We never planned to do a sequel, but had jokingly discussed it after the original “Coffin” did so well through Redbox and then became an indie hit worldwide. But there had never been serious talk about it until early November 2015. I had just completed a lengthy production and wasn’t even thinking about what I was going to do next, and I had been back home (Los Angeles) for maybe a week when my wife and I went to an opening night party at AFM. “Coffin” had just been picked up in another territory the day before and that led to a few chance conversations with buyers at AFM that started asking about a sequel. So I left the party thinking, ‘actually this is a good idea.’ I then had a lengthy discussion with Spencer Johnson at Skyrocket Productions – the company that financed and produced the first “Coffin” – and he greenlit the sequel. I had my next project.
The challenge in putting together the script was dealing with the events that were unfolding in the last minutes of the original film, and taking the characters involved in those events – then jumping five years ahead. To just rehash the original story was a boring proposition for me, as was having someone in a box for 1/3rd of the movie since we’d done that already. But I knew I wanted to show what these characters would be up to now, and needed to work them into a new and interesting story.
As I was knocking around a few ideas, I pulled out a treatment I had written for a horror/thriller several years before – actually before I even made “Coffin” – called “Rag Dolls”. It was about five victims that wake up in a secluded wooded area, and discover they are being held by a masked man that is keeping them paralyzed from the neck down. And in the story, there was an agent assigned to investigate a series of disappearances – which the audience would see in flashback. Aside from being way darker than “Coffin”, this story definitely struck me as having a lot of the elements I wanted for “Coffin 2”.
Once I started looking at that story, and having this group of characters from the first “Coffin” at my disposal, I started dropping the characters into “Rag Dolls”, but also paying attention to where they were in life the last time an audience saw them five years ago. So the script started coming together from there and by the time it was finished, while it still had the base elements of “Rag Dolls”, it was distinctly had the “Coffin” brand on it.
You have an amazing cast including Robert Mukes, Laura James, Johnny Alonso and more. What was it like working with the cast and directing them?
I love the casting process, but I hate the auditioning process. Probably because I hate auditions so much as an actor myself! But what I love about casting is finding that one thing about an actor – be it overt or subtle – that goes a little against the grain of what you would typically expect from the character as they are written. Always just slightly going against type. That’s what makes films interesting for me and that’s what I always go for in casting. Just slightly against the grain.
And I really loved working with this group. Scott Hamm (who also produced) and I worked extensively on assembling a very strong cast, and Skyrocket Productions is very supportive in the casting decisions, which is invaluable to a filmmaker.
Obviously, I had worked with the cast from the first one before and I had developed a short hand with guys like Johnny Alonso and Patrick Barnitt. This was the 3rd time directing each of them and I’ve also produced films they have appeared in separately. Of course, Derik Wingo and I, who I co-directed and produced “Coffin” with, have been working together since 2000, so we can practically finish one another’s sentences.
What really made this experience fun was building on the characters from the first outing. Jack Samms is now a criminal, Epperson is still a cop obsessed with catching as many criminals as he can, Rona is on the lam somewhere, Scott (played by yours truly) is no longer a cop, and Trick has been up to lots of dirty deeds since we last saw him, and now his past has caught up with him. I wanted to explore things like: How has the five years changed all of them? For the better or for the worse? Those conversations with the actors and that process was lots of fun.
Robert Mukes is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and while he is obviously a large physical presence, one thing he does extremely well is subtle menace. You don’t see him “act” menace the way you see so many actors hired to be the ‘bad guy’ do. I wanted a balance with this character, so I worked with Robert to play up his humble and nice guy side – that we all know in real life – but then let him free to play with the menace and intimidation that he does so well. The balance worked wonderfully and Robert captured exactly what I was going for with the character. It’s some of his strongest work as an actor.
Laura James is known by most as one of the winners of “America’s Next Top Model”, but she’s an extremely talented actress. I had worked with her and her dad (John James from “Dynasty”), on companion films that Derik and I did in 2015, and I got to know them pretty well. Very down to earth, good people. She played a tough as nails lone wolf sort of woman in the other project, and the character I was looking to cast in “Coffin 2” also had a toughness and an edge to her. But she’s also a hostage, so that toughness only peaks through on occasion, so Laura and I talked extensively about when those moments would show and make sure they are not too heavy handed.
“Coffin 2” had to have Trick, of course! Johnny and I loved the idea of seeing Trick now on the other side, now a victim, but also still trying to maintain his need for control over every situation. We discussed the way Trick walks and moves while shooting the first film and then now how those movements, those physicalities, have evolved over the years. But then we had to work on how that confidence, that swagger, is impaired by his being paralyzed and confined to a chair for much of the film. The process allowed us to dig underneath Trick, which was a great experience.
This is not the typical slasher or running and tripping in the woods horror movie (Not that I don’t love them) Did you know you would be making “Coffin 2” and what can you tell about part 3 so far?
The lack of blood, gore or ‘slasher’ elements was definitely by design in the first film. When we did “Coffin”, we already had a distribution company on board that specifically works well within the foreign TV markets. So the more blood and gore in the film meant more scenes that would have to be edited out for TV later. And then you may lose some sales in those markets because the film will be too choppy, disjointed, etc. But the story I had mapped out also didn’t allow for much blood and violence – if any. It’s a cat and mouse crime thriller, but contains horror elements… the wooden box, the ticking clock, Trick’s mask, buried alive, etc.
