Quantcast David J Stieve interview - BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON

David J Stieve!!!

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is no stranger to Icons of Fright readers by now. One of the most acclaimed and intelligent horror films in years, the recent theatrical release brought even more positive critical notice, and its DVD release looks to make this classic even more accessible. But where does a success story like this begin? In the imagination of writer David J. Stieve. David has several new scripts making the rounds, and is also the subject of an upcoming documentary showing the struggle to make a career in imagination come true in Hollywood. Join us as we look into LeslieVernon’s origins, explore where a potential follow-up might take us, and what it takes to bring life to characters on the page and shepherd them through a new existence onscreen! - by Adam Barnick 7/07

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What are your earliest memories of the horror genre?

I was probably five or six. I was with my older sister, Christine, and my two cousins Julie and Lori. I was the baby brother that got to tag along. They were watching Frankenstein, the Karloff version, and I was scared out of my mind. I thought it was the boogeyman; this guy’s 75 feet tall, bolts sticking out of his neck. I was absolutely horrified. And they were scared, but bonding and screaming as girls will do.

I remember very clearly being afraid of Frankenstein; which is ironic because now the novel’s my favorite literary work. There’s something very mythological about-even in Karloff’s incarnation (of the monster)- the idea of “What are we, as men, capable of creating; what evil are we capable of creating?” I don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg -do I like Frankenstein so much because of that earlier experience, or was I just predisposed to like that.

The second memory, if I can cheat and get another one, was from the first R-rated movie I ever saw; I remember another babysitting event; my Aunt Vicki was in charge of watching me and my sister and two cousins, and she took us to Blade Runner.

Oh wow!

First R-rated movie I’d ever seen, first nudity I ever saw.

That’s formative…“Welcome to dystopia!”

Oh it was just spectacular! There’s something obviously very, very dark and brooding about that, but that night we got home, and one of our neighbors found out we’d just come home from this movie, we’re all amped up, and she came down and was pounding on all the doors and rattling the windows and scaring us when we were inside the house being babysat.

Good way to start as a kid. Come home and brood about the human condition for a few hours.

There’s a very Frankenstein component to that (film) actually! With the androids and “What does man create.” Clearly I have an obsession there.

You had a formative period working in a movie theater as well. When did you start working there?

The Orpheum? That was when I went to college, University of Wisconsin. My college job; that was sort of the one constant I always had. Spent countless hours there. It’s a beautiful old movie palace; one of the original Orpheum Circuit movie palaces; red velvet ropes, chandeliers, the works. To be able to bring Behind The Mask there is closing a circle that’s so satisfying.

Did they show newer films, or classics and revivals, indies there?

It was an independent but first-run theater, we had all the Hollywood hits but would get some independents; the manager was a guy named Jerry Fladin; he had a good eye for films but was also a great businessman. So he had to find a mix of putting audiences in the seats but also showing the films that he loved.

You went to college for your English degree but eventually turned to screenwriting, but were always out to tell stories.

I am part of the Star Wars generation, the idea that you could go to a theater and be a part of something that was so unbelievably escapist and spectacular, but still have a heart to it; very much a student of the Spielberg/Coppola/Lucas era. I think those movies were very grandiose but had a very real human element to them, and an emotional pull to the stories.

I had always gravitated towards storytelling, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I had that soul-searching moment of “What am I going to do with myself?” I thought I was going to write the Great American Novel and it just wasn’t working. I had sort of a light- bulb-coming-on moment while I was at the Orpheum; I worked at a video store in high school and the Orpheum in college…the answer was plain as day. I was always around films, I loved the medium of it; I love that it’s a combination of the visual and the written format. I really respond to the fact that cinema and filmmaking- it’s the youngest art form, with storytelling being the oldest. Starting with cave art, up through theater, musicals, film..it’s sort of only 100 years old but the global reach it has.. It’s overwhelmingly enticing for me to be involved in that medium!

Were there initial authors that sparked that love of literature? Writers in general you admire?

Again, Mary Shelly had a pretty profound impact, I loved F. Scott Fitzgerald, still do; there’s a very strong, melancholic sort of gravitas to Fitzgerald that appeals to me.

I did the usual dances with Hemingway and Shakespeare, I appreciate the beauty of that and the greatness that are those works; but I think Fitzgerald is the author I responded to the most.

