"…a van (driven by two shady looking guys) filled with a large wad of money, a gun, several knives, hypodermic needles, lots of tape and plastic bags... and a bloody severed arm…"
Just another day on the set of the movie version of Richard Laymon's IN THE DARK.
Director Clifton Holmes and Producer Dwayne Holmes, are not only Laymon fans, they're also brothers. Clifton is a graduate of Columbia College film school. IN THE DARK is his first feature length production. A writer at heart, Clifton has written many original screenplays in nearly every genre, and adapted two other books and one short story. Dwayne founded Gemineye (the Production Company) with Clifton, and in addition to ITD, produced a short film and a trailer for the prospective feature RESURRECTION DREAMS. Currently, Dwayne is in development on two other projects. Anyone wanting to contact them regarding the production can e-mail: Bluedraft@msn.com
BRIAN KEENE: Richard Laymon has an extensive
bibliography. What were your reasons for picking IN THE DARK as the one
Laymon book you wanted to film?
CLIFTON HOLMES: The budget. There is a much larger story behind why IN THE DARK was chosen, but, though it might read as crass to some people, the honest first and foremost reason for choosing that particular book was the sex scene . . . I mean, the budget. There was no sex scene.
Seriously, ITD was this compact, thrilling story about one character that gets run through some interesting episodes. That meant we needed only one actress for the entire production, to play Jane; one actor that would be reliable enough to show up on a number of days to play Brace; and then individual actors to appear in single-night shots along the way. And the locations would be easier to come by, since we would be in and out of there in a number of hours, instead of occupying them for weeks.
The only other book of Richard's that would come close to the minuteness of budget would be AFTER MIDNIGHT, which I was kicking myself over, all through the production of this movie, because I had some neat ideas for that book, and was wishing I had done it instead. I think, no matter which novel was done, there'd be a lot of looking around and seeing the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Richard does have a vast selection of stories to choose from, and to complicate matters, they would (should I say "will"?) all make for some very good films. It's just a point of knowing what you are trying to accomplish with the film you are making, and if it is economically feasible.
DWAYNE HOLMES: Ironically I did not choose to make IN THE DARK based on it's relative literary importance to Laymon's other writings, but rather Clifton's other writings and it's adaptability to a low budget.
I was looking to do a low budget feature when Clifton approached me with two scripts. One was ITD. At the time he pitched it I had not read the novel, so it wasn't like "IN THE DARK, oh yeah, let's do that". Judging from Clifton's script I did not like that story as much as other Laymon novels I had read. Not that it sucked, I liked it. It was just that I didn't "love" it like I had some others.
I guess this is to say if I had had a zillion dollars and my pick of the field (based on story content alone) it would not have been first choice. However it was definitely better than the other script Clifton was pitching and it was do-able on a low budget. Given the circumstances that was a decisive factor on any script. We could have tried making any of my Laymon favorites but they would have failed due to budget issues, and what good would that have done anyone?
BRIAN: What was the genesis of this project? Had you guys done anything like this before?
CLIFTON: First, I'd adapted Richard's novel, ISLAND, and had shown it around to various production houses, trying to get financing. There was a lot of resistance because, though they liked the story, and it was good enough to buy a number of weeks or months of development, in the end it was considered too dark. The fear was that the material would send movie audiences screaming from the theatre (which would probably be fantastic publicity).
After a year or so of squeamish back-outs and stupid tips (such as: change the story so that mad Arabs are the killers, because Arabs are more believable as bad guys than white people), I thought I'd switch tactics and go for Richard's RESURRECTION DREAMS, this fun, tongue-through-the-cheek horror story that I figured would be less intimidating to producers, and more financing friendly. The story wasn't "bleak", and nothing in it could be taken seriously enough to be a threat to the moral fabric of America. However, one trailer and script later, and there was still the same resistance.
Richard's material is just not considered safe for the silver screen, because the people with the money in this business usually don't have the vision. You need some kind of precedent set, that you can physically point to, and say "Here, see, this is what the movie would look like," then they are more forthcoming with the money.
So, in the end, the idea for ITD was to make a Richard Laymon movie ourselves, to show that it can be done, and that some whirling Lovecraftian vortex would not open up to destroy the minds of the masses, and bring chaos down on mankind. The audiences would merely be entertained.
Besides the trailer for RESURRECTION DREAMS, we've never done anything in the way of filmed adaptations. I've written quite a number, though.
DWAYNE: This project actually generated from two separate points. While Clifton had been trying to get a Laymon project going in Hollywood, I had been trying to get some movies going on a budget I could afford, and was interested in working with people I knew. Being brothers our paths naturally merged. We worked together on the RESURRECTION DREAMS trailer and script, the fate of which you got from Clifton. That still did not stop my desire to make a low-budget feature (even if it was just a collection of really low-budget shorts).
