Tuesday, February 26, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARCUS DUNSTAN

Although this is not a part of my Women In Horror Month celebration, this is an article that I could not pass up posting on Day of the Woman.  For those unaware,  I was recently given the job of EDGE editor for the entertainment section of my university newspaper.  The Western Courier has been taking up much of my free time, but has given me some incredible writing opportunities.  Interviewing Marcus Dunstan, is one of them.  Marcus Dunstan is a native of Macomb, IL, the town in which my university is located.  Macomb is a rural town hours from any sort of "civilization," and is surrounded by cornfields for as long as the eye can see. The nearest Starbucks is over an hour away, if you're catching my drift.  His name may not sound familiar, but I guarantee his work is something you're aware of.  Marcus Dunstan is a horror movie screenwriter and director. His most recognizable works are the Feast trilogy, The Collector, The Collection, and the last four installments of a little franchise known as SAW. 
As a fellow horror aficionado and soon-to-be survivor of the life experience that is Macomb, Illinois, I was determined to get a hold of the man behind the movies and dig just a little deeper.  I bring to you, the x-post from my first interview at the school paper over to Day of the Woman. An interview with Marcus Dunstan.  

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 BJ-C: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview, but I have to ask, what was it like growing up in Macomb?

Marcus Dunstan: I came from a wonderful family. I made friends for a lifetime, and I learned the great adage: “The trouble with trouble is that it starts out so very fun.” That line was never more profound than when I needed a shot for the grand finale of my junior high VHS epic, “KILLER,” in which our villain throws the hero from the roof of my dear friend Joe’s home. Well, (Joe and I) took a G.I. Joe snowsuit, stuffed it with enough clothes to match the body type, taped a basketball to the shoulders for a head and threw this dummy from the roof where it landed with a horrific splat at the feet of a shocked witness.  The problem was that our friend Joe was Joe Wagoner — son of WIU President Ralph Waggoner. The house in question was Ralph’s house, the only home in Macomb to be patrolled by security. When security received a call from someone shrieking, “Someone is throwing children off the President’s roof!” Well, that was a wrap on the day. 

BJ-C: That story is priceless. I wish I could have seen that. I’m assuming this means you’ve always been passionate about entertainment. Was it difficult being so far away from cultural epicenters? (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc.)

MD: It could have been frustrating, but fortunately, with the aid of the aforementioned great family and friends, it was quickly clear how much of an advantage not being near the entertainment epicenters was. How many life experiences are forged and shared one block from a movie studio? Not many that I have seen in theater. What I have seen are tales of terror in the woods, people fighting in outer space, dramas of broken souls picking themselves up and living proud in towns no different than mine. “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Suspiria,” “Halloween,” “The  Thing” and “Slapshot” are all films not inspired by one iota of proximity to an entertainment studio, but by a proximity to life. That is everywhere. The town, jungle or planet you are born in is what makes each storyteller unique. That terrain asks: “What can you bring to the table?” The answer is all around you.

BJ-C: This next one may be a loaded question, but what movie(s) made you want to make movies?

MD: Great question. I think it was a combination of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Suspiria” and “Evil Dead 2.” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” had adventure, ghosts, heroes and villains. “Suspiria” taught me that horror can be beautiful, suspense can be unrelenting and music can be a character. “Evil Dead 2” showed me that horror can be funny; the camera can be a character and just because your budget is tiny, doesn’t mean you can’t have big ideas.

BJ-C: All three of those are on my top lists as well.  Great minds think alike. I’m soon graduating and leaving the safety of good ol’ Macomb, so I have to ask, how was making the plunge moving out of the Midwest and to the cut-throat world
of Hollywood?