So when you were wrapping up college, that was when you decided you would go into screenwriting?

I foolishly thought writing a script, since it was shorter, would be easier than writing a novel. The joke was on me! I backed into it thinking it would be a better way for me to finish a story, and I realized very quickly I did not know the first thing about formatting, structure, about how you refine everything you need to say down to dialogue and action, where you don’t have the luxury of free verse or description or an omnipotent point of view. Obviously it’s a lot harder to express everything that way, AND fit it into 110 pages, widely spaced.

How did you start teaching yourself?

I started reading scripts, and the first book I ever bought and read was Lew Hunter’s book (Screenwriting 434); quickly progressed through all the gurus, the Syd Fields and the Robert Mckees, and all those guys. I took a lot from all of them. I’m a very “traditional story structure” kind of guy, inspired heavily by that.

I came to Joseph Campbell a lot later. I know that’s almost become a cliché- everybody has their Hero’s Journey turn- but I happen to believe that’s accurate. There’s a lot of mythology there to be mined; again it goes back to it being a very old art, storytelling, just in a new medium. You can never stop learning, you have an obligation to read everybody who’s done it before you, and especially if they’re taking the time to offer any words of advice. Doesn’t mean you have to follow it verbatim, but I appreciate the effort of someone taking the time to put their thoughts down- “Hey, I’ve written screenplays as well, maybe you would benefit from my experience.”

Were there particular screenwriters you really came to admire?

Randall Wallace (Braveheart) hit me at the right time and age, when I was trying to decide what I was doing; that script really hit me. Obviously Charlie Kaufman; he’s hard to follow some times for me, but I appreciate the lengths that he goes to to get his ideas out there. Robert Benton, who wrote Nobody’s Fool.

Modern-day, I watched West Wing, Sports Night, anything that (Aaron) Sorkin is doing, I’m there. Same thing with David Milch. I would have watched Deadwood for another seven years. David Chase. I whole-heartedly believe The Sopranos is the best writing for a TV series that will ever be. I love those guys. I don’t mean to be putting down anybody who writes the big blockbusters, or the smash hit series; but there’s a deeper mythology with those guys.

I think what each of those guys did is... they knew what they wanted to say, they knew the characters inside and out, and they just expressed them and sort of let them do the work.
And it’s really not about “Is everyone gonna get this?” It’s not “If there’s people out there that aren’t gonna get this than how do we fix that?” That’s all out the window with those guys! With them, they’re like “You know what, if people get this, great; if not, I’m sorry, they’re gonna have to run and catch up.” And there’s something I respect about that.

They’re not being elitist about it; they’re not SO avant-garde that nobody follows it. But there are a lot of moments where you’re watching those guys where you miss stuff and you think OK, I’ll pick it up later, or it’ll somehow come back into the fold later.

Do you have a specific writing regimen?

It’s changing, it has changed very recently, partially because of the success of Behind the Mask; I’ve been able leave my day job and pursue writing full time. I had been working as a talent agent, called AKA Talent, for seven years. And that was a great job! I never had any interest in being a starving artist living out of his car.

It was a way to learn more about the business though.

It was, and the experiences, and relationships that I formed and the wisdom that I gained, being able to be on sets, around actors and directors and producers, and to see what goes on behind the scenes…ALL of it helped me as a writer. The downside of that is that you’re working 60-70 hours a week so writing is relegated to the part time job, the nights and weekends. I recently was able to flip the switch and reverse that polarity; and writing is the focus now. So my habits are going to have to change, this has been my first week “off!”

It’s weird, without the same pressure; it’s different, and you really have to tap into that commitment and motivation. Obviously it’s a luxury to say that writing is my full time job.

Was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon your third screenplay?

Behind the Mask was the third full script that I wrote that I let anybody read. I had a couple of disasters I worked on before those that never got finished. To keep up the Frankenstein mythology here, writing a script is a lot like building the Frankenstein Monster, to some degree. You’re putting a lot of parts together; you have to assemble it correctly. But there has to be a secondary level, this infusion of life.