Clifton brought up ITD as a possibility. At that point I really wanted
to stay away from adaptations, but I did like the script, it was do-able on my
budget, and most importantly we had a "guaranteed" distribution deal for any
completed Laymon adaptation (a piece of the RESURRECTION DREAMS deals that
were being made). That meant production costs would get paid back. A kind of win/win
situation all around. If we made ITD then it would definitely get distribution
and we'd be able to make another film (on my money), and if ITD was super
successful maybe it would attract investors meaning we could finally do RESURRECTION
DREAMS (on someone else's money).
What happened to the "guaranteed" distribution deal is a whole other topic... but at the time it was the deciding factor.
BRIAN: What was Richard's reaction when you first contacted him about the possibility of filming ITD?
CLIFTON: Richard was well aware of my activity, long before I approached him about ITD. I think he was probably more thrilled when I first approached him, years before, about ISLAND. By the time ITD came around, it had already been such a roller coaster ride, I think he was slightly hopeful, but more beginning to wonder if it wasn't just another adaptation I was going to write and then have nothing happen with it.
As a matter of fact, when I suggested ITD, I was also considering the possibility of BODY RIDES or AFTER MIDNIGHT. I think that there might have also been the concern that I was snatching all the Laymon titles that I could. Which is not the case. I was just getting desperate because I had promised Richard a long time ago that I'd get a film of his made. I remembered he'd looked pretty happy about that. So, now, I was feeling like I'd let him down so many times, I knew I had to make a movie . . . make it NOW!
When I told him we were going to start shooting, he was pleased. But then, because of one reason or another, we had to stop shooting, and wait until the next year. I don't remember his reaction then, when I told him. He's pretty busy writing most of the time, so this movie stuff is just a side venture. He's been incredibly supportive over the years, and I was glad to finally get something into his hands that he could pop into a VCR and watch, and not feel too bad about.
BRIAN: Where does one begin with a project like this?
CLIFTON: I think if you are going to make any movie, you try to picture it completely. Be able to watch it in your head like it was the real thing. Compare what you see to what exists in the movie theatre, and in the video stores. Figure out how much it cost them to do what they did. That's a good technique for gauging what kind of money you will need. Then look at the moths flying out of your wallet and reconsider the whole thing. After reconsidering, take a deep breath, and dive in. VERY IMPORTANT: In the case of an adaptation, GET THE RIGHTS! Or the option on the rights, as the case may be.
DWAYNE: I think Clifton was over-enthusiastic in his answer, but he was right about having a vision first. Without a vision you can't determine what you'll need, and then in the midst of production you'll lose your way.
Before I accepted ITD we discussed the script until we came to an understanding about what we'd be going for if we shot it. I guess this is to say until I shared his vision. Then after gathering our equipment we discussed how we would capture the vision. That is definitely where you start. The realities of money, cast, and rights (not options) come next and determine whether you make that vision or not.
BRIAN: What went into the pre-production phase?
CLIFTON: We prepared as much as we could (not nearly enough in some cases). We found actors that were interested in the script, and willing to work for deferred payments or a credit in the movie. We gathered our equipment and settled on a good number of our locations. The most we paid for a location was $100.00, so we got lucky.
Piece by piece, as we were putting the film together in production, it was falling apart. Much of what seemed solid in pre-production, proved not to be. That's common in film production, though, so I won't cry about it too much. Our strength showed more in how we were able to cope with the unexpected problems.
BRIAN: The cast was fantastic, particularly Kim
Garrett in the role of Jane. How did you assemble such a fine group of actors?
CLIFTON: We found Kim and Alex Ellerman (who played Brace), through PerformInk Newspaper, Chicago's theatre trade paper.
Pretty much the rest came from coincidence. When actors backed out at the last moment, with only a half-hour before we had to shoot, Kim would suggest a friend that she knew from acting class. Within an hour, they would be there and know their lines. In some cases, like the jogger, he was gold compared to the original actor. Good for the movie.
John Westby, the actor who played Clay Sheridan, happened to be in one of Kim's plays. I'd gone to watch Kim in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and out comes Atticus Finch, played by John Westby. Right then I thought, this is the guy!
Same goes for the Leather character. His name is Jeff Damnit and he was a friend of mine from a video store I worked at. By day he was a clerk. By night he was either the lead singer in a metal band, or, a professional freak. His act, on either stage, was sticking needles in himself and cutting his skin with razorblades. When I thought of the character from the book, I thought, that's him! That's him!
