On The Rise With…Eric England
Hey guys! This week we’re doing something a little different. Meet Eric England, a writer-director-producer whose name you may recognize from an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with Ace Marrero, who has starred in several of Eric’s films. Eric has been making a name for himself in the horror and thriller genres the past few years, starting with the horror film “Madison County”, up to last year’s mega hit, “Contracted”…both of which you can watch on Netflix.
Here’s where the “different” comes in. Thanks to the success of “Contracted”, Eric was interviewed and profiled by just about every source possible…which can lead to a lot of monotony in the types of questions he’s asked. (Seriously, Google his name and “Contracted” and you’ll find out everything you want to know about him!) So I thought, “Why not interview him conversationally and just ask him some creative questions and get his thoughts and ideas on different things that he may not have had to answer before?” Eric was down for it…and here we are! Read on to see what Eric thinks about the current state of horror films, what he’s been working on recently, and what movies scared him as a young’un…
Michael Marcelin: What’s the one movie you wish you had written and directed?
Eric England: That’s really tough to answer. I think there’s a lot of movies out there that I wish I’d made, but I don’t know if there’s many movies out there that I wish that I’d have come to the epiphany first on. I’ve actually had a lot of people say that to me about “Contracted”…whether it’s in the vein of, “Oh, I was working on something like that” or “Why didn’t I think of that first?” But I don’t know…I’ve never really had that feeling. When I watched “True Romance” for the first time, I was one of those people that had seen it as a kid, but I didn’t remember it. So I revisited it as an adult, and it was almost like a new experience for me. I remember watching that movie and feeling like, “That’s the type of movie I would make”. Or if I was going to do a love story, that’s how it would be…in that vein. So if I had to say anything, it would probably be in the world of “True Romance”…or even “Scream”. It’s funny, shooting my last movie, there were a lot of “Scream”-esque moments that I can only attribute to slipping in subconsciously, because I definitely didn’t mean for them to be as “Scream”-esque as they came off. But while filming, I was like “Oh! This kind of oozes ‘Scream’”. And with “Scream” being my favorite movie, maybe there was some weird subconscious thing there, that’s like, “Maybe you’re drawn to this film because in some past life, you could have made this”. (laughs)
MM: If you had to choose between doing an indie film for less money, and have complete creative control…or doing a studio film where there will be lots of hands in the cookie jar…which would you choose?
EE: Definitely an independent film. It’s a much harder road. They’ve both got their pros and cons. The only advantage of a studio film, in my own personal opinion, is obviously the money involved. Which isn’t necessarily always the high point, I could imagine? I’ve worked on studio material…I worked with NBC/Universal on a TV movie once, which, if you want to get down to the red tape of it all, is a studio produced and released project. But I kind of had a bad experience on that, so I can speak from that particular perspective, which is: the money doesn’t always go into the places you want it to. You don’t have as much control…because execs are getting their paychecks and people are putting their kids through private school and all that stuff, so on an independent film, you have more control. You know where the money’s going…you know that you’re putting it on the screen. My philosophy is always that, if I’m going to bat for a movie and can theoretically give myself a heart attack because I’m going to give my heart and soul to it, and stay up late nights, drinking lots of alcohol on my days off, and drinking lots of coffee while shooting and working crazy hours…I could potentially die from obvious health reasons… I’m going to go out doing a movie I can say at the end of the day I fought for all the way.
MM: You’ve done a lot of films in the horror and thriller genres. What’s a genre you haven’t tackled yet that you would like to eventually helm?
EE: I don’t really know that there’s a particular genre that I want more than the other, but I think if I had to put anything into it, it would be more action. That’s kind of a new thing. Actually, right before shooting my latest movie, “Get The Girl”, I really was kind of afraid of doing action just because I’ve never really shot anything that had true stunts and special effects. On “Get the Girl”, we had a dedicated stunt team, we had squibs, we had firearms, we had all these crazy pads and all the stuff that goes along with doing stunts…and we had it on a very small scale. Everything went surprisingly smooth. So having experienced that on a small scale, there was part of me that was like, “Oh man, I’d love to tackle my own ‘Heat’, or my own bank heist ‘Point Break’ movie someday.” That’s something I’d love to tackle…kind of like that action-thriller-fun kind of movie. It’s definitely up there. But at the same time, I’d love to do something a little more psychological…in the vein of David Fincher. So I would say those are very high on my priority list, for sure.
