THE SPIDER'S WEB/
THE SPIDER'S WEB: ARCH DEFIANCE DVD
The adventures of teenagers Malcolm Scott and Phillip Harrison as they improve on Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and save the world. Includes the original 1995 production and the 2017 sequel. Also includes the Emmy Award and Parents' Choice Approval Award winning THE MUTANTS, and two filmmaking featurettes.
by Scott Wegener
Actor Doug Jones took a break from shooting Star Trek Discovery to chat with me about his career as possibly the most famous creature effects actor of our time, as well as his love of classic horror films and his continuing relationship with Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro.
The Indianapolis native grew up in the Midwest, going to school at Ball State and starting his acting career in 1985.
He is well known for playing Commander Saru on DISCO, he is also wildly popular for playing the fish creature Abe Sapien in 1995’s Hellboy, and more recently the creature in The Shape of Water.
He talked to me in the Garrison Cinema from his apartment in Toronto.
DOUG-What a great theater you got there.
DOUG-Those chairs look cushy and lovely.
SCOTT-And they recline. They’re so much fun.
DOUG-That’s what I’m talking about.
SCOTT- We were originally going to do this as a, just a cell phone interview, but by doing by Zoom, is it OK to record the image of this as well?
DOUG-Sure, even though I look hideous today. I just did a night shoot last night. I got home at 5am, 5:30am, so I’m a little bit, like, so…right.
SCOTT-Because you’re so well known for so many things, a lot of people in the Midwest may not realize that, yeah, you’re one of us.
DOUG-yes and no. I’ve been an actor for 35 years now, and over that time, I’ve been interviewed quite a bit by the local press in Indianapolis, of course, because that’s where I come from. That was my high school, and I went to college at Ball State University. So it depends. There’s a whole new generation coming up, and on the social media you got a gauge about who knows what about you. And every time I post something, I get something like ‘I didn’t know you were in—‘ and ‘oh, my gosh,’ and then a lot of times- ‘and he’s a Hoosier! Oh, my gosh! Yeah. That happens a lot, yeah. (laughs) Which is really sweet. I’m very tethered to the Midwest and to home anyway. Because I feel like those are where my people come from. I hope I kept my sensibilities about me from the Midwest all this time.
SCOTT-Can you talk little bit about growing up in the Midwest how that kind of helped form the start of your career?
DOUG-Yeah, well, once I moved out to California, I realized there are different USAs to experience. And I think California and the Hollywood vibe is very, very self motivated, self-I don’t want to say selfish in a derogatory way, but I want to say very self aware. People are out there to pursue their hopes and their dreams. And so some people can take that into the elbow realm where they’re elbowing other people out and not pleasant to be around. The Midwest seems to be more family oriented and I think the value of-you’ll see churches on every corner, you’ll see—maybe I’m fantasizing about what it was like when I grew up (laughs), but you’ll find a work ethic that is even if you’re not happy every day at your job, you’re good at what you do and you do that because it provides for a family or it enables the life style that you want have.
Whereas, I feel—That’s a Midwestern value. I don’t want to poo-poo any other part of the country, but that is a Midwestern value that I love, and I have done, and that has served me well, too. Because even as an actor living the Hollywood dream, I wouldn’t say that every gig has been ‘oh it’s so glamorous and I’m loving every minute of this.’
Because like I just told you, I worked until 5:30 in the morning. I’m working on Star Trek: Discovery here in Toronto and my feet hurt, my eyes are sore because I was wearing contact lenses and hoof boots all night and had rubber glue down to my entire head down to my collarbones and my skin was a little bit raw and my throat, and I’m 61 years old.
So there’s times you tilt your head and think how? But its’s all about the finished product. You can take pride in your work when you’re done and look back and go ‘Wow, we did something,’ instead of ‘I’m not happy today. I’m outta here,’ or whatever. That’s an attitude that I think the Midwest was good in instilling in me.
SCOTT-When you were working at Kings Island, were you anticipating and planning at that time to go to LA? What was the jump from working as a mime at Kings Island to going out and playing with the big dogs in LA?