Anyone can kind of put a corpse together, if you know what I mean. But there’s that lightening bolt that makes the body sit up off the table. With a story, you can put the pieces together, but if you don’t have that mythology, the story’s not gonna live. So there were a lot of “discarded corpses” in my case. When I got to the point where I was saying “This is a finished script, ready to go” then Behind the Mask was my third.

Did you have a general idea that Leslie Vernon seeded from?

Oh, I could give you a whole separate interview on that topic alone (laughs), I wish you and I could sit down with Scotty (Glosserman) and Nathan (Baesel), because there’s a definitely a real sort of profound thing that’s going on with this story.

The original inception of it was…I was talking to my father on his birthday; this was in May of 2001. For anybody who’s decided to pursue a career that’s off the beaten path, you have to sometimes combat that sense of resistance from people: “When are you gonna kind of get rid of this dream and get a real job?” So I had that conversation with my Dad, explained what’s going on and how I’m trying really hard, etc. And he’s being supportive, but you always hear that sort of underlying “When’s he gonna give up this crazy dream and really lock in?” And I got off the phone and was mulling that over; and Halloween was on TV.

So I’m watching it, which I love, and I’m lying there that night thinking of the conversation I’d had. It sort of melded into my thinking “Am I doing the right thing? How am I gonna get started as a screenwriter?” And it crossed over into the idea of “I wonder if a guy like Michael Myers has moments like this. Did he have moments of doubt? How did he decide to do what he does?” It was funny; like “What does a guy like this do on a Tuesday afternoon? It can’t always be killing; it’s not always Friday the 13th. What does Jason do on Tuesday the 10th?”

And it crossed into this thing; if there was a guy who aspired to be the next Freddy or Jason or Michael, what would he do? And what would be a funny way to showcase that?

So I thought maybe if a documentary crew followed him around, you could see behind the scenes; but it’s really about this artist’s struggle! To follow his bliss and do what he wants to do, find his calling in life! It’s amazing to me how layered it gets, Nathan’s talked about this in earlier interviews. There’s the moment where life’s imitating art…

You’re talking about the hayloft scene. (Where Leslie Vernon tearfully contemplates his life’s work coming to fruition, just before his first big slaughter.)

And there’s Nathan the actor, going through the same emotions. And there’s Scott the director, me the writer, going through the same emotions. There’s been this layering that’s so rich, the cycle keeps repeating.

So that’s where it originated, in “How do I pursue my career?” and molded it into this form of Leslie Vernon. Obviously it went through many versions and rewrites but found its way to Scott in 2003. 2002 it was a finalist in Slamdance (Screenplay competition). Then it got to Scotty and we worked together on revisions. It was another two years before it went before the cameras in 2004.

Can you talk to about your writer/director relationship here? It was also the writer/co-writer relationship in this case.

The story was there, I knew what Leslie was about and what he was trying to do. Scott brought to it a more detailed knowledge of the slasher genre. He got the story I was trying to tell, got the symbolism, but he helped me shape it more into (its final form).

I had the basics; the biggest conversion it went through was initially the story ended where Leslie disappears from the bedroom to go make his first kill. Leslie’s like “You’ve seen what comes next!” and there was a little epilogue to say what Leslie did, and he comes back the following year, etc. The point I was trying to make was this was everything that happens before a slasher film, and we’ve seen slasher films a million times, there’s no point to actually show it.

When Scott and I were working on it, it just became clear it needed a third act. And what would the third act be? It’s classic speechwriting; tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them. And essentially that’s what we were missing. Now we’ve told them everything he’s going to do, let’s play it out. How are we gonna do that with a twist and a hook that’s interesting?

(SPOILER) The domino finally fell for me, when I realized Taylor would be the virgin, that was the final hook for me. That all of this has been an elaborate setup, not for Kelly, but for Taylor to be the survivor girl- the documentary was actually part of his luring his survivor girl in. When that fell into play the floodgates just opened. (END OF SPOILER)

Was it originally all depicted in the documentary style, with no cutaways to the “film world?”

There were flashbacks in the original script, but it was more comic. There was a scene where Leslie explained how he always gets stuff thrown at him. He told a story about how he had this girl trapped on one side of a dining room table, and there’s an entire dinner setup; knives, forks, plates, glasses, all that stuff. And Leslie explains “And what does she do? She picks up a handful of spaghetti and throws it at me. Not the knives, not the bottles…” There were funny moments where he’d deconstruct the genre that you’d seen a million times and you’d see it; it was scripted that we’d cut away to a “horror film” and you’d see (a comedic moment) but cinematic and shot in 35mm. So those moments were there.

