The Jekyll Journals: No Rest For The Weary...

Thanks to Creative Light Entertainment, we were given the chance to go behind the scenes in the making of a horror film. About a week after shooting on Jekyll wrapped, writer/director/producer Scott Zakarin called to give some perspective to the experience, though, of course, it’s still not really done. We’re rapidly approaching the due date for a rough cut, and then comes the real task of selling it to the public.

Maybe these articles help, though Scott has cautioned that he wants to “…stay away from hype” when talking about the filmmaking process that he loves. Even though he considers himself “…very fortunate to be working with people who seem to be pouring their hearts into it. But it’s got all the pain of climbing Everest.”

And yet, you’ll notice that Scott can’t help himself in praising the cast and crew of Jekyll, a group of people that have busted their asses to turn Scott’s original vision into something more.

Derek McCaw: You’re done with shooting. Is it now time for you to lay back from the production and handle the other aspects of running Creative Light?

Scott Zakarin: No, I’m working every day with our editor, Joe Vallero. He’s been working trailers for us and has worked on cleaning up our last movie. We’re selecting takes and making sure that he’s not just cutting blindly. He knows what takes I like and which parts of the takes I like.

We look at cuts and we’re hoping to have a first cut three weeks into March, so we can show it to the other producers and get their input. We can discuss what changes need to be made and then continue to tweak and write the music. Evan Unruh and Mark Teague will still be working on the special effects. And hopefully all is good at the end and we’ll have the right movie.

DM: And who is doing the music for you?

SZ: I’m still trying to figure that out. I have a lot of tapes of composers, and I have specific songs that I want to use. Ultimately, the music is so goddam important to a movie like this, that I want to be sure that I get the right guy. I could go certain ways, but I’m still digging. Personality is so important in these areas, too. Not just someone that you love their music, but you also have the same vibe, speak the same language.

DM: Did everything work out as you expected, or have there been changes that you’ve had to make either for better or worse?

SZ: There were probably two scenes that I sacrificed in the end. Not that I didn’t shoot the scenes, but I sacrificed the complication of how they were done. Neither one of them will you miss in the film, and actually in one of them the easier alternative ended up being far more effective. The other one is six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Whether I would have done those scenes in the end if I’d had the time and money, I don’t know. Would I have come up with these different ideas anyway? I don’t know. In the end, I was pretty amazed at how were able to get so much of what was originally envisioned. As I’ve said before, I really give my cast and crew all the credit for that.

DM: Can you be more specific about the scenes?

SZ: There was a scene in the script where Hyde is spying on the Carew family through their windows. I had him climbing on the side of the house. Because of the house that we rented and the complications of the geography where certain rooms were, we basically decided to ditch that and have him break into the house.

It ended up with a more sneaky, creepy shot in the house. I actually think that worked better. I still had that voyeur effect, but now I had that creepy feeling of “oh my god, somebody’s actually in my home.” I was hoping to get some really cool lighting effects instead of just a guy hanging on the side of a house. It probably would not have been as effective.

DM: I know there was some controversy over the green screen stuff the days I visited the set. There seemed to be a lot of worry that the green screen work wouldn’t all get done.

SZ: On the last day, we actually split the units. We set up in the house; they had a great big attic. We set up an area there so that one camera could be working on green screen while the other one was rehearsing and getting the other scenes. In a way, we were able to get our “green screen” day.

Still, it was a big push and pull, because you want to sit there and cover as much of the scenes and dialogue as possible. But the green screen is so important to make sure that the effects shot are all there. We ended up having to fight for the time it needed.

DM: There was definitely a fight for it the day I was on the set.

SZ: Right, because that was the day we were shooting the first transformation. I would say that that was one of the things that was more contentious on the shoot. It probably wasn’t the most (contentious), because there’s always things that come up.

Some things become almost iconic, like we never got the cape shot, for example. When are we going to get that shot where he loses the cape? Well, it doesn’t make sense. You have wardrobe issues on one hand, and continuity issues on the other. Then you have weather issues, and which car is going to be there…

That became this missing scene that we couldn’t shoot for a variety of reasons. He wasn’t Hyde that day, maybe; it was always something. That became one of the things you’d keep hearing throughout the shoot. The fight for the green screen was one of them, but even more so was the “when do we lose the cape?” thing.

Little things that an audience may not notice, which is probably why it becomes a little stickler issue. You’re asking, well, how important is it really? It’s very important, because you can’t suddenly have him in a different outfit with no explanation.

DM: And then it becomes even more important to the person who brought it up in the first place…

SZ: And it should be. You’re sitting there worrying about nailing the scene before the sun goes down, or actors freezing in cold water. Whatever the nightmare of the day is, sometimes the lesser nightmares tend to get bigger by comparison.

DM: Would more money have made a difference for you in these situations?

SZ: In some areas. There’s a very specific style for the way Hyde is shot and the way Jekyll is shot. But most of the action comes in the Hyde scenes. The way that’s shot, I don’t think that having it look more polished would have helped it. Clearly, I’d love to have that problem of give me more money and let me see how I can amp it up. But at the same time, you’re painting within your confines.

I was not unhappy with the level of confines that I had, feeling that I could walk away with special aspects of the sequences. I was going to say “scenes,” but you almost don’t want every scene to be special. You want some scenes to serve a purpose. In ever sequence, you’re looking for specific things.

I think overall I was able to get everything I needed, and more often than not, a lot more. I would get performances that I didn’t expect. That’s the thing; you can’t put a price on a performance. If you’re framing a shot, and somebody is performing a certain way, however it happens, you could have Casablanca. Or you could have Titanic. Whatever it is that causes greatness, I don’t think that it’s triggered just because you have more money.

