Quantcast John Shiban interview - REST STOP

Writer/Director
John Shiban!!!

Writer/Director John Shiban knows his horror & Sci-Fi, having written and directed episodes of 'The X-Files' and 'Supernatural'. He just completed his first feature length movie 'REST STOP', the first of 3 direct-to-DVD features from the new 'RAW FEED' label, formed with partners Tony Krantz (24) and Dan Myrick (Blair Witch Project). We talked to John about his experiences of making his first feature length movie. 'REST STOP' hits DVD on October 17th, 2006! Read on to learn more about the making of the film!!! - by Robg. 10/06


What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember the first film(s) that had an impact on you?

Probably my earliest memory of the horror genre was seeing the cover of a book for ‘The Exorcist’ sitting on my parent’s nightstand. And if you remember the cover of the original issue of that, it was this creepy face. You didn’t know if it was the demon or what, it was just this face, and I remember not wanting to walk into my parent’s bedroom because that book was sitting there. This was about the time that the movie came out. Of course, I didn’t see the movie, but my parents did. I still remember that book sitting there and kind of sparking my interest or desire to see more. As far as the first movie, I was in a family that wouldn’t allow you to see a PG movie until you were old enough. They were very strict in that area, so I had to sneak some of my movies. Probably the first stuff I really got into in the genre was more sci-fi. I started eating all the sci-fi stuff up, and all the Ray Harryhausen movies. Which have their horror elements to them with the fighting skeletons and the Medusa heads. I think that’s what first caught me in film.

It seems Sci-Fi and Horror go hand in hand and I know a lot of people that were introduced to horror thru their love of Science Fiction.

Exactly.

Do you remember what sparked your interest into how films were made? What were the origins of you wanting to become a writer?

Well, I grew up in Los Angeles, and when I was old enough, my father took me to see a re-issue of ‘2001’. Just the hardware of that world that was created – I was a movie fan, I loved a lot of movies, but to see that world just sparked me. I remember just forgetting school and I bought a book about the movie, and poured over it, and tried to build my own models. The whole thing. I was really sparked.

And soon after that came Star Wars and Close Encounters. I wanted to do special effects in a lot of ways. Early on, I had the old Super 8. That kind of led me to, not only working in the genres, but into writing Science-Fictions stories. Before you know it you’re writing screenplays and onward.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in the ‘X-FILES’ show?

It’s actually one of those over night successes that took years and years. (laughs) I went to UCLA as an undergrad in English and then I went to AFI to get a masters in screenwriting. And I made some friends there, one of them was Frank Spotnitz. And he and I were both suddenly screenwriters after school was over both trying to get a job. He managed to get a staff job on ‘The X-Files’. I was working a day job and writing at night, and he called me one day and said “Chris Carter’s looking to hire somebody who has no experience.” Basically, so he could teach them his way, because he was tired of working with seasoned TV writers. He read a script of mine and he liked it, and they called me in and the next day they offered me a staff job. I left my boring day job and was on ‘The X-Files’! And I was there for 7 years.

You’ve directed a bit of television, but now with the new label ‘Raw Feed’, ‘REST STOP’ is your first feature length. Can you start out by telling us a bit about how you got involved with ‘Raw Feed’?

I have 2 partners in Raw Feed, we’re a 3 man operation here. Tony Krantz, who’s a long time television producer (He’s worked on 24). And Dan Myrick, who was a co-director of ‘The Blair Witch Project’. We got hooked up thru our mutual agents and we wanted to do something together that was a little different and a little edgy. We all have jobs, so we wanted to do something special that was ours. We came up with the notion of ‘Raw Feed’. It’s sort of a mash-up of our 3 sensibilities in a way. If you look at 24 as a thriller, and you look at ‘X-Files’ as Science-Fiction and you look at ‘Blair Witch’ as horror, we think of each of those as their own genre. And if you look at ‘Rest Stop’, and the next couple of movies that we’re doing, there are elements of all 3 of those genres in each one. There’s a supernatural element, there’s a thriller tie to it, and there’s a horror tie to it. We took this idea around, and the idea was to make 3 movies. Warner Brothers, I give a lot of credit for jumping on it, and we’re making these 3 features and going direct-to-DVD.

Your film ‘REST STOP’ is the first of the 3 to debut on DVD (Out October 17 th, 2006). What are the origins behind the story for ‘Rest Stop’? It seems like an homage to the old horror movies of the late 70’s/early 80’s, but at the same time it reminded me of recent films like ‘High Tension’. What were your particular influences for ‘Rest Stop’?

