Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with writer Jared Rivet about his latest film, the thriller “Jackals” starring Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, and Jonathon Schaech.
We sat down with Rivet to discuss the 10-year process of getting the film made, his most surreal moment during production, and what it’s like to host a Dead Right Horror Trivia Night.
TrunkSpace: We read that “Jackals” was 10 years in the making for you. How did those 10 years ultimately become a reality? What events occurred that brought it from feature script to produced film?
Rivet: I wrote the script in late 2006 and my reps started shopping it around in 2007. Between 2006 and 2015, a lot of people wanted to make it, starting with Tobe Hooper. With Tobe onboard, we almost got the movie made three different times. But, as is usually the case in Hollywood, something just kept stopping it from happening. Tobe moved onto other projects eventually and then the script kept finding new directors, some really great people, up to and including Darren Bousman, and that iteration came very close to happening as well (it got announced all over the place). But Darren was also trying to get “Abattoir” made and that was his passion project. Right after he got that going a producer got involved with “Jackals” who had access to funding and we had to move forward without Darren.
Kevin Greutert had been eager to do the movie for a couple of years (the script really did have a life of its own and had gotten around). He was someone I was very eager to work with and at the time and I knew what his take on the movie was. I was also working with Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan on another project (still unproduced) and they adored Kevin. So when my producer, Tommy Alastra, asked me who we should be looking at to direct, I nominated Kevin.
TrunkSpace: At any point during those 10 years did you consider shelving “Jackals” and walking away from it?
Rivet: The straight answer is: no. The script had been so well received and had gotten so many interesting/cool people excited over the years, it always felt like something that was going to get made someday. A lot of screenwriters I know always talk about the scripts that never seem to die, they get contacted a couple times a year by producers/directors/executives asking about it. “Jackals” was one of those.
The complicated answer is: the only times I thought about shelving it were when something similar would come out. So I wrote the script in 2006, which means “Ils” had not come out (here in the States), “The Strangers” had not come out, “You’re Next” had not come out. And movies about satanic cults had pretty much died out at that point. So I had to really decide when similar projects started coming out and doing a great job with the same kind of material whether or not I should just walk away from it.
Not only did I feel like “Jackals” was different enough in terms of set up and overall tone from the home invasion movies that came out after I wrote the script (and the shockingly huge number of movies incorporating cults into their plotlines over the last eight or nine years), but as I said earlier, the script had taken on a life of its own. It had become one of my calling cards and someone was going to make it, whether I felt like it should be scrapped or not.
In other words, despite some moments of doubt and frustration at seeing similar movies come out and do well, no, I never felt like I should shelve it.
TrunkSpace: Not only has “Jackals” been made into a film, but it was made into a film starring some really great actors. Did you ever anticipate that you’d be promoting your film alongside of people like Johnathon Schaech, Deborah Kara Unger and Stephen Dorff?
Rivet: Honestly, no. I’m a very unpretentious guy, it’s rare that I assume any big names will ever be involved with something I wrote. At the stage I’m at, I would have been completely satisfied with all unknowns. But then they tell you Deborah Kara Unger is going to play the mom and Johnathon Schaech is going to play the dad, you start frantically re-reading the script, paranoid that their dialogue isn’t good enough or that their characters should be more fleshed out. And then you met them and they tell you how much they love the script and their characters particularly and you breathe a sigh of relief.
I look at the cast and I just see flashes of all of these movies they’ve been in. During production, I got to ask Deborah what it was like working with Cronenberg on “Crash.” I had a lot of conversations with Johnathon (who is also a successful horror screenwriter) about the time he was working with Tobe Hooper on one project while I was working with him on “White Zombie.” And I finally got up the courage to ask Stephen Dorff about “The Gate,” which was probably the geekiest thing I did on this whole project.
TrunkSpace: What has been the most surreal experience for you thus far on your “Jackals” journey?
Rivet: There have been a lot of surreal experiences! If anything, it’s gotten more and more surreal as the movie has been released. But I think the most surreal moment for me was probably during filming. There’s a scene in the movie that has stayed in the script virtually unchanged since the beginning. It’s the scene early in the movie where Justin (Ben Sullivan) wakes up tied to a chair and first realizes what’s going on.
Like I said, that scene really hadn’t changed very much in 10 years and it is one of the few (perhaps only) scenes in the movie where the entire cast is all together in one room (the baby is even there). It’s a very intense, dramatic scene and everyone has something to do. They shot it in the last week of filming to accommodate Stephen Dorff’s schedule (he only worked on the movie for five days) so I had already gotten used to seeing everyone else in character, acting out scenes I had written, but now we had Stephen playing Jimmy in this pivotal scene that I felt like I had seen so many times in my head. And like I said, it’s possibly the only time the entire cast is all together in one room.
