Exclusive: JD Dillard talks Sleight, The Fly remake & Blumhouse’s Sweetheart

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

Sleight movie JD Dillard Jacob Latimore interview

JD Dillard’s SLEIGHT is a movie that nearly defies description. It's a film noir/indie romance/family drama about a street magician who moonlights as a drug-runner for an inner city crime lord. So how is it also being described as a superhero movie? To call it such doesn't quite do the overall picture justice, but there is no doubt there are seeds of the superhero genre in there – especially when it comes to its hero's baffling ability to make things levitate. Watch the trailer below to get a better idea of what this unique film has to offer.

Dillard is definitely a name we're going to start paying a lot of attention to around here. His next film is SWEETHEART, which is a "survival horror movie" being produced by Blumhouse. (Incidentally, SLEIGHT was first discovered by Blumhouse during 2016's Sundance Film Festival.) After SWEETHEART is completed, it's very possible Dillard will move on to THE FLY, a film he's been attached to since March. In the in-depth interview below, JD talks about the time between SLEIGHT's Sundance premiere and its release this week, the surprising inspirations for genre-hopping film, his thoughts on potentially remaking THE FLY, and much more!

Sleight movie JD Dillard Jacob Latimore interview
Dillard and SLEIGHT star Jacob Latimore

I know it's been over a year since the film premiered at Sundance, has it been kind of torturous waiting for it to be released?

The joke I've been making lately is, I have no idea what it feels like to be pregnant nor will I pretend I do, but it feels like a 14 month pregnancy. Something has gone weird and it's still inside of me and I have to hurry to the Prometheus machine and have it cut out of me. But all things considered I know that the lifespan of this movie, how long we've been with this movie, is still significantly shorter than many films, so there's really nothing to complain about. With it having been done and we're about to ship off with our next movie, we're all just very excited to finally be able to share it.

Were there any changes made to the film after Sundance?

Not really. Blumhouse and WWE were really invested in the version that premiered. What I wanted to do more than anything was erase some of the indie rough edges of the film, and a lot of that was because we submitted a work-in-progress to Sundance. The movie still needed a lot of work once we found out we got in, so it was really a mad dash to deliver that DCP for January. Once we had sold and we came back home, we wanted to take it back through sound, take it back through color, just tidy up some things, clean up some visual effects. That was really it, nothing too heavy in the work we did after Sundance.

Talk a little about the coming up with the idea for the film. Clearly there's a little bit of superhero movie in there, but I feel like calling it a superhero movie isn't quite selling what it is. It's mostly an inner city drama.

It's funny, because the whole superhero classification has been after the fact, an identity put on the movie. Of course, I see it, there is a piece of that that is true. My writing partner Alex and my approach to the genre is just character first, as trite as that sounds. I grew up loving magic, I was sort of playing around with magic when I was 11 or 12, and we were really looking for a movie we could shoot in L.A. and produce ourselves after a number of years swinging after a number of movies we had no business swinging after. After you lose the twelfth pitch at the studio to the same couple of writers – who are very good at what they do – we just thought maybe we're not ready for that. Maybe we should just find another way in, maybe instead of trying to bring life to an intellectual property that we don't know quite well, why don't we try to do something original? Sort of the separation between phase one and phase two of our careers. We just wanted something that still played with all the genre sensibilities that we have, the things that we love, and still have it come out this weird, small family story about dealing with loss and self-sacrifice. We really hung our hat on those components of the movie.

So were you pitching big Hollywood franchise ideas, superhero movies and such?

We were kind of in that circle for a little bit, yeah. The thing that put us on the Hit List was similarly a deconstruction of the superhero movie. It was this movie called The Death of John Archer Newman, it was Superman realizing he's Superman in the midwest. That put us on the radar in terms of the type of work we were doing, but we were swinging after reboots and swinging after all the typical things, and really to no avail. In hindsight, we've only been ready to swing for those jobs in the past year or two, it really required a bit of an education on our end to make sure we were really telling the right pieces of those stories and we knew what to look for in those stories. Sleight for us was like a quick reset, just to make it intimate and tight. That movie, for me, was like spinning plates, because there's something so exciting about mixed genre. To give it a dramatic core, but also to have magic and crime and a love story and a family story and science fiction. There was something really exciting about that.

