Interview with Victor Salva

Victor Salva is the man behind the “Jeepers Creepers” series. He has also directed the following films “Powder”, “Peaceful Warrior”, “Rites of Passage” and Clownhouse”. He is currently working on his latest film “Rosewood Lane”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Victor about his latest film and also his “Jeepers” series.

Mike Gencarelli: Give us some background on your latest film “Rosewood Lane”?
Victor Salva: Mike, “Rosewood Lane” is what I call a thriller in the vein of Carpenter’s “Halloween”, maybe the great grandfather of the kind of movies I call “killer in the shadows” thrillers, but in the case of “Rosewood” it is more like “the nightmare next door,” where the setting is your block, your neighborhood and the threat could literally be waiting for you out on the moonlit sidewalk just a few yards from your front door. I have always been a fan of suburban horror, because it always seemed the most likely. And the first trick of telling a good horror tale is telling one that draws you into it. Makes you believe. And convinces you, even if it is just for ninety minutes, that it is really happening. Or could really happen — to you. In the case of “Rosewood Lane”, right where you live. Those particular kinds of stories, the stories I saw of that nature on TV as a kid, say on “”The Twilight Zone”, “Night Gallery”, “Thriller”, “The Outer Limits”, “Tales from the Darkside” to name a few, and on the big screen like the original “Halloween”, or the original “Black Christmas”, or the original “Omen”, they have all informed “Rosewood Lane” which is my own entry into this genre.

MG: How does this film differ from your prior projects?
VS: “Rosewood Lane” is a character-driven, psychological thriller. I wouldn’t classify it as a horror film, though at the latest screening of the film, there were plenty of screams from the audience and a healthy number of jolts where the audience jumped out of their seats. I was also pleased to observe some couples at the preview, whose arms were being clutched by white-knuckled hands throughout most of the film. I know it sounds like I am some kind of mad sadist when I say this pleased me, but what it really meant to me was that the film was working and creating a very scary roller coaster ride for the folks who came to see it. Sometimes when you work in the horror genre you have to measure your success in screams, jumps, goose pimples and shivers. But Mike, the film does differ from just about every other film I have made. But how, really depends on how you yourself categorize films in the suspense and horror genre. “Rosewood Lane” is a very different kind of scare than the “Jeepers Creepers” films, or my upcoming horror entries “The Tattleman” or “Haunted”. “Rosewood Lane” sneaks up on you and gives you a series of goose pimple scenes before you start screaming and jumping out of your seat as the terror grows — where as a film with a creature that flies around every twenty-three years to nibble on us, falls into the more in-your-face, oh-my-god kind of monster movie tradition where the escalation is much less subtle. “Rosewood” has more story and more character than you are allowed in creature features. And in “Rosewood Lane”, a script I had written some time ago, my first and only screenplay with a female protagonist, I felt more permission to go to the psychological side of fear, and got to dip in a bit deeper (as I did in “Powder”, “Rites of Passage” and “Peaceful Warrior” some of my non horror films) to the inner journey of the characters — before I got to the really creepy and scary parts of the story.

MG: What was your biggest challenge during the production of this film?
VS: This was a small budget and a short shooting schedule as many of my early thrillers like “Clownhouse”, “The Nature of the Beast” and “Rites of Passage” were. When you work in that environment, everything is a challenge, because you are always what I call “running and gunning,” shooting as quickly as possible and moving onto the next scene. It is an exciting way to make movies, but also a dangerous and perilous one. You need to have a very well rehearsed cast and a very experienced crew, and on smaller budgets like this, you usually don’t. There is no time to rehearse and crew members, guys like you and me who have to bring a paycheck home each week to feed the family and pay the rent, don’t usually take smaller projects where the take home pay is much smaller as well. From a creative point of view, taking a few simple ideas, and not a lot of special FX, meaning you needed to create the scares without the benefit of a flying Creeper trying to eat people, and instead, create the scares with the rather the innocent image of a paperboy on his bike. I can tell you this, I was lucky to have been a student of all the wonderful Korean horror filmmakers these past few years, because I found myself working to create that kind of tone for “Rosewood Lane”, and executing the scares and shocks in much the same way as the Koreans, who I believe have elevated the art of the scare film. One of my favorite things to say about Korean horror is that those talented filmmakers, many of them, show us how to make something scary on a budget of 1.98. And in some ways I got to try my hand at that style and that scale of scaring people. This was the challenge, and like every strong challenge, an education for me.

MG: Tell us about working with Ray Wise after the “Jeepers Creepers” films?
VS: Ray and I have been good friends since I first worked with him back in 1994 on my film “Powder”. I had not seen “Twin Peaks”, but a lot of my friends had and said there was this phenomenon named Ray Wise on the show and that I needed to work with him. “Powder” was the first opportunity and I have tried to get Ray into just about every film I have ever made since. He is not only one of the most powerful and watchable actors I have had the pleasure of enhancing my body of work with, but he is also one of the kindest and most decent and wonderful human beings I have met on my journeys in Los Angeles. By the time “Rosewood Lane” came along, I hadn’t worked with Ray since my film “Peaceful Warrior” with Ray, Nick Nolte and Amy Smart. That was about seven years ago. It was great to see him again. I think we have a warm spot for each other (though I could be being presumptuous here) and I certainly have a great deal of respect for Ray and his quality of work. I am honored that he has deemed himself part of what I call my acting ensemble which I have been cultivating since ‘”The Nature of the Beast” back in 1994. But to answer your question more specifically: It’s always a pleasure to see Ray on your movie set. He gets it. He enjoys it. He comes prepared and delivers — every day. He to me is a rare find and I hope we work together until we are gray-haired old men.