MD: There was my hit to the nuts. (laughs) I think a run in a military school may have helped a bit. I think opium may have helped, but the first five years was mental boot camp. The subsequent seven years, more mental boot camp. Any journey from home, no matter which direction, seems to be toward a gauntlet for our dreams. Will the dream still be there on the other side of that journey? Will our bones make it to that other side? Oh wait — it is all about the journey and how we realize a version of that dream each day, isn’t it? Yes. When I couldn’t buy film, I shot video. When I didn’t have a video camera, I shot pictures. When I didn’t have pictures, I had a computer. When I didn’t have a computer, I had paper — and when I didn’t even have paper, I had my imagination and a radio. I never stopped climbing and the hits just made me tougher. They still do. I just had a movie come out and maybe six people saw it. (laughs) But I loved that damn movie. It’s a wild bastard. The experience of making it will forever be with me, and this spring I’m off to do it again. I had some fresh wounds to lick, sure, but then my brain found a solution to that pain as well: “Hey! Would you rather trip in front of the entire high school or win the race in front of one?” Plus, there is always that little person version of me, still in the center of a pile of leaves at the edge of light, and that little person would have given anything to make a movie in the first place. 

BJ-C: You’ve stayed within the same genre, so why horror?

MD: Horror is a mental audition for life’s worst days. It never leaves a mark. It invites you into the dark, shows the impossible, the improbable, the wicked, and then turns the lights back on as the cold hand of the experience drapes across your neck for the walk home. 
Why is horror a popular date movie experience? Why has horror withstood the test of time? Why have two horror movies opened to No. 1 box office in the month of January when ten, count ‘em ten, Oscar contenders are vying for the same dollar? Well, because humans love to be scared. They’d rather be scared for 90 controlled minutes than for three seconds of skidding car. A good horror movie is a like an exorcism of life’s jitters. 

BJ-C: Horror has been very kind to you, because you know how to make some quality horror films. What was it like seeing your name on a poster or in a trailer for the first time?

MD: That is where words come up a bit short. Your whole heart just floats out. Something hugs you and says, “How ‘bout that?”

BJ-C: I’ll admit, that’s a feeling I hope to achieve someday. You haven’t been all positivity though, the latter “Saw” films have seen their share of criticism. How to do you handle judgment on such a large scale?

MD: Oh, yes. To criticism one can only quote Joe Swanberg, who faced a vicious critic of his work and manhood in a boxing ring. Before Joe placed his mouth guard in, he took the emcee’s microphone, addressed his opponent at full volume and said, “No matter what happens after the bell rings just remember this: there is no you without me.” DING! WHAM! The critic tapped out in fourteen seconds.

BJ-C: That’s something I’ll have to remember the next time anonymous trolls flood my comment box. Who would you say is your biggest inspiration?

MD: Dario Argento. An Italian maestro of suspense. He’s still making films. He directed “Suspiria” and the rest is lovely, terrifying history.

BJ-C: Argento is an artist beyond compare. You got that right. What work are you the most proud of?

MD: “The Collection” or “Feast.” “The Collection” nearly killed me. “Feast” was kicking down the door and getting that first shot to tell tales. “Feast” was the world opening up.

BJ-C: You’ve worn a few hats within filmmaking, but what aspect of film is your favorite to work on?

MD: My favorite aspect of filmmaking is that feeling when there is enough in the can to know you’re no longer fighting to exist, but now shaping the existence. How could this be scarier? As opposed to, “I hope the lights work today.”

BJ-C: You haven't had to do it alone, how is working with Patrick Melton?

MD: Working with Patrick Melton is an honor. He is a great friend, a loving husband to his wife, and a proud father to three wonderful little folks. There is an entire life construct to Patrick that is wildly different than mine and yet we both sprang from Illinois... both we're projectionists at the University of Iowa...and both fell in love with the same raunchy horror films. 

BJ-C: You have been an absolute pleasure and I thank you again for talking with me. Final question: any suggestions for film geeks everywhere?

MD: Absorb your surroundings. A life’s experience is what charges your tales, your courage and ultimately becomes your shield when things don’t go as planned. Directing is 99 percent dealing with things not going as planned and one percent acting like you knew that all along. Kinda like life.

You can check out Marcus Dunstan on IMDB or follow him on twitter @MarcusDunstan.

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