A couple of things. I was always a fan of Spielberg’s TV movie ‘Duel’. With Dennis Weaver and the trucker. I remembered seeing it in my childhood, and I’d always admired it’s simplicity and the idea of taking one idea/situation/dilemma and putting twists and turns on it, I love that. And I admire that now in some of the Asian horror movies I’ve been checking out lately. It’ll be this small basic idea, but then they add this twist & it builds into something that just doesn’t let you go. And I always wanted to do something like that. The idea for the ‘Rest Stop’ specifically came from kicking around ideas with my partners.
It was actually something I learned on ‘The X-Files’ – A situation is 10 times scarier if it’s familiar. We were very careful about that in ‘The X-Files’. You don’t set it inside the space ship, you set it inside a persons living room. The aliens coming there is scarier. So, taking that same mythos, the idea of a creepy rest stop just seemed unnatural, because we’ve all been in one. And we’d actually just been to one as we were driving up to start working on this movie. I started asking myself “Ok, what can happen there?”
And that’s when Duel popped in. And the yellow truck kind of came. And (the main character) Nicole came to me. Another movie I love, the 1978 John Carpenter movie Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis – that’s always stuck in my head because of the character arc that Jamie Lee goes thru, where she ends up being a much, much stronger character by the end of the movie. I really liked that about that character, so that was my inspiration for Nicole. And those 3 things just kind of came together.

You shot ‘Rest Stop’ in 15 days. I know you’re used to working on productions on such a fast pace because you mostly do television work. What was it like to take that a step further by doing a feature length movie?

It was a challenge but it was thrilling. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but also the most rewarding. The theory of it is still valid. You shoot most things for television in 8 days and that’s 45 minutes long, so why can’t you shoot 90 minutes in twice that? Well… it doesn’t quite work out that way. (laughs) You’ve got so many things in place in the machinery - the production, weather it’s standing sets or setting up a crew, etc. The actor’s already know what they’re doing, and you’re just adding dialogue. But it was a challenge. The lesson I learned was to be really, really prepared and you have to know exactly what you need for every scene.

Everybody storyboards everything, and as I discovered in television, on the first day, you throw out the storyboards. Something always comes up. “You can’t put the camera there.” So, you have to kind of do things on the fly. But with my experiences on ‘The X-Files’ and spending years sitting in the editing room watching other people’s film and watching them cut it together helped me learn how to say “Ok, we’re done. Let’s move on.” The other really important thing was surrounding myself with great people. We had a great production team. We had a great DP, Mark Vargo. I had a terrific cast. We had to get a lot of things in 2 takes and then move on. It was a combination of those two things, knowing what we wanted and making sure we had the best people we could get, made it actually manageable.

In regards to the storyline of ‘Rest Stop’ itself – it obviously could’ve been a very straight forward horror film with a killer stalking this girl, but you kind of threw in a bit of a supernatural element to it. Was that always a conscious effort to make it a little bit weirder? A little bit more different?

I knew from the beginning it was going to have those elements, and that’s where Tracy came from, the girl from the closest. Is she really there or not? And then the cop and the Winnebago family all came from this effort to keep it real, but give the supernatural a sense of reality. And ultimately, the driver, going back to Halloween for a minute, in that, the Doctor always said “I just think he’s evil. I think he’s the devil.” (laughs) I always loved that, and that’s what we try to do on ‘SUPERNATURAL’ every day. This idea that this is our world, but hey, there could be demons here. I think that’s a freaky idea, and makes it more special, more interesting.

One of the interesting things you did for your film was set a 16th shooting day, specifically for the special features material for ‘Rest Stop’, which expand upon the backstory of the film. Is this because it’s a direct-to-DVD feature? Will this follow thru to all the ‘Raw Feed’ titles?

Yes, it will. And to be honest with you, the whole idea for the special features came from us being a bunch of fan-boys to an extend. What I love in the extras on other DVD’s or with websites that support TV shows or movies are not those behind the scenes clips. I mean, I love the behind the scenes stuff and sometimes they’re really interesting. But what really captures my imagination has always been those things that expand upon the mythology. For example, you’re going to get something on line at the ‘Supernatural’ website that you won’t get on the show. But it comments on the show, and make you wonder about the show. From the get-go, when we were talking about features, from a business stand point, Warners wanted extras. It’s a great selling point for new DVD’s. We said from the beginning we wanted to do something special. We want to take the mythology from each movie, and add to it and put twists on it. And I think people will find in the ‘Rest Stop’ features clues to what really happened to these people and to what really happened in the past. I think that to me, as a fan was fascinating. I wish we could’ve done even more stuff. Taking a theme for a minor character and letting them have their own theme is all interesting to me.

The “Scotty’s Family Album” featurette was probably the creepiest thing on the entire DVD! (laughs) Was that extra written in mind as a special feature? Or were you perhaps thinking in advance about a sequel?

