Dream Seekers – Q&A with Writer, Director & Producer Peter Dukes

Image sourced from facebook.com/DreamSeekersProductions
Image sourced from facebook.com/DreamSeekersProductions

Peter Dukes, the ambitious and hugely talented filmmaker behind independent horror short The Beast catches up with The Horror Hothouse’s Emma Knock to talk about the inspiration behind his work, upcoming short Little Reaper and his admiration for Steven Spielberg.

Written, directed and produced by Dukes himself The Beast is a werewolf film with a twist, focusing mostly on the emotional struggles of a father whose son is cursed with a lycanthropic affliction. Starring indie horror icon Bill Oberst Jr (Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies and Take This Lollipop) as the father in question, the film is set in the woods on the night of the full moon. Michel (Bill Oberst Jr.) and his brother Douglas (Peter Le Bas) venture into the woods with an aim of tying Michel’s son Jacob (Alexander Le Bas) to a tree to prevent him from hurting anyone once he has transformed in a werewolf. However, following on from untold months of this, it seems the uncle has come up with another solution to end Jacob’s suffering and keep the town safe.

Under the banner of company Dream Seekers Productions, Dukes has produced 15 films, including many horror and fantasy shorts such as Ghosts, All Hallow’s Eve, A Goblin’s Tale, Lanrete and, of course, The Beast. Read the interview below…

Hi Peter, thanks for chatting with us. Firstly, can you give us a little background on your career to date and how Dream Seekers Productions came about?

I’ve been making movies ever since I was a little kid, like many indie filmmakers out there I suppose, which eventually led to film school. After graduation it took a few years to put the pieces in place that would allow me to start producing my own productions, but once we began, Dream Seekers was born. It’s been my creative center point ever since.

On your website it says that “Dream Seekers aspires to return audiences to the roots of the film” and “to remind them how inspiring, thought-provoking and wonderful cinema can be.” What process do you follow when you begin writing your screenplay to ensure you’re following that ethos?

Film has a long and rich history, and it’s a very powerful medium, so I use these things to drive me when writing my scripts. I respect the craft and so I always push myself to set the bar high. To tell really interesting, unique and challenging stories that truly engage the audience and make them want to think about and talk about what they’ve seen. Whether or not I succeed is another matter!

In terms of my process, I’m a big inspiration kind of guy, and there’s inspiration everywhere if you know where/how to look. That’s a big one for me when first starting out on a script. The idea must be INSPIRED. If it’s anything short of this, I won’t green light the production.

From your back catalogue we can see that you frequently work across all aspects of filmmaking, but which parts do you enjoy the most and why?

In the independent filmmaking world you often have to wear many hats.  It comes with the territory.  However, I’d love to just focus on writing and directing.  I enjoy writing because I’ve long been a storyteller and I enjoy CREATING characters and worlds and stories that can have a profound impact on the viewer, and if nothing else, affords me tremendous creative and personal fulfillment. I enjoy directing because I can then take these stories and translate them to film.  For people like me, that visual medium, be it the moving image or photography, is very powerful, in many ways, so being able to bring a script to life is very exciting.

Whilst most of your work seems to have been done behind the scenes, you’ve also acted in a couple of your own shorts. How does that experience compare?
There’s no comparison.  Ha!  I belong behind the camera, not in front of it.  Any time I’ve acted it’s been out of a favor to someone, or out of sheer necessity.  For instance, I did a film long ago in college called Northern Point.  I had an actor bow out the night before we were to start shooting.  At that point there was no time to find anyone else so I just decided to jump in and play the role myself. Lucky for me it was just a minor role.  In all honesty, I enjoy acting, always have, but it will never be anything more than that.  If I ever partake in it in the future, it will be out of fun or sport, nothing to make a career out of.

From your back catalogue, what films have you most been proud of and why?
I have some films that I enjoy more so than others, and there are some that are just flat out better than others, no doubt about it, but I’m proud of all of them in my own way.  They were all steps in my cinematic education.  Each film I’ve produced had certain challenges that I specifically put in place to gauge where I was as a filmmaker.  It’s important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are so you can work on honing your craft.  That’s what each of my films represent to me.

Would you ever consider directing/producing a film under the Dream Seekers Productions banner that hadn’t been written by yourself and if so what would you look for in a film to peak your interest?
Sure.  I’ve done a lot of horror and fantasy, among other genres, but this doesn’t mean those are the only types of scripts I’m interested in.  What’s most important to me isn’t any one particular genre, it’s the story itself.  If it’s creative, unique, challenging and it succeeds in engaging and inspiring me, I’d absolutely consider taking it on, whether or not it was an in-house Dream Seekers script.

We’ve just had the pleasure of watching and reviewing The Beast. What we found most interesting about it was that it focused on the father’s struggle with his son’s affliction and not the son himself. We felt this to be quite rare, particularly in horror. What was your inspiration behind approaching the short from this angle?
I never want to produce something that people have seen before, perhaps dozens of times.  I want them to experience something new.  Something they can’t predict the ending to ten minutes into the film.  We’ve been so saturated with cinema our whole lives, be it theaters or TV, that the average audience member is pretty smart, and it’s tough to keep them on their toes.  It can be done though, I always work hard to accomplish this.  I think we achieved it with The Beast.  If I was going to take on such a well known subgenre I was going to at the very least take the subgenre and turn it on its head.  Take a new angle on it.  So in the end The Beast is not so much a horror story as a family drama with a horror backdrop.  Hopefully this surprises people and allows them to enjoy the film without having any idea where it’s going.

