The Duality Of Scott Zakarin

Behind the scenes of a high-tech take on Jekyll and Hyde

We’ve had an open dialog with Creative Light Entertainment for a couple of years, ever since the filming of Comic Book: The Movie at San Diego ComicCon 2002. Over the course of those four days, we just kept crossing paths and talking, hanging out and hitting it off.

The company is dedicated to genre films, delivering entertainments that they consider tailor-made for fans. In addition to working with Mark Hamill on CB:TM, the company has (or has had) projects in development with Bruce Campbell, William Shatner, and Xena’s Renee O’Connor.

Right now around the Creative Light offices, however, all that has taken a backseat to CEO Scott Zakarin’s return to directing a feature. While the marketing department works to promote CB:TM, most of the office is humming in pre-production for an update of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Titled simply “Jekyll,” the film will begin shooting in January with a cast that promises a couple of pleasing choices for genre fans. Scott wanted to offer Fanboy Planet a behind-the-scenes look at production, keeping readers informed on a week to week basis (though we’re going to have a little hiccup over the Christmas holidays) on all the trials, tribulations, and joys of putting together a low-budget horror film without losing your mind and — dare we say it? — artistic vision.

Tuesday of this week, I flew down to Burbank to visit the Creative Light office in Beverly Hills. For one thing, I needed to see Daniel DeFabio in his native habitat. Hopefully, there will be more to report on Daniel and his comic book projects in the coming months.

Scott took some time in the midst of his busy schedule to sit down and talk a bit about his thoughts and hopes for Jekyll, at a time when, really, almost all of it is still pretty much trapped in his own head. 

Derek McCaw: So why Jekyll now? And please. Get your finger out of your nose before you answer.

Scott Zakarin: (answering thoughtfully, with his finger up his nose) What inspired me to do Jekyll? I was an alcoholic through my twenties. Now, depending upon how you view the situation, you’re either always an alcoholic, so I’m still an alcoholic who just hasn’t had a drink in ten years, or that I’m recovered. In my mind, I don’t drink anymore. What I found so interesting about that period is that it is, in a sense, a Jekyll and Hyde scenario. I was actually a gregarious drunk. I was a fun, manipulative drunk who sometimes didn’t focus enough on other people’s feelings. Sometimes way too much, as a result.

So the duality of man has always been very interesting to me – the duality of humans, I should say, because women are the same as men. It’s always fascinating to me. That particular story, especially the Fredric March movie version, has always been of interest to me.

I also loved certain adaptations of movies that update classic stories – it’s great source material. I was very inspired by the Steve Martin update of Roxanne, actually (adapted from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac). I thought it was a lovely adaptation. How did he take things like the fact that this guy was a master swordsman and update that? How did he take certain speeches and turn them into a new way? And I found that most of the movies that were made of Jekyll took too many liberties with the story. I took less liberties with the story in some ways; I just modernized it.

The biggest thing I’m changing is that he doesn’t take a potion to turn into Hyde. It’s much more in today’s science fact, to give it verisimilitude. Clearly, the idea that somebody takes a drink and all of a sudden his hair grows and his skin changes…by the way, not the way Stevenson’s novella did it, which didn’t have him changing all that much.

DM: Right. Most of it happens “off-screen.”

SZ: Exactly. Most of it was a case study, more than it was a straight story. I actually went back to the source and pulled out a lot of things that I thought that Stevenson was trying to get at. Not that…well, Stevenson’s a genius writer, so I’m not saying I feel a kinship that way…but I feel a kinship to what he was trying to explore. I imagine he had somewhat of a divided personality himself to be able to understand those things.

It plays into my addictive personality, and it plays into classic themes that will be retold forever. I mean, how many movies, even in modern times, have been Jekyll and Hyde? You’ve got Hulk, The Nutty Professor, Altered States…it’s not an unfamiliar theme. I just went back to the source material and said, “okay, how does it look today?”

Let’s stay a little mysterious on how the transformation happens for right now – I want to save a little mystique, and because there are always competing projects. (Though Jekyll is much further along in production, Dreamworks announced last week that they picked up the rights to an as-yet-unpublished comic book version by Steve Niles.) Hollywood’s always going there. Mary Reilly was a Jekyll/Hyde project, for that matter. Though it stunk. And you can quote me on that.

DM: So is this a script that you’ve had for a while?

SZ: I wrote it three years ago, thinking that it was an interesting monster that has not been…you know. In all the versions of Jekyll and Hyde, they imply. They imply that he’s this lustful creature. They imply that he’s trying to do something scientifically that will change the world. They imply that he’s a killer. They show it somewhat, but they don’t really show it. I felt like this was an opportunity in today’s world, to take a look at it. What does that mean? What does it look like? What does it taste like and sound like?

DM: So how does this become the next project for Creative Light? You’ve got Comic Book: The Movie in the hopper, you’ve got Creature Unknown waiting for release…How does this become the hot project to which you’re devoting all your time and energy?

SZ: Well, it fits the fanboy. It fits with the fans. It’s horror. It fits what Creative Light has always been interested in, which is interpersonal relationships. Since our experience with The Spot to Comic Book: The Movie to Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels. We’ve been into the comic book world, and very very interested in relationships.

I’m also very interested in character. To me, the very best genre films are the ones that have strong personality. That’s why Die Hard, the original, is the best of that particular genre. It had a lot of character. It had a lot of stakes that were emotional. It wasn’t straightforward. It wasn’t XXX (the Vin Diesel movie), which is something I’m so not interested in. What I’m very interested in is the personal relationships and dynamics. Also, this will be the first time…I’ve directed throughout the years, commercials, product spots, interactive stuff, short films for Playboy. But I haven’t directed a feature since I was 25 years old. I felt that if I was going to do a feature, I had to do the right one for the business, but at the same time, I wanted to do something I was really passionate about.

