WHERE DID THE CONCEPT FOR JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE COME FROM?
Kel Dolen had written a short film a long time ago about a guy who killed 24 'bad' people in 24 hours and then gave himself up to the police. We were looking for an idea to collaborate on and we kept coming back to that one. We started spitballing ideas to expand the concept and eventually John Doe was born.
From there we worked up a very rough outline, a lot less than I like to start with but I went ahead and banged out a draft, a lot of good stuff came out of that first draft. From there we just kept refining it over time.
THE FILM'S SOCIAL COMMENTARY SEEMS PERSONAL. DID YOU TURN TO YOUR OWN FRUSTRATIONS TO HELP TELL THE STORY?
I guess like a lot of people I'm frustrated by the lack of justice in our world today, it's something I'm quite passionate about. But really I'm also part of the problem. I'm happy to sit by and read about it until I'm forced into action by something happening to someone I love. I guess John Doe is my way of trying to be pro-active, trying to bring the issues out into the public arena so we can start a dialogue and work towards fixing the issues that have been around for thousands of years and don't look like going away anytime soon.
DID YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL STRUGGLES IN ADDRESSING SOME OF THE MORAL AMBIGUITIES OF THE STORY?
Not at all. As a writer I just tried to stay true to the characters, their beliefs, their needs really drove the story. From the characters perspective there was no ambiguity at all, they are all straight arrows, it's simply how they are wired. There were times where I thought we were maybe going too far but we made a conscious decision not to back off from any possible controversy, we really wanted to represent victims and be their voice as much as possible.
We've received some criticism that some of the 'bad' guys are a bit cartoonish. The reality is they were ALL based on real people, it's exactly how these people behave in the real world, it's quite possible that those voicing that criticism have been lucky enough to not meet people like that, but I can promise you these kind of people do exist. I guess it's a double edge sword, on the other side a lot of people have said how real the film feels to them (in a good way). There's no doubt the fact the film is ground in reality makes it unsettling for some people as they are forced to confront the fact that in the back of their minds they know these horrible things are happening to good people every day and they don't give a shit. As long as it doesn't effect them, as long as they are safe they ignore it. Reality is we all do.
WERE YOU CONSCIOUS OF BALANCING A POWERFUL STATEMENT WITH AN ENTERTAINMENT VALUE?
Definitely. We very much wanted to make the film entertaining. We were striving to make something entertaining, a film that would take you on a ride, create an emotional response within you and leave you questioning your own morals around the subject of repeat offenders, the justice system and vigilantism. Hopefully it works on all those levels.
THERE IS A STRONG PETER FINCH/NETWORK "CALL TO ARMS" MOMENT IN THE FILM. WERE YOU EVER CONCERNED THAT THE FILM'S ACTIONS WOULD SPILL OUT OF THE SCREEN?
I guess there're two answers to that question. If the viewer actually gets the true message of the film which is not to go out and kill people but rather work towards creating a community where we all look after each other, then I have no problem with that at all. If however someone were to see the film and then decide to put on a mask, grab a baseball bat and become a vigilante, well.... I guess there're actually two answers to that scenario also. If they were to harm someone who didn't deserve it then yeah, I have a big problem with that, on the other hand if the person they were going after was a repeat offender who was planning to offend again... well... I'm not sure I have a problem with that at all....
HOW DID KELLY DOLEN AND YOURSELF COME TO WORK TOGETHER?
A friend and I were looking for a Director for another project and my friend saw Kel's previous film at MUFF and suggested we have a meeting. Even though that project fell through Kel and I really hit it off and wanted to find a project to join forces on.
VIGILANTE FILMS ALWAYS DRAW A STRONG DIVIDE AND CRITICISMS OF THE DEPICTION OF VIGILANTISM ARE INEVITABLE. YOUR FILM HAS ALREADY PLAYED AROUND THE WORLD. HAVE YOU FACED MUCH BACKLASH?
To be honest I don't think enough people have seen the film yet for us to really know if that will become an issue. The big issue with independent film is the lack of money for print and advertising. We had a very small theatrical release in the USA, there wasn't really enough P&A to give it a real chance. Locally we are getting an even smaller release as there's been zero support from most of the the Australian Distributors. It seems there is a real disconnect between the distributors and the 'man on the street' when it comes to this film. We've had a number of test screenings and scored really, really well. All we can put it down to is that the distributors are wary of the controversy and any potential backlash.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE FOR THE FILM TO OVERCOME?
The film has had obstacle after obstacle put in front of it since the day we wrapped shooting. Up until then except for an issue with one of the actors we'd had a dream run. Every step of the way since then has been like pulling teeth. Despite all that we got to around about where we wanted to in the end. Once we hit the sales cycle we came up against other obstacles. We would screen the film to the head of a distribution company, he or she would love it, and I mean really love it. They would then take it back to their marketing department who would scratch their heads and say 'we don't know how to sell this' and the deal would fall through.
