An Interview With Creator and Producer Peter Simeti
A potent blend of twisted psychological horror, savage violence and hard-arsed prison drama, Alterna Comics’ cult 2008 graphic novel The Chair is about to make the big screen adaptation leap. The story of a perhaps wrongly imprisoned man’s fight against the brutality that surrounds him – barbarism most often meted out at the hands of one truly sadistic warden – The Chair has all the potential to become a fine mind-bending indie splat-pic classic; well, crowdfunds pending. In a UK exclusive, we got in touch with The Chair’s creator and now adaptation producer Peter Simeti for a quick confab about all things Chair related, and how you guys can help get this peach-in-waiting made…
UKHS: You’re a comic book mogul and now a movie producer; you’re not even thirty yet! For readers of UKHS who may not be too familiar with you, would you mind giving us a little background on yourself and the Alterna Comics brand?
Peter Simeti: Well that’s the first time I’ve heard it all put together like that! I’m not sure if it quite fits, but I won’t split hairs about it [laughs]. So a little about me, I created Alterna back in 2006 as a means to get my own work out there under a label so it wasn’t just a self-published work. It was just something to make it all seem a bit more official. But shortly after, I started receiving submissions and a lot of the stuff was actually really really good. I thought maybe I could help creators get their work out there and in turn we all would help each other. Alterna’s got a community aspect in that way. The books are all creator-owned, similar to publishers like Image, so Alterna doesn’t own any rights other than publishing and distribution.
UKHS: How did the The Chair come about as a graphic novel? I understand that after you’d done your first book, Spectrum, the only good thing you took from it was realising that you didn’t want to do comics that were just superhero based.
PS: Yikes! We’re digging up the dirt here, huh! What an awful book Spectrum was [laughs]! Yeah, well the only really good thing that came from it was actually the fact that I had created Alterna Comics as a label to house my self-published work. Years later, Alterna’s published about sixty to seventy titles and because of that, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really talented people.
The Chair though was mostly spawned from the idea of having a character that was morally ambiguous. I really wanted to create something that would make people put themselves in the situation of these characters and decide on whether or not they’d behave the same or different. I think all the best stories do this kind of thing, showing a mirror up to the reader and making them think or feel the way the characters do. So with that, I created the Warden who has a bit of a sadistic and psychotic streak to him but at the same time, he’s a character that many people could probably relate to – which in itself is a bit odd, right? He’s kind of like a judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one.
He’s by no means a hero, but is he really a villain? And then the character of Richard Sullivan was created as a means to set up a conflict in the story; a character that you want to see where his journey takes him. But Richard also has a sordid and mysterious past, so is he really a guy to root for? That’s the kind of stuff people should be thinking about when they read The Chair and when they eventually watch the film.
UKHS: At what point did you start looking to turn The Chair into a movie then?
PS: I think it was around 2009 or so. We were getting approached by different production companies at the time but we always heard the same answer: it was a good story but just too dark for them. So we ended up putting it on the back-burner until about 2012 or so and interest started popping up again. Erin Kohut came up with the screenplay for the film and once we had that figured out, I got in touch with director Chad Ferrin about coming on board. I liked Chad’s indie mentality and I really enjoyed his film Someone’s Knocking at the Door so we thought he might be a good fit for The Chair. Chad loved the script and at that point we moved forward on finding a cast.
UKHS: Ferrin is certainly the perfect fit for it. The Chair is every bit as dark and as uncompromising as The Ghouls, Someone’s Knocking or Unspeakable – which it’s very similar too – say. So how faithful an adaptation has Kohut crafted? Has anything been added or adjusted? How big a hand did you have in the scripts development as both the stories originator and the films producer?