When Taylor has that moment where she says “We can’t stand here and let this happen” and she throws the cameras down, I wish I could take credit for that, I honestly don’t remember if it was my idea or Scotty’s idea, again it was like this universal truth; there’s something so good about it that you’re like “oh my God, when she grabs the documentary camera, that’s literally her throwing herself out of the documentary world.” It just worked.

I think those moments come whether you’re ready for them or not. Those are the things, as a writer, and a director too, you just have to pay attention; to watch for those. Those pure moments that bubble up on their own.

This film always had a good subtle balance of showing off the “movie world” it takes place in, and the opening sets that up well with the reporting on Haddonfield and the Elm Street house, touring Crystal Lake’s campground etc. Was it ever more overt in the drafts you had?

It was always 100 percent intentional that this was set in a cinematic world..we never ever wanted it to be- I gotta tell you, I’m so tired of the Man bites Dog comparison. I appreciate that film but that is about a ‘real guy’ who is a serial killer.

When you really look at Behind the Mask the two aren’t really similar.

The comparison is valid but it’s always been very clear to myself and to Scott that this is homage to those 80’s slasher films. It’s the total opposite to today’s pop sensationalism.

If there was really a killer in a hockey mask that killed 13 people in a campground, that would be 24-7 news, every day, for a year, until they caught the guy. In the slasher world, as soon as the nightmare’s over and someone sends Jason to the bottom of the lake, everyone wipes their brow and goes “I’m glad that’s over!” (laughs)
“Let’s put this behind us!”

And then the next year it happens again and everyone’s like “This can’t be happening!” It’s the total reverse of what would happen in real life. We always wanted it to be in that world. Taylor has tapped into something; she’s the misunderstood one. She’s like “Nobody is paying attention to this!”

And so they investigate.

Right. So whatever we could do to keep it in the cinematic world, that was always the goal. We never wanted to be confused with the real world.

I think I’d read in an earlier interview with you where this was the type of world where, say, Leslie Vernon could call Leatherface on the phone if he wanted to. I liked that you never got THAT overt though, that’s what I mean.

Oh! Again, there were earlier versions (of the script) with more comedic tongue-in-cheek moments. There WAS a scene early on where Leslie is getting his house ready and Taylor asks what’s going on and Leslie’s like “I’m having some friends over for poker!” And of course Freddy and Michael and Jason all show up…in their street clothes. Having a reminiscent conversation about how they all got started in the business, and how Leslie was a persistent, pushy newcomer always sending them demo tapes.

It was funny, but obviously the biggest hurdle to clear there is we wouldn’t have ever been able to use all those characters in one movie. In the long run, (what we went with) worked.

You can still discuss all those elements, just with Eugene!

Yeah, Eugene was an amalgamation of all the killers…he IS Jason and Freddy and Michael; it was implied in one of the earlier drafts, this would be good trivia for you- that Eugene’s character was actually the killer from Black Christmas, one of the first slasher films.


Obviously we couldn’t directly use a character, so we created the archetype. Which is Eugene. But it was implied early on (in earlier script drafts) that he was the guy from Black Christmas.

Yeah, I remember you DID hint in the film that he was of the time before the 80’s slasher franchises.

There’s a lot of what Scott Wilson brought to the character. What a joy and a pleasure to see him, he GOT it. This is an actor who has had a remarkably successful career that nobody knows about! He’s not a marquee name.

He’s an under-the-radar legend.

Yeah! He’s worked with the best of the best. You can listen to him sit and tell stories for hours! And he’s the most humble, down-to-earth guy. But he gets it; “You know, I’ve had a hell of a career, but I can walk into a restaurant and nobody will know who I am!”

There’s sort of a ‘Eugene’ quality to that! In Eugene’s world that was intentional; nobody wanted to be known.

When did Leslie Vernon begin shooting?

We started shooting in October 2004 in Portland.

How was that for you? You got to stay involved with the picture all the way through, which doesn’t happen often with writers.