MM: Are there any actors you are dying to work with? If so, who?
EE: You know, I get asked that quite a bit, and I usually don’t have an answer. But I do today, actually! I’d really love to work with Jake Gyllenhaal. I’m a big fan of his. I just saw “Nightcrawler” recently, and was blown away by him. I’m just a huge fan of pretty much anything he’s done. And I don’t know why, but I tend to want to work with people others in Hollywood would deem difficult. So people like Shia Labeouf, and people who are constantly being criticized for things they do or things they say. There’s something about those people that present a huge challenge to me, and for some reason, it’s a challenge I want to take on. Which is odd, because normally I hate difficult people. But I think those people tend to be difficult because they’re such eccentric artists, and I tend to be a fan of their work, surprisingly. I’ve dealt with some people in the past…and I’m not going to name any names (laughs)…who were very eccentric, and at times difficult to deal with…but the work they gave on screen totally shined through. And I’m like, “I understand why these people have careers. I understand why they continue working. And I see how they have found success by being so much more difficult to deal with.” It’s because they’re extremely passionate, and their intentions are in all the right places…but their execution is sometimes questionable.
MM: Do you prefer directing films you write, or those you don’t? Do you feel less pressure when it’s someone else’s words?
EE: That’s tough to say, because I haven’t directed a feature that I haven’t written yet. I’ve directed some smaller short films or experimental stuff that I didn’t necessarily generate the material, but feature-wise…”Get the Girl”, the movie I just finished shooting, didn’t initially start out with my idea. There was no screenplay there, but I took the concept from another guy and retooled it into my own thing and eventually wrote the screenplay, so that’s about as close as I’ve come so far. I have worked on other people’s material for stuff I’m either shooting down the road that’s a little bigger, or things I was prepping that just fell through. I honestly think it depends on the material. “Get the Girl”, even though I wrote the screenplay 100%, I was really confident in that screenplay and I was really happy with how it turned out. The response to it was really good, so in that case, I think I was happier having written it myself. But I did like the objectivity of coming to it fresh, and not necessarily having developed the log line or the concept right away…so there was already this small foundation there for me to bring an objective opinion to it and roll off of. But as I mature as a filmmaker, I do think there’s something inside me that does like coming to a piece of material that either has been established, or is in the works, that I can bring my own perspective to. What I’ve found my strength is, as a storyteller, is looking at certain stories and figuring out how to put a unique spin on them while not making them way out in left field, but still keeping true to what they are. I want to believe that that’s kind of my strong suit…that I can bring that to almost any project. So I guess I would have to say I definitely feel most comfortable having some sort of input on the screenplay as a writer for sure.
MM: Here’s a “what if”: what would you do if you wrote a screenplay that you wanted to direct, but somehow, for some reason, an agent or manager says, “We want to get this made, but someone else wants to direct it”…would you let that happen, or would you always only want to direct the things that you write?
EE: That’s an interesting concept. I mean, if the money was there and the movie was absolutely going to be shot right away, no questions asked, I would probably allow it to happen. There are screenplays that are sitting on my computer right now that I wrote a couple years ago that I would love to retool. Some of them I actually am in the process of putting together with certain production companies or producers or talent and working on getting those made…but I’ve learned as I mature and with each movie I make as a director, it changes the perspective of what I need to do next. Three years ago, before making “Contracted”, maybe I wanted to make some sort of creature movie. But now, having done “Contracted”, which is a zombie movie…but has elements of creature and body horror…and then stepping into something as drastically different as “Get the Girl”, which is more like a dark comedy crime thriller…having stepped that far away from pure horror…it may not make sense for me to go back and do something that grounded in the genre right away. So I really think it depends on the timing and what the resources are. So if someone came to me and said, “Hey, we have the money right now…so and so’s going to direct it…” It also depends on who that director is. If I’m a fan of that director, then absolutely. No questions asked. And I’d want to see that movie made through that person’s eyes. I’d be down for that. But if it’s a “whoever” director, and we may get the money…I think at this point in my career, I could maybe try to go and get it made myself and on my own terms. So I’d play it that way.
