Andrew Weiner talks to TD about the inspiration and ideas behind his directorial debut.
Andrew Weiner has spent most of his career in the film industry producing. He’s worked with Troma, and produced a number of other independent films. His first film as a writer/director, THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY, is coming to DVD on March 26. Truly Disturbing got a chance talk with him about what drew him to make a found footage film, taking a crack at a modern film that is deeply connected to MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN and what his influences are. Andrew was responsive and forthcoming through the interview, and he left the impression that he’s passionate about his work, and knowledgeable about the industry and film as a whole. He was open, receptive and thoughtful, making for a very engaging interview.
AA: In watching the film, it seemed that in the writing stage you were really familiar with the things that other found footage films had done well and that maybe they didn’t do so well. Was that something you were taking into consideration while you were writing it and if so, what films were you looking at?
AW: I am familiar with found footage films and fake documentaries. I made one previously called MAIL ORDER WIFE, which was a dark comedy and I’ve also spent a little time in the documentary world. So I understand (or at least I think I do) that world. MAIL ORDER WIFE is a movie that I love. I produced it about ten years ago now, which is hard to believe. Even though that movie isn’t a horror film and it’s a documentary, I think it informed the approach to the genre more than any other film, even though I am familiar with and have a great deal of respect for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and THE PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies. I would say MAIL ORDER WIFE, just because I was one of the makers of that movie, really informed how to approach the genre and what works and what doesn’t work. Obviously it’s different, it’s in the fake documentary genre. One was a fake documentary, one was horror. I actually don’t even think of THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY as a straight horror film, but most people do, which is understandable, especially when you look at the marketing and the structure of the film. It is in some ways it is a classic horror film, but to me, in some ways it’s a hybrid. It certainly has elements of being a horror film, but it borrows from other genres as well.
AA: Choosing Frankenstein as the basis of the film and tying it as closely into the original MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN as you did seems kind of risky, especially considering how long it’s been since there was a successful Frankenstein movie. Are you particularly a fan of the novel and if so, is that what interested you about this film or was it a more general kind of interest?
AW: It’s a little bit of both. I spent a lot of time researching before committing to writing and making the movie. I am a big fan of the novel and really, a fan of Mary Shelley’s as well, because she wrote that novel when she was still a teenager, which just blows me away. Even though people grew up a little faster back then, she was still a teenager when she wrote it.
For me there was certainly an interesting high concept that’s appealing from a film making standpoint. It was two things, looking at the novel and approaching it as a piece of nonfiction or a piece of archival evidence for this creature still being alive. Then thinking, “If this creature is still alive, what is he like now?” The only way for him to be alive and basically escape notice from humans, for the most part of two hundred years, is that he would have removed himself from society. At the end of the novel, it ends in the Arctic with the creature wandering off on the ice. He has this encounter with Captain Walton, whose ship is stuck in the ice, and the creature wanders off, presumably to die. He’s going to allow the elements to take him, but obviously in our film, he doesn’t. He wanders off and remains alive, either unable to kill himself or unable to die. We don’t really know.
Here’s this intelligent creature whose lived now a life of isolation for two hundred years. It was such a haunting thing to think about as I was lying awake at night trying to figure out this character and this story and thinking about this two hundred years of isolated living and what that would be like. I thought that was very interesting. Now, most of what we see in this film, we really see through the lens of the other characters, in particular our protagonist Jonathan Venkenheim. So rather than spend most of the movie with the creature, which wasn’t something I was interested in doing, especially with the budget we had, it was really about this characters search for the creature and realizing in some ways their lives were quite similar. Jonathan Venkenheim is also similar to Dr. Victor Frankenstein. The more manic he gets, the more driven he becomes (he has this monomaniacal obsession with finding this creature), he is distancing himself and removing himself from this life he’s created with his live in girlfriend and his career and he’s become, in fact, quite isolated himself. So we see that he is completely oblivious to that in some respects. As smart as he is, he doesn’t have the ability to look at his own life, but there’s really this parallel between the creature and Jonathan. I found it interesting and engaging.
AA: That was a really interesting take on the entire idea and I was happily surprised by it. You walk a fine line. You tied in the original novel, but the second half of the film has a really classic monster movie feel to it. Is that something that was intentional or was that more a result of the nature of the material?
AW: I think honestly, it arose organically. I can’t say it was totally by design. I think in some ways I was looking at the first act of the film as introduction of story and a character study about this quirky guy and being introduced to his theory, approaching it as a documentary through the eyes of the character Vicky Stephens played by Heather Stephens. That first act is really a documentary. And I’m approaching it as “Here’s a character who’s a great subject for a film. His theory I don’t believe for a second, but it still makes for an interesting movie.” Then the film turns into this odyssey and we go on this journey and we start to discover more evidence and then, very slowly the film transforms into a horror film. It goes from being quirky, a little bit light, comedic at times to this odyssey to this horror film. In the last act it certainly does fall in line with some of the tropes we’re more classically familiar with in a horror film.
AA: One of the other things that I thought made it work and separates THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY from a lot of other smaller indie horror films and indie films in general is that your cast works really, really well. You got great performances and they did a great job. Is there something you’d attribute to your casting process or was there something you were looking for that helped bring you such a good cast?
AW: I would say that I’m not a particularly good actor, and I’m not an acting coach. This is the first one I’ve directed, but I’ve produced a lot of movies and as a producer your very very much involved in the casting of the film. For me, it was about finding the right actors that intellectually would understand the material, understand the characters and could reside in that character. I didn’t want to cast a character that looked right for the part, but that I would really have to lead and guide in terms of getting that performance out of them. So, I would say it was really in the casting that the battle was won or lost. I personally feel the cast was fantastic. I’ll take some credit for casting them, along with the casting director Charlie Medigovich. In terms of eliciting those great performances I give credit to the cast solely for what they did because I think they did a remarkable job.
AA: I’m just about out of time, so I have one more question. Do you have a favorite horror movie?
AW: Can I give you a couple? I have a few. I would say that I just absolutely love THE EXORCIST. I grew up in Washington DC. I’m familiar with the location and THE EXORCIST steps, my parents used to have an office right along THE EXORCIST steps. I love that movie. I just think it’s one of the most brilliantly directed films, horror, non-horror, of all time. And then THE SHINING. And then, if you’re going to call JAWS a horror film, I’m not sure that it is. But you see it in the monologue in THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY, that the hunter Carl gives when he talks about the polar bears, that’s straight out of JAWS. It’s an homage to that scene with Robert Shaw talking about the USS Indianapolis.
THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY will be available on DVD on March 26 from Image Entertainment.
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