I was absolutely spoiled. I should be so lucky to be this involved again. I wasn’t up there for the whole shoot; just for the first couple weeks of preproduction and then I had to come back for the day job; and then I ended up going back for the last two weeks of shooting.

I don’t know that I can truly convey how groundbreaking and earth-moving it was to be on a set, all these professional people scurrying around, because of something that I had this notion of two and a half years ago. People now running around gainfully employed. Worrying about “how are we going to make this happen?”

I’m trying to think of a relevant example from the plot... there’s a grain silo in the script; it should be up on the set, and we’re like “we don’t have a grain silo, how can we make this work?” Seeing professional people really have to physically manifest what I had imagined was mind-blowing. You’re crossing over from the imaginary world of “I want to be a screenwriter one day” to all of a sudden.

Now you know what it takes to build a grain silo.

Right! Scott and I were on the set, and Betsy Goslin (our propmaster) came running up to us, flustered. We had written (for an upcoming scene) that Leslie was carrying a bucket. She was asking “What kind of bucket?” And she goes into this stream-of-consciousness thing where she’s like “I don’t think it would be plastic, that seems kind of fake and Leslie’s more of an organic guy, and really true, so a more wooden bucket with straps on it maybe.”

And Scott and I agreed, wooden bucket. And she scurries off. But the next day on set there’s this perfect wooden bucket. She showed up with it on set and it was overwhelming. I typed “He’s putting apples in a bucket” years ago, and that consumed Betsy’s world for the last 18 hours! Just a very poignant specific instance of what I’m taking about, I made the imaginary real to some degree- not ME, I’m not gonna take credit for it, Scott and Betsy and everybody that worked on that movie did it-

You started that ball rolling though, defining the terms of that world.

It’s so validating and earth-moving to me, that I had made that transition. I don’t know if I’ll get that feeling again.

I noticed in the DVD extras you were tweaking the script to better adhere to the locations in Portland, in those scenes are you writing at the set?

Yeah, doing guerilla rewrites on the fly.

The other thing that’s helped shape me as a writer, being on that set, was that I can only take these characters and ideas so far; at some point I have to turn this abstract concept over to these professional people and everybody else puts their stamp on it.

When I saw how hard Scotty and everyone was working, Nathan and Angela, what everybody brought to it- their dedication to those roles, whether they were in front of the camera or behind, it was kind of overwhelming in a different way. I liken it to sending a child off to college; I can only imagine this must be a similar feeling. I’ve done the best I can to raise this child; I have to let them go. Very helpful and instructive to see that other side of it, which was you have to trust that you do enough, that I gave Angela and Nathan enough to work with. I think I did…they took what I’d done and took it so much further, way beyond whatever I had imagined.

Talking to Nathan (Baesel, who plays Leslie Vernon), he’d mentioned that his take on the character in the auditions made Scott re-think his approach, I’m not sure if it was down to re-thinking what Leslie would be like physically, visually, or attitude- but I’m wondering what your opinion was on where they went vs. what was on the page.

I remember very clearly in the discussions after the casting, when it was down to the final choices, I remember all of us repeatedly coming back to the fact that Nathan had a very different take on it. He brought such a different texture and layer to it. Vulnerability and confidence; naiveté, and wisdom. There was something so very powerful and subtle, yet creepy, about what he did where maybe another guy was more “plowing straight ahead” a la Jason.
I remember we all really liked his take. I think that there were a lot of things Nathan brought to it that weren’t necessarily on the page- the way it was shot (the DV-documentary scenes), as they all got more comfortable with it, they got to play with it. I know Nathan’s said he knew the core of the scene, what was supposed to be expressed; so it wouldn’t have mattered to me that he followed the dialogue word for word if he hit the broader strokes. More often than not they did go with the dialogue. But Nathan had the character, so whatever he was gonna do would have been fine.

Here’s a good question: why do people think screenwriting is easy?

(David laughs)

I mean even IN the business, not just the guy off the street. I know people who want to write or sometimes write who don’t read screenplays, don’t work on them regularly. You know? What’s your take on that? People think it’s a craft that is not a big deal. Know what I mean?