PS: Erin edited the graphic novel as well, so that probably helped her to craft the screenplay since she was already close to the source material. The book is relatively short as far as feature films go, it’d probably be more like an hour of material. So for the most part Erin added some scenes, fleshed out characters, tightened up the plot and basically shored up any cracks that were in the book’s story. There really wasn’t a time where I’d read some of her changes and I’d ask her to change it back or to cut a part out. If anything, she really made it a better story than the book – how often does that even happen [laughs]?! So yeah I’m really happy with how it’s gone.
UKHS: It’s a creepy, oppressive and nasty book. Would you like to talk about some of your influences on it? You’ve said that The Twilight Zone was a major influence on you…
PS: Yeah it’s got a bit of Twilight Zone influence in there and probably some Batman as well, particularly any stories that had to do with Arkham Asylum or The Scarecrow since there’s a lot of psychosis involved. But there’s nothing that’s really derivative I think; something that you can pinpoint a scene and go “hey! that’s just like that other story!”. It’s more The Chair’s overall vibe.
UKHS: How about your cast? It’s a very genre-friendly line up: Brian Thompson [The X Files], Eric Roberts [The Dark Knight], Zach Galligan [Gremlins]… There’s even two Ferrin regulars in there with Timothy Muskatell and Ezra Buzzington. How have they all responded to the material?
PS: Oh, everybody’s been so great about the material. Bill Oberst Jr. is just a perfect Warden, he’s going to be great in that role. Same thing for Brian [Thompson] too: he’ll be able to bring that vulnerability to Sullivan’s character, as well as that meanness and grit. All the actors have been very passionate about getting this film made, they all really believe in it. Naomi Grossman and Noah Hathaway are just tremendous additions as well – so talented. And we’ve got some great nods to comic fans with Susan Eisenberg, who’s the voice of Wonder Woman, and the voice of Green Arrow Kin Shriner in a scene together. Walking Dead fans will recognise Travis Love as the Commanding Officer too; it’s just a one after the other kind of cast. Just a great ensemble.
The crew is pretty terrific as well by the way, with a few notables like Tim Eckel who worked on Heroes and Veronica Mars; Paul Lacovara who was Tom Hiddleston’s stunt man in Thor, Thor 2, and the Avengers, and Charles Bernstein who composed the music for the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Between the cast and crew, it’s seriously a pile-up of who’s who in horror and comic films and I couldn’t be any happier!
UKHS: Now, I was going to bring up Oberst Jr. next. He certainly makes a strong impression in your teaser trailer [see foot of article]!
PS: Yeah, he’s great right?
UKHS: Completely! The face of the excellent Take This Lollipop app too… Anyway, let’s talk about that teaser. When and where did you guys shoot it? I take it you put it together as a taster for investors.
PS: Chad and David DeFino [The Chair’s gaffer] shot the teaser with Bill in Los Angeles, maybe about 2 months ago – some time in April. Yeah, we wanted everyone to have some kind of an idea of what they were in for and what the story would primarily be about. So we chose to highlight the Warden character in the teaser.
UKHS: The Chair is being crowdfunded right? How’s it going and can UKHS readers contribute? It is UK-friendly yes?
PS: Yeah, so far we’re moving along nicely with twenty-ish days left and we’re at the $21K mark out of $300K. Our Kickstarter is indeed UK friendly – and all other countries as well – with shipping rates specified for each reward. Your readers can contribute with a pledge and by sharing the campaign on Facebook and on twitter:
UKHS: Finally, how far along are you in the films production? When are you hoping to have it before cameras?
PS: Other than the teaser trailer, we haven’t filmed a single second yet. That’s why the Kickstarter is so important. A lot of films get on Kickstarter to raise money for post-production work or to build buzz on their film and get rewards and pre-orders out to backers. But The Chair is still in pre-production and actually needs to raise its production budget. That’s why the mark has been set at $300K – to enable us to film a high quality movie with the cast that we currently have. If all goes as planned, we’ll start filming this October.
Thanks to Peter Simeti.
Once again, check out The Chair’s kickstarter here:
Dig on the flick’s teaser here:
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