We drop in on the Jack Brooks team’s latest!
It was hot, it was humid, pouring rain and the clouds were thunder-happy. Fitting, I suppose, as my visit to the set of The Shrine in Toronto this month was beginning its primary filming in what I was told would be in the torture room.
As I was nearing the address, I saw a very busy high school and out having a smoke was director Jon Knautz on a break. I knew I had arrived at the latest Brookstreet Pictures film. If Brookstreet sounds familiar it is because this is the team that was behind 2007’s successful Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer with Knautz and long time friend Trevor Matthews (Jack Brooks) reuniting for The Shrine.
The pair relocate their imagination from Canada to a small Polish village called Alvaina where a cult still practices the barbarism of human sacrifice. After an American backpacker goes missing, three journalists; Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), Sara (Megan Heffern) and Carmen (Cindy Sampson) are compelled to investigate. They soon discover that the town has a long history of bizarre practices. While trying to find the missing backpacker and uncover the truth about this cult, they soon find themselves pursued by a strange group people set on killing them.
The school Knautz is shooting in today may be out for summer but will carry an interesting story to those students returning in September.
Their gymnasium was the home to three separate sets: one in which people were re-enacting Black Sunday by Mario Bava. Well, at least a scene from it anywayâ¦which I won’t divulge. This same room had a giant cross resting horizontally in the center of the room with leather straps to hold down its guest. A string of fun torture toys including a rusty sledgehammer, ankle cuffs, scissors and other assorted goodies were littered about. Most notably were four masks which looked as if they were used for centuries in what we could assume were of importance when the time for sacrifice came.
The other room had four coffins and was linked to the center room where the cult would prepare their victims. The entire atmosphere was very medieval which was fun, but my camera didn’t like the fog machines. Half the shots I got were either too dark when not using flash or looked very washed out when using it because of the fog.
While roaming around the set I poked and prodded to find the SPFX department and when I found it, I was a little surprised as to what I found. Hanging out in the room were makeup FX artists Allan Cooke and David Scott (both of Jack Brooks). David and Allan showed me some of the stuff they were working on and I was surprised to see three busts of varying demonic creatures on display. Up until now, I was under the assumption that The Shrine was straight-realism, survival horror but adding the element of the supernatural was a welcoming addition to what could be a film that seems to incorporate what we love about ’70s horror with a modern look.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: So what can you tell us about Shrine?
Jon Knautz: The Shrine! Unlike our first film, it is a much more serious horror film. It’s a creepy thriller that revolves around a cult of people performing human sacrifice on individuals.
Shock: Did you find it hard, changing your directing style from a more comedic style to a serious one?
Knautz: Hm… No. Not at all. I’ve done more serious stuff in my short films before so I’ve had experience with it. Its certainly different. The one thing that Jack Brooks had was we sort of had that safety blanket of comedy, where if something didn’t quite look right, or was a little silly, it was okay because the movie had the comedy style to it, whereas this one everything’s going to look proper so we can’t get away with much.
Shock: So this is Brookstreet productions as well, do you have anything immediate lined up after The Shrine?
Knautz: Yes, we are developing another feature, untitled at the moment, and it’s a character drama. We’re moving away from the horror genre for the next one. It’s a tentative plan, it could all change. Little bit of action, but generally drama.
Shock: I notice that most of your talent including production lines is mostly Canadian. Is that by chance, or do you like keeping things local?
Knautz: Tax break man! We’re open to whomever, but there’s a lot of great Canadian talent so that’s where we look first because were located out of Ottawa or Toronto.
Shock: Getting back to The Shrine, was there anything that inspired you to co-write this feature?
Knautz: To be honest, most of the inspiration was from watching other movies throughout my whole life. There wasn’t really a direct thing. There were a couple of novels: Scott Smith’s “The Ruins,” which I was a huge fan of, and conceptually I pulled some inspiration from that. It’s nothing like it though! Just drawing inspiration. There are certain points to the overall broad concept of survival horror that I thought Scott Smith tapped into nicely.
Shock: And lastly, I asked Trevor this one, Jack Brooks 2, is that going to happen?
Knautz: What did Trev say?
Shock: He skirted the question.
Knautz: Yeah, I’ll tell you exactly how it is. We developed the sequel for Jack Brooks, the script about a year ago, but it’s not where we want it to be at this point. I think we have a really great story that we’re all really excited about, but the screenplay just isn’t ready yet. It’s going to need to go through a lot more re-writing. Also, because the first one ended with a real set up that the next one would be quite an epic adventure, the budget would have to be quite a bit bigger, and we’re not at a place to tackle that right now, and in a lot of ways, as much as we would like to do a sequel to Jack Brooks, we plan to at some point, we don’t want to just stay focused on that specific genre, we would like to branch out a little bit. But like I said, we have a really great story for the sequel, we will definitely revisit it at some point.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: What can you tell me about The Shrine and your role in it?
Trevor Matthews: I’m playing a character named Henryk and he’s a Polish farmer studying religion and priesthood. His father is a priest so he was a little bit of an orphan child, because you know in Christianity it’s not right for a priest to have children. This particular town has a strange type of religion. They kind of follow their own beliefs and my character is a pretty messed up guy! Henryk has had a lot of pain and suffering in his life, he’s physically very strong, very fast. I think he’s supposed to have a very physical and intimidating presence to him.
Shock: So is their [the townspeople’s] spin on religion based on Christianity with their own morbid twist?
Matthews: It’s kind of their own religion. It may have been a form of Christianity a long time ago, but due to circumstances and things that have happened in this town, they developed their own beliefs.
Shock: This is obviously very different from Jack Brooks. Is this a lot more serious? Are there any kind of comedic elements, or is this a straight up thriller?
Matthews: This is more of a thriller/mystery/horror film, taking itself a lot more seriously. There are some things going on in this town that could be considered supernatural, some creatures.
Shock: Yeah, I saw some shots of demons in the makeup department looking pretty sweet.
Matthews: Were working with Dave Scott again, the creature designer from Jack Brooks and he’s got a whole new slew of creatures.
Shock: That’s one thing the fans of Jack Brooks obviously appreciated was the practical special effects, so its good to see a return to those roots of that kind of work, rather than CGI, not that I’m knocking CGI, but obviously practical looks better!
Matthews: Yeah, anytime we were able, all the way back to our first short films with Brookstreet pictures, to any features we’re developing and any future projects, anything we can do practically we’re going to try and do it practically. The only time we bring CGI into the shoot is when it’s absolutely necessary. We’re big firm believers that if it can be done practically it’s probably going to be done better that way.
Shock: The inevitable question: Jack Brooks 2?
Matthews: Yeah! Brookstreet is doing some exciting things, we’ve made some big changes in the company. We’re developing a slate of new projects, and it’s an exciting company to work for because we’re not just a one-off company. We’re part of a family of companies: this is my Dad’s private equity firm, and he runs a whole slew of companies, some in the media business and some in high tech, so the fact that we have that support where we don’t feel like struggling artists. We feel like we have an opportunity to create a special company here, and because we have that opportunity we’ve developed a whole library of scripts that we would like to make over the next couple of years, we’re going to be shooting something in 2010 and Jack Brooks was a really fun project to make and I hope thatâ¦it started us off in the business of making feature films. It was the biggest learning experience for us to date with any film we’ve made. It was a blast making it and we’re going to continue with the series.