MM: You’re active on Twitter and you love hearing/reading other people’s thoughts, good AND bad, about your movies. And you’re such a good sport about the bad, because a lot of writer/directors are really precious with their work, while you just kind of let things roll off your back. What advice would you give to other directors to just go with the flow, instead of being so precious with their material?
EE: I think if you’re going to be precious with your material, you might as well just get out of this business. You can’t take it personally. Everyone has an opinion and unfortunately, for the most part, they’re entitled to it. While you’re making movies for your audience, you’re not going to please everyone. I think I just learned, at the end of the day, as long as I’m doing work that I’m proud of, then I don’t feel the need to necessarily defend it, so to speak. People are going to say whatever they’re going to say, and I’m going to have my opinion on whatever it is. But at the end of the day, as long as I feel like my movie is the one that I wanted to make, then they love it or hate it, good or bad. I’m fine with that. As long as someone hates my movie for everything I intended for them to hate it for, then I’m fine with it. I usually only respond to people who are like, “Your movie didn’t have an ending” or “Your movie’s so stupid”. And I’m like, “Okay, that’s fine. You think my movie didn’t have an ending. That just means you weren’t paying attention. And if my movie is stupid, that’s too broad of a statement for me to even entertain.” I just kind of take it stride by stride. I try to respond to the people who have the most colorful comments. I think stirring the pot keeps it interesting. If someone wants to watch my movie and make a statement about it, then I think I’m entitled to comment on that statement.
MM: Have you ever had an instance where someone realizes they’re talking to the writer-director of the movie while talking to you and then back pedal their original thoughts?
EE: Absolutely. I would say almost 90% of people have that exact reaction once they realize that I’m the guy who made the movie. They tend to either change their tune or stick to what they said and be like, “Oh, I still didn’t like this, but the movie’s not as bad as I came off”, or “I didn’t mean to bash it as bad as I did”. It’s one of those things where, if someone catches you, you kind of change your tune. Some people stick to their guns and they tell me to go f**k myself, which is fine (laughs). But for the most part, people change their tune. For me, I’ve found that those tend to be the most promotional people you’ll find on the internet. They’ll talk crap about your movie, then you can kind of turn it around, and they’ll become your biggest promoters. So the more I can interact and engage with the people who are watching my films, the happier I am, because I want to know what they want to see and what they like and what they’re into or not.
MM: A lot of writers are told to “be commercial” and “write stories a mass audience wants to see”. Do you find, when you’re coming up with ideas, that you gravitate more towards those YOU want to make and see, or those a mass audience would run for.
EE: As weird as it sounds…both. I won’t write a screenplay if I don’t think there’s an audience for it. When I was a younger filmmaker…when I was in that world of, “What do I need to make? I need to make a movie by the end of the year…and if I don’t do something, I’m going to freak out and die”…it was like, “What movie can I make in my apartment using two rooms”? I think every storyteller has had that thought cross their minds. Like, “What can I tell with all the things in my house?” Eventually, you’re just trying to make a movie for yourself so you can make something. You’re trying to satisfy a model, as opposed to an audience. And for me, I won’t make a movie…I won’t even start writing a movie or even think about directing a movie…if I don’t think that there’s an audience. The same thing goes for material being sent to me. I have to see the trailer. I have to see the poster. Mainly because today, the world of the auteur is kind of a dead one. There was a big article released recently that talked about the death of the mid-budget movie. It was specifically speaking to filmmakers like David Lynch and John Waters and even Steven Soderburgh, who doesn’t really write his own material…but they’re filmmakers who make very particular types of movies. And they were saying those filmmakers…some of the most celebrated, living filmmakers today…are having trouble getting movies financed because they don’t want to work at a certain budget level.
