Director Andrew Weiner gets acquainted with The Horror Hothouse’s Emma Knock in an exclusive interview to discuss his upcoming movie The Frankenstein Theory.
From the creators of The Last Exorcism comes 2013 monster flick The Frankenstein Theory. The plot follows Professor John Venkenheim who takes a documentary film crew to the Artic Circle in an attempt to restore his academic reputation after being suspended from his university teaching post for his ‘outlandish’ ideas. “What are these outlandish ideas?”, I hear you cry. Read on to find out more…
Hi Andrew. Thanks for agreeing to catch up with us and answer a few questions! The
Frankenstein Theory has just been picked up for theatrical release. Can you give us some background on the film?
The film’s central character believes that Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was based on true events that happened to his family over 200 years in the past. He’s staked his reputation on this theory, so at the onset of the film he’s a desperate man willing to go to great lengths to prove that not only did his ancestor succeed in creating what we commonly refer to as the ‘Frankenstein Monster’, but the creature is still alive to this day. Of course this is just a theory; you’ll have to watch the movie to find out if he’s correct.
The film approaches the age old story of Frankenstein in an entirely new way – how did you come up with the idea?
I wrote the screenplay with Vlady Pildysh, a wildly creative writer who lives up in Alberta, Canada. After locking in the framework of our story, we immersed ourselves in researching not just the novel, but [also] Mary Shelley’s life as well as the environment around her that informed her world view. She came of age at the close of the Age of Enlightenment, a time in human history that I find utterly fascinating. There was false optimism among many great thinkers that war, sickness and even mortality would be eradicated within their lifetimes. I’m slightly obsessed with hubris, so for me, I’m struck by Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s fatal arrogance in thinking creating the creature would be of benefit to society rather than lead to disastrous consequences. It was only natural that the protagonist of The Frankenstein Theory would have that same sense of hubris coupled with an unyielding determination to succeed at all costs.
Your background mostly suggests you’re a producer so going about directing a film must have been very new for you. How did you take The Frankenstein Theory from a dream to a reality?
After producing films for such a long time, when I decided to make the shift to directing, I wanted to tell a story that was personal yet logistically realistic to execute on a low budget. In retrospect it was an incredibly ambitious project, because going on location to the wilderness of Alaska on a shoestring budget is, well, foolhardy at best. But I knew if we could pull off the shoot, we could make something great. Finding financing for a first time director is hard, even with my producing background. In my case, I could not have made the film without Caleb Kramer. He produced the movie and was responsible for handling the financing of the film. In addition to him overseeing all business aspects of the movie, he was also a constant sounding board and collaborator on the creative aspects of the film. Gary Bryman, who was the other producer on the film, really managed the production. I’m afraid to think of how the production would have gone without him. Beyond Caleb and Gary, I wanted to surround myself with the most talented people I could find. Luke Geissbuhler, was the only D.P. I was interested in working with. We worked together previously so I knew first-hand how talented he is. The casting director, Charley Medigovich, did a great job finding some fantastic actors to work with. The crew we assembled worked hard and gutted out some long days in the cold without complaint. On the post-side, Meg Ramsey, the editor, Martin Lopez, the sound designer and the composer, James Sale, where all terrific to collaborate with.
What can fans of horror expect from this film?
First and foremost they can expect a fun movie that puts an interesting spin on a very old masterpiece. I don’t think the audience for the film is just horror fans, as the film operates on many levels and doesn’t rely solely on scares to entertain (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). The movie has a compelling story and a fun mystery as well as lighter comedic moments, but with an undercurrent of tension that builds throughout.
In the trailer we see some great camera work, including some P.O.V shots – what was your decision behind the directional style?
I produced a P.O.V. movie once before, a great dark comedy called Mail Order Wife. P.O.V worked for that film because it was innate to the storytelling of the film. I chose to use a P.O.V style for The Frankenstein Theory for the same reason – it really was the best way to tell the story. The overall look and tone of the film is obviously incredibly important and something that Luke and I put a great deal of time into crafting. The film opens in Los Angeles, but we quickly travel to the Arctic. I wanted to show contrast between the warm comfortable world of L.A. and the cold isolation of the arctic. The deeper into the wilderness our characters travel the more and more inhospitable the environment becomes.
Your Frankenstein Monster kind of puts us in mind of the ‘traditional’ Frankenstein mixed with Big Foot. How did you come up with the look for your monster – was he based on any pre-existing horror character?
I don’t want to give too much away, but the creature design was based more on the book than on any of the previous Frankenstein films. In the novel, Frankenstein is not only incredibly big and strong, but he is fast, agile and highly intelligent. My film catches up with that same creature 200 years later. He hasn’t aged much due to his genetic makeup, but he’s put on a lot miles! Because his interactions with humans generally end very badly, he’s lived almost exclusively in isolation for 200 years. Humanity has rejected him, and he has rejected humanity. As a consequence, I would imagine that 200 years of solitude has had a profoundly damaging affect on the creature’s psyche.