Were there any films that you consider inspirational in terms of how this film looks and feels?

Almost all of the inspiration for Sleight comes from British crime dramas. Broadchurch, Happy Valley, Luther, all these shows. There's something cool about the composition of a lot of those programs, they really play on negative space in a fun way. And I haven't watched that much of it yet, but I know Mr. Robot kind of fits into that category. But using that negative space, crunching characters to the corner of the frame, it helps sell isolation. We knew one place we can make a mark in the independent film space is by being very camera forward. It definitely wasn't a movie where I wanted to just turn the camera on and go handheld and capture the action and then figure it out later. We really wanted the camera to be a character and drive pieces of the story wherever it could. But yeah, British crime dramas for the win.

Sleight movie JD Dillard Jacob Latimore interview

I know you're embarking on your next project, which is also with Blumhouse. What can you tell me about that?

I actually think there is a lot of overlap, which is fun. It's called Sweetheart, and we are returning to Blumhouse to do this and we're so excited to be working with them again. It's kind of a survival horror movie, it stars Kiersey Clemons from Dope and I guess soon to be in The Flash. The big experiment here is, we're making another movie that, from a trailer sense, clearly fits the genre, but in actually watching it and experiencing it, you realize it is a little left-of-center and it is delivering on things you didn't know were part of the film.

Now I have to ask about The Fly. Is this true that you'll be directing a new version?

The Fly is very early days. It's something that is still in negotiation, but we are unbelievably excited about it. We are really inspired by these first conversations we've been having with Fox. It's kind of too early to say anything, but I'm going to continue to cross my fingers that this actually becomes a reality. Very, very, very excited of even the possibility of being able to play in this franchise and play in that world.

The Fly remake Sleight movie JD Dillard Jacob Latimore interview

Was The Fly inspirational for you growing up?

It's funny, I had seen the original well before I had seen Cronenberg's. It's something I came onto much later in life. My young movie mind was so Star Wars-obsessed, it was hard to introduce anything new to the conversation. I think my movie world view was quite limited for a while, because all I ever cared about was Boba Fett.

In looking at the way a lot of movies are being reset, or new characters are being added, it always brings up the question: When looking at rebooting something, when looking back into a world, what really are the elements that people are attached to, and what really makes people excited in these worlds? It doesn't matter what IP it is, but just making sure you really can deliver on something new, and you also don't want to alienate people who love the thing. But you also want to cover new territory. The [Planet of the] Apes reboot is one of my favorite franchises right now, it's so unlike the other iterations but it's delivering on what the franchise is but with an entirely new dramatic, interesting story.

Is that what you see for The Fly? It wouldn't be a straight-up remake?

That's the early days conversation, but hopefully there will be something to talk about with that in the not too distant future.

You're a movie fan just as much as anyone else, so I'm sure you know the knee-jerk reaction is to be outraged at the idea of remaking THE FLY. How do you deal with that while also saying, "This is not stepping on the shoes of the classics."

There's this balance to find of what you know people want and still making something new and making something original and making something emotional. IP or not, and this goes far beyond The Fly or Star Wars or whatever, if I have an opportunity to jump into a franchise, which I'm very much primed to do, it's most important to me that it is good. Alex and I will always start fully with character. I think looking at phase one of our careers to phase two, there have been relationships and Alex has been married and had a child. I think we're much more comfortable inserting ourselves into our work, and that pays dividends. We're being emotionally honest with the work and we're speaking to things with some level of authenticity and authority, and that goes a huge way when you really give a shit.

Sleight movie JD Dillard Jacob Latimore interview poster

SLEIGHT opens on April 28th via WWE Studios and BH Tilt.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for JoBlo.com. He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.