Feeding on the Mind of Eric England
Eric England is a filmmaker and director. In Part Two, our dissection sets its eyes on Get the Girl and Josie.
Directors like John Carpenter and writers like Stephen King, they see their stories adapted and sequels produced without their involvement. Although I haven’t yet watched Contracted: Phase II, I was curious on whether you’re concerned at all or apprehensive about others “taking your baby,” so to speak. For instance, if you were to direct Hellraiser, and you were Clive Barker, would you be bothered by a film twenty-something years later with your brand attached to it receiving a negative reception?
Ironically, at one point, I was asked to come in and pitch for both HELLRAISER and HALLOWEEN when they were still at Dimension. At first I was definitely upset, and wanted to have full creative control, but I was young. I think John Carpenter has a pretty healthy attitude toward the matter; as long as you’re being compensated fairly, there’s really nothing to get too bent out of shape about. Change is inevitable and you can’t control your reputation or legacy forever. Hell, there’s very little control you have over the way audiences and people in general perceive you anyway. So it boils down to how much of a control freak you want to be. And in my experience, learning to let things evolve organically and not be too precious about the creative process is the best way to not lose your mind.
After 2013’s release of Contracted and Roadside, it wasn’t until 2017 that your next film saw the light of day, how was your time spent in-between those years and where does the development of your comedy crime thriller Get the Girl fit into that?
ROADSIDE was actually shot before CONTRACTED but released after. And GET THE GIRL was shot at the end of 2014 but didn’t release until the beginning of 2017 due to distribution challenges and scheduling. After CONTRACTED, I was extremely hesitant to do another horror film, especially a low-budget one. I didn’t want to get trapped in that box, so I was looking to do things that were outside the expectations people had of me and show that I could do things other than just gross audiences out. GET THE GIRL was an opportunity to work with new collaborators (in front of and behind the camera) and play with different genres and tones. I don’t know that it was the right project for me to do next, but it was another opportunity and a great learning experience.
However, between CONTRACTED and GET THE GIRL, I was still working on various bigger-budget horror films that unfortunately didn’t make it to camera. And then I began working on JOSIE in 2016, so I stayed pretty busy.
Get the Girl is more comedy-thriller than horror, although it certainly has an off-kilter horror-adjacency to it. Something I noticed about this film was the way it turned a familiar concept on its head. Get the Girl follows a young man that buys the guidance of another man to help him reel in a girl he likes, a la Hitch. Everything takes a turn when that other man kidnaps him and that girl and begins a faux hostage situation. The twists and turns are fast and frequent in this film, with a very attention-detailed script, what was your mindset developing this film?
I just wanted to do something more comedic but still dark. I thought it would be fun to tackle the cliched romantic comedy tropes and spin them on their head, with a bit of my own personal dark humor added in. There’s definitely a salt-and-peppering of horror in the mix as well, which was planned — but the goal was to focus on branching out of “true horror” with witty dialogue, a more complex story and a bit of a bigger, glossier aesthetic.
At a point, does it feel like Clarence becomes less a Romeo and more a Dahmer?
That was the goal, but I don’t know if I nailed it in the end. Some of the more sensitive elements are a bit clumsy and come off as problematic, but that wasn’t the intention. The production had to be rushed a bit due to budgetary and scheduling restrictions, so I wasn’t able to control the tone as much as I originally had planned to. And being that I was still a young filmmaker, I was uncertain of how much to lean into how creepy Clarence truly was — especially from a sales and distribution standpoint. But the story was absolutely meant to be a satire and poke fun at the “heroic male” and “damsel in distress” archetypes. I like to view the 2nd half of the film as a bit of a fever dream, where Clarence is fantasizing about himself as more of a hero than he actually is. I wish I would have leaned into that more in the visual telling of the story, but it’s still a fun and twisted little movie.
You mentioned Robert Rodriguez, and that’s a film director I have noticed comes up a lot in the interviews on Readers Digested, would you say his films are among the ones that influenced you the most? What does your Mount Rushmore of Horror and genre film making look like?
His films definitely stood out to me as a young, aspiring filmmaker. They’re fun and entertaining, and the stories behind them are sometimes as interesting as the films themselves. And I would have to say that my Mt. Rushmore of Genre filmmakers would be: Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Craven, John Carpenter and James Wan.