DOUG-Well, I was 22, just out of college at Kings Island. That was about 17 years after I decided I wanted to be an actor.
I grew up watching TV and movies going ‘I want to be on that screen.’ I loved that fantastical escape of it all. I loved the idea of becoming people that you aren’t.
And that of course comes back to childhood insecurities and wanting to medicate them. So escape is great (laughs). If you have insecurities and feel you’re the ugliest person in the world, and you’ve been told you have a long, skinny neck and that’s goofy and funny and gross or whatever. Kids can be cruel to each other.
So I fantasized about a world where I could sing, dance and entertain people. A lot of actors where give you the same story. An audience appreciation and going ‘Oh, they love me, they love me,’ is therapeutic for people who are self-deprecating like me.
SCOTT-That’s a huge leap to go to LA.
DOUG-Right, right, so like I was setting up to the dream was there. And one thing I learned about the Midwest is that show business didn’t really live there if you want to go up the ladder. I knew I had to pick either New York or LA where TV and film lived. And LA seemed to be more, upon visits, with the family vacations or whatever, I was going like, ‘I could live here.’ And the film industry was more prevalent there. There might have been more daytime television and commercials in New York, but LA seemed the more logical place to go. So the leap happened after Kings Island.
My Midwestern values where telling me get a stable job, the show biz is not what you-you can’t rely on that.
I had my college degree to fall back on (air quotes), as they say.
So, I start looking for daytime, work-a-day 40 hour-a-week jobs that could sustain me while I pursue arts on the side.
I was interviewing a lot for sales positions, anything that my theater degree would let me do. It was a news paper in North Manchester, Indiana that took me in as their advertising salesman.
So I was able to use some creativity creating newspaper ads for a small town business owner here and there.
It didn’t pay much, but during that time I was living on my own and got married in the meantime to my college sweetheart who was finishing up her degree at Ball State University. We had known each other for a couple of years already.
So once we got married, we lived in North Manchester for another maybe 11 months and then we were talking on the phone with her uncle one day who lived in California.
He was a bank manager, a branch manager of a large bank out there. ‘How are you kids doing?’ turned into me going ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this advertising job.’ How far up can you go in a small town newspaper? I think I’ve reached the salary cap and it’s really not much. I really don’t know what my future holds.
And he said ‘hey, what about-we have a management training program here at the bank. If you send me a resume, I can give it to the human resources department.’ I worked as a bank teller during summers during college. So I know banks. Sure.
And that would get us to California. That was the whole thing. A day job that would get us to the right place where I could then roll out into the showbiz one day.
Well, they loved me because I interviewed well. Gosh I was not a banker. Found that out the hard way because we moved out to California, I took the job. It was in the branch job training, and then some seminars at the home big tab building downtown. It was a nine month training program, and after eight months of that, they fired me, and they should have. I was not a banker.
I was an actor, because I was faking my way through every day there. Wearing a tie, holding briefcase and acting like ‘yeah I know how to account for cash in the vault and move pieces of paper around for people. I didn’t care. I was dying a slow death. Square peg, round hole. There are people built for that and God bless them. We need them. I was not one of them.
When they fired me I cried for about an hour, and then I was like, ‘I think they just did me the hugest favor.’
I went on unemployment checks and said the reason we moved out here was to go into the show business so why don’t we give that a go now that we’re young, and not that much responsibility?
I started taking a TV commercial acting workshop, and that was really my springboard.I found a class that was taught by a man named Philip Karr, and Philip was the vice president of the Wilhelmina Agency in Los Angeles. As talent agents go they were in the like in the top ten in the TV commercial department and they’re a big modeling name in New York, so they have name recognition. I didn’t know who he was. I was auditing classes, and ended up going back to his class. Like I like the way he teaches.
My second class, he approached me and said do I have an agent yet? I said, ‘No. What is an agent?’ I was really that green. So he gave me his card and said call me at the office. So I did. They became my first agency. So I got an agent before I had head shots taken and after a second acting class, so I was really (a) fresh nose picking idiot that didn’t know how Hollywood worked.
