Thursday, 20 February 2014

Frightfest Preview: Interview - John Suits/Dan Schaffer (The Scribbler)

With Frightfest Glasgow a little over a week away we're starting to get very excited about what I'm 100% certain is going to be one of the horror highlights of 2014.  One movie I'm definitely starting to get a good vibe about is The Scribbler.  In preparation for the festival I read quite a bit about this film and took the opportunity to read the graphic novel by comic book scribe/artist/scriptwriter Dan Schaffer. To say I was blown away by it would be an understatement.  As soon as I turned the last page I made it one of my priorities to get Dan and the movie's director, John Suits, to answer some questions.  They were both kind enough to agree to do so.  Here's how it went:


AOTD: Tell us a little bit about the events that led to your 2005 graphic novel becoming a movie in 2013.

Dan Schaffer: The New Artists contacted me about the film rights to the graphic novel and, as it turned out, I'd been working in film for a while and already had a screenplay adaptation up my sleeve. So, my agent hooked up with John and Gabe in LA and then he called me to tell me that I really want to work with these guys because they've got a good vibe. And he was right. Their vibe is indeed good.

AOTD: As writer/artist on THE SCRIBBLER graphic novel and having personally adapted it for the big screen what was it like seeing your images brought to life and did you spend much time on set?

DS: Watching your characters turn into real people is always a fun part of the job, even more so when those characters started out in a graphic novel. All the interpretations of my art were spot on, from the actors' costumes and performances right down to the location and weird machinery. And they did it all without my help. John shot the film in LA and I'm based in London so I wasn't on the set. I talked to most of the actors by phone or email before they started but, after that, I was off the clock.

AOTD: I don’t remember vestiphobia being a condition any of the character’s in the graphic novel suffered from. To what extent does the movie script differ from the source material?

DS: It's the same story but the scope is wider. There are things you can get away with in comics that won't always fly in a film. The ideas are dramatized through the characters in the same way but, in a comic, you can be more abstract or focused in on more on a single character. In film, of course, you have actors who need to interact with each other, and they can play the subtext much more effectively than a picture on a comic page. So there are additional characters and scenes in the film that are there to either personify or challenge the book's various ideas about individuality and conformity, like Ashlynn's character and her vestiphobia condition.

AOTD: The Scribbler is essentially a dark and twisted take on the whole superhero origin story. I would welcome a sequel. Is this on the cards?

DS: I've got the ideas if anyone's got the money.

AOTD: Having read comic book scripts and movie scripts they seem to be very similar disciplines. How did you find it going from one to the other?

DS: The way you approach the subtext is the biggest difference between the two disciplines. The pacing and story structure is also pretty different, and dialogue that's designed to be read isn't the same as dialogue that's designed to be spoken. Comic scripting is possibly more difficult, but there are fewer rules and conventions applied to it. You can take more creative risks because there's not so much money on the line, and comic book readers are interested in an experience that's more than just a movie-on-paper anyway. These days everybody's read a "how to write a screenplay" book so everyone from the studio readers to the critics will give you a good hiding if your screenplay deviates from the rules, even if you do it on purpose for some kind of dramatic effect. In comics, slightly avant garde ideas are not necessarily considered anti-mainstream. Both disciplines have their own benefits and drawbacks, switching between the two just involves some minor brain rewiring.

AOTD: I noticed that another one of your scripts is in pre-production at the moment. Can you tell us a little bit about Spitfire?

DS: I'm not sure if I'm allowed to talk about it until there's an official press release but it's gearing up now and, as long as nobody chucks a spanner in the works, it should be filming at some point in the near future.

AOTD: Any chance of a Dogwitch movie and which actress would you like to see don the polka dot panties?

DS: I would like to kiss the feet of any actor who has the guts to take on that role! The script is ready to go, I'm just waiting for stars to align.

 AOTD: Are you done with the world of comic books now or is it a medium you think you’ll return to?

 DS: I tried to retire from art about five years ago, but the comic format is seductive because it gives you so much freedom to experiment with your individual style. Being part of a film project with other people is an amazing experience, but I'm naturally quite reclusive so the idea of disappearing into a hole and working on something from conception to completion again is never far from my mind. I might unretire myself for another book. I might even do it today. I might already be doing it.

AOTD: The Scribbler is receiving its UK premiere at Frightfest in Glasgow at the beginning of March. Do you have a message for the audience?

DS: Sure. I know the Frightfest audience and they are a passionate and informed collective of individualists and free thinkers. THE SCRIBBLER is about those kind of people and for those kind of people, and it goes to outlandish lengths to show why I think they're important, so I hope it'll resonate with them.