Having watched the trailer we would fully believe this film has been shot in the Arctic Circle – it looks bloody freezing and completely isolated – where was it actually filmed?
The majority of the film was shot on location in Alaska, so in fact it was plenty cold, but the wardrobe supervisor, Lynn Murphy, did a great job keeping the cast and crew warm. Some of the locations that we shot at were so remote that the only transportation to and from set was by snowmobile.
Did you take any inspiration from any other horror films during the creation of The Frankenstein Theory?
Obviously the novel Frankenstein shaped and inspired the film. Beyond that, I actually think Mail Order Wife influenced the style of filmmaking more than anything else. That movie was directed by Andrew Gurland & Huck Botko who also wrote and exec produced The Last Exorcism. They’re great filmmakers, who really understand the genre. In producing Mail Order Wife I worked with them first hand and saw how they approached the P.O.V style. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are both films I admire quite a bit, but more than anything, they offered evidence that the genre was viable, but that is the extent of how those films influenced my movie. Some people have knocked Blair Witch over the years, but I’ve never seen a better movie made for $25K. The other film that inspired me, believe it or not, is Apocalypse Now. While on the surface, it is nothing like my movie, both films are odysseys. Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness are probably the most influential works of art on my life. They didn’t just affect how I approach storytelling and my own craft as a writer and filmmaker, they’ve had a profound affect on how I view the world.
This has been your first experience as a director, how did you find it?
Directing and producing are two very different jobs both with their own distinct challenges and rewards. When you’re producing a film, everything is your problem. From contract negotiations, to financing, casting, distribution, marketing and PR to figuring out what to do when your lead actress is afraid of spiders and the director decides he wants to rewrite the script to include tarantulas. It’s a never-ending exercise in crisis-management. As director, picking a good producer to work with was critical. I didn’t want to worry about the minutia of running a smooth production, fortunately, Gary Bryman, made sure I never had to worry about that. Gary’s a cool, level-headed dude. Other than his penchant for trying to send out emails while driving through a blizzard, I can’t say enough about how great Gary is. After a few white-knuckled drives with him, I figured out how to get him back: Gary’s afraid of ghosts, which made him susceptible to a particularly diabolical practical joke I pulled on him. Back to directing, having Gary and our line producer, Dawn Wiercinski, on board, allowed me to really focus on the creative aspects of filmmaking. Though people that don’t know me very well think I’m an easy going guy, I’m actually quite obsessive, fixate on small details and have an opinion on absolutely everything. I think those qualities help me as a director and hopefully that laid back facade helped not drive everyone around me crazy.
Which aspect did you enjoy more – writing the screenplay or directing the feature?
I love both roles. As to which I like more, it depends on the day. I love being on a set, I love the camaraderie of working with a group of people striving towards a common goal. When you have a good team and things are going well, it’s a wonderful feeling. When it’s so cold that icicles are forming on your chin and the camera start to malfunction, then the solitary practice of writing sure does sound inviting!
How did it feel to hear that your film had been picked up for distribution?
William Morris/Endeavor handled the sale of the film. They’re a great agency and stood proudly behind the movie. They were always confident we would find a good buyer and because of that, I was too. We had several offers on the film, but when I met with Mark Ward and Jonathan Saba at Image I knew that I wanted those guys to distribute the movie. They’re smart, they understand the marketplace, they know how to position a film and just like me, they love movies!
What are you aspirations for The Frankenstein Theory going forward?
I hope that people enjoy the movie!
The film is been marketed as being from the makers of The Last Exorcism. Are there any big names out there that you would kill to work with?
Depends on who I would have to kill. I might actually kill two people to work with Christoph Waltz. I loved working with the actors on The Frankenstein Theory and would be thrilled to work with them again – they’re smart, talented, possess great creative instincts and it shows in their performances.
Have you any other projects coming up?
I do, and I’ll be excited to share that with you soon, but right now my focus is really on The Frankenstein Theory. It was a labor of love. I’m very thankful for the opportunity and equally thankful for the great team I made the movie with, it’s their movie as much as it is mine.
Finally…what’s your favourite scary movie?
I can’t name just one! Off the top of my head, my three favorite horror films are The Shining, The Exorcist and Evil Dead II, how Sam Rami made that movie simultaneously hilarious and scary is a stroke of genius. Joe Dante is another great filmmaker who knows how to intertwine comedy and horror to great effect. I would also include Pet Sematary, but that movie was almost too scary for me. Believe it or not, I actually get pretty scared watching horror films, though I do love making them!
And a few last words…
If I could leave your readers with any final message it would be to go see The Frankenstein Theory on 3.1.13 at theaters in the U.S. or see it as a Video on Demand through your cable provider. After seeing it in theaters or on demand, rent it on DVD starting March 26th.
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @TheAndrewWeiner and for more information go to Image Entertainment’s Facebook here.
Take a peak at our preview and the trailer here!