Interview: Director Jackson Stewart Goes BEYOND THE GATES

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beyondGates

Filmmaker Jackson Stewart on his indie chiller BEYOND THE GATES.

Jackson Stewart’s BEYOND THE GATES is one of the new indie horror films having its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in the NIGHTFALL section. Jackson Stewart is a well-known local horror film fan and filmmaker, and his cast members Brea Grant, Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper, Jesse Merlin, and Barbara Crampton (yes, the legendary Crampton herself) are familiar faces. Co-written with Stephen Scarlata (JODOROWSKY’S DUNE), BEYOND THE GATES is easily one of the most fun and accessible horror films playing in the festival. It’s premiering on June 2, 2016 at the festival to a sold-out crowd.

BEYOND THE GATES is about two brothers John and Gordon (Chase Williamson and Graham Skipper) who return to their estranged father’s video rental store and house after his mysterious disappearance. Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) accompanies him to help pack up the store’s belongings and sort through the bittersweet memories of the homecoming. In the store, the group finds an old VCR board game called BEYOND THE GATES, hosted by an incredibly beautiful, eerily aware hostess (Barbara Crampton) who seems to be able to speak directly to them. It soon becomes clear that the trio must play the game through to the end if they ever want to come back from beyond the gates in their basement and find out to which horrible dimension their father has been taken. Fulci-esque music and zombies torment them throughout the game, and they’re forced to make gruesome and horrifying decisions in order to obtain the keys they need and win the game.

Watch the trailer:

Drea Clark, Los Angeles Film Festival programmer who personally oversees the NIGHTFALL selections (all the dark genre films) cites three reasons why Stewart and Scarlata’s BEYOND THE GATES was selected for the prestigious slot: “It starts out as a solid indie drama with estranged brothers coming back home,” she explains. “The whole set up, even if you strip the genre away from it, just feels really solid and well done. But then, there was something incredible when they step into the video rental store, there is such a 80s iconic vibe, with the VHS horror game. It was also the moment I realized it was such an awesome concept that no one had done before. What a no-brainer! You have the interaction of films like SCREAM and RINGU, but in this very accessible indie film. BEYOND THE GATES also rapidly descends into a thriller and also gets bloody and gooey: things that you want from a film that you may have watched on a VHS tape!”

SHOCK was lucky enough to sit down with Jackson Stewart to get some details about the inspiration behind BEYOND THE GATES.

SHOCK: How did the idea for BEYOND THE GATES come about?

STEWART:  I met Stephen Scarlata, who was the producer of JODOROWSKY’s DUNE, while we were working on another project for some other producers, separate segments of an anthology film. Steve and I met and we just started talking about our different ideas that no one was interested in, and then Steve was like, “You know, I always thought it’d be cool to do a movie about a VCR board game and set it at a video store.” As soon as I heard that, I knew immediately what that movie would be. From that moment on, I wanted to start working on it that day. We ended up meeting regularly and hashing out the story, about two brothers who are looking for their missing dad who owned this video store that had gone into a decline. We wrote it together for nine months and during that time I was approaching different investors, using some heat for JODOROWSKY’s DUNE. 

SHOCK: You’ve got such a stellar cast of some of the best actors in the current horror film scene. How did they all end up being a part of BEYOND THE GATES?

STEWART: We actually wrote the lead roles for Grant, Brea, Chase, and Matt Mercer. Barbara came in as a producer/financier at first. Initially, we shot the board game hostess footage with another actress initially, and the footage didn’t work. I basically called Barbara and begged her to do it! She has a sense of authority from her being a Mom and a thirty-year career. I don’t think that’s the easiest thing to match with another actress.

SHOCK: Some of the visuals and art direction in BEYOND THE GATES are breathtaking. Can you tell us about them?

STEWART: My director of photography and I, Brian Sowell, decided we wanted to keep our look within the same parameters as 80s supernatural horror movies like POLTERGEIST, THE GATE, PHANTASM and THE BEYOND. We didn’t want to use any camera techniques that were outside of that era, and we wanted to keep a similar feel. We tried to do it like an early 80s movie: using a dolly instead of steady cam, for instance. The colors came out of watching a lot of those 80s movies, but we wanted to build them up over the course of the movie. When it starts out, there are nighttime scenes that look more or less like an everyday scene, in a normal horror movie. Then, we build it up, and there’s a little blue light coming in, a bit more fog, and then over the course of the movie when they go into this other dimension it’s purple and blue and they’ve stepped right into the 1980s. Super foggy, cause it looks cool!

SHOCK: This is your debut feature, premiering at an awesome festival. What’s going through your head?

STEWART: I’m not sure! I’ve definitely had some interesting people reach out to me and it’s, you know, a great festival to premiere at. As far as what that’ll net me after this? Not entirely sure. I think a lot of it’s just that you’ll have to work just as hard to get a second project going as the first one. I’ve had friends who’ve had stuff premiere at Sundance and Toronto, and they still have to hit people up and hustle to make their films. I hope this sets me up for a higher budget, and maybe something outside of horror, but still with genre elements.

BEYOND THE GATES is premiering on June 2, 2016 at LAFF with Jackson Stewart, Stephen Scarlata and cast members Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton, Matt Mercer, Jesse Merlin, and Sara Malakul in attendance. For more details, visit LAFF’S listing.