I'm no marketing genius but vigilante activity is on the front page of newspapers around the world every single day. I would have thought embracing the controversy rather than shying away from it would be the way to sell the film. So I guess now the film still has it's biggest obstacle to overcome, and that is to find a way to get to it's audience. I'm still confident the film is going to have an impact, but it's got to find a way to be seen by the public at large.
WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR THE FILM IN AUSTRALIA?
There's a limited theatrical release starting on October the 16th and the DVD/BD release is happening the following week. I'm not sure yet what the plan for VOD in Australia is.
WHAT ARE SOME FILMS THAT HAVE INFLUENCES YOUR WRITING?
Wow, impossible to answer this one. I think I would have to say every film I've ever seen. You're always analysing, asking yourself why did they make that choice, was that in the script or was that the actor or director's choice. I think you actually learn more by watching bad films than good films. It becomes clear really quickly what works and what doesn't work. After watching any film I always l ask myself what would I have done differently, how, in my opinion could I make the film better.
But I can say that certain scripts have influenced the style I try to use. Parts of the script for 'Basic Instinct' are sublime. The way Eszterhas paints such a vivid picture with a minimum of words is fantastic. I try and write so that my scripts read really fast, so I use the absolute bare minimum of words. It's ironic but most producers and directors hate reading scripts so you have to try and make the read as fast and as enjoyable as possible.
YOU ARE ALSO A NOVELIST. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT LEAD YOU TO WRITING?
I read voraciously as a child and pretty much up until the point I started writing, then I stopped reading altogether, although I am making a point of trying to read more now. I guess in reading all those books I developed a vivid imagination and then of course one day I watched a film and said the same thing everyone says at one point or another. "That was shit, I could do better than that!' and then the journey started. I wrote a novel which I thought was genius but of course it was terrible and in trying to understand why it was terrible I started to study story telling, the mythology of stories, hero's journey, all of that stuff and then I discovered screenwriting and fell in love with the challenge of writing visually.
BOOK OR SCREENPLAY... WHICH IS MORE CHALLENGING?
They each have their own challenges but for me at this moment in time I'd have to say book.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FILM?
Another one that's impossible for me to answer. THE MATRIX comes to mind, as does THE CROW, SE7EN', FIELD OF DREAMS, POWDER, PREDATOR, TERMINATOR 1 & 2, TOY STORY 1 & 2', THEY LIVE, THE PRESTIGE', THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, INK, FORBIDDEN PLANET, REDBALL, TEARS OF THE SUN, and a bunch more that don't come to mind right now. Some of those I only like certain sequences, or the 'feel' of. For example I thought MINORITY REPORT would have been absolutely fantastic if the the film had ended in the hotel room, the question we needed answered was answered in that room, the extra thirty minutes killed it.
ONE OF THE FOCAL POINTS OF OUR WEBSITE IS "GUILTY PLEASURE MOVIES". DO YOU HAVE ONE?
The last 15-16 mins, particularly the last 10 of INK, I think FIELD OF DREAMS and POWDER would have to fall into that category also, same with THE CROW. You know there are probably a bunch of others but like everyone is these days I'm overwhelmed by the amount of content we have access to so I don't really seem to have time to watch older movies anymore. I guess I'm always looking for the next guilty pleasure. I'd probably also add the TV shows ARROW, SUPERNATURAL, and even the TEEN WOLF reboot, the kids love it and I seem to find myself watching it with them.
IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE FILM, ASIDE FROM JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE, THAT PEOPLE SHOULD SEE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
That's a hard one. Can I say our next film? (laughs) Oh, maybe AVATAR, oh wait, everyone has seen that one. I'd have to say the film hasn't been made yet, it would be a film that speaks to the human condition and shows us just how much we've lost our way, how far off the path we are, but it would have to somehow have a lasting impact on people and be the precursor to global change. And it would need to be entertaining. I've got this script in my drawer.....
DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING ELSE IN THE PIPELINE THAT YOU'RE ABLE TO SHARE?
For sure. Kel and I are in the process of setting up our next film, it's going to be a horror film that has elements of SAW and BURIED, it looks like we may be trying our hand at crowd-funding for that one so everyone should keep an eye out and pitch in $5 for the project. :-) I'm currently doing a re-write for a film about a legendary Australian sports person, can't say much about that one except that it's a very exciting project. I have a TV pilot doing the rounds in the states that I would love to see get up, it's in the vein of THE EQUALISER, with a bit of JACK REACHER and JOHN DOE thrown in. And I have some new spec scripts I'm working on, and some other specs that I'm pitching. That's about it, fingers crossed at least one of them can get going.
AND FINALLY I WILL LEAVE YOU WITH THE LAST WORD. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT JOHN DIE: VIGILANTE?
Nothing. I'd really like people to go into it with an open mind and to just go with it and see where it takes them.
STEVE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME AND GOOD LUCK WITH THE FILM.
Thank you for having me!
JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE opens in select cinemas on October 16 and will be released to home entertainment through MONSTER PICTURES on October 22.