Throughout his career Richard Schenkman has been at the helm of a host of films encompassing different genres. He’s directed romantic comedies (The Pompatus Of Love – 1995), Dramas w/ a Sci Fi bend to them (The Man From Earth – 2007) & horror films (Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies -2012). His latest film, MISCHIEF NIGHT, is a home invasion thriller in which a girl suffering from psychosomatic blindness finds herself alone at home under siege by one or more masked intruders on Halloween eve. Horrornews.net had the opportunity to speak with him about his latest film, the problems of shooting on an 8 day schedule & what he has next up in store for his fans.
Horrornews: I watched MISCHIEF NIGHT last night and had a good time with it! What inspired you to sit down and write the script?
Richard Schenkman: A very good friend of mine, Eric Wilkerson, with whom I produced The Man From Earth (2007) got together with Jesse Baget, a young filmmaker friend of his and cooked up the story. They then sold it as a pitch to Image Entertainment and then basically they came to me and asked if I was interested in directing! Jesse had completed a first draft of the script and although a lot of the pieces were in place already there were a few that weren’t quite there yet so I took that first draft & did a rewrite and then we went ahead and we made the film. We turned the whole thing around very quickly.
HNN: I noticed a few similarities to You’re Next (2013) in your film. Was your film in production before that one was?
RS: I don’t know if we were in production first but I certainly didn’t know anything about that film beforehand. Our movie came out a few weeks after it did so maybe we were in production at the same time? I had never heard of that film until they started marketing it but you know how it is. Take for example my first movie, The Pompatus Of Love, we were working on that movie for a couple of years and it was a very talky comedy about two men and their relationship issues. A few months before our movie comes out a film called The Brothers McMullen comes out, causes a big stir and basically stole a lot of our thunder. They were both independent films so we didn’t know about them and they didn’t know about us but they were lucky enough to beat us into the marketplace, it happens all of the time.
HNN: You mentioned The Man From Earth a few minutes ago and I have to admit that I had no idea that you directed that film! I interviewed Tony Todd a few years ago and he spoke very highly of his experience making that movie & how well regarded it is. I saw it after that interview and thought it was just fantastic!
RS: It was probably a little more fun for Tony because all he had to do was show up and play his part! It was a bit more trying for me since I had to figure out how to shoot a full length feature in only eight days [Laughing]. But I’m deeply proud of that movie and have nothing but great memories of the whole experience. I had an incredible cast, a good friend of mine was the DP (Director Of Photography), a great crew, the perfect location and most importantly a brilliant script by the late Jerome Bixby! It was a fine experience and everywhere I go…EVERYWHERE I GO people come up to me and tell me how much they love that movie. And whenever I bump into any of the actors from that movie whether it’s Tony or John Billingsley or William Katt, they always talk about incredible experiences they have with people who want to talk about The Man From Earth. All of the film & TV appearances these actors have had and could speak about but all people want to talk to them about is this little film which is just stunning to me.
HNN: Did you have any idea of whom you wanted to cast prior to production of Mischief Night or did you have open auditions?
RS: We auditioned a lot of people for the role of Emily because it had to be somebody young, somebody whom the audience would believe was only 17. She also had to be able to be convincingly blind, somebody who could find the humor in the role, somebody funny & charming because it certainly wasn’t all screaming and crying although Noell Coet was really amazing at that, she’s a wonderful actress! We saw a lot of people but we also tested a lot of people because we needed to be sure there was believable chemistry between Emily and Jimmy (Ian Bamberg) so we saw quite a few actors for that role as well. I didn’t have any auditions for the role of David (Daniel Hugh Kelly) though. For that role I knew we needed a name actor so we just made offers. Stephanie Erb is an old friend of mine and I’ve worked with her before so it was great to be able to offer her the role of Aunt Lauren. And Richard Riehle has been a good friend of mine ever since The Man From Earth so that was an easy role to cast as well.
HNN: Whenever I see him (Riehle) I think of that film.
RS: He’s done well over 160 movies but he’s really memorable in The Man From Earth!
HNN: You were right about Noell Coet being able to portray a blind person believably…
RS: But she’s a great actress as well! She’s been acting since she was a little kid and she takes her craft very seriously. She did a lot of research on blindness and watched a lot of videos. She just did a great job.
HNN: Yeah, she’s very convincing! I have to ask about a couple of scenes in the film. The first being the one when Emily is trying to shut off a smoke detector just after she breaks a glass. You put the camera just underneath her foot as it’s hovering over this long jagged shard of glass for what felt like an eternity! And as I watched that scene play out I was squirming so much hoping that she wouldn’t step on it, the tension was driving me nuts! It’s a really outstanding sequence and I hope you don’t mind my saying but it had a real Hitchc**k-ian feel to it.
