SDCC Exclusive: The Collector’s Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan


Writer, director on their upcoming release

Growth comes steadily in Hollywood if, at risk of sounding like a self-help book here, continue on whatever path you choose, no matter the challenges. Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan are solid proof of that. The pair – my very first interview when I used to write for “Creative Screenwriting” – cut their teeth in the biz when their screenplay submission, Feast, was picked up by the Project Greenlight team. Two sequels followed (with a possible third on the way) and now they’re Twisted Pictures’ go-to writers when a new Saw film needs to be whipped up (Melton and Dunstan have penned three sequels with another in the works).

One half of this terror team is sitting in the director’s chair for The Collector, opening in theaters July 31st through Freestyle Releasing. The film has experienced a hell of a journey as you’ll read about during the below chat I had with Melton and Dunstan during the San Diego Comic-Con.

Starring Josh Stewart, Juan Fernandez, Madeline Zima and Daniella Alonso, The Collector is a cat and mouse tale about a thief who gets more than he bargains for when he discovers the house he is robbing has been targeted by a masked serial killer. With time running out, will he get the loot he came for and escape or will save the family inside the house from this trap-setting maniac? So I hear the screening last night went well.

Marcus Dunstan: We had a couple who didn’t make it past the opening credits. A woman went crying. At volume this film shakes them up. Her boyfriend was all pissed.

Shock: What moments are you noticing really get people?

Patrick Melton: Tongue with the clamp.

Dunstan: The cat.

Melton: The bear traps. The bugs across the stomach.

Dunstan: We lucked the heck out on this one.

Melton: Warner Bros. did a great sound mix.

Shock: Drop on me the genesis of this project.

Melton: It was a short film. This was before Project Greenlight. Marcus was going to direct it, it was going to be ten minutes long. The basic idea was: What if a thief broke into the house of a serial killer? And then, of course, we had to expand it into ninety minutes and we added the family and stuff. It was written as a pitch with the idea that Marcus was going to direct it. This was after Feast, but before any of the Saw business. The script was ready to go but the company we were with said they didn’t have enough money. They had to go halves with someone else. We made a teaser trailer for $5 thousand. John Gulager shot it. Tom Gulager, Clu Gulager, Diane – they were all in it. We wanted Clu to be in this, but he was too old. We were showing to all of these people. Bob Weinstein sees the trailer and slams the door shut in his office and says, “Give me this movie. You’re not leaving this room until I get it.” Flash forward a year. We make it in Shreveport, Louisiana. Nineteen days. $3 million. Over the next year we’re picking up shots here and there, paying for it ourselves. Finally, we’re done. We show it to Bob. He loved it but they didn’t have the resources to put it out. We bought it back for what he paid for it. We showed it to Mickey Liddell and he was looking to acquire a horror movie. He paid the money and put more money into it so we could get a real soundtrack, do the credit sequence in the front, get a better ending, color correction and sound. Now he’s putting it out through Freestyle Release.

Shock: You said that all in one breath. Marcus, the obvious question is why direct? You went balls-out here and remained on board as director for a while…

Dunstan: This one was nice because there were three storytellers, you have the director, the writer and the editor. We were able to control two of those hats this time. So, I wanted to enter the fray protecting the writers as much as possible. We really worked this material so it was bulletproof. When you get out there in the field, if your day allows you to shoot 7/8’s, 2/3’s or a half, it was good to make that decision. It was just nice to be able to protect the material or have the decision and know we can grab stuff later. That allowed for a bit of relief when we creatively wanted to put a new visual stamp on it. And we did. We fought like hell to shoot it on film. Brandon Cox, our director of photography, we worked closely together so we were mimicking the way Dario Argento moves his cameras or going for a Dean Cundey look. His camera would glide. It wasn’t bam, cut, cut stuff. It was let the menace build and overwhelm you. Then hit you with something hard.

Shock: How did you ultimately decide on the look of your black-gloved and masked killer?

Dunstan: The evolution of his mask and his physique all stemmed from the insect world. Anything entomology. Whoever was playing him was grafting behaviors from the insect world. So if this was a spider’s technique, okay, he was going to move that way. It was all coming together with the eyes. The reflective nature of them. Almost like a Rottweiler. He would be a reflective cipher of evil. We didn’t want to tell you he was a molested kid. This guy was simply evil and it was evil’s night to reign.

Melton: A lot of it comes out of movies we grew up on. The original Halloween is the best for me and there was no explanation. He was just The Shape. What we didn’t want to do is give that back story so it excluded anyone from possibly being harmed. We had these discussions in development with people. They would say, how about the family is tied into him and this is payback. Like My Bloody Valentine or something. Harry Warden killed my dad when I was young and now I’m all grown up and mimicking him. That seems so ’80s lame. This was just, this thing is happening, what are you going to do about it? The Strangers did that wonderfully, I think. They had problems, too, where lunkheads wanted to know why the killers were doing the things they did. But the greatest explanation that can get under your skin is because the couple was home. It could happen to anyone.

Shock: Did the Saw traps directly affect what appears in this film, or vice versa, during principle photography? Did you save some of the best gag for yourself?

Dunstan: This was always left untouched. In fact, while we were writing the Saw films we were trying to not take from the script. Plus this one has, in some ways, was a check-list of things we were not allowed to do. We wanted to just knock them all down.

Melton: With Saw they always say the traps are made from stuff you can get at Home Depot. I’ve been there and I can’t get some of those things. So there is a heightened reality. This film is much more grounded and real. I think it makes it much more effective. The goal with us is to be able to walk into a house and take stuff within that house, rig it in a certain way and use it against someone. We wanted to differentiate the tone and I think we did that.

Shock: You had alluded to the fact that a few guys played your killer. Who had the most time?

Dunstan: We want to keep it a bit of a mystery, but there are several actors. Juan Fernandez is one of the great. You’ll also see Tom Gulager plays him in some scenes.

Melton: Juan was cast as the villain. And you see him in the film in just regular clothes. We shot 75% of this movie in Shreveport, so when we were back in Los Angeles and we had to randomly pick up shots. And sometimes Juan was working. So Tom would do it often. I did it in several shots. When I did that I thought I should have done it all along. The mask is crazy because it covers your ears so you can’t hear anything other than your own breathing. And you’re looking through these little holes. I was thinking if this was real life, this guy would be killed. You can sneak up behind him with a truck. The mask design was by Gary Tunnicliffe. It was intimidating though. All three of us grew up on masked killer movies. How do you up the ante? One of the most effective was the original sack-head Jason which is bizarre. That was resurrected in The Strangers. It was intimidating to get it right, but I think it worked well with the combination of the mask and the thing we do with the eyes. Those really differentiate him from the other killers. Plus Juan has a creepy vibe about him. The way he walks, his shoulders. You always expect the big hulking guy. Juan isn’t that thing. It goes back to the bug motif. He’s like a praying mantis in the way he moves.

Shock: The original title for this was The Thief and has gone through a few changes since then.

Melton: The Thief we couldn’t use because of the Michael Mann film. Marcus’ inspiration, of course, is Michael Mann. We always said this is the movie Michael Mann didn’t make between Thief and Manhunter. You can see in some of the shots and tone that this has a Mann aesthetic to it. Midnight Man, the title, we liked, but when Mickey bought it, it was more of a marketing idea. Midnight Man has a dual meaning to it. It could be the killer or our lead character. The Collector still has double meaning, but it’s much more focused on the killer. Mickey wanted to play up the lead killer. If we’re trying to elevate our character to a memorable killer, or at least try to compete, bringing him to the forefront was the idea.

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor