Skin and Bones
(2008, 43 mins, color, dr, Larry Fessenden)
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Doug Jones being made up by Chris Bridges and Kyle Glencross of Gaslight Studios
Excerpts from an interview with Fessenden by Greg Lamberson for FEAR ZONE, July 18 2008
How did you become involved in FEAR ITSELF?
All I know is I got a call from Mick Garris and Andrew Deane back in November, and they were really positive about THE LAST WINTER which had just had a theatrical run and gotten good reviews. They wanted me to be part of the series. They pitched it to me as a writer-director gig, and so I came up with a pretty cool idea, that I was very pumped to do, but it turns out to have been kind of like a story they were already doing, so then I half-heartedly pitched a few other things, but over time it became clear they already had commissioned a series of scripts and they wanted to produce one of the stories they already paid for. Mick Garris had withdrawn from the project by the Spring, but Andrew Deane stuck with me and offered me an episode.
The episode you've directed, "Skin and Bones," was written by Drew McWeeney and Scott Swan, who wrote the "Cigarette Burns" episode of MASTERS OF HORROR that was directed by John Carpenter. Although MOH was a very director-centric series, TV is generally a writer-producer's medium. As a screenwriter-director, were you allowed to make any contributions to the existing script, or were you strictly a director for hire?
I think on most TV you are stepping into an existing series with a set cast and the story-line and the DP and crew, everything's in place, so the director is just a bit of flavoring on top, but with an Anthology like FEAR ITSELF, the director is really stepping in to make a mini movie, so I at least felt absolutely like I was steering the ship throughout the process, except for the obvious reality that there was the producers, the financeers and the network; a lot of different agendas behind the scenes. But you know, that's the bargain. As for the script, there again, I thought they were handing me a fully aproved-don't-touch-a-thing kind of a document, but then they started giving me notes and that opened up a whole opportunity to do rewrites and make the piece my own.
How about casting? Did you have any say, or were you handed a cast?
Again, with casting I had all the freedom in the world as long as the producers, Lionsgate and NBC approved my choices, the actors were available and would take the offer on such short notice. Ha! In other words, it was near impossible for anyone to agree on anyone and we weren't fully cast until a day before the shoot. However, early on I said I wanted Doug Jones (PAN'S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY and HELLBOY II, SILVER SURFER) and he went through approval very fast and that was the central, grounding choice on the whole project. I told all the producers Doug was his own special effect and they'd save lots of money, and it turned out to be true, he was awesome beyond my expectations. After much haggling we got the other cast members (Molly Hagen, John Pyper-Ferguson) and I felt so lucky; they weren't "names" per se, but it was such a great ensemble of authentic smart players. We were all like-minded in our approach to the material.
You filmed in Canada. What did your prep entail, and how long was your shooting schedule?
Prep was 10 days, and the shoot was 7. Edit was 3 days to a director's cut and then a couple weeks getting notes form all the powers that be. Then a week for sound, mix, color time, boom! You're on TV. My episode comes out to the public the same week my feature THE LAST WINTER hits video shelves. That one I started in 2001.
I would imagine FEAR ITSELF was the first time you had to direct without any of the people with whom your accustomed to working. What was that experience like?
The thing is, I don't work with the same people each film. It seems that way from my company Glass Eye Pix were we produce low-budget movies, with the same group of artisans. But my own directing career has been a more lonely path, where each film has been completely unique: THE LAST WINTER was shot with an entirely Icelandic crew. I don't mind. I like to go out and win over new hearts and minds and my FEAR ITSELF experience was a good one. I liked the crew very much. My D.P. Alwyn Kumst was a tough Afrikaner and I liked his energy and drive; all the crew were seasoned and professional, a responsive, well-oiled bunch. Of course you become exposed to the internal politics that they are all going through because they've been slogging through the show for months-- but you're there such a short time, you barely get into all that.
Did you find the shooting pace any more breakneck than working on an indie feature?
There's never enough time. Your needs expand to the amount you're given. It's like with money. Never enough no matter how much you got.
How has the post production process differed from your regular routine? I know you hate for other people to edit your work!
I was very lucky because I liked my editor Lynne Willingham very much. She prepared a cut for me to react to and then I revised from there. I prefer to encounter the raw material on my own the first time, but this was more efficient and she's a good cutter. As well, she has a very good "bed-side manner" which is the editor's most essential quality; she lets you follow your muse without a lot of resistance. We had a great time for our tiny week together. I thought the director's cut was pretty strong, and in fact the producers were very happy. But then there are notes from all the other parties and the piece gets knocked around a bit. Some of the notes pushed us to make it stronger, but the difficulty for me was that I'd left L.A., I was no longer in the room with Lynne, and that just changes the process from instinctual to cerebral, because you're giving notes over the phone. So slight disappointment with the very end of the process, but no complaints. I'm back in New York working with the Glass Eye Pix regular composer Jeff Grace who is doing outstanding work, it will elevate everything in the show. I've stolen Jeff from two of the Glass Eye movies we're trying to finish at the same time, I SELL THE DEAD and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.
Now that you're back in NYC, you can direct episodes of LAW & ORDER!
No, FEAR ITSELF was a very special experience, I was given a lot of respect. I've been on LAW & ORDER as an actor and no one listens to the director, it's the actors and the d.p. Running the set. Wouldn't do that except for the paycheck (which would be reason enough in these times).
(writer) Moriarty Offers His Thoughts And A Sneak Peek For SKIN AND BONES!