BRIAN: I think I speak for a lot of male fans when I ask: Is Kim single, and if so, can you get me Kim's phone number? (laughs)
CLIFTON: You do speak for a lot of males. And a lot of females, too. People respond to Kim in the best way. Which is fantastic, because if they hadn't, this film would have gone right into the garbage. Kim did a great job, for sure. I think it's because she's naturally spunky and adventurous. I don't know if in real life she'd choose to go adventuring for MOG and his money, but the thing is, I really don't know. She's crazy. (laughs)
But really, she's very talented. And she's single. Her phone number is . . .
BRIAN: Has any of the cast gone on to other projects
CLIFTON: They've all gone off in different directions. Alex has been doing some commercial work and plays, and is gearing up to make his own horror movie, which he wrote. Jeff (Leather) has moved to Los Angeles to pursue fame and fortune. I hear that Marvin Bell (the Jogger), has as well, but he's been in national shoe commercials for a while, so he isn't hurting I don't think.
None of them have gone on to anything of tremendous note that I know of - besides this movie, of course. Which has been seen by how many people? Around five hundred? The actors, sort of like this film, are out in the world, finding their groove.
DWAYNE: I am currently working with Alex Ellerman in developing his script for production. Whether we produce it together or not is still open, but the script is coming along nicely. I can't speak for any of the other actors, except the guy in the music video. I'm still renting movies from his store and he's eagerly awaiting getting IN THE DARK into it.
BRIAN: Where was most of the movie filmed? What was the reaction from the locals?
CLIFTON: The Greater Chicagoland area is where it was shot. And I can't think of any good anecdotes about the locals. We were pretty much left alone, as far as I remember it. Even in the most questionable circumstances, like shooting in the graveyard, or in the middle of the night at a motel right next to the highway, with a hooded man, a pistol and an axe.
When we shot the trailer for RESURRECTION DREAMS, we were in broad daylight, at a gas station, with a camera and slate and sound gear, and the whole Villa Park Police department came swooping in from all sides, in car, on foot, every direction, intending to arrest us (for Aggravated Filmmaking, I suppose). They left when they realized they'd made a boo-boo, but that spectre of a cop army pouncing on us haunted me through this production.
BRIAN: The entire film (except for one sequence that we'll talk about later) was filmed in black and white. The effect is superb, and definitely adds to the creepy atmosphere of the film. Was this done for artistic or budgetary reasons?
DWAYNE: The choice to shoot on video was monetary. As a result of shooting on video, the choice to shoot in B&W was artistic. Black and white video, especially Hi-8, looks better than that format's color. The colors just aren't as rich as what you get with film stock.
CLIFTON: We were definitely not following the great filmmaker theory that a black and white image, because it harkens back to newsreels and war footage, holds a more visceral charge to the modern viewer. All you have to do is watch a comedy from the black and white era and there's nothing "real" or "scary" about it (maybe The Honeymooners). It's all in how you present your materials.
BRIAN: The camera eye captures the story perfectly, without relying on devices and special effects. What measures did you take to ensure this?
CLIFTON: Laymon's writing is extremely straightforward. To capture that, it's probably not a good idea to try anything fancy; otherwise the style will draw attention to itself. That isn't "Laymon." But that's just my opinion.
Also, since I was trying to be as "real" as possible, a zany wipe or an arty rack focus would have blown that. We did rely on some special visual tricks, however. But none that I care to reveal. If I told you, you'd see them. And then that would be that.
DWAYNE: While we used some visual effects I would never say we "relied" on them. Reliance to me means we needed them to move the audience. That they were the story. In our case we used them as mere slights of hand to convince the audience they what they were seeing was real. We could have actually used more special effects to show the audience what was happening, and if we had the money we probably would have put them in there. The fact that we were able to tell the story properly without those extra effects speaks volumes about ITD. The story definitely is not the effects. It is psychological.
BRIAN: What are some of the other technical aspects in bringing IN THE DARK to life?
CLIFTON: I had a storyboard in my head, pretty much as soon as I finished reading the book. I drew up the storyboard half a year before we shot it. And that sat in my head, fermenting, which made things both easy, and difficult in production. Since lack of time and new locations, more often than not, blew to smithereens the ability to do what was in the storyboards, it was just a matter of trying to simulate them. Coming to grips with the fact that I was going to have to toss the storyboards was the struggle.
I will brag that I did all the special effects. MOG, gore, stabbing, what have you. My biggest pride was when, after about five and a half-hours of assembling animal bones and pieces of meat, I had created one of the most realistic chopped off arms I've ever seen. It was so good that it actually made people sick to look at. It lost the translation to the screen, however. Some people can't even tell that it's an arm. It's humbling.