I had to hold in how emotional it made me to see it unfold before my eyes, with everyone just hitting it out of the park. And when it was over, Kevin turned to me and he could see that I had this weird smile on my face and he asked me how I was doing. I got choked up and said, “I’ve been waiting 10 years to see that scene.”
TrunkSpace: Since “Jackals” was ultimately greenlit, has it had a direct impact on your career and getting other projects made? Will having a film produced cut down on future 10-year endeavors?
Rivet: Ironically enough, no. I feel like the whole time the movie was moving forward, from getting the greenlight to pre-production to filming to post production and then finally having it sell to Scream Factory, might have been the quietest, slowest period of my entire career. Things were starting to look grim. There was a good year and a half of wondering when (or if!) the movie was going to come out once it was finished and I don’t know why but things grew very cold career-wise in the interim.
Since the trailers came out and now with the release of the film, things have definitely changed. Although, heartbreakingly, one of the projects that started to regain momentum in August was “White Zombie” for Tobe to finally direct. When he passed away, the project died with him.
And to answer your second question, a script I just optioned in August was something I had written five years ago. So maybe having a movie produced has cut the duration of my 10-year endeavors in half?
TrunkSpace: A lot of times writers and filmmakers venture into the horror genre and then get pigeonholed there. However, you seem to have a genuine love for all things that go bump in the cinematic night. Is horror ultimately where you want to be creating?
Rivet: Absolutely. I’m a hardcore horror guy through and through. I love the genre and I have no plans to leave it. I think my goal, however, is to always try and appeal to a wider audience. It’s a bigger challenge. To hopefully satisfy the horror crowd while simultaneously making something that the average moviegoer can also appreciate.
TrunkSpace: You also co-host the Dead Right Horror Trivia Night. For those who don’t know what that is, can you fill us in?
Rivet: Dead Right Horror Trivia is a monthly event that was originally created in 2013 by Ryan Turek and Rebekah McKendry at Elric Kane’s Jumpcut Café in Studio City, California. It is basically pub trivia, but only questions about horror. I originally played on a team (our name was “Zombie Redneck Torture Family”) and we won a lot. Too much. Everyone hated us.
And then two things happened: in 2015 the Jumpcut Café closed down and Ryan Turek got a sweet gig as the director of development at Blumhouse Productions. At that point, I stopped playing and became a regular co-host with Rebekah McKendry and we found a new place to operate out of, a really cool toys and collectibles store in Burbank called Blast from the Past. So we’ve been there every month for two years now and I think I am the only person who has been to every single game.
TrunkSpace: Fans of horror are passionate about the genre. Do they come to throw down some serious knowledge at Dead Right Horror Trivia Night? Is it difficult to stump the crowds who show up?
Rivet: Yes. It’s tough because you have to find a balance with the questions. We host a good 120 or 130 people every month (in teams of 4 to 6) and they’re all hardcore horror fans, but not everybody is a superhuman horror Brainiac. So the trick is to go kind of “intermediate-to-expert” in terms of the questions. You don’t want everyone scratching their heads with their jaws on the floor over how hard the question is, but you also can’t just ask them how many “Halloween” movies there are. It’s about finding a balance, throwing in some gimmes and making it tough for the folks who really know their shit.
TrunkSpace: What is the craziest, zaniest, downright spookiest thing to ever go down at a Dead Right Horror Trivia Night?
Rivet: That’s a toughie – the nights themselves are usually fun and social, friends catching up, people networking, debating the merits of recent releases. For the kind of material we cover, the events themselves are pretty bright, raucous occasions.
I guess the coolest things have been some of the guest presenters, we’ve had folks come in to do guest rounds like Stuart Gordon, Jeff Lieberman, Tom Holland, Patrick Melton, Tom Holland, Darin Scott, and Simon Barrett. That’s always a thrill, and they’re usually doing trivia questions about their own work which is a lot of fun.
Other than that, we have a lot of great horror filmmakers that come to play every month and every now and then you find yourself accidentally asking a trivia question about a film someone in the audience actually wrote or directed or starred in or wrote a book about…
TrunkSpace: In addition to writing and hosting, you’ve been performing regularly with Earbud Theater, writing, directing, and acting in a number of “scary radio shows” that air on the net. You’re starring in a new series due up later this month. What can you tell us about it?