MG: When casting for “Jeepers”, how did you know you found your Creeper with Jonathan Breck?
VS: Quite simply because he was the one, who at the Creeper auditions, walked in and scared the Bee-jeezus out of all of us. We still have that audition on tape (you can see it on the special features on the original DVD release of the first “Jeepers” film) where Jonathan had shaved his head, and came in sniffing around the room like the first thing that smelled good was going to be his dinner. If you go shopping for it on DVD – make sure you get the pressing of the DVD with all the original special features. I have been told that some “Jeepers” DVDs now available don’t have some of the programs we did for the first “Jeepers” DVD. But when it comes to knowing if an actor is right or wrong for a part, I usually know within about fifteen seconds of them walking into the room to audition, sometimes before they even opens their mouth, whether they are in the ballpark for booking the part they are there to read for. It is that fast sometimes. You are either right or not. You either get it or you don’t. I have always had an uncanny knack for recognizing if the right actor for the right part in my film has just walked in the door. It happens very quickly with me, and I don’t know if it is a sixth sense or just because it is my script and I have lived with these characters since I put them on the page, but I know when someone has walked in who understands what I understand about that character. I have been wrong on one or two occasions — I am not infallible. And I am also smart enough now, to go with an actor’s take on a character, when it turns out to be a better one than I originally had in mind. Sometimes you get an actor who has thought about the character in a totally different way than you have — and when you see it at an audition, after it throws you, you sometimes start to see it is fantastic, better than what you had written and you would be a fool not to make it part of the film. Being a writer/director is a high-wire act where you need to be a control freak, who doesn’t always have to be in control. The more confident I get that I am telling an interesting story, or the more comfortable I can be that the story may not turn out just the way I wanted — but maybe better or a bit different — the easier it is for me to see my actors as allies and not obstacles in telling my story. I have been very lucky at recognizing burgeoning talent, and seeing instantly that Justin Long and Gina Phillips were perfect for the brother and sister in “Jeepers”, or that Sean Patrick Flanery was just the right personification of “Powder”, or Jason Behr was the right boy to play Cambell Farley, a struggling and shattered gay kid, who was so lonely for his real father, that he fell right into the arms of a much more deadly version of him. I felt the same excitement when I saw Daniel Ross Owens read for the role of the very dark paperboy Derek Barber in “Rosewood Lane”. This was clearly another find, another perfect match. A strong actor with a great take on the character. In this case our “paperboy from Hell” who is in essence The Creeper of our suburban thriller. Every scary story needs its monster and Daniel filled those shoes — tennis shoes — nicely.

MG: Tell us if any of the rumors are true for “Jeepers Creepers 3” and when can we expect it?
VS: Mike, about the only thing I can tell you about it, is not to believe anything you hear or read about it. IMDB continually states that we are either already shooting it or that it is already completed. Readers of my blog know well and good the trials and tribulations of that film’s many starts and stops. And that pre-production hasn’t ever really started on this the third and last film of the “Jeepers” trilogy, though it has come close to going into production several times. I wish I could say when you would be seeing it. It is certainly something I would love to make and the script is very strong and has been written now for about five years. No one argues it is the best idea of all the “Jeepers” films, but it is still technically and independent feature, and getting it’s price tag of around 16 million together — especially now when money is more scarce in the movie biz than it ever has been, “Jeepers Threepers” as I like to call it, is still on the runaway, awaiting take-off orders from the tower. Ironic since it is one of the most requested horror sequels of all the current horror franchises and the Creeper himself was just voted fourth most scary movie monster in the history of cinema, according to a website poll. I can tell you that the script starts with a much-anticipated old west prologue that shows how the Creeper existed (and augmented his wardrobe) back before the days of the automobile. It is much bigger in scope that the two prior films, reintroduces Gina Philips character Trisha Jenner, reveals much more about the creature and his ancestry, and the film also brings the Creeper’s much missed Creeper Truck back into the mix. Everyone in the Creeper camp here, and fans from around the world, hopes this film will find its way to the big screen soon, but to venture when at this point seems unfair to all of us.

MG: Referring to “Jeepers Creepers”, would you consider it your greatest accomplishment?
VS: I am going to get a little philosophical with that question, Mike: I am not sure I would consider any of my films my greatest accomplishment in life, though in the timeline of my life they are all certainly points of great pride and accomplishment for me. I have no children to point to, as many of us who have become parents and made their lives about creating the next generation, to say: there is my greatest achievement. Some days I would argue that maybe my films, my art, are my children in some way. If I take that tact, would I consider “Jeepers” my greatest achievement? The “Jeepers” films are my most popular achievement, that is for certain, as well as two of my favorite accomplishments (since I am a horror film fan and have been since before I could shave). But my other children, “Powder”, “Peaceful Warrior”, “Rites of Passage”, Clownhouse”, and others, they all bring me great pride and joy as well. I also think the best is yet to come for me. I have more stories to tell and in all genres. Stories to make you jump, make you, think, and make you cry — or just take you on a good old-fashioned roller coaster ride. I am only sure of one thing: I am lucky to be able to dream my dreams on a big screen that shares them around the world.

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