I do, I have a very clear opinion about that. I think because screenwriting or any other creative endeavor like acting or singing…these are all very creative, freeform sort of enterprises that there isn’t a societal norm for. Where this is what you do: you go to this school for X number of years, you go to pre-med, you go to Medical, residency and then bam! You’re a doctor. Or you go to law school, pre-law, you’re a legal aid and then you get your own practice. Even professional sports! There’s a structure there that society’s established very clearly. Little league, college teams, minor league teams, pros, etc.

When you’re talking about screenwriting, or singing or acting, these are all viewed as very free-form, “either you’re got it or you don’t.” And when people watch a movie, especially if they’re watching a formulaic story that’s been done a lot, I think people think- I can do that! I understand, and I’ve seen this story a million times! I know what’s going to happen.

It’s so easy to look at what’s up there and say “There’s nothing so difficult about this, I understand instinctively how to tell a story: you introduce the characters, make them go through a bunch of shit and then you resolve it.” And people think that can’t be that hard, but it’s absolutely not true.

And I did the same thing! “I can’t write a novel, maybe I can write a movie! I know how to write a movie.” But the layering and subtlety of how to write good dialogue…or how to construct a scene, or how you watch the rhythm and pace of your script… How you make sure you’re not losing your audience halfway through act two, which is the longest stretch of the desert to get through…

how do you deliver a payoff in the third act that’s satisfying? How do you make them care whether someone lives or dies at the end? How do you wrap the story up and send everyone out of the theaters feeling that they got their money’s worth and are satisfied? That there’s been some closure, good or bad, laughing or crying? There’s so many layers of that. It’s a craft; something you have to learn, like woodworking or heart surgery or being a professional baseball player. For me, I wouldn’t just show up at Dodgers Stadium and say “I wanna play for the Dodgers!”

“I saw some great games last week and I’ve played a couple of times!”

Yeah... “I’m on my company’s softball team, how hard can this be?” (laughs) People don’t respect the creative process, especially the screenwriting process, because it just looks so effortless and flawless when it’s done, on the screen. When you’re seeing 110 minutes of it, it looks so easy. More and more people are trying it; everyone can be a filmmaker now. Anyone can get a camera and shoot something, nobody’s stopping you but it’s hard to do it well.

There’s a new documentary about screenwriting coming out called Dreams on Spec that you’re part of, which follows three screenwriters struggling through the business of Hollywood. As I was checking out info on it, I was thinking there are so few movies, or few good movies, about writing. It’s not very cinematic unless you’re going inside the writer’s head. But I was intrigued by this documentary, since it looks to be about The Writing Life.

It is. And Daniel Snyder did such an amazing job with what he calls the “Greek Chorus”; he got all these icons of filmmaking and screenwriting to echo, or to cut away from, the three main stories, which are myself and two other writers. One of them doesn’t necessarily encounter the success they want, and kind of packs up and quits…and one of them, it’s sort of left open that that person is still working at it and still might get there someday.

And then Dan just happened to connect with me and I’m the “success story” of Dreams on Spec, it’s just remarkable timing and coincidence and fate that that happened. Daniel did an amazing job of capturing how hard this is. Anyone who’s interested in it who watches the movie, they’re either going to come away from it thinking ‘there’s no way,’ or ‘I can probably do that if I just sort of do what that guy did, or learn, or work hard enough.’

A more realistic look at what it takes.

Yeah! It takes people into a world that no one understands. Screenwriting isn’t this mystical process; it’s just pounding it out on a keyboard, and thinking it out and rewriting and revising. There’s a very concrete, tedious, difficult process to writing scripts. And when you see a vision of that, like Dreams on Spec gives people, it demystifies it. And then what you do with that new knowledge is up to you.

How long did they follow you?

Off and on for most of 2004 I believe. They were on set with us at the end of the year, and there were little things I came back and did (with them) later. The fact that they were following me around shooting on the set of Leslie Vernon, talk about life imitating art imitating life. I don’t know how to tell you, it’s mind boggling.

Surreal on top of surreal.

I’m on the cusp of my career as a screenwriter; about to have my first success- and I have a documentary crew following me around, following Scotty around, as we’re shooting a movie about a killer who’s on the cusp of his career being followed around by a documentary crew! It was ridiculous- where does life start and where does art end? There were moments where I was thinking “I am Leslie Vernon right now.” Just sick! Something so very rich and true about how that whole thing unfolded.

