The Jekyll Journals: One Week Before Shooting

Maybe you’ve noticed that we’ve got a lot of stuff on this upcoming film Jekyll. Yes, it’s the intention of Fanboy Planet to run frequent updates about putting together a modestly budgeted horror film. To accomplish that, we’ll be checking in with the writer-director-producer Scott Zakarin and anybody else who will talk to us about the process.

With a week before the filming commences, the staff of Creative Light Entertainment still has a lot to do. Thankfully, casting is finished, with an announcement to come sometime later today. Scott called to let us know where things stand.

Derek McCaw: When I was down in December, you guys were knee-deep in location scouting. Have you finished that, and are you satisfied with what you’ve got?

Scott Zakarin: We are a week away from principal photography. We still don’t have 25 percent of our locations. It’s four major locations, and lots of little ones. It’s going okay; it’s scary, though. Sometimes you end up not finding a location until you’re shooting. We have this very short shoot, so we really need to hype it up. All day Saturday I’ll be looking at mansions for a location. And eventually, I have to pick a mansion.

DM: How much time do you have for that? Is that something you can push to the end of the shoot?

SZ: No, we’ve got to get this thing done. We need to get everything by the day that we shoot. I was just suggesting (to the staff) that it could go outside of that, but it’s tough. It’s really tough. If you have a lot of money, it’s easier. If you don’t care what it looks like, it’s easier. But if you want it to look right for the character, for the movie, you want it to be photographically pleasing and functional, it takes work. We’ve got to negotiate and find those little diamonds in the rough.

DM: What is the budget for Jekyll?

SZ: I’m not telling you. I wouldn’t say it’s low-budget, though; it’s modestly budgeted.

DM: Who determined that? A few weeks ago, certain actors were circling the script, and a comment made to me was that if these people signed, this would shoot the budget way up. So how did you reach the final budget?

SZ: You look at the script. I wrote this script knowing that it would be modestly budgeted, but I also wanted to really make sure that we explored certain things to the fullest.

The special effects are a big part of what goes into it. Getting the right cast is important. But as far as who decides it, in the case of Jekyll, it’s somewhat of a business decision. It’s budgeted based on what we think we can make back. Being an international sales company, we have a pretty good sense of that.

If the movie turns out okay, we know what we can make on it. If it’s great, then the sky’s the limit. Especially since it’s more modestly budgeted.

DM: Are you serving as writer-director, or do you also have producer in your title?

SZ: I am a producer as well.

DM: Eric Mittleman tried to explain to me the difference between Executive Producer, regular Producer and Line Producer. Heck, I don’t know what a Line Producer is versus a regular Producer.

SZ: It used to be a Production Manager. Now sometimes they have Line Producers and Production Managers. But ultimately, what it is is people who are dealing with everything that happens below the line of the movie. Above the line is director, stars, and maybe a big rights purchase, things like that. In the case of Jekyll, above the line is your producers, script, things like that.

DM: So you’re a straightforward Producer.

SZ: It varies. Everything is negotiation. I think of the Producers as the people who put together the movie, then see it through and take ultimate responsibility. I know that, in my job, the buck stops here. If the movie stinks, it’s my fault. I have wonderful people around me, so the only place I can look for fault is myself.

DM: Last month, all the effects were being planned in-house. Is that still the case?

SZ: We’re doing most of in-house. For some of the practical effects, some of the things you actually see that aren’t computer-related, are being done out of house. We have a terrific company, Abomination. They’re young, inventive guys who are using this as somewhat of a showcase, and I think the work they’re doing is fantastic.

As far as the computer graphics, we’re doing that in-house with Evan, Daniel (DeFabio) and Mark Teague, our production designer.

DM: Let’s talk a little bit about casting. The official announcement comes this week. What were some of the challenges you faced in casting this film?

SZ: In order to make Jekyll and Hyde work, you need an incredibly versatile actor who can also carry a film. You need a leading man with the versatility of a character actor. That was the real challenge. There were some wonderful actors who came in for it. Ultimately, I found somebody who I believe is a total find. Once people see what he does in this movie, he’s going to be bigger than ever.

In terms of the challenges, there are a bunch of roles that are very unique and specific. Not necessarily what somebody looks like; that’s not what makes them specific, but what they carry on the inside. Can they handle the combination of drama and humor that the movie requires?

For a couple of roles, there’s nudity issues. Often times, and in this case, you’re dealing with actresses who have issues with it. The actors always seem to have less issues. I don’t know what that phenomenon is. Men don’t seem to mind it, even though commercially, women’s nudity is at a much higher premium.

DM: I understand that one of those issues came up over the role of the stripper that Hyde seduces. And in the auditions, they were reading a scene that was, basically, a lapdance.

SZ: Knowing what they were auditioning for. And generally, people were not uncomfortable with the process. They seemed to enjoy us, and had a good time. But when push comes to shove, “now I have to let it all hang out there,” then it becomes a little more frightening. Unfortunately, we had a couple of stumbling blocks in trying to cast one of the main roles, the character of Christy. It’s a fantastic, full-blown character. Ingrid Bergman played that character in the Spencer Tracy version. I guess I should really say character archetype (since Jekyll is an update of the story).

But they didn’t ask Ingrid Bergman to do nudity. If they had, we wouldn’t have seen Ingrid Bergman in the part. I can tell you that the gal who is playing her is fantastic, the best choice I could have ever asked for. She gives me the performance, the acting style, the dancing, everything. She does not have an issue with it.

DM: Has casting been the greatest challenge of the pre-production process for you?

SZ: No. It’s been very interesting, just to meet all these wonderful people. To see how they’re putting it all on the line. Seeing who’s nervous, who’s confident, how they come into a room. You know who’s desperate and who knows that they’re a prize. Seeing the different takes is always very interesting.

The guy who is playing Jekyll actually came in for the last two, to help cast the leading ladies. He came in and read with all of them. Doing one scene after another, to see all the different takes that he would get on the same dialogue, and how it affected his performance, was also very interesting.

But I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating. Actually, I’m loving this process. It’s very thorough. My casting director, Bruce Newberg is just great. His reputation with talent has really helped us get an extremely high-caliber of actor. I met a lot of wonderful people who I hope to be working with in the future, if not on this film.

DM: Had you worked with him before? He was just recently announced as officially V.P. of Casting for Creative Light. (Obsessive Fanboy Note: Newberg did the casting for the film adaptation of Spawn)

SZ: This is our first film together. But we did several meetings to find out that we were a good fit. Bruce actually grew up in a town that was right next to the town I grew up in, on Long Island. Not that we knew each other, but it sort of gave us a connection.

DM: Okay, just ran out of tape. So quickly, how do you feel about where you’re heading on the film right now?

SZ: It’s been interesting dealing with the compromises you have to make. Sometimes it’s exhilarating, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. But other times it’s frustrating, having to give up on a piece of the vision. That’s the interesting thing about filmmaking; it’s frustrating and the most rewarding thing I can do.

Our previous conversation with Scott Zakarin

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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.