AOTD: To what extent, if any, did the graphic novel of The Scribbler dictate the visual direction of the movie? Did elements of the book almost become a sort of storyboard?

John Suits: One of the many amazing things about Dan is how vividly he describes sequences and even specific shots. The script made our job a lot easier as we could really understand his intent. We were also constantly referencing the graphic novel for our cinematography and production design.

AOTD: You had an astonishing cast to work with for The Scribbler. What was the audition process like and were there any surprise casting choices?

JS: Gabriel Cowan (Producer) and I did a lot of meetings during the casting process and there were definitely some surprises where we would have an impression or expectation of what someone would be like and what role we thought they would be good for and then would do a complete 180 upon meeting them. Katie, for example, came into the room and immediately took it. We were amazed by her depth and understanding of the material and, we've never asked Katie if this was fully intentional, but she came almost in character exuding the energy of Suki.

AOTD: Tell us a little bit about your experience shooting The Scribbler. Were there any disasters or was it a smooth shoot?

JS: We shot the film in twenty days and it was definitely a whirlwind. I'd say the most stressful piece was a giant fight scene we shot in the rain. We really wanted to have the rain element to stay true to the graphic novel and one thing I did not know about rain towers prior to shooting is that in order to show up on screen there is actually five times as much water coming down and, if you're not a studio film with the budget to heat it, the water is freezing cold. Our actors were incredible troopers during the two days we shot the sequence as they were up all night being doused in freezing cold water.

AOTD: The graphic novel’s structure is quite tricky with the sequence of events not taking place chronologically. Did this present you with any problems as a film-maker?

JS: The script, like the graphic novel, is an incredible piece of writing that I would find myself reading over and over again, each time gaining new insight into its nuances. The screenplay actually adds an extra timeline to the chronology, so it was definitely like trying to put an intricate puzzle together when deciding on a tone and style that would distinguish each of the three timelines.

AOTD: Assuming that the final act of the movie is the same as that in the book did it present you with any challenges in terms of realising the scope of the set piece on a low budget? Or were you forced to scale the graphic novel’s bigger moments back in order to accommodate them?

JS: I talked a little bit about this scene above and yes it definitely presented some real challenges and it was very exciting figuring it out. It's been amazing having Dan heavily involved in the process from day one because he is a great problem solver. Gabe and I had a lot of conversations with Dan breaking down the final act to make sure we were doing it justice. 

AOTD: Tell us a little bit about New Artists Alliance, the production company you co-run with Gabe Cowan. Do you have more movies on the way that might be of interest to the Frightfest audience?

JS: Yes, Gabe and I have done seventeen movies together now. We do four to five a year. CHEAP THRILLS which played at the last Frightfest is coming out very soon. In 2012, most of the films we shot were genre including CHEAP THRILLS, BAD MILO, and THE SCRIBBLER and then last year most of our films were more in the drama and comedy space with the exception being a totally insane action movie we did with the BELLFLOWER guys called CHUCK HANK AND THE SAN DIEGO TWINS that we're currently in post on. Since last year was a little genre light, we really wanted to dive in full steam on genre films this year and have three lined up that shoot back to back to back starting in mid-April.

AOTD: NAA’s approach to film-making seems to be almost the antithesis of the approach of the big budget Hollywood studios and the money they plunge into comic book adaptations. Do you find yourself dismayed by the obscene amount of cash they throw at the screen?

JS: Well I wish some of the cash they throw at the screen would miss and hit us, but yes it is crazy to think about how much wasteful spending there is on big budget films where their craft services budgets are often equal to the budgets of our entire film. The main motivation for our model is that Gabe and I love having the freedom to find a project we're passionate about and greenlight it without having to jump through a million hoops.

AOTD: Are there any film-makers you look up to and whose works inspire you as a director?

JS: There are tons of filmmakers I look up to whose creativity and vision inspire me, from films I'll see at a festival, like Frightfest, to directors like Fincher who have such a mastery of the craft. I'm honestly inspired by anyone who goes out there and makes a film because I know how insanely difficult it can be, and I know the amount of effort and dedication it takes to complete one.

AOTD: The Scribbler is receiving its UK premiere at Frightfest in Glasgow at the beginning of March. Do you have a message for the audience?

JS: THE SCRIBBLER was made for this kind of crowd. We're honored to be invited and really hope you enjoy it. I'll see you there!

I would just like to finish up by thanking Dan and John for taking the time to answer our questions.  Look out for our review of The Scribbler on the other side of Frightfest.

1 comment:

  1. Cannot wait for the Scribbler to come to Australia. Dan is a great artist and writer and who is a quiet achiever he should have success with this film and others he has in the pipe line.
    thanks Dan. Pam