So what that tells me is that these companies aren’t willing to pay, no matter who you are, for certain types of movies. So, looking at that, I’m not Steven Soderburgh…I have to kind of play the game a little more. So I think I do gravitate to more commercially viable material, whether it’s my own idea or not, but at the same time, I’m constantly looking at how I can manipulate that model to make it as artistically strong as I can. I want to keep my integrity as an artist and tell unique stories. If someone ever came to me and said, “Hey, we have this movie about cars turning into robots, and it’s going to make tons of money”, I’d say, “Well, that sounds a lot like ‘Transformers’.” But if they said, “Yeah, yeah, but we want to do something different than ‘Transformers’…but we kind of want it to look like ‘Transformers’ because it made a lot of money”, that’s where I would come in and be like, “How can I make this completely different where I feel I’m not selling myself out as an artist, but I’m still delivering to that audience that wants to see ‘Transformers’, but different?”
MM: Everyone believes horror has hit a slump, kind of like that time in the early-mid 90s where everything sucked until “Scream” came along and brought good horror back to the screen. What are some of the more recent horror films, indie or big budget, that you’ve really enjoyed that people may not have heard of, or didn’t give a chance to? Also, what do you think is the missing component these days that has put horror back in such a slump?
EE: You know, horror is cyclical. And it’s kind of funny, because it’s almost patterned in a way that’s so obvious that it makes people blind. When people say that horror is hitting a slump, they’re absolutely right. But the reason it’s hitting a slump is because, basically, it’s like what you said: we’re hitting that time where everything is becoming so oversaturated like the 90s…where you had your “Friday the 13th”movies… we’re just running things into the ground. Instead of the Jason Voorhees or the Freddy Kruegers, we have the “Paranormal Activities” and the demonic movies. We’re basically abusing the supernatural horror that was made popular by Blumhouse and Paramount and Universal and James Wan and people of that stature. So we’re just running a different subgenre into the ground. In my opinion, what we really need is another “Scream”. Not necessarily metaphorically, but literally. We need more self-aware genre films that comment on the state of the industry…not necessarily spoofing itself, but I just think that we need smarter movies, because a lot of these films are catering to that audience…but pretending that those audiences are stupid and that they don’t remember what came before it. They’re kind of stuck in their own mythologies and their own stories.
You know, when I go to watch a “Paranormal Activity” movie, what I would prefer to see, is a movie that is speaking to me as an audience member in 2015. Something that’s saying, “Hey, we know you’ve seen six of these damn things now, but we’re going to show you something a little different and play with your expectations,” as opposed to just keeping the mythology that they already started with the series, because people can almost foresee that coming already. It’s almost like the M. Night Shyamalan Syndrome, where we get that there’s going to be a twist at the end…but how do you put a twist on top of a twist? You have to keep…not necessarily reinventing the wheel, but evolving it. So that’s my personal stance on it. It’s the cyclical thing that happens with success…someone finds success and then everyone jumps on and runs it into the ground until the well has dried up, and then once everyone kind of goes away from it for a little bit, someone comes in and lights a fire, and everyone’s like “It’s reborn!” But it’s really, “No…you guys cooled off on it, and we just set it back on fire.”
But in terms of good genre movies as of late…I’ve actually been behind on genre films, unfortunately, but I tend to subscribe to the model of racing…I tend to bet on the horses, not the race, if that makes sense. I usually try to follow filmmakers. I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, who directed “You’re Next” and “The Guest”, which came out this year and was a lot of fun. And his writing partner, Simon Barrett… those guys make really cool movies. IFC Midnight is putting out some cool stuff. “Cheap Thrills” was one of my favorites. “Blue Ruin”, which isn’t really a horror film, but is extremely violent and graphic and horrific in its own right. “Starry Eyes” I really enjoyed…a lot of people are drawing comparisons of that to “Contracted”. Mainstream wise, I can’t really say that I’ve seen anything that I absolutely adored…but like I said, I’ve been in a vacuum making a movie. But there’s definitely some good stuff out there, and most of it, unfortunately, is on VOD. My buddy wrote this really cool werewolf movie called “Late Phases”, which I actually haven’t seen yet…but I’m a big fan of the movie’s director, Adrian Bogliano, who directed “Here Comes The Devil”, which came out last year and is a great movie. He’s a really talented director. So there’s a lot of really cool movies getting made.
