms. That's the interesting thing. My character is human.

DENNIS BERARDI
(producer)

In between watching the next werewolf-mobile scene being shot, (which I will discuss in greater detail in part two of this article) I, as well as the other journalists were given a chance to interview one of the producers of SKINWALKERS, Dennis Berardi of Red Moon Films and renowned effects house, Mr.X. We were also given a chance to talk to the adorable and talented Matthew Knight who stars as Timothy.

How did this project come about?

This project came about five years ago when Jim [Isaac] and I came across this script. We have known the writers for some time, and they developed the script and they showed it to us and they wanted us to take a look, and they thought it was something special. We read it and loved it.

To what degree does this story have its roots in Native-American mythology? Were you somewhat concerned of cultural appropriation?

We were somewhat concerned about cultural appropriation, but when we did some research into the legend of the Skinwalker and found out it actually exists, it is a Navajo legend of a man being able to be possessed by the spirit of an animal and walking with the beasts, and there are believers of this today. Taking a page out of that, didn't seem like appropriation. It's a fun story, it plays the moralistic side of that, and it also demonstrates it as a bit of perversion as well. So it couches the legend in an admirable way.

We also made a stylistic choice in this film to not be gothic. To be more of a western motif, and to base it in the North American tribal mythology as opposed to going into the Eastern Europe or the gothic type stuff, which has been done to death.

Do you think the werewolf genre lends itself to more story telling than the vampire genre? (which has been so overdone now?)

Absolutely. The werewolf mythology and the backstory of the werewolves is just really interesting for us. It represents sort of the beast that is within us all, and that's what really connected with us is in this story, the moralistic choice that our heroes are making to keep the beast down and the more naturalistic choice, that our bad guys (wolves) are making to embrace the beast and to do whatever the heck they want to do. For us, that was sort of the heart of the world of mythology.

Is this film CGI-driven, if at all?

It's not CGI-driven, I mean we've got a lot of visual effects and special effects, yes, and we're doing a lot of digital work. But I would say for the most part, we're trying to achieve as much as we can practically with just great lighting, great locations, Stan Winston, who's doing our werewolves. They are going to be real walking around actors in fantastic prosthetic makeup, and the CGI will support and basically it's a hybrid approach I would say.

Will the transformations be CGI?

Transformations are not going to be CGI, and I own Mr, X, which is a CGI company (laughs). We just want to do them story based and really zero in on the actors' performances for the transformations.

How scary is this film going to be? What kind of rating are you going for?

We're going to be an R rating. It is going to be scary. You're going to be scary. You're going to know you're in a horror film. You're going to be on the edge of your seat, and it's going to be a fun ride. Intense, and all with a real story going on between Rachel and her son, Timothy, Varek's journey, and Jona's sacrifice.

The casting is interesting. There are no jump off the page superstar names. Is it more of an ensemble piece?

Yes, exactly. We're thrilled with the cast. Jason Behr, Rhona Mitra, Elias Koteas, Sarah Carter, all the way down the line. But, if you look at the first Alien movie, which was sort of our model, where it was sort of an ensemble piece where no one in that film had huge star status at that point. It's a great performance piece, fantastic actors all the way down the line. We've got twelve great actors in this film, and that was our idea.

Can you give us a ball park budget?

Around 25 million.

What are the plans for the distribution?

We have Lion's Gate distributing in North America. They're huge fans of the script, and they've been on the set, and they love it, and we have all their support, and we're really happy they're our distributor.

What was the process of trying to cast the child actor? [Matthew Knight]

We did a lot of searching for Matthew Knight. Our casting director, Deidre helped us out with this. Matthew was coming right off of THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED, which I worked with him on. I was doing the visual effects for that movie for Disney. I saw him, and he was amazing. He's a really great actor. For eleven years old, he's a real pro. He came and auditioned and just blew us away. We auditioned probably twenty kids, it wasn't even close. He can really act.

Can you talk about the human element in this story?

If you look at particularly the werewolf, with us it was all about what nobody has done with the werewolf genre before, and for the most part, what you get are dog-like creatures and what we wanted to do was connect with our audience, so when Varek [Jason Behr] transforms, you still know it's Varek. You can still connect with him. If after the transformation , we don't really still understand that it's Varek, then we will fail. So, we went with a very humanistic design for the creatures more for story reasons than any other reason.

If the audience loses the fact that that's still Varek underneath the werewolf makeup, then we're in trouble. The designs are just amazing and they are really humanistic. It's a great combination of representing the beast within that a lot of us can connect to, and I think if we went too far, made it too beast-like, it would have stop resinating with us. For the most part, this is a metaphor for everything that exists in us, and if we stop connecting with the audience on that level, then I think our story would have suffered.


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MATTHEW KNIGHT

Do you like scary movies?

Oh yeah. I'm a huge fan of horror films.

What's your favourite kind?

My favourite horror film would be, I guess...Aliens.

Do you get made up in this? Do you get prosthetics?

No.

Are you disappointed?

Yeah, I am, because that would be fun, but all the hours in make-up would just be weird.

What do you think of the werewolf phases? Do you think they're scary?

Oh yeah. When I look at Elias' [Koteas] werewolf face, I didn't recognize him. But then I was like: "That's...that's Elias." (laughs) It was very funny.

What's your favourite Halloween movie?

For a werewolf movie, I would say Silver Bullet.

Has this been a long shoot for you? Are you doing a lot of nights?

Not many nights. Usually just days, but it's good so far, yeah.

Do you find it tiring? The hours?

Not really, because I only get a certain amount.

What was it like working with the other actors? Any good experiences?

Well, I would say Elias [Koteas]. He's very inspiring. I learn a lot from him.

So what are you shooting today?

We're doing a scene on the bank where I collapse.

Do you do your own stunts in this?

I think I have a double. I have a photo double and she's my sister actually. My stunt double is a girl too. (laughs)

What's it like working with Jim [Isaac], the director?

He's really nice. He has a lot of things that help when we're doing some scenes, and he just really helps. He gave me my character's background.

Did you see Jason X?

No.

Was there much time to rehearse before you started shooting?

We had a week of rehearsing. So I got to know the other actors.

You get along well with the other actors?

Oh yeah. With everybody.

If this movie is rated R, do you think you'll be able to see it?

Umm...I don't think so. (laughs)

Well, that ends part 1 of my "hairy" day. Stay tuned for more details on the set, the famous RV-bondage scene, and many more interviews including hottie Jason Behr, Natassia Malthe, Shawn Roberts, producer Don Carmody, and director Jim Isaac.

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11:08AM on 11/16/2005
Looks like it's gonna be another scary movie that will suck.
Looks like it's gonna be another scary movie that will suck.
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