It was written for the special features, but from the first day that we shot the Winnebago characters, we knew we had to do something more with those characters. And if there is a sequel, it’s definitely going to involve them. Those actors just brought them to life. I love them. That day was just a great day, and I have to give a lot of credit to the actors because we were just trying things, and it was like being back in film school. “Oh, Let’s do this!” I had scripted a bunch of stuff and we filmed that, but then we just went crazy. But all within being true to the characters, so they had fun with it.
Ok, now be honest… What was it like to kill Joey Lawrence?

(laughs) You know? Actually… I got to say, it was a thrill and not because it was Joey Lawrence, but because he did such an amazing job of selling that. It worked so well. God bless him. I think he’s done a historic death scene there. Ask Jamie Alexander. (laughs) She’s the one that held the gun. That should be in Trivial Pursuit. “Who shot Joey Lawrence?” (laughs)

All kidding aside, Joey was really good in it and I know he recently did another horror movie with Robert Englund called ‘Killer Pad’. So, maybe we’ll see him in more horror. Now, the Nicole character as you said before was a very important character for ‘Rest Stop’. Was it difficult to find the right actress to portray Nicole?

It was. And actually it’s one of those crazy stories of serendipity in Hollywood. We had actually cast another actress who was very good. We looked at hundreds. And the deal fell out just 2 days before shooting. So, we were frantic. We’d seen everyone, I had thought. And then the casting people said “Oh, there’s this one girl, but she didn’t get passed down the line because of some scheduling thing. But she’s available now, you should see her.” Jamie walks in with her cowboy boots and her real Texas swagger and blew me away. She was Nicole. Nicole’s from Argyle, Texas, which I picked off a map. I’m from California, I don’t know Texas! But Jamie’s one town away & I remember her telling me “Oh, my brother goes to Argyle.” She had that confidence, the guts, the beauty and the sweetness. I give her so much credit. I almost didn’t realize it when I wrote it, but when you actually cut the movie together, the whole movie rides on her shoulders. And she was so real and honest in her acting and so willing to let me beat her up all day long, so I give her a lot of credit.

I know you work on the show ‘Supernatural’. I apologize, I haven’t seen it yet! But I rented the First Season on DVD. Can you tell me a bit about the differences of working on ‘Supernatural’ as opposed to a show like ‘The X-Files’?

Well, it’s very different in tone. ‘X-Files’ was a very serious, adult genre show. We were trying to talk about issues of the day and make them scary, with government conspiracy and the darkness around us. ‘Supernatural’ is much more of a popcorn movie. So it’s really fun to write, I have to say. We get to blow things up and shoot ghosts with rock-salt and stuff like that. So, it’s a blast, and we’ve got a great cast. In that way, it’s similar with the X-Files in that we’re doing a dynamic between two really good actors. But the dynamic is very different.
These are brothers and they’re on each other’s case. And they’re a younger brother/older brother on the road… trying to kill monsters. It’s a lot of fun to come up with this stuff.

You mentioned at the Fango convention that you’re doing an episode involving “killer clowns”?

Yes, it actually aired last night (October 6 th, 2006), which I’ve always wanted to do. Clowns are scary, man.
 
Yes! So, what’s next for ‘Raw Feed’? What are the next two films and when are they going to be released on DVD?

Right. The second film is in post-production right now and it’s called ‘Sublime’ and it stars Tom Cavanagh. It’s more of a psychological thriller then ‘Rest Stop’ is, but it’s about a guy who goes into a hospital for a routine procedure and there are complications, and before you know it, he believes there’s some kind of weird conspiracy in this hospital involving a male nurse who might be killing people. And what are the doctor’s doing. It’s basically the hospital visit from hell. That’s due possibly around January 2007.

The third movie is directed by Dan Myrick and the working title is ‘The Believers’. It’s not a remake of the old movie called ‘The Believers’, in fact we’re probably going to go with another title. It’s another movie that starts with something common place and familiar. It starts with two paramedics getting a call for a woman having a heart attack, and they have to go to this remote gas station where she is. Suddenly these armed men show up and take them away, and it turns out they’ve gotten themselves caught by a Doomsday Cult, and tonight’s the night everybody is going to commit suicide.

Figures! And what about you? Are you going to continue work on television before moving onto another feature?

Yea, we’re in the middle of Season Two of ‘Supernatural’, we just broke episode 13, we’ve got 9 more to figure out. But I’m poking around already for another feature. It was such a great experience making ‘Rest Stop’ that my heart is really in it. I’m a writer and I love being a writer, but you’re always handing it off to someone else. To be able to be the “someone else” who gets the script and has to bring it to life is such an amazing thing. I have to do it again. I have to! I have to come up with something for next spring.

Well, I wish you the best of luck on that. Thanks for talking to us, John!


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