MM: What’s the first horror movie, that you can remember, that scared the crap out of you as a kid?
EE: It’s either “Night of the Living Dead” or “Stephen King’s It”. I don’t know why, but those are the two movies that I remember sticking out to me. I also remember the ending of “Fright Night” freaking me out when I was a kid. But I can’t remember which one came first. It was definitely one of those three movies for sure.
MM: You were quoted as wanting to always step up your game in the genre and do fresh and unique things. Does that mean you would never be a repeat performer once you’ve covered a sub-genre, like slasher or supernatural? Or would it just have to be about the best sub-genre script you’ve ever read or written to go back to that mine?
EE: I think it’s really more in the vein of…I don’t want to find myself treading water, or doing similar things. I look at someone like Wes Craven, who was able to do “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream”, which are both considered slasher movies, but are both totally different from each other…yet both have his sensibilities. He even wrote one, but not the other. So for me, it would have to be something like that. Something like Sam Raimi, who did “The Evil Dead”, but later down the road, did “Drag Me To Hell”. I would be down to do something in the same sub-genre, as long as I find a way into it that’s different and unique. I can’t say that I would do a complete series like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and all those sequels. I don’t know that I’d want to be remaking the same movies over and over and over, unless I just had a really great mythology that I wanted to expand on. Having done “Contracted”, I can truly say that I do have other body horror ideas that are in the same vein as “Contracted”, but I’m very hesitant to approach them or even attempt to flesh them out…no pun intended…because I don’t know how soon I want to step back into those waters. So it’s a very thin line. I think for me, it’s just the matter of finding something that really speaks to me and not just going and doing something because someone says, “Oh, you’ve had success with this, we’ll just let you do whatever you want in this same world.”
MM: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
EE: That’s a good question…but it’s so tough to answer, because I’m so open and honest with my exposure online. A lot of people know that I’m color blind…a lot of people know that I have really bad OCD…I have no idea. I’m a really picky eater? (laughs)
MM: Who are some of your influences?
EE: I think my tops, so to speak, are: David Fincher…my absolute favorite director…I’m a big Hitchcock fan…he’s definitely in my top two or three. I’m a big fan of Tim Burton’s earlier stuff, although “Big Eyes” looks really good. I’m a big fan of a lot of contemporary and modern day directors, like James Wan…I’m a big Ben Affleck fan. I think he’s a really incredible director. My influences, I would say, are really scattered. I’m a big Spike Jonze fan. I like Tarantino, obviously. Tony Scott’s a big influence. But I would definitely say I go back towards Hitchcock and Fincher the most.
MM: Is there anything new on the horizon we can look forward to?
EE: “Get the Girl” is probably the biggest and most exciting right now…the one I’m putting a lot of eggs in the basket for. I’m really, really excited about it and hopefully I won’t be the only one sitting in the movie theater when it comes out.
MM: Tell us what it’s about.
EE: It’s about a wealthy young man who is head over heels in love with a girl who doesn’t know he exists. So one day he meets a really suave ladies man who talks him into staging a kidnapping in order to sweep this girl off her feet and look like a hero. But when one of the hired kidnappers is unexpectedly killed, the other kidnappers actually turn on him and hold her for ransom. So he’s forced to actually save her life while also not revealing to her that he staged this from the very beginning.
MM: That sounds awesome.
EE: Yeah, it’s quite a wild ride.
MM: Where can people follow you?
EE: @eric_england on Twitter. Eric England on Facebook. Ericengland33 on Instagram. And my blog Southern Fried Stories, where I try to just give a nitty gritty look at the life of a working filmmaker today. Kind of the trials and tribulations…the good, the bad…and especially the ugly.
Movie – Scream
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Director – David Fincher
TV Show – Seinfeld
Game – Sports games
Book – Harry Potter series
Screenwriter – Kevin Williamson
Food – Chinese food
Musician – Nirvana, Lynyrd Skynyrd