DWAYNE: That arm was so real I was in a panic en route to the set. Given our experience with cops on RESURRECTION DREAMS, I figured we wouldn't stand a chance if pulled over. Let's see, a van (driven by two shady looking guys) filled with a large wad of money, a gun, several knives, hypodermic needles, lots of tape and plastic bags... and a bloody severed arm? Would there be any questions before the cuffs were on? I don't think so. But in the end the camera did not capture the reality of that arm. I guess that's the irony of trying to make realistic props, that was one of the best effects I ever saw on set but it did not work as well (on camera) as some of the cheapest props just thrown together on the spot.
CLIFTON: Dwayne did a masterful job creating the printed materials, including the money we used. There was no way we could use real bills; Jane receives over $200,000. And we wanted to show that she was actually getting that, and not, like, a real hundred on top, with possibly a stack of white slips underneath. Dwayne designed and created our extremely realistic bills, with neat little changes, like the motto "In MOG we trust," etc.
BRIAN: Was it important to you to stay loyal to the plot of the novel?
CLIFTON: I can't stand when a movie veers so far away from the source material that it isn't even fundamentally the same story any more. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Fans of ITD, the book, will realize that I did just that. It pained me to no end! ISLAND and RESURRECTION DREAMS, the other scripts I wrote, have very minute changes. ITD, to me, was a ransacking. I was afraid, when Richard read it, that he would go ballistic, if only because I'd been extremely faithful in the previous adaptations. But it sort of had to be done for this movie. We just didn't have the budget, in some cases, or an internal choice of Jane's couldn't be explained to the audience without a cheap device like a voice over (NO!). Basically, what I had was a script where, if it could not stick to the exact structure of the story, above all else it had to remain pure to the story's feel and tone.
As much as I'm saying it's changed, maybe I'm being a princess-and-the-pea. The changes were difficult for me, but I'm an adaptation hard-liner. Richard had the final say on everything. Everything. If I thought of something new on the set, that wasn't in the script he'd seen, I'd shoot it both ways, so that I could edit the change out if he didn't like the results.
DWAYNE: Most people don't realize that films depart from scripts just as much (or even more) than scripts depart from the novels they are based on. When writing adapting a novel to script you still work with unlimited resources (no holds barred on locations and special effects). When turning the script into a movie you don't. The more money and time you have, the closer you can stick to the script. But there will still be compromises when shooting. In our case (very little money and time) we had to make many compromises, even though the script was designed for the budget.
BRIAN: What's the story behind the coffin? I've heard you had difficulty getting it up the stairs of the house?
CLIFTON: It's funny, we'd gotten a coffin for the RESURRECTION DREAMS trailer, and the camera guy, a friend of mine, didn't shoot it!!! We paid a little extra for the thing, and you only get one glimpse of its corner. So I was looking forward to shooting a coffin scene again, if just to get it right.
We didn't even try, however, for this film. Using the tape measure, we found that the front door of the haunted house, much less the room doors and the stairs, would not accommodate anything larger than a guitar case. In a panic, I phoned Richard. The casket gag in the book was brilliant, and this was going to be a major change to it. I didn't even know what to do. A soiled mattress instead? Richard suggested the chalk outline of a body. Another brilliant idea. We went with that, of course.
DWAYNE: Interestingly enough, there seems to be some disagreement as to who came up with the replacement for the coffin. As I remember, Clifton came to me with the coffin dilemma and we brainstormed a bunch of solutions. One of the solutions I came up with was a "crime scene" tape outline, preferably with a bloodstain. He ran our potential solutions over with Laymon and returned telling me that Laymon liked the outline idea. At the time I took it to mean that Clifton had pitched the idea to Laymon, who said it was good. At this point he's saying that Laymon came up with the idea. I dunno. He admits I might very well have said it at the time but didn't hear my suggestion and so "heard it first" from Laymon.
I guess it doesn't matter that much. Wherever it came from, we all agreed that it was good and I think it worked well. For what it's worth Clifton came up with the idea to divide the body in half. Nice touch.
CLIFTON: The hearse and casket were supposed to make a return appearance at the end of the movie. The shooting date fell on a holiday weekend, and there was no getting either one. Their replacements are what you see in the final product. No one's complained yet.
BRIAN: Were there any other roadblocks or difficulties during the shoot?
CLIFTON: Every single scene is a gold-framed portrait of us jumping a hurdle or vaulting a roadblock. Or sometimes you see us running straight into the obstacle full blast. Way too many to name or to get into. Every single scene has a nightmare story. I was ready to break down and cry it got to be so bad.
On a funnier note, one of the reasons I went into this movie was there was an image that I thought was going to be one of the coolest things ever seen. An image straight out of the book. As soon as I read it - no, as I was reading it - I was thinking, holy shit! It was going to be the killer shot, I was just salivating. It helped me deal on the bad days, because I knew, at some point, that sucker was going in the can, and it would make the movie shine.