DM: As a director, writer, producer, are you making art or just telling a story? Or is there a difference?

SZ: Telling a story is certainly art. The better question for me is, am I manufacturing a product or creating an artistic work? You’re always manufacturing because ultimately you have schedules and deadlines; it’s a business. But as far as, do I feel like an artist? It’s a wonderful thing to be able to paint pictures in continuity and emotion. I can’t even describe it.

It’s what I’ve done since I was a little kid. I made movies when I was a teenager on one of those early heavy “portable” videorecorders, much heavier than you have today. And it’s the same thing. I imagine that if I were working on a thirty, forty million dollar movie, it would feel like the same thing to me.

I would have more time to do certain types of things. I could take on different types of stories that my financial limitations don’t allow me to do now. But I’m a storyteller and an artist. Now, whether I’m a good one, that’s clearly up to the public. But I’m getting that satisfaction.

DM: How was the wrap? I heard from your assistant, Behn Fannin, that you “pushed through ’til dawn.”

SZ: We did. But we were scheduled to do it. It was always a night shoot. We would have pushed through until dawn under any circumstances. But I think it went a couple of hours longer in the end. We did very complicated things on the last day.

Giving yourself a tough day on the last day is both painful and a sense of “this war’s not over.” People may start to feel like you’re packing it in, but you can’t. You’ve still got to nail this. These are very important scenes. We burned up Banzai. We set him on fire that day.

DM: For the film, or just for the hell of it?

SZ: Just for the hell of it. He pissed me off. No. We had some big stunts on that day. We had some key, key scenes that day, a third act twist that was pretty huge. We had to kick ass all day, and I do remember feeling like I was freezing. It was late when we started. It was a very cold snap that day, and I’m never good with cold.

Meanwhile, Matt’s walking around without a shirt on, just in his jacket, because he’s so hopped up and running around. Whenever he would do something like jump off something and land easily, I’d say, “you know, in ten years it’s going to be very difficult for you to do that.” And he’d just smile and say, “I know.” I sometimes think we’re the before and after picture for middle age.

So it was cold. How am I going to get through this day? There were so many complications. We walked onto the set, and we were as disorganized as if it were the first day. We’d gotten really strong, we built and built, and there was something about that last day that was just really tough. Part of it is that feeling like you’re packing it in, and you’ve got to fight that. Hang in there, not make those compromises. You’re fighting exhaustion and all these emotions that you have.

It’s interesting, because I started getting stronger by the second half of that day. And I know it’s because I was fueled by all the good work that was being done by the key people on the movie. That kept me going and warm. By the end, I probably could have shot another ten hours. At the beginning, I didn’t think I could even shoot the whole night.

DM: So are you ready for Son of Jekyll?

SZ: Well, the logical next movie is Hyde, which I have some ideas for. But I’m actually working on two different scripts right now. One is a horror film with a very unique idea which my partner Rich Tackenberg came up with. I have another that I intend to direct.

DM: Given how involved the actors were, especially Matt, has it now just been bye-bye for them? How involved are they post-production?

SZ: I told Matt that I would love to have him involved in post-production. I actually haven’t spoken to him since the shoot. I’ve got to catch up with him. We had a wonderful collaborative relationship on the movie, and I’ve definitely want that to continue. For the most part, though, for actors, it’s hard to judge yourself. It’s hard to weight the movie properly when you’re part of it. It’s just human nature. That’s why actors generally aren’t involved unless they’re stars.

And I do think that’s one of the problems with the movie system right now. Stars have gotten so much power and so much control that they’re not thinking about the balance of the movie all the time. Although there are stars that are so good that they make their co-stars look good. That’s not a generalization. I just get the sense that that’s got to be why most Hollywood movies suck so badly.

DM: Any last words on Matt?

SZ: He willingly did things that you wouldn’t ask a guy to do. He put himself in that position. Whenever possible, he did his own stunts, though he had a great stunt person there helping him to do whatever he had to do. If I had him drinking half a bottle of wine in a take, he’d have to do it each take. He would always say, nope, make sure I’m on camera. He’d be walking around bloated. There were constant things that he was coming up with, adding to the movie.

But I had such a phenomenal cast on this movie. Jonathan Silverman is one of the most collaborative actors I’ve ever worked with in my life. He’s easy-going and he always adds something to it. Alanna Ubach is one of my heroes; I’ve been tracking her career for years. When she walked in for auditions, I said, “oh my god, you’re so talented.” I knew exactly who she was and I can’t wait to work with her again. Desmond is as nice a guy as he seems, and as great an actor as he seems. Abigail is terrific. Siena is a major movie star waiting to happen.

I don’t know what to tell you. I really lucked out. Josh Stewart, who you probably didn’t speak to, is going to be a major star. He plays Tommy (a drunk that Hyde picks up at a bar) – I basically rewrote the character for him. Lisa Donahue from Big Brother. Also, Erin Cahill, who I was a big fan of when she was the Pink Power Ranger (on Time Force).

So I’ve got this big group of people that I just admired. They’re just wonderful and beautiful. Not beautiful in a conventional sense, but as performers. They make you realize why people do this, why they become actors. Because this is who they are.

And you can’t say that about anybody more than Matt Keeslar. He’s just so into it. And he’s got the advantage of this amazing, amazing face. He’s beautiful to look at and he’s also interesting. On one hand he’s Captain America, and on another he’s William Hurt. It’s wonderful.

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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.