RS: [Laughing] How could I possibly mind something I shot being compared to Hitchc**k?
HNN: It was so simple! A piece of broken glass, a bare foot hovering just above it…there’s not a lot to it yet there was so much tension at the same time! Was that the way it was written in the final draft of the script?
RS: It was definitely in the script. The fun that I, as the director, gets to have is in the blocking/shooting of the sequence. The script doesn’t say “Cut to here then cut to here”, it just says that she’s trying to turn the alarm off as her foot dangles precipitously over this piece of glass that it seems she might step on. As the film maker you work out how you’re gonna block the scene so that you can stretch out the tension as far as you can without breaking it. You wanna hold onto the tension as long as you can without completely torturing the audience and allowing them to have a good time as well, allowing them to feel the tension with you.
HNN: There’s also a scene in the beginning of the film in which Kim (Erica Leerhsen) runs out of a closet that she’s hiding in, grabs a set of car keys and runs down a stairway outdoors to a car that’s all done in one long take without any cuts. And now I have to bring up Orson Welles because that shot reminded me of his famous opening shot in Touch Of Evil (1958)!
RS: Except he managed to do without steadicams! Things are a lot easier when you have a great steadicam operator on set and we had Dean Smollar who’s someone I know from one or two other projects. He helped us out with a few shots on this project and he did a great job as always.
HNN: It was a very impressive shot indeed. How many takes before you got it down pat?
RS: We had to do multiple takes. It was hard, little things would screw up in the background and I definitely owed him a drink by the time we finished that shot because running up and down that long flight of steps with 80 pounds of equipment strapped onto him is something. It probably took about a couple of hours overall.
HNN: Hell…that’s not too bad!
RS: I don’t remember anymore! Unfortunately when you’re shooting a movie as quickly as we shot this one you don’t have the luxury of spending a day or two shooting a sequence like that. You have to get it in 2-3 hours or however much time you have because you have plenty of other scenes to shoot. And on Mischief Night, just as I thought “That was a good day! A good productive day!” my 1st AD (Assistant Director) would come up to me and say “OK now we have to shoot scene 32”! [Laughing]
HNN: I’m surprised that you would say that only because I would think, judging from your bio, that you’re used to shooting films on an accelerated schedule.
RS: I am but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!
HNN: I just figured that the more that you do it the easier it becomes. Especially when you’re working in this particular genre.
RS: Of course. And I meet filmmakers who have worked on bigger films with bigger budgets and much more time to shoot who’ve seen my films and asked how long did I take to shoot them. When I tell them the answer none of them believe me! They all ask me how I could’ve possibly managed to do it in so little time but when all you have is 8-12 days to make the movie you either make it or you don’t. So you get it done but that doesn’t make it any easier to do. A lot of Mischief Night was shot in the dark and it’s hard to shoot for an extended period during the evening…people get tired at night especially if they’ve been up all day. But you want the movie to look good so you try to take the time to get everything done right. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of other factors as well. For example there are a couple of big special effect sequences in the movie and you just have to wait as the SFX guys get the sequences rigged & set and when they’re ready to shoot something goes wrong all of a sudden and we have to wait another couple of hours as they sort it all out and reset the sequence. As a director you have very little control over this.
HNN: Does it get monotonous for you at all sometimes?
RS: Not monotonous…stressful. I have to worry about whether or not I’m gonna make the shots I need to make on that particular day or maybe it’s an actor’s last scheduled day on set and they can’t come back on the next day so you have to make sure you have all of their scenes in the can. Stuff like that.
HNN: Is that a situation you’ve run into in the past?
RS: Oh I’ve run into everything! I’ve been to locations where everything was supposed to be all set only to find that the person that’s supposed to be there to let you in didn’t show up so we were literally locked out. I’ve run into weather that wasn’t what the weatherman had promised the night before, I’ve had key props not being on set, I’ve had actors just not show up to work and I mean just not show up at all! I’ve run into every possible situation a director can run into.
HNN: The movie is a success and it’s gotten great reviews so what’s next for you?
RS: A western! I hope to shoot it in early 2014. We’re going out to actors right now and it looks like the funding and distribution is in place and I hope to shoot in February or March at the latest.
HNN: That’s a change in pace for you!
RS: It is! I’ve always wanted to shoot a western and my dad always wanted me to do a western so I’m really happy that I’m finally getting a chance to shoot one. After that I might shoot a supernatural thriller and there’s talk of a sequel to Mischief Night as well so hopefully I’ll be able to shoot a few movies back to back, that would be ideal.