They had to groom me very quickly for going out on auditions. I started going out on auditions about once a week amber. I was not a union member. It was tougher to get me in the door. Six months of this turned into my first commercial for Southwest Airlines as a dancing mummy, wrapped from head to toe in dirty bandages. I had no idea that my mime background, both at Ball State and Kings Island and my mascot background at Ball State as Charlie Cardinal and my contorting ability- I can put myles behind my head, and on your resume that looks like a contortionist. My resume was stacked with a lot of physical tomfoolery. I had no idea that was going to be my calling card and would be how I got in the door for that dancing mummy audition that I booked. That would become the springboard for things to come, and kind of boding of what was to come for the rest of my career.
SCOTT-Your first gig was wearing something where people couldn’t see you.
SCOTT-It seems that you have an affinity-or Hollywood has an affinity for you in prosthetics. How did that all happen?
DOUG-It wasn’t me, because going back to the kid in Indiana watching TV and watching Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore and I Love Lucy, oh gosh, and McHale’s Navy and Hogan’s Heroes and Gilligan’s Island—sitcoms really—Didn’t watch children’s programming. I watched sitcoms made for adults. And I was getting my sense of timing and a grown up sense of humor earlier than I should have. (laughs) And it was also variety shows.Everybody had a variety show back then. Carol Burnette was the best. I would never miss an episode of Carol Burnette. Donny and Marie, Sonny and Cher, everybody had a song and dance, comedy sketch variety show. That’s where I wanted to live. I lapped that up like a kitten with milk.That’s what I was after. Now that I’m sitting here today, 35 years later, having just pulled rubber off my face a few hours ago in my latest alien, other worldly creature gig, no, I did not see this coming early on. I did not pursue it. I really didn’t know it was a career option.
The commercial auditions I was getting from my agent Philip were a lot of ‘we need someone who’s good at physical comedy. We need someone with a mime background or a clowning background, or a dance background.’
So I went into all those auditions, and a lot of those came with a specific look and some makeup that would make you look like that.
I didn’t realize that I was circulating amongst the creature effects makeup crowd out there in Los Angeles. There is one. It’s a tight knit sort of family. They all know each other. So once you get in that loop, you’ll stay in it if you— I have the right build. Being very tall and skinny I’ve been told by many creature effects people they can build things on me and I don’t get too bulky. Beings as tall as I am, that can be an imposing creature or it can be a fun looking alien. There’s a lot they can do with a tall, skinny frame.
And this long, skinny neck that kids made fun of me for in grade school and high school, out in Los Angeles with a creature effects makeup artist, for the first time in my life I heard, ‘Oh, my gosh, has anybody ever told you how beautiful your neck is?’
I had never even considered that as a possibility, right?
It was really a lovely kind of homecoming to find my people in a way. And to find a place to put the mime experience and the mascoting experience.
It really kind of woke my body up to when you’re an actor everybody’s working from head to toe. All parts of you are working to create a character. Even if it’s a human in a t-shirt and jeans. You assume a posture, gestures, a tilt of the head, facial expressions. Everything that makes that person who he is. Or creature, what it is. That kind of training really, really-I didn’t realize how set up and prepared I was for the career that found me. I did not look for it.
First it was the Southwest Airlines commercial, then came a Pamela doll, a toy commercial-I was an alien in that. Met some creature effects people in that. And then the next one was a human, a nerd with horn rimmed glasses and plaid pants for a Bob’s Big Boy commercial, a restaurant chain.
Six months into my auditioning, I got the Southwest Airline gig, and then they were coming faster.
The fourth one was by December, I booked a Mac’s Nite campaign for McDonalds. Which was that crescent moon head that sang, “The clock strikes, Hey!” They were looking for someone to wear that Moon head and make the song come to life, visually.
I booked that and that turned into a three year gig, counting for twenty-seven commercials for McDonalds.
That was a great early gig to get for a young, poor actor. Again, I was covered with a moon head. Nobody knew who I was, and I was required to do lots of physical tomfoolery and that reputation really got around the creature effects shops.
Steve Neill, who was the creator of the moon head and the head puppeteer for it, would bring in people from other creature effects shops. Whether it was Stan Winston Studios or Rick Baker Studios or Greg Cannom, the big names in Hollywood that had won oscars for their monsters and creatures. The people that’ll work in their shops that he would borrow for our commercial shoots when we did them occasionally.
They would go back to that shop afterwards, and when they would see a design being pitched to them from a TV or a movie production that might be tall and skinny with along neck, they’d be like, ‘Gosh, I just worked with somebody who that would be perfect on.’
It also came in well with those Midwestern values. I said yes to a job, so I didn’t complain about it while I was there. I stayed good humored, and they liked what I did on camera. so that helped the reputation get talked about. My name got passed around. I got into all the rolodexes in all of the creature shops around LA.
Most actors have to tap dance or do tricks for casting directors, and get to know them through the auditioning process. I kind of slipped through the back door with this special niche where the production has already done the auditions for their human actors but they have this creature that they don’t know what to do with. So they ask the creature shop for their advice. The creature shop will say ‘Oh, well, he got a guy who can do that for you.’ The producers go, ‘Okay, great. You know better than we do.’
I skipped the audition process a lot.
That’s how that built.
Simultaneously, meanwhile, I was still doing the other conventional route auditioning and getting booked as humans. I’ve done over a hundred commercials to date, and I would say more than half of them have been humans. I’ve guest starred on TV shows as humans. I’ve done feature films as humans. That’s been a two pronged career all these years.
SCOTT-Obviously with prosthetics, that tends to lend itself to the horror genre. But the kind of fare that you’re well known for isn’t your standard grind house movie.
DOUG-Thank you for noticing. (laughs)
SCOTT-They’ve got a real heart. What do you look for in a script that gives you the kind of roles that you get?
DOUG-You pegged it right on the head.
I have been a fan of horror when it is classic and when there’s any emotional storyline and there’s some redemptive quality to it. That’s what I was a fan of when I was a kid and growing up.
Blood splattering on the wall didn’t always do it for me. There’s an audience for that and God bless them. There’s entertainment for everybody.
I was more of a Creature From the Black Lagoon, Mummy, Frankenstein, Godzilla (laughs), oh gosh, King Kong. Anything in black and white was my gig as a kid. My jam I guess they would say.
Those stories were not just fantastical with a creature in them, they had such great storytelling, and such great statements to make. I loved how there was always a love possibility that could just never be. It was tragic.
The creature and the human might connect in a way that was either understanding or friendship, or sometimes it was romanticized, but, gosh, it could just never be.
Those stories always tugged at my heart.
Now, as you said, known for wearing rubber bits and becoming creatures and monsters, that does lend itself very well to the horror genre.
A lot of the offers that I’ll get sent to me now that I’m a bit more established, is ‘Hey, here’s my script.’
Oh my gosh if I get sent this script one more time, with different titles- ‘Oh, hey, we’re a bunch of half naked teenagers running around the forest on a camping trip, smoking pot and having sex and oh, no! Here comes Doug Jone to kill all of us, one at a time!’ That’s the script I don’t want to do. (laughs) Right? Because it’s been told again and again and again. They often just leave it at the end where he’s still out there and there’s a sequel to come. That’s the kind of formula. It doesn’t really sing to me.
Along about 1997 I got one of those random phone calls from a creature effects shop. It was, ‘There is a movie shooting. We’re doing some reshoots for a big feature film here in town in Los Angeles tonight. Can you come downtown by 11pm for a night shoot?’
Oh, out of work actor, let me check my schedule. OF COURSE I can!
It was great to get the phone call.
I went down there and it was for the movie Mimic.In Mimic, they were the tall, overgrown cockroaches that took over the subways of New York City.
These cockroach creature-insects sort of mimic what humans look like so you couldn’t really tell from a distance. They looked like a guy in a trenchcoat, most when their wings folded over funny. Hence the name of the movie.
They had already shot the movie and they were doing some pickup shots for it.
I had to stand on the edge of a four story brick building and look over the edge of it while there was rain coming down. There was a rain machine was spitting on me.
I was being megaphoned from people down on the ground. I couldn’t see who anybody was.
That was the first thing I did. I just had to lean over the edge of the building and look. That was it.
They had me for two more days. And the second day was an indoor green screen shot.
I could actually meet the director that day. He sat down with me at lunchtime and it was Guillermo del Toro.
I didn’t know who he was. Many Americans didn’t, because this was his first American studio film. He had done a lot in Mexico. A ton in Mexico before this, in the Spanish language.
He put his chin in his hands, and said ‘Tell me everything you been in before.’
I started talking about what I had done so far in my career. This was ’97, so I could tell him about working on Batman Returns and I could tell him being a clown there, and Hocus-Pocus had shot by then, and he said, “Oh, is it Tony Gardner? Is he a nice guy in real life?’
He knew everybody I had been talking about. He knew every monster that I had played. He was truly a fan boy, you know? He was such a kid, and I loved that about him. He was unlike any director I had ever talked with in my life before.
He told me he used to make his own monsters when he would make his low budget things, because he was kind of a one man show. He directed it, wrote it and created all the visual fantasy characters for it. Short films, MTV projects. He had done one feature film called Cronos in Mexico by then.
We connected, and got a report going immediately. And then by the end of lunch time he said, ‘Do you have a card on you?’ and I did. I gave him this goofy card with a little cartoon drawing of me on it, that I had done myself. Not a good choice, but anyway, he kind of chuckled and put it in his wallet.
I went on to do other stuff after that. The movie came out. About five years go by, I racked up more goofy credits like Monkeybone and the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie, and my appearance on Buffy they Vampire Slayer as the Lead Gentleman in the Hush episode. I had done The Time Machine.
Then 2002 rolls around and I get another phone call, random from another creature effects person I’d worked with before, and it was Steve Wang at the Spectral Motion shop that had just opened, and he said ‘We’re out to dinner right now with a director who says he’s worked with you. We’re doing movie with a character that we think you would be good for.
It was Guillermo del Toro they were out with, and they were working on the movie Hellboy. That day they had unveiled the Abe Sapien character. When Guillermo saw it for the first time, this little sculpture of what Abe Sapien would look like, legend has it he fell to his knees and and said, “Ohh, you are so beautiful, and I am so fat!’ I think he was looking at a beautiful thin character and had to self deprecate.
But when that happened the guys at the shop said ‘We know who should play this part, and that would be Doug Jones.
Guillermo said, ‘Doug Jones? Wait, I know Doug Jones.’ He pulled my card out of his wallet that he had been carrying around for the last five years!
Therefore, I got a phone call and I became Abe Sapien in the first Hellboy movie. That was the film that really cemented our relationship. We could work together more intimately with all the things actors and directors connect on, and we got a shorthand developed for his directing style with me. He became my favorite director immediately and has been ever since.
The reason I went into that long story about him is that sprung up a 20 year relationship where it got to the point here he was writing characters for me.
He dips into the dark always. I wouldn’t necessarily say he makes ‘horror’ films. He makes fantasy films, he makes super-hero comic book films. He always has a dark element to them. He always has a horror element in there.
He has been quoted as saying ‘There will always be a monster on my call sheets, no matter what I’m making.’
He also had a love and a reverence for there Universal monsters, and the classic horror.
He was also upset by the love that could never be, and as he tells it, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, when he first saw that movie when he was a kid, he said, ‘Oh, my gosh, the scene…when [Julie Adams] was swimming on the surface, and he saw the Creature coming up under her in that underwater shot he thought that was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He thought he had a crush on both of them-this monster and this beautiful woman in a little bathing suit. He thought this is the beginning of a beautiful love story, and he was just shocked and appalled it turned into a home invasion story instead, the the Creature is just living his best life and these people came and ruined everything for him.
