Hello Shawn, thank you for your time and welcome to UK Horror Scene.
Q1) What got you into filmmaking, writing and acting and did you receive any formal training on any of these subjects?
I have always loved to tell stories. When I was a freshman in high school, writing really became important to me thanks to some great teachers. It grew from telling stories into getting a real kick in the ass from writer/director Adam Green. I met him at a convention when he was first promoting his film ‘Hatchet’. He had some very inspiring words, and I got to work on my first script. All of my experience is by doing it. I have never been to film school, or had any other formal training.
Q2) You are the brainchild behind Right Left Turn Productions. How did the company get started and do you just specialize in the horror genre?
I started RLTP in 2008 when we started working on my first film, ‘Jack’s Bad Day’. I really wanted something that I could use to produce not only horror films, but other genres as well. Since the beginning, the idea was to grow the company to help other filmmakers get their films made, as well as our own. While we are definitely a little ‘horror-centric,’ we definitely love film of all kinds.
Basically, the story centres around the lead couple, Lee and Blake, and their friends Lorri, Jennifer, Jeff, Shell and Alex. Jeff and Shell are a couple, Lorri and Alex used to be, and Jennifer is somewhere in the middle of the whole mix. It’s only alluded to, but Blake has just been disowned by the grandparents that raised him because they found out he was gay. The friends decide to take a trip to clear their heads and get away from it all. As they drive through central Texas, they end up in the town of Middle Spring. The town is full up thanks to a religious revival, and the smell of barbecue fills the air. The friends soon start to realize things are not quite what they seem, and they start to disappear, only to reappear as dinner.
I have worked on more than a couple of short films of my own, and definitely help out my filmmaker friends when I can, so I am used to being on set. Taking on directing a feature is a horse of a different colour. The biggest problem I have is delegating. I am so used to managing things on my own, I work myself half to death trying to handle it all myself. This time, I had a great crew waiting to back me up every step of the way.
There are always issues, and this film is definitely no exception, but when everyone works together, it makes it all worthwhile in the end.
Q4) I think it’s real cool that you have horror genre veteran Marilyn Burns, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ starring in your movie. How did she get involved with your film and did you enjoy working with her?
I met Marilyn a few years ago at the Texas Frightmare Weekend convention in Dallas. She was incredibly sweet, and she and I stayed in touch. About a year later, I let her know that I had a script in mind for her. She loved the script, and was really excited to work on it.
We were also able to bring on Ed Guinn from the original ‘ TCM’ as well to play her husband. I had also met Ed a couple of years ago at another TFW convention. I am proud to say that we brought the two of them back together on film for the first time since 1974. The original survivor girl and her saviour, together again.
Both were an absolute dream to work with. They were both very professional, and by the end of the day I was giggling like a kid watching them onscreen. Sometimes it’s a bad thing to meet people you idolized as a kid. These folks were definitely the opposite. Getting to work with them has been an amazing experience for me.
I actually met our seven friends thanks to our casting calls for the film. The only one of them that I knew ahead of time was Amanda Rebholz, one of our producers. She and I have known each other for years. To make sure that I was not biased, I made the other producers and casting director make the decision to cast her. I think she really pushed herself, and made Lorri real. Thankfully, we all agreed that she should play the role.
Most of the seven we were pretty sure about as soon as we saw them audition for the roles.
The first to be cast was Troy Ford. He came to our first day of auditions from Oklahoma (about 5 hours away). He brought a certain attitude and parental glare to the role of Lee that no one else had. He was an almost immediate “yes.” We had him come back several times to read with some of the other actors, but we still hadn’t told him he had the part. It was hard because we still had so many people to see, but ultimately we couldn’t see anyone else in the role.
The second cast was Brittany Badali. Also coming to see us after a good long drive, she brought a certain realness to Jennifer that was lacking in some of the other auditions we saw. Too many of the others were taking her dry wit as bitchy, rather than funny. Brittany really understood it, and brought it to her audition.
Soon after, we cast Henry Pao. Henry put us in a bit of a quandary. He has never done a film, and we were actually his first audition. His first audition did not go well, but after he left we all thought we saw a spark in him. We ran to call him back, and after two more auditions, we took the chance and brought him in to play Alex. He grew into the role, and now I cannot imagine anyone else playing the role.
Our casting director knew a director down in Austin, and asked if his girlfriend Cassandra Hierholzer might be interested in reading for the role of Shell. Cassandra is a model, and has a great punk vibe about her. As soon as she started reading the lines for Shell, we knew we had our girl. She absolutely rocked it.