Never happened. Decisions were made against doing it time and again, until, to this date, we're still thinking it might get shot.
DWAYNE: A good example was the restaurant scene between Brace and Jane. We were shooting the scene at the bar section of a local restaurant before the restaurant opened. Suddenly a female bartender appeared and was instantly annoyed with our presence. Instead of setting up the bar like normal, she began banging everything around and swearing up a blue streak. It was terrible. The actors had a hard time getting their lines out, and what would have wrapped up quickly dragged out until after they had opened for business. We ended up re-shooting the entire scene at another restaurant... the one you see in the movie.
BRIAN: Now keep in mind that when I finally saw the movie, I'd been drinking solid for about twelve hours. I remember a surreal scene in the middle. Jane walks into a room, where four naked men are watching a movie. ITD suddenly morphs from black and white to color, and what happens next is bizarre, eerie and inarguably the best part of the film. Who created this sequence and where the hell did it come from?
CLIFTON: You are incorrect, sir. Your brain is doing some morphing of its own. The color scene is where the Leather character sneaks in on Jane to have some fun with her. It was in color because a) it was Jane's video camera footage, and b) it was an artsy choice. I figured if people started hopping up and down about the color, I'd revert it to black and white.
The guys-getting-shot scene is a different matter. In the book, it was supposed to be a larger room, with a lot more chairs, and a bigger screen. According to the text, I believe they were watching a movie with Barbara Streisand. If we could have afforded any of those things, they would have been there. But we couldn't.
The idea for the scene is totally Richard's. This is what I pictured, with only small differences, when I read the book. And I couldn't wait to do it. As the year passed, I had plenty of time to accessorize with little details. But on the whole, the inspiration arrived with the reading of ITD. Blame Dick!
BRIAN: Settle a dispute. Who was the performer that the men were watching in that scene?
CLIFTON: Gosh, this guy has a big head already, does he have a fan club? I don't think you know him. His name is John Velousis.
((Spoiler for the movie))
When I had to toss out the notion of having a Barbara Streisand video, the first and last thought I had was Jane walking into the room, it's dark, and we see this bizarre looking guy, complete with candy stripe coat and straw hat, standing alone in a spotlight. He begins to dance to some heavily unmotivated music, a real "What in the fucking hell is going on here?!" moment, which is the way I was feeling during the house sequence of Richard's book, and we pull out to see that the man's on a video screen (my one cheap trick against the audience), and there the three naked men sit. FYI, I am the nakedest one.
BRIAN: It certainly was a "What in the fucking hell is going on here?" moment at the screening in Baltimore. In fact, several of the folks in attendance screamed out those very words.
CLIFTON: Two more FYI's: #1, The spotlight wouldn't work when I shot the "musical video", so I had to do what I could to make it look creepy in other ways; #2, the actual performer of the music is Davy Jones of the Monkees, written and arranged by Harry Nillsen.
DWAYNE: If someone mistook John for someone famous, I'd love to share that with him. I'm sure he'd get a kick out of it.
BRIAN: Lots of folks assumed he was an old time movie star. I guess he has one of those faces that just remind you of somebody, but you can't put your finger on whom.
So finally, you finish shooting the film. Were you happy with the finished product?
CLIFTON: How do I say this tactfully?
I thought it was a disaster.
If I could take what was in the storyboards, what was in my head, and put it on the screen, you'd see the difference between what we have and what could have been. And I pine for what could have been on this, because, really, there were so many failures. There were so many compromises. That's what I saw when I watched the movie. I was very disappointed, to say the least. I was convinced when I sent the movie to Richard he was going to load his gun and hunt me down.
DWAYNE: Personally I like it. I find it easy to watch...
repeatedly... and I find myself thinking about it afterward. Even when I start
watching a segment just to check quality of a tape I get sucked into watching
the rest. To me this spells success for a film.
I should say this is true even though the film is not actually complete. There are still edits and sound work to be done. If I could get some more money and time I'd even like us to re-shoot some sequences that didn't reach the level they should have (and which I know could have been done better). But none of this is necessary. I and many others have enjoyed it as is.
The fact that fans of the book have enjoyed it as well and have accepted it as a reliable adaptation also makes me very, very, very happy.
BRIAN: The film has played at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, SFIndie's Digital Underground Festival, the IFP Market in New York and the Masters of Terror US Gathering in Baltimore. What has the reaction been from those who have viewed it?
CLIFTON: I get most of my information second hand, but hear the reaction is great. One director whose film played at CUFF and in San Francisco, and whose film won the audience award in SF, contacted me in New York and said he loved the movie. He said it had one of the best audience reactions he'd seen. I'm very, very happy for that.
