Before I head straight into the interview I wanted to give a little back story as to the thinking behind this interview. The Grimmfest film festival in Manchester is held during the first weekend in October and always has a core of new and exciting horror films. I personally have been attending since 2011 and each year I always choose three films that I know are showing and I avoid all media, so I can go in without any preconceptions. This is very difficult when you are the editor of a horror film website!!
Anyway one of this year’s Grimmfest films was He Never Died starring Henry Rollins. And it just blew me away! Rollins is simply amazing , the small cast are superb and the story is just genius. I won’t give away any more as I want you to enjoy the film as much as I did, BUT when He Never Died is released TRACK IT DOWN, buy it and watch a film that was for me one of the highlights of genre cinema in the last 5 years.
I am well known for waffling ( to speak or write at length in a vague or trivial manner) so I will keep this brief. After watching He Never Died I couldn’t get it off my mind, so I decided to try to contact the writer & director Jason Krawczyk so I could ask him about it. Now one of the great things about the indie filmmaking community and the horror genre in particular is the camaraderie and friendship within it (there are exceptions but then again there is at least one turd in every field of roses), and when I reached out to Jason he was nothing short of amazing. He has been happy to answer my questions, he sent me exclusive pictures and behind the scenes shots and he gave his time freely and for that I must thank him. Sometimes running a website is a thankless task (I know BooHoo me), but at UK Horror Scene we have the best group of writers as well as fantastic readers, followers and friends. And when people like Jason just take a little time to help out then it makes it all worthwhile! So like I said I waffle so without further ado here is the interview!!
JK– It’s a gritty super natural noir comedy that stars an immortal cannibal that’s exhausted from existing. It’s always been hard for me to nail down an elevator pitch for the film. Kate Greenhouse (she played Cara) said it was Twilight for cynical 40 year olds. I always kind of liked that description.
UKHS – For me what made He Never Died was the superb casting especially Henry Rollins. Henry just seemed made for the role. Did you have him in mind from the start and what was he like to work with? Did he really get involved in everything as I expected?
JK – Henry Rollins was always the visual representation of the character and he’s always been an idol of mine. I saw a few live shows of his and kind of retrofitted the script for him.
It was surreal working with him. What are the odds that you write something with a role model in mind and then years later your doing it? I have to admit it took about a week for me to get comfortable working with him. But if you ever wondered in the legend matched the man, the answer is a resounding yes. He’s delightful to work with. He’s incredibly creative and collaborative and he never broke from being pleasant and professional. He was humbling to say the least. He set a tone for a great shoot.
UKHS – Jack (Rollins) is a loner. He sleeps up to 14 hours a day, plays bingo, religiously visits a local diner daily , seems to be suffering from depression oh and is a cannibal. Can you explain a little about your thought process when writing for Jack?
JK – I’ve seen so many suave vampire movies. They always seem so confidant and elegant with themselves, but immortality seems more like a hinderance to me. The zest for life must become dulled over so quickly once you’ve experienced everything over and over again. Immortality much do an incalculable amount damage to your psyche.
Having a character devoid of fear is fun to write. A gun means nothing to him. In fact, he’d probably trade anything to have the sensation of fear again. He would like to feel anything again, but emoting also means the valleys as well as the hills. And the valleys for Jack means piles of innocent bodies, so that’s where the existential crisis comes into play. Is life worth living if you can’t die? I don’t know, but probably not.
JK – It’s primarily for the story. I think He Never Died is as religious for me as “Spawn” was for Todd Mcfarlane or “Preacher” was for Garth Ennis. Religions do come with a fascinating mythos that I think a lot writers are drawn to. The dichotomy of good versus evil and divine unfathomable concepts are ripe for story telling.
UKHS – He Never Died is a very dark film yet full of humour , how did you get the balance right?
JK – There might have been a bit of dumb luck involved, but I do believe that you can’t sway in one direction too fully. When something seems so impossibly dark, it’s time for some levity, and when a scenario is getting too fun, it’s time to ground it. That way, no ones totally satisfied.
