In just a few day's time legendary director John Carpenter will be returning to the big screen for the first time in nearly a decade when his new film, The Ward, screens as part of the Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival. I recently had the chance to have a brief conversation with Carpenter in which he addresses his latest work, an old classic and Canada's recreational options.
TB: So, thank you for taking the time.
JC: No, thank you. Where are you located?
TB: I'm in Toronto, actually, where we are looking forward to welcoming you soon. And I hope the city is good to you.
JC: Well, thank you. I'm hoping I can come. I have one thing that may keep me from being there, which is jury duty, but if I don't get called I will be there.
TB: I suppose the place to start, the question that a lot of fans have, would be why you've been away from theatrical work for so long and what it is about this film in particular that brought you back.
JC: Well, I stopped directing after my last film. It was 2001. I was just burned out. Tired. Disgusted with the whole business. I didn't want to direct any more. I toyed around with retiring because I had promised myself that when I stopped loving doing it I wouldn't do it any more. But Mick Garris, who is a friend of mine, he got me involved in this Showtime series that was on for a couple years, Masters of Horror. I directed a couple of those and I really enjoyed myself.
TB: You directed two of the best of those.
JC: Ah, thank you. And I had a great time doing them so I thought maybe I'd try something. This script came along and it was perfect in the sense that it was small, it was a small film, contained and was kind of a character driven situation. The characters and the story really mattered. I got to work with some young, very talented actresses, and I got to work with Jared Harris, a very talented actor, and everything just worked. Everything fit together for me.
TB: Did that youth bring a new freshness to you and your style at all? I mean, not that your style needs to change but when you look back at your body of work I'm hard pressed to name anybody who defined the aesthetic of 80s horror - the look, the atmosphere, the use of music - more than you did. You had a really distinct aesthetic that defined a distinct period. Are you carrying that into this film or are you adapting and playing and trying on some new techniques that have come along while you were out of the game for a little bit? What kind of John Carpenter are we getting?
JC: I'm trying on some new things. It's not going to be a mystery, it's still going to be my movie. But I did not compose the music and I'm very happy I didn't. I worked with a very talented composer, Mark Kilian, a young man. And I'm also learning a kind of new approach and that's a whole lot of digital work. It was shot on film but everything else is digital. And that allows you a lot of opportunities and a lot of choices, especially in the editing room. It's a lot of fun.
TB: Now, when you say digital are you talking about the post production - the coloring the editing and things like that - or the effects?
JC: Well, some effects. A lot of this movie is on set, everything was done on set, but we played around a lot digitally and it was a lot of fun. Interesting to do. A lot of fun.
TB: You mentioned earlier that one of the drawing factors for you was that this is really a character piece, which I think is something that really defines most of your work as well. How do you feel about the current trend in horror, which has mostly gotten away from that and chosen to do more banging and crashing than focusing on the people involved?
JC: Yes, I agree with you. But horror is pretty much the same as always. When you look at it there are a few really good movies, there are a few fair movies, and mostly really bad movies. It's always kind of been that way. I don't know how I really feel about it. Some of the films I really enjoy, some horror films I enjoy a lot. Some not so much. It really depends on the talent of the story teller, the director, and what he brings to it. I think I probably agree with your assessment, that there isn't a lot of character any more but maybe the audience is just bored with character. I don't know. Maybe that's what they want to see, the crash and bang.
TB: I'd like to ask you some about your cast. You've got Amber Heard in this and she's really become a bit of a go-to girl since All The Boys Love Mandy Lane.
JC: I met her for the part, she was one of the first actors I met with, and I just really liked her. She's really smart and beautiful and talented and was really interested in the project. And when you have all those things going you say yes. I remember watching Mandy Lane and thinking, "Boy, she swallows her lines." And, lo and behold, she swallowed a few of her lines on this but we worked on it and it turned out great.
TB: You have a very young cast in this. Were there any particular challenges working with them or did you enjoy working with people who were maybe a little less set in their ways?
JC: Yes, they haven't got bad habits yet. Though all of these girls had a lot of experience. Danielle Panabaker was a Disney actress when she was really young. Lyndsy Fonseca has done a lot of work. Laura-Leigh and Mamie Gummer were probably the newest but they were both Juliard trained. So I had a great time. Everybody was ready to go, they came on the set ready to go and I was really happy.
TB: Since it was shot up here I need to ask ... when The Thing prequel was announced there was a lot of speculation about whether it was a remake or a reboot or a prequel and a lot of people were really up in arms that it was happening it all because your film is pretty much considered gospel. Were you at all involved in that process, when people were deciding whether they should do it and what it should look like?
JC: No, no one asked me anything. Universal owns the movie and I was just a hired gun on that film. And it's odd to hear you say it's gospel because that movie was hated when it came out, mainly by the fans. It was amazing. So it's surprising for me to hear you say that people have any kind of care for it because it sure wasn't cared for when it first came out.
TB: Nobody's really seen The Ward yet so I can't really go into too much detail on it but do you have your plans set for what's next after this? I've heard a few titles floating around, LA Gothic and a couple others. Do you know what's next?
JC: Well, I do know what I'm going to do. In terms of movies I have a few things that I'm developing, that are in various stages. But I definitely am going to prepare myself for the beginning of basketball season in a couple months. My world champion Los Angeles Lakers need a lot of support and I intend to give it. We're going to be facing that dreaded three headed hydra in the Miami Heat.
TB: Oh, we know all about that ... one of the three heads is our guy and he's been talking smack about Toronto since he left.
JC: Man, what is wrong with Toronto?
TB: I don't think anything is wrong with Toronto.
JC: Do you still have great strip clubs?
TB: We may have one or two, yes.
JC: Okay, because there were when I was there in the 90s. Superlative strip clubs.
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