When at CUFF, I was much too nervous to stand in the theatre while the movie played, so I hung out by the bathroom, pacing in circles. Even though the movie's showing was at ten o'clock, and it is nearly two hours in length, and the theatre was sold out - some people had to stand through the whole thing, others snuck in and sat on the floor - only two people left the theatre, and that was just to go to the bathroom. One was an old guy that literally, when he was finished taking a piss, ran back into the theatre. I thought that was good.
DWAYNE: It was scary to be in the theatre when the CUFF premiere ended. I couldn't understand why since the audience was very active during the film even getting a blood-curdling scream that I jumped at. I was congratulated by a couple of people and then nothing... until later.
As the Chicago Underground Film Festival went on I talked with more and more people that liked the film but were part of the silent masses. It was pretty much unanimous that that was a good sign. We had sucked them in and then left them stunned. One woman explained that, as they left, they were "reevaluating their lives."
I have yet to hear any solid dislike for the movie. Maybe a few constructive criticisms, but always with a positive feeling about the piece as a whole.
BRIAN: You received some very positive reviews. Did it bother you, however, that one critic said you were influenced by THE BLAIR WITCH?
I've been getting the Blair Witch thing from the beginning. When we were near the end of principal photography we were hearing all about "the Blair Witch Project," and I was pulling my hair out because it seemed to be striving for the same aesthetic, and was truly the first "serious" horror movie in a long time, all the rest falling into the Scream category. Dang, that is what I wanted to do! When I attended a family get-together I had dutifully told them what I was up to, and even though none of them had seen the movie, their first reply was, "Oh, like the Blair Witch." After seeing the movie I was relieved because the two movies are not alike. Let the comparisons come. They've always been favorable. The people that hated Blair Witch like RL's IN THE DARK. The people that liked Blair Witch think IN THE DARK is even better. That works for me.
DWAYNE: There is a large irony in the whole Blair Witch comparison that goes beyond the fact that we shot ITD before BW ever came out. The fact is, ITD had originally fallen apart as a project shortly after photography started. But I was still determined to make a movie and came up with another movie we could shoot. It was almost exactly like Blair Witch (though knowing nothing about the other's existence). I mean the connections were very close. If we had done that one the comparisons would have been endless and damning. More than likely a straight rip-off even though we still would have shot it beforehand. In the end it got scrapped to restart ITD, a very different film (and an adaptation at that), only to run into BW comparisons anyway. I think any horror movie, and I mean real horror-suspense movie shot on a low budget is going to have to face those comparisons due to BW's success. It only really gets me when it's said that we made our movie because of BW, or were influenced by it, because it's just not true.
BRIAN: The IFP Market is composed mainly of producers and directors. What was the reaction there?
CLIFTON: Terrible. The directors, for the most part, responded positively. But we got maybe two "industry people" into the audience. Three checked out the film in the video library. Had I known before what I know now, we never would have entered. IN THE DARK's statistics would send up so many smelly red flags I am not at all surprised by the lousy reaction. Those people were there to buy the next big thing. This was their admitted goal. They swarmed around mediocre fare that "looked like" GOOD WILL HUNTING or RESERVOIR DOGS on a shoestring (we'll see where those movies are in six months). As listed in the IFP's production book, IN THE DARK was a genre film, shot on video (?), in black and white (??), with no star names (???) for around $10,000 (????). Those aren't the ingredients for the next big thing. As far as they are concerned. Why waste their time?
I should also say the screening was only a fifteen-minute segment, not the whole picture. Not the best way to see it. Though with just fifteen minutes we managed to freak out a couple people. That was fun. So was our promotion: MOG letters with MOG money inside. We had great response on that from filmmakers, maybe if we used real money we would have enticed the bigger fish.
BRIAN: Have there been any offers or interest in full-scale distribution or rental possibilities?
CLIFTON: For distribution, there have been offers, but nothing we've jumped on. We aren't looking for big money in all this. I think that would be miraculous if it happened. But we want to make sure that if a company is making a deal to distribute the film, that they will actually do so, in a thorough way. There are requests by Richard's fans to get the movie to them. If we sign with a distributor that doesn't do its job, they will be out of luck.
BRIAN: If Hollywood gave you a professional deal, would you consider filming another Laymon book? If so, which one?
CLIFTON: Yes. RESURRECTION DREAMS. We've had a tentative offer from a Hollywood company to re-shoot ITD from beginning to end, with a big budget. The president of the company had seen the movie and loved it, but felt that, from a marketing stand point, to go full bore, it would be best to have it look bigger. It was considered, and is still under consideration. One troubling aspect is that he felt the Mayr Heights home went too far, and he would want that modified. He also suggested that a poll be conducted of women, because he was afraid that, while he enjoyed the movie, and so did the lady (a woman, obviously) in the company that had recommended it to him, overall women would be offended by the subject matter.