I did believe for the humour to work it has to come from a sincere and vulnerable place. Jack is damaged enough as it is and I don’t think being ironic or cynical would have boded will with the character.
UKHS – The blood, gore and FX are all superb as is the use of Jack’s physicality . Stomach churning at times and Henry gets really involved . Can you explain your thoughts on the use of the FX & stunts in He Never Died.
JK – I do believe that you should do as much as you can with the actors themselves and practical effects before you start adding stunt doubles and VFX’s. Saying that, this movie had an extremely minuscule budget so you have to work with what is pragmatic and not ideal.
There was only one “throat rip” prosthetic and only one pool table crash, so there’s a lot of rehearsal time involved. Forming ideas out of restrictions is a fact of film making so the best thing to do there is listen to as many ideas as possible and think what best incapsulates the scene.
JK – I approach directing as a massive collaborative effort. It’s pretty easy to talk your head off, but for me, being patient and listening gets some of the greatest results. I try to plan as much as possible in pre-production. So before I’ve started shooting the DP and I have a detailed shot list that makes sure the visual language is consistent and evolves with the characters and the actors and I have rehearsed and discussed their arch and history. Keeping everyone relaxed and able to focus on their craft seems to work the best.
The crew for this film was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe their level of enthusiasm and how talented they were. They made my job a pleasure. The production designer, Diana Abbatangelo, was pregnant during the production and that didn’t slow her down by a millisecond. It was inspiring to say the least.
UKHS – And on filming , how long did the shoot last and was there many night shoots?
JK – It was a 20 day shoot. I always want more time, but just days though, not longer hours. God no to longer hours. I like 12 hour days. If everyone gets a chance to be home and get a full eight hours of sleep, they are so much happier the next day.
Half of the movie was shot in a studio, which was a first for me. I enjoyed not fighting the elements and the proximity to the crew and actors. Sometimes you’re hundreds of feet away from shooting when you’re on location.
The movie was shot in November and December in Toronto, so it was a bit frigid. Henry was a champion though as he didn’t complain once and refused to wear an extra jacket. He had to do a scene, wet, on a day that it was snowing and didn’t complain.
JK – I think it’s important to find influences outside of the genre you’re trying to make or just not have an intended genre. “About Shmidt” and “As Good As It Gets” with Jack Nicholson (ironically) was a massive influence for “He Never Died.”
UKHS – Have you sorted a UK release yet for DVD?
JK – I’m not 100% sure on an international DVD release yet, but I do know it’ll be available on VOD on December 18th.
UKHS – What is next for you , anything you can tell us about?
JK – As of right now, Zach and I are in full pitch mode for He Never Died: The Series. I wrote the series out during post production for He Never Died, so that was a fairly ideal landscape to keep me focused. I have to keep in mind that TV is different than movies, so those scripts are subject to change, but hopefully it can retain their themes, humour, and unceremonious violence.
Outside of He Never Died, I’m still writing a cosmic trucker horror that’s been hounding me for a little too long now. That along with my press photography blog everyonequestion.com keeps me busy.
JK – Alright, there’s a ton, but the three that influence me the most are:
Jaws: Jaws is just an immaculately made movie and it still holds up. I don’t know what it is about Jaws, but it just hits every aspect of film making with a sledge hammer. The Spielberg slight of hand “oner” is something I take great inspiration from and Jaws is a great example of it.
The Thing: John Carpenter really set an atmosphere that can’t be replicated. It’s such a slow burn with such a creeping sense of paranoia. The fact that there were no women and they killed dogs early in the film set in an incredibly unsafe vibe.
The Hitcher: The fact that you have no idea what the hell Rutger Hauer is or wants is absolutely amazing. It’s also a beautifully photographed film. I was more entertained than horrified from the Hitcher, but I was mesmerized by it’s execution.
Thank you Jason for your time and help. And again when He Never Died is released please check it out!