Rivet: I love doing those. They give me a creative satisfaction that I haven’t found in anything else. I’ve written and directed (and acted in) four episodes and then the Earbud Theater people occasionally ask me to come and do voice work on other people’s productions. I genuinely wish there was a way to make a living doing these things because there is something so cool about scaring people with sound. You have to use an entirely different part of your brain to write that way, I like to say that you’re writing a screenplay with no screen. Everything has to be conveyed entirely through sound.
I was honored that Casey Wolfe asked me to play one of the two leads in the upcoming serial “After The Haunting.” It’s their first “serialized” podplay, very ambitious, it will be released in five parts. I play a college student who returns to his hometown only to discover that a horrific supernatural incident has taken place in his absence. He and his best friend decide to investigate and this leads to some very creepy, horrible, violent events. I keep telling people it’s kind of like what happened to the other people living in Cuesta Verde the day after the Freelings drove away from their imploding house.
TrunkSpace: What is it about a radio show and using audio-only elements that lends to the horror genre? What can be achieved in that space that perhaps is out of reach in film and other visual mediums?
Rivet: I think it’s more interactive in a way. You are forcing people to create images in their heads with dialogue, music and sound effects. And I think I can freak people out with greater efficiency by making them create pictures in their heads. My last, most recent episode (“Trails”) has some stuff in it that I think would ONLY work as an audio drama. If it were literalized with visuals, I don’t know that the big moments in that episode would work.
In fact, that’s usually my first criteria when I’m developing an idea for one: is this something that would be better suited for a visual medium? Because if it is, I will probably be inclined to put it in the future visual-screenplay pile.
It gives me an outlet to be experimental and take risks and play and try things I would never be allowed to do by a studio. And simultaneously, I get to work with really cool actors and an amazing sound designer (Craig Good) who help me bring scary stories to life. And then it goes out into the world and people get to hear it and hopefully get the shit scared out of them.
TrunkSpace: October is just around the corner, which means, Halloween is almost here. As a horror buff, are you big on all things October 31? Do you go crazy big on the costume front?
Rivet: I’m less of a costume guy and more of a decorations and events guy. I dress up for horror trivia (last year I was Beetlejuice) but I think I’m always daunted by the fact that I’m blind without my glasses. So anything I do has to somehow incorporate eyewear, which really limits your options.
But to answer your overall question: I love Halloween. I love the pumpkin flavored everything, I love that people are gobbling up horror movies and looking for movie suggestions. But my favorite thing in recent years has to be the all-night horrorthon at the New Beverly Cinema, the revival theater owned by Quentin Tarantino. Brian Quinn and Phil Blankenship put together these secret marathons every October and they don’t tell anyone what the titles are going to be. You’re at their mercy. And these things sell out in a matter of seconds. No one knows what they’re going to be seeing and getting tickets is like trying to get a Mondo poster. It’s amazing. And honestly, these things have been the best movie-going experiences of my life.
So between that and all of the other screenings you can go to in L.A. and Halloween Horror Nights and escape rooms…the sheer amount of Halloween themed activities in this city is insane. You could do something new and horrific every night in October and never repeat yourself.
TrunkSpace: Can you give us a little taste of what’s to come for your writing career? What are you working on that you can discuss?
Rivet: As I mentioned earlier, I just optioned something that I wrote five years ago that I am extremely excited about. I don’t know how much I can say about it at this point but it is absolutely nothing like “Jackals” and is something more in the vein of 80’s/90’s horror franchises, like “Nightmare on Elm Street” or the “Child’s Play” movies. It’s been a long time since we’ve had anything like that and I think someone needs to change that.
And I am currently shopping around a new feature script that is based on one of my Earbud Theater episodes. I know, after all of my proselytizing about how the Earbud stuff wouldn’t work in a visual medium, I am totally contradicting myself. I can’t say which one it is, but it’s an episode that had a lot of people telling me would work as a feature, so I thought about it, figured out how to do it, wrote it and now we wait and see if folks are interested in making it. And even with “Jackals” out in the world, this is still a nerve wracking, maybe/maybe-not situation that can make the most seasoned veterans go out of their minds.
Other than that, I have a horror TV series project that I am currently pitching. It’s a paranormal concept that I have been working on for a really long time. But if “Jackals” is any indication, sometimes it’s the ones that you don’t give up on that have a habit of getting made.
“Jackals” is available now on VOD and arrives on Blu-ray October 3.
You can listen to Earbud Theater productions here.