Avery Pfeiffer was a latecomer to the audition process. We actually saw his first audition via video. Originally, when I received his headshots, I almost dismissed him as too young and innocent. When we saw his video, we knew we had to get him on board. He really brought a playfulness to Blake that we absolutely loved.
Our last of the seven cast was Wesley Kimenyi. Wesley had originally read for Lee, but by that point we were pretty set on Troy. Wesley is a great actor, and I really wanted to bring him in. We cast him in a small part, but later had to replace the actor playing Jeff. Wesley stepped into the role, and we never looked back. He did a great job.
I would happily work with any and all of these actors again. They all put so much of themselves into this film, it nearly brings me to tears. To see the characters I wrote come to life in these people is truly inspiring.
That is actually from our original teaser that we shot a couple of years ago when we were trying to boost interest and get funding. That scene has been reshot, but it is still in the film. While we are definitely focusing on the storytelling, I am a lover of blood and gore. We should have enough to make any gorehound happy, but also keep people interested in the characters. There is a big focus on religion and food in the film. I brought a lot of my religious upbringing into the film, as well as a sense of what it is like to be outcast for not fitting into societal norms. The head in the pot is only the beginning.
Q7) Talking of food, if you could have dinner with three guests (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
You have no idea how hard that is. There are so many people throughout history that could be at that table, I have to go with a list that falls a little closer to topic, but I just can’t break it down to three. As much as I wanted to comply, I had to go with these four: Alfred Hitchcock, Clive Barker, Kevin Smith, George Orwell. Basically, all of them have been a huge influence on me and my work. They are all great storytellers, and that is what I really want to be. Whether it be film, paper, music…I just want to get the stories out of my head and in front of other people. I could literally sit for hours upon hours listening to the men on my list. I don’t think I could ever run out of questions for them.
My acting work is less than stellar. I have never really been comfortable in front of the camera. I definitely prefer being behind it. The acting that I did was for friends in their films. I played an “Ass Slapper” in a strip club in the film ‘Kodie’, an inept security guard in ‘Devotion’ (both B.S. Entertainment films), and a dirty cop in ‘Hostility Hotel’. The last of which was written and directed by our own cinematographer Justin Powers. Anytime a friend needs a big tattooed guy for a film I’ll happily help out, but I definitely prefer directing.
‘Jack’s Bad Day’ was a learning experience, if nothing else. I had directed theatre casts for years, but never for film. There was so much I didn’t know, and I feel the film suffered for it. I don’t hate it the way I used to, but I am still sad that it doesn’t live up to what I had hoped it would be. Most of that I blame on myself, but all in all I think it is a decent first film. We’ve actually thought about going back and reshooting the film, but doing it right. Regardless, people seem to like it. I still think it’s a good script, and we had a lot of fun making it.
‘The Sleepover’ as our second film, and our first foray into heavy makeup effects and experimental lighting. Ultimately, I was not happy with what we produced, and we scrapped the whole thing. We’ll pick it up again later, but it’s not on the radar right now.
We also did a short called ‘Property Lines’. It was a submission for the Splatterfest film competition. We put a pretty good crew together, and worked our butts off to get the film made in 48 hours. It was a great experience, but it’s a hard way to make a film.
Q9) What’s your favourite scary movie?
I wish I could say that I had just one. Every subgenre has something great to offer, even if it’s the pleasure of watching something absolutely terrible. If I absolutely had to nail it down to one film, it would be Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’. As far as I am concerned, it is a perfect film. Hitch was an absolute master, and a huge inspiration to me as an artist.
Honestly, if I can continue making films and telling stories, I’ll be a happy man. I have already started the script for the next film I want to make, and I am really excited about it. Thankfully, some of our cast from Sacrament are already interested in auditioning to be part of it.
Thank you Shawn. I really appreciate your time and this opportunity to interview you for UKHS. Keep up the great work and good luck with your film.
Picture courtesy: Shawn Ewert / Sacrament.
Pictures are as follows:
1 – Marilyn Burns and Ed Guinn on set
2 – Matthew Ash (FX artist) getting ready for gory scene
3 – (Left to Right) Marilyn Burns, Shawn Ewert (Director), Troy Ford (actor), Amanda Rebholz (Producer and actor), Avery Pfeiffer (actor) on set
4 – Cory Ahre (actor) and Justin Powers (cinematographer) on first day of shooting
5 – “The Feeders” tearing apart a body
6 – Shawn Ewert (director) and Brad Foster (script supervisor) on set