Bill Oberst Jr. was cast as the father in The Beast. How did this come about?
Bill’s head shot had come across my desk a couple of times through the years, but I never had a role that was quite right for him. Then he fell off my radar.  I happened to be watching the History (or some such) channel one weekend and on came Sherman’s March, a bio (with re-enactments) about the infamous Union General William Sherman.  The actor playing Sherman was fan-TASTIC.  Just one of those actors who’s totally in the moment and who IS the part, not just a person acting the part.  He looked familiar so I looked him up and lo and behold, it was Bill.  I contacted him immediately and sent him the script.  We just kind of took it from there.  I caught Bill at just the right time because he was just starting to blow up, but he was still accessible to an indie filmmaker like myself.  Along with his talent, he’s also a very generous and friendly guy.  In short, he’s basically the opposite of what most people probably think he’d be like, based off all the demented characters he usually plays!  It was very gracious of him to take on a project with as small a budget as The Beast, I enjoyed working with him and hope to again down the road.

You said that you filmed The Beast in only one night and with a miniscule budget. How did you manage this and what challenges did you face?
I barely managed it, ha!  I’ve been though some tough shoots before, and I consider myself pretty seasoned.  I’ve been through the fires and can deal with pretty much anything, so the fact that this production nearly finished me off speaks a lot about how difficult it was.  When you’re an indie filmmaker things can often get a little crazy.  Being short on time and money can do that, but in this case I bit off more than I could chew.  There were major power issues, sound issues, technical issues and so on and so forth.  It was like someone put me in the iron maiden for directors!  All had been prepared for, of course, but sometimes things can go wrong no matter how hard you prepare.  There’s unforeseen variables one has to contend with, but with this production they all kind of pooled together into a tidal wave.

Ultimately, a production like The Beast should NOT be shot in one night.  I promised myself after that I would never try something like it again.  I was lucky to be surrounded by a great cast and crew, and they helped us get through the night.   What’s important now though is that when you watch the film, you don’t pick up on any of that.  One would never know how many issues we had to deal with behind the scenes.

In addition to Bill and the rest of the cast (Peter Le Bas, Alexander Le Bas) and crew, I’d really like to send a special thanks out to John Snedden, the DP on the film, for photographing such a great looking film with basically nothing to work with!  Also to Giona Ostinelli and his musical score, which helped take the film up a notch.  I was very lucky to have them both involved on the film.

What are your aspirations for The Beast going forward?

I’m still mulling that over.  I might write a screenplay and try to package it as a feature.  A lot of people have been pushing for that. It’s an old fashioned horror film so it’s nice to see that people are still open to that kind of story.  It’s definitely not what’s trending in the horror scene right now.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline currently?
At any given time I have a dozen or so scripts ready to go.  Or I might just get inspired and write something new!  One just never knows.  I have a feature spec that’s come out of option and I might try to push it out there again.
I love short films and I expect I’ll always be involved with them, but after my next upcoming film, Little Reaper, which will be released soon, I’m going to start focusing on feature films.  You gotta make the jump at some point and I’m not getting any younger.

In five years, where do you see Dream Seekers Productions?
It’s a tough town, and the feature world is a tough nut to crack, so it’s hard to say where we’ll be in five years.  If all goes well, we’ll have a feature, maybe two (why not, right?) under our belt and bigger budgets to work with!
If you could work with anyone in the industry who would it be and why?

Probably Steven Spielberg. I grew up on Duel, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. I’d just like to sit back and watch how he prepares for a shot and how he works with his actors. He not only gets superb performances out of his adult actors, but out of his child actors too. That’s a very rare gift. Many have tried and failed. If you can’t draw the right kind of performance out of a child actor (especially if it’s a lead role), it will drag the whole movie down. Quickly. When I sit and watch the children in his films, and how natural and comfortable they are in front of the camera (and a large crew no doubt), even when in the midst of shooting very difficult emotional scenes, it’s amazing to see what he’s managed to get on celluloid. The man is an icon, so he carries along the baggage that comes with that. In other words, many people love him and many people love to hate him, but at the end of the day he’s an amazing storyteller, with mouth dropping raw natural talent, and I would find it very interesting just to stand by and watch him do his thing.

I’ve actually seen him in person once. I was at the Emmy’s the year his HBO series Band of Brothers won a slew of awards. I should have “accidentally” bumped into him in the hallway so I could shake his hand. Of course that’s when his well-hidden security detail would have hog tied me but perhaps it might have been worth it. Or not.

Finally…what’s your favourite scary movie?

I’ve never had any one favorite scary movie. Spielberg’s Duel and Jaws would be two. Tobe Hooper’s Poltergiest another. John Carpenter’s The Thing, Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Carl Theodore Dryer’s Vampyr, and of course Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, which basically restored my faith in horror film. When I was very young the Poseidon Adventure scared the heck out of me. It’s not considered a horror picture. It’s an action/disaster picture, but it’s got this perfectly dark, gritty, smoldering atmosphere wrapped around the horrific premise. You really feel like you’re there. It taught me early on how important atmosphere was in film. Without it you’ve got next to nothing.

My horror inspiration comes more from literature than movies. H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Mary Shelley, Henry James, Shirley Jackson, Susan Hill. Amazing storytellers. Not only some of the best horror writers you’ll ever read, but some of the best writers in any genre, period.

See our review of The Beast here.

Image sourced from facebook.com/DreamSeekersProductions
Image sourced from facebook.com/DreamSeekersProductions

Check out Dream Seekers Productions website and don’t forget to like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at @DreamSeekerFans.


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