On Fear Itself, Blood and horror icons
Calling from Japan, director Ronny Yu granted ShockTillYouDrop.com an interview to chat about his episode of Fear Itself: “Family Man.” His entry was one of the few that made the airwaves when the show ran last year; five episodes went unseen but are now being released in a collection by Lionsgate Home Entertainment on September 15. Below you’ll find our full conversation as Yu talks about the show’s challenges, why it disappeared from NBC after only eight episodes, his heartbreaking involvement in Blood: The Last Vampire and more.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: How’d you get involved in Fear Itself and when did they first approach you about doing the show?
Ronny Yu: It must go back almost two years ago. I think the producers had asked me to do one of the Masters of Horror episodes, but at the time because of scheduling problems, nothing happened. Right after I finished Fearless, my agent called me and said that the producer just wouldn’t give up, they want you to do one show for them and they changed the name to Fear Itself instead of Masters of Horror. Just coming off of Fearless, I thought maybe it’d be a good thing to try something different. Also, the excitement for me was I never tried my hand on TV. The most important thing is the material. The script for “Family Man” really excited me, because it was different. It’s almost like a [Roman] Polanski-type of fear rather than just a zombie or something like that.
Shock: Your episode deals with interesting subject matter. The idea of these two characters switching places and being completely different personalities. Did you have your choice of script for your episode of Fear Itself?
Yu: Yes, they sent me a few scripts and those didn’t enthuse me, so later on they said we’ll find someone to write something along the lines of what I’d require, a more psychological story, something that keeps building. Because I was saying to them, look this time around it’s not cable TV. This time its mainstream network television, NBC. So how far can you go with “gore” or “blood” or whatever? If you have to pull the punches, I thought we should do something that mainstream network television can enjoy. That’s why I wanted to do something with more psychological horror, so we wouldn’t have to fight so many battles later on. [Writer] Daniel Knauf came up with this one called “Family Man” which I liked a lot.
Shock: Considering the nature of the story, how difficult was it finding the right actors who essentially had to play each other? You went with Clifton Collins Jr. and Colin Ferguson, whom did a solid job.
Yu: That was the fun part! [laughs] We tried to find the right people that would be believable when they switch roles. And everybody had the idea, NBC had the idea, and the producers had the idea â my request was that we needed someone that was a great actor that could really pull it off. The switching of characters, the switching of souls, your actors have to be really good. I thought it would be great if we could find actors that had cinema experience, because I was thinking of this as a little movie. Finally, we saw Clifton whom I liked a lot. He brought a lot of what I call cinema acting to make this a beautiful movie.
Shock: Did you shoot in Canada? How different was this from your other shooting experiences?
Yu: The whole thing was shot in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. It was tough! In the beginning, I was a little nervous, because they told me for the whole thing I only had six days of prep, which including casting, including set decorating, building sets and then we have 8 days to shoot the damn thing, which is for me quick! [laughs] You can’t screw it up, because you have no time. Luckily for me, we had the right casting, the script was already there so we didn’t have to worry about script changes, the crew was great, they’ve shot thousands and thousands of TV shows so they were really familiar with the pacing of the operation so that helped me a lot. We were constantly shooting with multiple cameras so that helped me with the coverage. It was tough, though. The first day of shooting I thought, “Oh my God. How am I going to finish all this?” [laughs] But by the fifth day it was a piece of cake.
Shock: Were you a fan of anthology shows, things that inspired Fear Itself?
Yu: Yes, yes, I remember the Rod Sterling show, The Twilight Zone, when I was very little in Hong Kong watching that one on television. I was always fascinated by those black and white shows. I was always fascinated with those stories of the unknown and outer space and â actually, there’s just so much fear that we have in every day life, and that’s what intrigues me about these kinds of stories.
Shock: Why do you think Fear Itself wasn’t as successful as some of the anthology type shows that have come before it? Five episodes never aired and are actually making their debut with this DVD boxed set.
Yu: There must be tons of reasons for it, but the obvious one I can think of is â it’s on NBC and the audience for this material is different. The tastes of the audience are different than what youâd get on cable TV. When you deal with a genre like this, you have to be very careful that you can reach the right audiences with the right material. Masters of Horror, for example, on Showtime I thought was very successful, because of the marketing, because of the audience, it all worked. But for a mainstream network, I think it’s just a very different audience. Look at something like Dexter. I think it’s successful because it’s on cable. You can’t do a show like that on regular TV otherwise you’d have to water it down so much. It wouldn’t be as edgy, it wouldn’t be as bloody, it’d just be different. Even with “Family Man”, I had to constantly remind myself “Okay, Ronny, don’t be too graphic. Don’t be too scary. Some kid might be watching this on network TV.” All of that has tension, of course. The whole intention of that show was to work on tension. So my feeling on why it didn’t do well is because it was meant for a different audience.
Shock: For a while, you were attached to Blood: The Vampire and it seemed like something you were really excited to do? Why’d you walk away from that project?
Yu: Oh wow. You just opened my wound! [laughs] I saw the original  animated movie and I loved it. I thought “Wow, this is great animation, great style, perhaps we can make this into a live action movie.” Me and my partner, my producer Bill Kong, tried to find and lock down the rights to make the live action movie out of that and we had no luck for so many years. And then finally, finally right after Fearless, Bill said, “I think we can lock in the rights with the Japanese company that owns it.” But by the time we got to them, they said we were too late and they sold it to a French company already. Yeah, bummer! [laughs] So, now we had to partner with the French company and then we started developing the whole story together. Somehow after this whole development process, there was a point where I felt, “Wow. It’s not the same as what I originally wanted the movie to be.” At the end of it, I just said, “Well, maybe you guys can do it.” I walked away from it, even though I loved that story. And the French company found their own French director and continued without me. Maybe it’s too late to say it, but that movie just has to be so kick-ass. In terms of the monsters and in terms of this vampire killer who she herself is a vampire, it’s just a landmine of all great ideas and things to work with! All of that should be there! Right now, I feel corrected in the original animated movie. [laughs]
Shock: It’s funny because you’re one of the rare filmmakers that’s tackled three of America’s most iconic horror figures â Freddy, Jason and Chucky! Do you have a favorite?
Yu: For me, the most important thing is can I make it a little bit different, can I make it a little more entertaining, can I inject a little bit more fun into it. Because it’s these franchises that have been around for years, so all of the above was my intention. The funny thing, my wife keeps asking me, “Aren’t you scared? You’re from Hong Kong and you’re handling these famous franchises that have been around for 20 plus years!” And I say, “No, I know what I’m doing! I just want to make an entertaining movie with these characters.” That was always my intention.
Shock: If you had a choice to tackle any iconic monster weather it be one of the recent ones or even a Universal monster, is there any one you’d like to do something with?
Yu: Actually, right after Freddy vs. Jason and all the numbers came in and everybody thought “wow” and they were so excited about it, there was talk of, “How about we do a movie with one other killer? One other monster?” And initially during those early meetings I’d say, “Let’s have Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers from Halloween.” For me, I wanted it to be like the cowboy movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. By the end, you don’t know who’s going to make the first move. You don’t know who’s going to team up with who. I thought that was fantastic. They all would have a competition of how many people they can kill. [laughs] I thought that could’ve been great. At the end, the three of them have to duke it out, just like in Freddy vs. Jason. For me, that would’ve been the ideal movie to make. Three iconic killers fighting it out.
To learn what Ronny is working on next visit this news item.
Source: Robert Galluzzo, Ryan Rotten