This is just shades of what was experienced with the previous scripts: "You'll scare away the audience." So, if a Laymon project were to be financed, say RD, it would be a matter of retaining creative control. That way Melvin doesn't inexplicably become a mad Arab. Although, the fact that he runs a gas station, if nothing else, would make the movie much more political.
DWAYNE: As I said we originally had distribution interest on any completed Laymon material. All we had to do was make it. That fell apart for unknown reasons after the movie was finished but it may have been due to what we are encountering elsewhere. I was told by a producer that liked ITD (but couldn't get it distribution) that the small amount of offers comes down to content, much like what was faced with Laymon scripts. In light of the recent U.S. government crackdown on violence in film, companies are especially edgy about taking a risk on that kind of material. Dark is out... unless it is backed up by three big name actors, a name director, and some merchandising gimmick.
This is not to criticize Hollywood. I understand this reasoning even if it sucks. If you fear you are going to end up paying out the nose for court costs, your best bet is to take the risk on a movie that has more guarantees that it will make money. But it's not like we've had no offers. We've had a few but nothing that's been moved on yet. In the end if none of these current offers pan out, there is always the potential for e-distribution. We're not ready for that right yet, but as technology advances it becomes a more viable alternative.
BRIAN: What happens next for you guys?
CLIFTON: We're trying to get IN THE DARK distributed, so maybe more Laymon films will be produced. In the meantime, the movie is reaching its audience slowly, one set of eyes after another, creating new Laymon fans in the process. And more projects of varying budgets are in the works, to keep me working at least. Dwayne?
DWAYNE: I am currently trying to keep myself out of bankruptcy due to the film. I finally got a leg up on it and am hoping to finally regain some measure of personal freedom and perhaps start another project (using existing equipment). If we get a deal with ITD that will go a long way. In the mean time we are trying to get those finishing touches put on the movie whether we get a deal or not.
BRIAN: Any advice for beginning filmmakers?
CLIFTON: Make films. If you are going to adapt, get permission from the author. If you are going to make a Laymon film, please don't do RESURRECTION DREAMS, please.
DWAYNE: As a producer I would suggest a little more caution than Clifton. Before you start any production it is essential that you have money and written contracts for everything you think you need (especially rights and distribution agreements). Make no mistake contracts are different from written or verbal commitments. The former may cost you money up front, but the latter will cost you much more money in the end. This is a lesson hard learned when we lost the novel rights due to their not being in proper contractual form and couldn't stop the distribution deal from evaporating for the same reason. Obviously we re-solidified the novel rights in a "proper" contract, but we never got distribution back.
If you have moths coming out of your wallet, and no written contracts, then I'd advise not taking Clifton's advice to "take a deep breath and dive in". More than likely someone else will end up with your wallet, the moths, and possibly that last breath.
So just remember: make sure you have vision, money, actual rights (not an option on rights) and preferably a distribution deal. Also, I should suggest to novice filmmakers to steer clear of adaptations until they have some other works under their belt. Adaptations add a level of complexity that you don't need when just starting out.
Unless you are crazy like us.
CLIFTON: All that said, I'm still crazy! Go do what you want. Adaptations, original material . . . whatever. You have to make yourself happy, and everything is a learning experience. (Just try not to do anything dumb, that could be bad.)
Author and editor Brian Keene lists Richard Laymon as his biggest influence. After his first reading of The Cellar, Keene was inspired to become a horror writer himself. That dream has paid off, with several nominations for the Bram Stoker Award and an Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. Keene's official and authorized Phantasm/Evil Dead crossover, "Hell At S-MART", was the winner of the "Best Short Story for 1999" in the Dr. Casey Fan Awards. His first book, No Rest For The Wicked, will be released in May 2001, and features an introduction by Richard Laymon himself. Visit Keene's website at www.briankeene.com.
RLK! thanks Brian for permission to publish this interview.
THE DARK Movie Review
Richard has had a sneak peek at the film version of IN
THE DARK, a movie being produced by Gemineye Productions. The post-production on the film is almost complete and more news about its release will be due soon.
So, sit back and relax, pull out the popcorn and read what Richard has to say about the first Laymon film ever produced:
Well, last night I sat down in my living room, put a tape into the VCR, and watched the rough cut of IN THE DARK, the movie. Background on the film, the making of it, and so on can be found elsewhere on RLK, so I'll cut to the chase.
As we all know, we are usually disappointed when we see movies based on novels we have enjoyed. One way or another, the film-makers almost always blow it.