“Coffin 2” needed to stay true to the first one and our original audience, but also bring some more life into the world we had created. I wanted to bring some more edge and raise the horror elements in this one, which is why using the story of “Rag Dolls” worked so well. The masks that the hostages are wearing all mimic ones worn by Trick during different jobs he’s pulled over the years. I originally had all of them with hoods over their heads, but after the first draft, Derik made the suggestion that I have all of the hostages wearing the masks Trick had worn, and that fit perfectly. Now Trick is sitting, paralyzed, staring at his own masks. He’s been dropped into a nightmare of his own doing.
As for “Coffin 3”, we’re actively developing it now and there’s not too much I can say about it. It’ll introduce some new characters and also tie up some loose ends. Some characters won’t make it out alive, of course, and I promise it will be a bit darker, edgier and a lot more of the fun.
Robert Mukes is incredibly talented and plays an excellent scary role. How did he become involved with the film?
I meet Robert at a fan convention Derik, Johnny and myself attended. “Coffin” was the closing night film, so we were there for that and to also do promotion for another project we were preparing to film. This was back in 2015. My brother, Kynn, knew Robert a bit and introduced us. After getting to know him over the course of the weekend, we knew we wanted to work with him.
Once “Coffin 2” came around, I knew I needed an actor that possessed the menace and physical intimidation required, but also one that could show a vulnerability beneath the surface. I gave Robert a call and by the end of the conversation, he had verbally committed to the role. Once he read the script, he was 100% on board.
Did you face any challenges while filming?
Always! Aside from the usual challenges of a production, balancing cast, crew, and everything else, on a low budget indie film you are always working on a very tight schedule and usually a lean crew. “Coffin 2” was no different than other indie features, but that’s where the producing and the preparation comes in. A huge part of producing is solving problems and finding solutions.
You directed and wrote the film. You wear quite a few hats. Which one do you feel you constantly learn the most from?
You learn something new with each project – and usually something new each day of production, but I’d say the one I learn the most from every time is directing. Of course, as an acting, you are in a constantly evolving process, but when you direct, you learn about the craft of acting in many ways you never would just by being in front of the camera.
Producing is producing. While it’s different with each production, it still ends up generally the same process, and as a writer, I certainly learn and grow with each script, but not by the leaps and bounds one can learn from directing. I think all actors and writers should direct something at least once. It will change the way they look at and approach a scene, or a project as a whole. But I also highly encourage directors to also take an acting class, too. Extremely helpful.
What advice would you offer to up and coming filmmakers or anyone in the business who wants to start a project but may be scared?
I could go on for about 12 hours on this one, but right off, if you are scared of failing, then this business is definitely not for you. There will be lots of failing along the way, so be prepared for that. It’s what you do after failing that makes the difference… but that’s a whole other conversation!
I think being scared can be a good thing as you are diving into filmmaking for the first time. It means you have an awareness that there are many factors to filmmaking that you do not know, thus, there are many things you need to learn and prepare for. If you do not have any fears and you are a first timer – or very green as a filmmaker – then this kind of unearned confidence will only end in disaster. We’ve all seen it multiple times: people who want to be filmmakers, or even experienced actors or writers that decide they now want to be a filmmaker, too. They go in with the mindset of “I love movies. I know what makes a movie good!”, or “I know a guy who produced his own thing and he’s an idiot, so I know I can make a movie!”, and “I’ve been on sets before. I have ideas. It’ll just work itself out!” And then they only prepare about 1% of what they need to prepare, get into production, and things start to immediately go off the rails.
Read, research, make a phone call and ask advice. And do all of these things a lot. Learning from others will give you the confidence you need, because you can do if you approach it properly and prepare. Your fears will subside if you are open to listening and learning from others. Oh, and did I say prepare? There is no such thing as being too prepared in filmmaking!
Not to misunderstand: don’t let being scared hold you back for too long, or you’ll find yourself three years down the road still ‘researching’ how to make your first film and you haven’t shot a single frame or written a single word. Harness those fears as an actor does nervous energy: It can fuel you and get you through some exciting rehearsals and then onto the stage, but at some point, you need to settle in and perform the show you have prepared for.
And really, just give yourself permission to not be perfect. This will sound counterintuitive to our work, and certainly as artists, but I think new filmmakers should start out knowing they will not make the best film ever made. Or even the best film made that year. And if they do make the best film that year, by who’s standards? The medium is incredibly subjective.
Go in to make the very best film you can make for the situation: the resources you have, your budget, length of schedule, the locations available to you, your crew, etc. No matter what, it will never be perfect, but you can strive for it to be the best. Once you let go of perfection, or comparing it to blockbuster films, you will be free to focus on the film and getting the material on the screen without that burden sitting on your shoulders.
And making the best, but not perfect, movie will lead to great opportunities for collaboration with your cast and crew. That’s what makes a great film.
What other projects will you be working on?
We are developing “Coffin 3”, but aside from that, Derik Wingo and I are working on putting together a comedy feature we wrote a while back, which we developed with a very well-known producer. It had some heat around it for a while, but we’re going back to it with a new approach. I’m also working on a found footage-hybrid feature that I’m hoping to get into production very soon. Other than that, I’ve got some series I’m working on: a military drama series developed from actual cases that is in the works, and a short form series I’m designing to be filmed and broadcast in real time.
What do you want the fans to know that will be watching “Coffin 2?”
If you are new to the franchise, you don’t have to see the first one, but I hope you do! And I would recommend it, too. We do try and catch you up early in “Coffin 2” and give you a recap on who everyone is and what has happened since the first one. Most of that happens in the first 10 minutes of the film.
If you were a fan of the first, this one is definitely edgier and brings some violence along with it. That doesn’t mean bloody or gratuitous, it just means it’s not as “TV safe” as the first “Coffin” was. But even with that new edginess, fans can still expect the same fun, mystery/thriller/horror format… and yes, there will probably a twist!
Thank you so much Kipp.