He had a passion for monsters and he wanted them to find love and to be complete and whole and respected. He’s lived a life and had made a career out of a true reverence for monsters. He’s said they saved his life when he’s giving his acceptance speeches and all that.
Coming all the way forward through movies like Hellboy II The Golden Army, where I played three characters-Abe Sapein, the Angel of Death and the Chamberlain. Also then Pan’s Labyrinth, of course was such a fantasy tale with some classic horror moments in it, and such an emotional tale to tell. I loved being as part of that.
In a movie like that, that might fit in the genre we’re talking about, goes to the Oscars with six nominations and three wins. Okay, this is a director that gets it. Who gets not only the horror but he gets the art. And in a way that resonates with the Academy of Motion Pictures and also the audience at large.
Then came Crimson Peak, where I played two of his ghost ladies. It was marketed as a Halloween horror film, but it was truly a gothic romance with some dark elements in it. When you’ve got ghosts haunting a house, yeah you’ve got some great visuals, but it was really a tragic love story that was happening.
You’ll see also after Crimson Peak I was also on his TV show The Strain. I did like about six episodes as one of his ancient vampires.
Then into The Shape of Water. Another classic tale, modern classic that ended up at the Oscars with thirteen nominations, four winds, including Best Director and Best Picture. Something a genre film-few few if any, have done before that.
He’s been able to make his lead human character usually be an underdog that’s trying to find their way in life, with some authority figure that’s getting it wrong and working their evil. So the underdog has to find his way around the true monster of the movie which is the human to a victory.
The monster is often a conduit to help that underdog do that. He’s made heroes out of every monster I’ve ever played. I just adore him for that.
What he did for me, and he did for a lot of actors that played monsters and creatures, he brought some dignity back to that part of the profession.
Back in there day when you’re talking about Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, they were movie stars. They were revered as such.
We had a gap there where there weren’t a lot of name people who were respected as classic horror actors. There were scary people. There were scary things that chased people down hallways or spattered their blood on the wall.
Guillermo del Toro is the one who brought back a monster with storyline, with emotional connection, with stakes in the game like everybody else in the movie. That really, really rose, so I started getting press for Pans Labyrinth, The Shape of Water especially because they were Oscar bound. Why I’m doing more interviews like the one we’re doing right now.
More people were interested in talking with me, and it was a head scratcher, like ‘Wow, I did not expect this.’ It’s because those stories connect. Then the curiosity of who is playing that monster comes into play, so I have more facial recognition now in public than I ever expected. Especially later in life.
Like I told you, I just turned 61. I didn’t start getting facial recognition in public until my late 40’s. So I thought that time had passed and I was okay with that.
When you go into an event like a red carpet event or a fan convention and it’s announced who you are and you can be a celebrity that day. Great. But you go to Starbucks and nobody knows who you are. That’s a great dichotomy to live.
So I didn’t expect to get so much press in mainstream news magazines and dot coms. To the point where I am recognized in public often now. ‘Oh, you’re Doug Jones. You’re that guy,’ because this face has been married to my characters over all these years.
That really happened the most in The Shape of Water, because it was such a talked about movie. It won Best Picture and most interviews that I did that whole award season run were career retrospectives. ‘Who are you? How did this happen? Talk us through the entire thing.’
A lot of large news outlets did these great min-documentaries on Doug Jones. Ir was something I didn’t expect, but it’s been a really sweet outcome from what you would think.
Some people think I would snarl and wave talons at people and wag my tail as I run down a hall, but because of del Toro, I would say he brought the stories and the actor in me to be respected. I owe him so much for that.
SCOTT-There are a lot of similarities betweenThe Creature From the Black Lagoon and The Shape of Water. Was there some channeling going on there with you for the creature?
DOUG-Not intentionally. I would say there was inspiration, with Guillermo creating the film-he’ll tell you he wanted to make the movie where the aquatic monster finally gets the girl. The Shape of Water happens and he does get the girl!
We had lots of time ahead of time to talk about this character. I knew this was a passion project for him the minute he pitched it to me for the first time. It was like ‘Oh, wow.’
And I knew he was a fan of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I knew this was working out his childhood issues.(laughs) His feelings of injustice that they never got together.
For me personally, there first horror movie I ever saw was The Mummy with Boris Karloff that haunted me. The second movie I remember seeing with a dark element was The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I, too, was struck with the beauty of his hideousness. Especially th e underwater scenes where he was swimming, it was so gorgeous. I’ve always been a water baby anyway. I love to swim, so it was kind of like a nice connection.
Playing the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water, it was my second time playing a fish-man, right? I had done that in the Hellboy movies as Abe Sapien. He’s also half man, half fish kind of hybrid.
The trick for me was to make this different. I didn’t want to play the same character and nordid Guillermo.n He was very distinct in telling me ‘Let’s not be Abe Sapien. That’s not why I want you here. He said, ‘I don’t want a Doug Jones performance,’ and he flared his hands in the air. ‘I don’t want a dance. I want Doug Jones the actor. I want you to bring the heart and soul to this and connect to your lead love interest. You got to bring me acting, not just a great visual thing with your elbows.’
We really worked on the character from the ground up. But The Creature From the Black Lagoon was—we knew that kind of thing could be done, by the example that was set before us many years before.
SCOTT-As you know, there are a lot of independent filmmakers in the Midwest. The dynamics are different here. There’s a lot less money. A lots of the independent filmmakers are working with a micro budget or no budget at all. Horror films are kind of top of the list of go-to movies to try and do. What advice would you have for a low budget indie filmmaker in the Midwest who figures, ‘I want to do a horror movie, but I want to do it well.’ What do you suggest?
DOUG-I would suggest doing it well. There are so many who go to that formula we talked about earlier, and just think that if you have enough fright moments and shock moments. I’ve watched a lot.
If I’m approached by an indie filmmaker from the Midwest, my talent manager knows not to say no to everything just because they don’t have any money. I want to se what we are saying no to-if we’re going to say no. There may be a gem that you might find.
So, I’ve done quite a few more indies than I thought I would.I’ve worked on films that I never thought I would because the elements were all there.
First of all, if there’s time in my schedule, if you caught me at a moment where I don’t have anything else going on. And that often times if you’re going after any kind of what we might call an established actor who might have a lot of gigs lined up, you’re going to be hard pressed to book them a year and a half in advance.
‘We want to shoot this in there fall of 2024. Would you say yes?’ Nobody with a career can say yes to that. You have no idea what’s coming then.
You can say, ‘I’m interested, but get back to me when we are closer to.’
The success in getting an established actor in your movie would be maybe a few days commitment instead of the entire run of the movie. If you’re going to be shooting for a month or if you’re going to be shooting for two full weeks, and it’s got heavy material, you might be better off to do a good supporting role that you can shoot in two days, if there’s scene-scene-scene throughout the movie. and you can pay them well for those two days, instead of well for two weeks, which is going to ruin your budget.
Offer them something respectable, that makes it worth their time to book out the time on their calendar to get on a plane to fly to you or whatever it is.
But also, if it’s a story the actor can connect with. If it’s a character that will stretch them or move them in some way. Make them laugh, make them cry.
That’s what I look for. I look for a character that I can connect with that’s either familiar enough to me that I love him and I want to play him, or that is unfamiliar to me that will stretch me and move me and help me grow as an actor.
The character has to be there. The story has to be there that I want to help tell.
The other thing would be, who do I get to play with? What other actors? And this is another problem with the Midwest is the talent pool. Sometimes you pull friends and family for these (laughs). You may not always get the acting quality that you want in there.
But there are a ton of great actors in the Midwest.
Remember when I started acting I had to go to either coast. Well, I think the business has moved all over the place now. You can live anywhere because the work goes everywhere now.