I had high hopes for IN THE DARK, however. I'd read some scripts written by Clifton Holmes, who wrote, directed, shot, and basically did everything but star in the movie. I've known him for a few years, and had great faith in him. I figured he would probably do a pretty good job translating IN THE DARK to the screen.
Golly, was I wrong!
He did a GREAT job.
On message boards, there has been a lot of discussion on the topic of how or whether it would be possible to make a movie that's faithful to any of my books. Some of my fans had the view that it couldn't be done. Not the way "Hollywood" is.
And I am pretty much in agreement with them. My experiences with Hollywood film makers has been dismal. They are mostly arrogant, ill-informed, determined to make only films that fit into tried, true and trite Hollywood patterns.
But Clif isn't Hollywood, he's Chicago. Same as me.
He did it his way. And his way was to make a LAYMON movie.
There has also been a lot of discussion about which director would be ideal for making a Laymon movie. Names such as Cronenberg and Romero and Carpenter and Lynch and many many others have been mentioned.
Well, the director I would pick is Clifton Holmes.
What I watched last night was only a rough cut of IN THE DARK.
Rough sound, no music . . . and I was transfixed by the thing. It is not really like any
movie I've ever seen before.
People are certain to compare it to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Some will obviously say it was "inspired by BLAIR WITCH" or an imitation. Unfair, since Clif made his film before BLAIR WITCH came out. Unfair, but not bad. IN THE DARK will do quite nicely if anyone chooses to compare and contrast the two films.
While its look has resemblances to BLAIR WITCH, it also reminds me of films by
David Lynch and Wim Wenders . . . and oh, my, yes, particulary Tod Browning.
In other words, its feel isn't that of some sorta schlocky/Hollywood/teen/slasher flick. It looks more like an "art-house" film. But unlike many such films, it is neither boring nor obtuse.
In addition to Clifton Holmes, the film owes its existence to his brother,
Dwayne. While Clif did most of the movie making, he couldn't have done it
without the support of Dwayne, who supplied the money and equipment, did some
shooting and editing, and even took on the dangerous job of dealing with my
agent. So IN THE DARK was really a joint effort between Clifton and Dwayne
. . . and they may be working together on more Laymon films in the future.
The film begins in the library, with Jane finding the note that leads her to LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL and it goes ahead full blast from there. It closely follows the events in the book. All the acting is good, but Kim Garrett as Jane is amazing . . . just like the Jane in my book, she is practical, honest, down-to-earth, gutsy, over her head and knows it . . . and is very very real. She's a Laymon gal down to the bone. Wait'll you see her blow away . . . nope, not
gonna give anything away for those of you who haven't read the book.
Alex Ellerman plays Brace (I believe), and does a fine job as Jane's
worried but helpful and supportive friend. Then there's the leather guy . . . very
All the supporting roles were very well done. Since there were no closing
credits, I don't know who played whom. But there's a scene in which Jane is
supposed to be a fellow's "slave" until midnight, and the actor who played
the guy was really down to earth and real. Must be awfully difficult to
play "nice" characters, but Clif found the right people for the job.
IN THE DARK does not follow the book exactly. I'm not sure if any
movie has ever accomplished that. But this one is very close. It is
missing nothing from the book that made me think, "Darn, I sure wish he
hadn't left THAT out." For the most part, folks, it's all there.
And wait'll you see what happens when Jane goes into the house on
Mayr Road. Holy crap!
Clif also dealt especially well with the sort of material that
could've gotten the movie an NC-17 rating from the MPAA -- the US's notorious
film censorship board.
Considering the source material, there is very little nudity. Not much
blood and gore, either . . . maybe due more to the low budget than to other
considerations. However, the movie does have a certain low-key erotic quality and some pretty shocking violence. I would think it should have no trouble getting an R rating, but
you never know. It's a real tribute to Clif's talent and taste that he
maintained a fairly low level of nudity and graphic violence without losing
the feel of the book. Somehow, in my opinion, he really pulled it off.
Sure, the film has a few glitches. But IN THE DARK is a remarkable
achievement any way you look at it, and downright miraculous considering the
budget and resources available to Cliff.
This is the first film anyone has ever made of one of my books. No
matter what films might be done in the future, it's difficult to imagine that
any of them will ever be this good in terms of capturing the true essence of
my fiction. Unless, of course, Clifton Holmes is at the helm.
Clif's IN THE DARK is a must-see for my fans. For many of them,
it'll be the film version they've been hoping for but probably thought would
never get made.
When it will be available for people to see is another question.
One way or another, I'm sure it will be released . . . soon, I hope. And
if it gets any sort of distribution, horror movie fans will go apeshit.
It's not like anything we've ever seen before.
I've pretty much seen 'em all, and I wouldn't be surprised to see IN
THE DARK become a "cult classic."