It’s not out yet but it will be released on DVD (NOTE: Release date July 15) It’s really, really well done.

I know you have scripts in all different genres going around or about to go into production; but would you write, or do you have plans to write, another horror film?

Well, then you’re treading into sequel territory. If there is any kind of scoop, it’s not really a scoop but... I can tell you and your readers that there is a definite idea for what’s going to happen to Leslie Vernon next, that’s been the goal all along. There are a lot of what-ifs, and things to have to happen right in this business for that to ever come to fruition, but certainly if there’s going to be another horror movie coming from me, my biggest impulse, of course, is to relate what happens to Leslie next.
Obviously the focus of that or the metaphor involved there, as it happened with Nathan as an actor or Scott as a director, or me as a writer, it’s how do you handle that “freshman phenom/rookie of the year” type thing! That’s the symbolism at play; how does Leslie handle his success? And of course you have the whole genre-specific constructions and conventions of a horror sequel. There’s specific conventions involved with every killer that comes back. How the town reacts, who the people are that survive, and who fills what role coming around again…so there are all these very specific genre expectations for a sequel that are ripe for the picking but there’s obviously the metaphor of how does Leslie as the ‘artist’ handle his fame, does he handle it well, does he burn out too quick, keep himself in check, does he do it right? There’s a very rich soil to till from a storytelling standpoint. Depending on how the DVD does, etc. that’s the impetus.

Days Like This is a bank heist film; that’s the farthest along as far as production goes- we’re actively trying to cast that. It’s an independent film again, trying to get a name interested in the lead, which helps with the people putting up money. It’s on a different level than Mask, significantly bigger budget; it’s been quite a whirlwind to be part of that process. That’s sort of out of my hands really, in terms of the storytelling. The script is essentially done and that’s what we’re making offers on. Once we get to the point where it’s cast, or if it’s cast-contingent and we get a specific name, everyone wants their rewrites and things like that; but that’s what we call a high-class problem. (Laughs)

The Night Before is a holiday movie, a simpler Christmas tale. And there’s plenty of story ideas after that!

At the Orpheum, you’re about to bring things full circle with your first produced film.

It’s very meaningful and special to me to bring Behind the Mask home and have a screening there. It’s going to premiere on Friday July 13, how perfect is that? It’s in conjunction with a fundraising effort, a campaign called Relight The Marquee. There’s an old decrepit marquee hanging out there and they want to relamp it and get it back to its 1927 glory.

So it’s even more meaningful to me to bring the movie there but then have it benefit the theater that basically put me through college. As for its actual run there, I don’t have show times of it yet; but anyone who’s in the Midwest, this is an amazing opportunity to see the film on this huge screen. We’re going to have a reception before it, with a Q+A afterwards. I’ll be there, I don’t know if other cast and crew will be yet; gonna be a great time. If there’s a place to see Mask on the big screen, one last time or the first time, that’s the place to see it in.

I’m looking forward to the Q+A. I love talking about the film; I love talking to people who aspire to pursue a career in Hollywood. After seven years of experience in an agency and ten years experience screenwriting, I certainly have plenty to say; one thing I enjoy doing is trying to help people and enlighten people, help them figure out if they really want to pursue this.

Personally, it took me a long time to say that I was a screenwriter. It’s a very difficult thing to say, because so many people try and fail; it’s tough to convince yourself. But once you turn that corner and say “I am a storyteller,” once you acknowledge that in yourself, things got a lot easier. More clearer and in focus for me, decisions were easier. And anything I can do to help anybody else turn that corner in life- whether it be in screenwriting, acting, doesn’t matter. I want to do that. I think we all have an obligation to help each other. You make yourself better when you have to lift up other people.

Helpful links:

Dreams on Spec: www.dreamsonspec.com

David is a volunteer lifeguard for Camp del Corazon, a non-profit organization that provides residential summer camp experience for children faced with the challenges of growing up and living with heart disease.


David on Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/davidstieve

David’s production company: http://www.terrafirmafilmworks.com

The Orpheum Theatre: http://www.orpheumtheatre.net

The Orpheum Theatre’s Relight The Marquee Campaign: http://www.madisontrust.org/events/index.html

Official trailer for BEHIND THE MASK:

Alternate Trailer

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