DM: What format are you using? Previous releases like The Adventures of Cinderella’s Daughter and Comic Book: The Movie were on video.

SZ: Cinderella’s Daughter was meant to be a TV show; that’s why it’s also so episodic. And Comic Book: The Movie was on digital video specifically because it was documentary style. It was “Grab it and capture lightning.” Which I think we did. But Creature Unknown was in high def. We’ve done two other movies that were in high def before this. And Jekyll will be in high def.

The beauty of the high def format, which is becoming more and more popular with Hollywood filmmakers, Robert Rodriguez shot his last three movies that way, George Lucas is shooting the Star Wars movies in high def. Tom Cruise, I believe, is shooting his new movie in high def. You’re already in a digital format, so if you’re planning on doing interesting digital effects, you’re not actually taking it down and going into something that doesn’t fit as well. A lot of what Jekyll is about is the reasoning of the computer and the brain being a computer. And a lot of how you’ll see the transformation, we’re going to take advantage of digital technology.

Another reason that we’re shooting high def is that the film costs are dramatically lower, especially if you’re planning on shooting a lot. And we plan on shooting and experimenting and giving the actors a chance. I mean, this is one of the greatest acting performing pieces, character, well, it’s like Fredric March…Please don’t misrepresent this. I’m saying that the Robert Louis Stevenson character of Jekyll and Hyde is one of the most historically challenging parts…it’s up there with Hamlet.

The idea is that you get the duality of man. My version has Jekyll streaked with traits that could be Hyde, and Hyde streaked with traits that could be Jekyll. We’re not angels and devils; we’re complex human beings. What makes us into a monster could just be crossing a certain line.

DM: There’s a choice you made in the script also that Hyde works out in a Victorian virtual reality. Why?

SZ: It could have been any world. The idea being that when you’re playing a videogame it should be in a fantasy world. Even the world of Grand Theft Auto is still a fantasy world of a Sin City type of universe. It could be outer space, it could be anything, and I could have put Hyde anywhere. Hyde was really born in Victorian England, so it seemed to me that that was as good a place as any to put the videogame. That’s really the whole reason. I don’t have him interacting with characters; he’s just in the game going crazy and killing scalawags…

DM: So you’ll be trying to do some kind of licensing for a Hyde videogame?

SZ: I don’t really think I own that brand. I think Jekyll and Hyde kind of belongs to the world. If it were, somebody wanted to do a videogame, that’s just not the motivation for me at all. It’s really not. I’m not trying to say this is my franchise. I mean, it can happen. It certainly happened with Stan Lee’s Thor. He created Thor (the comic book character) and people would said, “we want to make Thor.” And Stan just says, “why don’t they make it?” They can make Thor. Thor is a thunder god who has a cool hammer. If you want to make him Don whatever-his-name… (Donald Blake)

So I don’t think I own Jekyll and Hyde. If for some reason, someone else saw it differently, well, I have no problem with commercialism. It’s just that I have no good reason for it.

DM: So where are you in production now? Have you cast anybody yet?

SZ: No. We’re very close, actually. For some of the roles. I’m holding my breath on some actors that would be dream scenarios. One thing I can tell you is that the quality of actor has been exceptional. The script has gotten very good reactions from Hollywood agencies and management companies. The actors that have been coming in for a lower-budget horror film with a director people don’t really know – we have really been able to get the actors. We will have a very good cast. Fine actors. Interesting calls and recognizable faces as well as name stars.

This is the period where we’re officially…what day is it? The 16th? We are five weeks away from the shoot. We’re shooting on the 19th (of January). So five weeks. With Christmas in between. So we have…we’re looking to nail down the locations. We’re looking to figure out what the effects are. We’re looking to hire the stunt coordinator…actually, that I can tell you. His name is Banzai Vitale.

We’ve hired a production designer, Mark Teague. He’s actually the guy who starred in and directed Superguy, which is something that’s coming out for us soon. Also, he worked on a lot of the graphics and animation for Comic Book: The Movie. He’s fantastic. We’re hiring keys. We’ve got our Director of Photography, Bill McCullen. He’s shot several movies in hi-def. I’ve also worked with him on commercials. So those are the types of thing you do in pre-production, casting, wardrobe…

Once we get our actors, then we can start doing tests on things like how Hyde is going to look. Exactly what wardrobe is going to be. It’s really putting together the pieces and really planning out our shoot. Scheduling it, storyboarding the scenes, so that when we get on the set we can have the best use of our time.

DM: And how long is the schedule for the shoot?

SZ: It’s three weeks. It’s extremely short, but we’re also going to have a week of rehearsals. We will have two cameras for anything that resembles an action sequence, to pick up some time. Having done a lot of television, I’m used to working quickly. But I also don’t want to…well, obviously, a lot of this will be riding on the actor who plays Jekyll. He’s in ninety percent of the scenes. That’s probably an underestimation. So I’ve got to get the right person, somebody who’s not just a fantastic actor but a solid citizen. That’s really what it’s going to take.

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About Derek McCaw
In addition to running Fanboy Planet, Derek has written for ActionAce, Daily Radar, Once Upon A Dime, and The Wave. He has contributed stories to Arcana Comics (The Greatest American Hero) and Monsterverse Comics (Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave). He performs with ComedySportz San Jose and ShakesBEERience, in addition to occasional screenwriting and acting jobs. If you ever played Eric's Ultimate Solitaire on the Macintosh, it was Derek's voice as The Weasel that urged you to play longer. You can buy his book "I Was Flesh Gordon" on the Amazon link at the right. Email him at editor@fanboyplanet.com.