In February 2018, your most recent film Josie premiered at the Mammoth Film Festival prior to a home-video release in March by Screen Media Films. I don’t know what’s cooler about the film, the fact Sophie Turner was brought onboard for the project, or the fact the English actress from Game of Thrones and X-Men fame brought with her a Southern accent. How did the actress become involved in the project, I understand that another actress was previously attached to the role?
That’s correct. The incredible Anya Taylor-Joy was originally attached to play Josie when the film was titled HUNTSVILLE. Unfortunately, her schedule just became too busy after the success of THE WITCH, and we weren’t able to get into production fast enough to keep her. But fortunately for us, Sophie Turner had read the script in between shooting seasons of GAME OF THRONES, and she loved it. Her agent got in touch with us, and I loved the idea of her playing Josie, so we met up and hit it off immediately. We agreed to make the movie right there on the spot, and thankfully we were able to move things along quickly enough to keep her. She was a blast to work with and is just an all around amazing person. I’m very proud of the work we did together.
Sophie is, of course, not the only familiar face involved with the film, with names like Dylan McDermott and Jack Kilmer. Obviously, this isn’t to dismiss anyone else you’d worked with, but how does shooting a film at the scale of Josie compare to shooting a film like Madison County years only a few years prior?
It was a completely different process from anything I had experienced prior. MADISON COUNTY was shot on my Grandfather’s farm, in complete isolation with a bunch of my film school buddies and local filmmakers from Arkansas. On this, we dealt with A-list companies, agents and even paparazzi — just a lot of the additional hoops that come along with making “Hollywood” movies. Obviously the budget was bigger which allowed us the resources to hire a more experienced cast and crew, which brought a lot of talent and wisdom to the project. It was an extremely collaborative process with a lot more people involved.
Unlike any of your previous films we discussed, Josie was written by Anthony Ragnone II, how was your approach to directing the film different than a film you’d written the screenplay for yourself?
It honestly wasn’t as different as I thought it would be from a directing standpoint. I made sure that Anthony was included in every part of the process, and we had so many discussions about the script that by the time we were making the film, it felt like we had written it together. I was always respectful of him being the original author, and we had a wonderful collaboration between us. It was nice having another brain to bounce challenges and solutions off of, especially when we had to adjust dialogue on set.
Josie is more thriller than straightforward horror, following a local recluse named Hank and a mysterious high school student who comes to town. Their relationship, at best, tempers the line between appropriate and inappropriate, and the story is mostly based on the oddities surrounding their relationship with each other. What would you say was trying to be conveyed most in this film?
Part of the reason I wanted to make this film was because Anthony wasn’t trying to make any social or political statements with the script. And I didn’t have much interest in doing so either. We wanted to approach it like a classic film, from the days before every movie had to smuggle some underlying moral subtext or commentary inside it. This story was strictly about the characters and their actions and consequences. It was a slice-of-life piece. And a taboo one at that. There was something timeless about that that I really liked.
Although Josie isn’t associated, the Southern set is enough to draw the connection. Your films Madison County, Contracted, and Roadside all feature a credit to your company Southern Fried Films. Clearly, you felt attached enough to pay homage to it on some level, but what exactly does it mean to you to be “Southern Fried,” and how does that background influence your films?
Growing up anywhere, you can’t help but soak up some of the influences of your surroundings. Having moved to LA at 19, it’s as if I was born and raised in Arkansas but grew up in Los Angeles. Coming from the South, I’ve always noticed that there’s a bit more of a straight-forward nature down there. People are honest, careful and resourceful — hardworking, but not in a “hustle culture” kind of way like you find in more metropolitan areas. There’s a simplicity to life and an appreciation for the little things. But there’s also a sensitivity and hesitancy toward things that go against the norm. It’s a unique combination of love and fear, and that duality is something I find interesting.
I think that’s why I’m drawn to darker and more taboo subject matter. I was raised in a pretty religious area, in a pretty religious household, which inevitably shaped the way I view the world. It’s interesting to me that the South is known for “comfort food”, or “soul food”, which is good for your soul — but usually bad for your health. Again, duality. I think that the perspective I bring to any story is a mixture of that light and darkness that I observed during my formative years.
Thank you very much for speaking with us! And now, if you have anything else you want to talk about, a project you want to plug, or something you’re working on, you now have the chance to do so!
My pleasure! Right now, I’m just surviving the Coronavirus and being grateful to be alive like the rest of us. But I’m writing some new stories that I’m excited to share with the world when they’re ready.