There’s a big filming center in Atlanta, Georgia now. The state of Tennessee has tax breaks. Ohio has the tax breaks. I’ve done two movies there now.
Talent goes where the films are made. There are agencies that have sprung up that handle talent in the Midwest.
Take your time for casting and you’ll draw more talent. And don’t expect everyone to do things for free. Wait until you have some budget. Borrow, scrape, save.
Do what you have to do to have some budget so you’re not using your friends for free. And you’re not, ‘Hey we’re going to feed you and give you a credit in the movie.’ That’s not always enough, you know? A little something that say we’re making an effort goes a long way with an actor.
And then, the director. Whose hands am I going to be in? That’s another huge element. Often times if I read the script and I like the story enough, there’s a redemptive quality to it, especially if we’re talking about horror, I need there to be a lead character that’s learning something, growing somehow, with some substance to the story.
Once that’s there, who’s going to be directing it is absolutely paramount. If you have any previous work, if I can see a link to any short films that you’ve done, maybe a web series, something on YouTube, to get a sense of your storytelling ability. If there’s not much to show, I either always love an in-person coffee date if it’s someone closer to home or if I’m going to be coming to the Midwest, and I live in California, Zoom date like this would beget or even a phone call where you can talk everything out for a while and get a sense of their storytelling, their passion for this project and get a sense of any questions you have in the script, like ‘How’s that going to play out?’ and then tell you what they’re going to do.
If you trust that conversation, that also makes the ‘Yes, I’ll do it’ quotient go a bit up.
If all those elements are in place, and there’s not a big money job waiting for me on the calendar that would preclude me from doing this, I’ll say yes.
That’s a lot of steps to go through before the yes happens... I gave it from my actor perspective.
SCOTT-What’s coming up?
DOUG-I just shot my first movie back during the pandemic, last year-2020, called The Knocking.
This would fit in the darker genre.
It was an indie. I don’t know if it’s found a distribution home yet or not, but it’s called The Knocking, and I was the one doing the knocking. I was thew evil element of the film. I was haunting a young lady played by Alexis Knapp, who was in the Pitch Perfect movies.
We filmed out in LA.
I don’t know when that’s coming, but we filmed it almost a year ago now so it should be soon.
And the other one was my bucket list character to play. We did a redo of Nosferatu.
Basically, we did the original silent film again, as a talkie with sound. The dialogue was very true to the silent film that you saw. They didn’t try to rewrite it, or remake it. They tried to just honor it with sound and with a fresh batch of actors.
I did get to play my dream role of Nosferatu, Count Orloc and had just a ball with it. It was a dream come true for me.
That’s been in the making for a long time. It was done on an indie budget, but with more producer types coming on and adding money to it.
Post production’e been taking forever because it’s a lot of CG element.
There’s a green screen element to every frame of this movie. Our director created the backdrop and the production world was the original film. What he had to do was capture the backdrops from the original movie.
As actors move around you get the information that was behind them, so he could have a clean frame. The we would be filmed on green screen with props and furniture in the foreground, perhaps even a window frame or doors to walk through. There was something green that he would put in every frame of the movie.
That’s going to be a combo. I got to play in the same world that Max Schreck did, basically. It was really just lovely.
I cannot wait for this to come together.
SCOTT-Any idea when that might be coming out?
DOUG-Well, they told me last year that it would be this year, during the pandemic-last year-2020. Next year, 2022 is the 100th anniversary of Nosferatu coming out. So I think the 100th anniversary is probably what they’re saving it for now, is my guess.
SCOTT-And it is called Nosferatu?
DOUG-Right now it’s called Nosferatu the Remix (laughs) because they’re doing a mix job of old and new.
SCOTT-That’s awesome. Thank you very much.
DOUG-Oh, my absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me. It’s always good to talk to someone from the homeland.
One of the oldest horror stories as told by award winning filmmaker Scott Wegener, and shot on location in Norway by an international army of volunteers. All proceeds go to the American and Norwegian Cancer Societies. Buy the DVD, and get several behind-the-scenes bonus features!
Hellboy/ Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc