Exclusive Interview: The Dooms Chapel Horror Interview
By Adam Kaplan - 10th May 2015
After a resounding success on Kickstarter, The Dooms Chapel Horror delivered a gripping and grim tale despite its humble beginnings. Here at WeHeartHorror we’re always intrigued by the production process as much as the final product, and the talent on display this time around made it impossible not to follow up this fantastic contribution to the indie horror scene.
We managed to snag a few words with writer Jason Turner, director John Holt and cast members Austin Madding, Joshua Mark Robinson, Shaun Gerardo and Bill Oberst Jr. no less!
WeHeartHorror: Jason, you’ve obviously overcome a great deal to be able to share this movie with the world; could you elaborate on the challenges you faced to get your dream up and running through Kickstarter?
Jason Turner: Dooms was our first foray into crowd-sourcing of any kind and the process was a huge learning experience. Setting up the project on Kickstarter was the first public release that contained details about the film. Obviously those involved with the film and our family and friends all knew about what we were up to but once you start going into detail about the story and production on the internet the Kickstarter campaign kinda becomes the first "test screening". Thankfully, enough people liked what they saw and we were able to get the funding we needed. And it's an ongoing process. Chris Bower, our producer, and his team and I were all involved in the campaign and it took every one of us to keep up with it. Managing it is a huge job with a lot of responsibility to your backers and the outcome of your project.
WHH: For those who are unaware, could you describe the source of your passion for horror writing?
JT: Like most horror fans I know, I started early. The books I read in between school assigned books like Where the Red Fern Grows and The Cay were Pet Cemetery and It. Later, my older sister would pass on piles of Dean Koontz books on her return visits from college. I'd finish one or two a week. The same went for movies. I wore out copies of fantasy movies as a young kid and horror movies later. I have a lot of concepts written up in more genres but horror comes the easiest. John Holt, the director, and I like the same things about most of the movies we see and one of the big goals we had was to approach 'DCH' as a character piece first and let the horror come of out of that. And, because people can be so terrible to one another, I didn't have to dig too deep. A creature feature follows a dark character piece all too easily. We had a few things we wanted to say and hopefully the audience will pick up on those as well as enjoy the horror aspect of it.
WHH: Well, your intentions certainly shine through in your work, and the cast members chosen were some of the best we’ve seen in recent years. We can’t imagine a better gathering of horror-based talent for a film like this.
John, can you share a little of your back ground with us?
John Holt: Well as far as filmmaking goes, I studied theatre in school and got my hands on a Digital 8 Camera that belonged to my brother.
I was fiddling with it, checking out all the controls and then discovered it had a 1.85 ratio setting or at least something close to it. Seeing that rectangle frame just made it all kind of click. I realised I can do this. So, I dived right into it and made a horrible slasher flick that is not fit for anyone's eyes! After accepting that I knew nothing about filmmaking I dialled it all back. I had to educate myself in the language of film. I watched every kind of genre on DVD & VHS that I could get my hands on. I had to stop watching movies as a fan and rather as a student - learning what worked and didn't work. Applying what I had taken away from all the hours in front of the TV and theater screen coupled with what I was taking away from theatre class, I slowly started making short films again - one after another. I failed and succeeded, but kept with it and it finally led to the feature.
WHH: How did directing The Dooms Chapel Horror compare to working on The Hunt? Were there any particular moments of difficulty or success, of note?
JH: Making a short film and feature require the same steps. Get an Idea. Write the script. Assemble a team. Pre-production and then execute. However, a shortfilm can be the span of a weekend to where a feature was 14 days of principle photography. It was a constant moving machine. The Hunt was an experiment to explore found footage. I wanted to make what felt like actual found footage. No editing, just constant footage untouched. What I walked away with was to me, real found footage works best in shorthand and to feel visceral. Now 'DCH' required an in-depth story with characters to sustain being a feature. It had to have something for you to invest in. It had to be about something and not just waiting for the jump scares. Let's try something different. Let's tell a story about revenge, regret, hate, pain, forgiveness, love and relationships through a documentary style. Me, Chris and Jason talked for hours - days about what we were after. Jason Turner went away and then came back with a script so tight and focused I felt confident in walking out onto the filmmaking battlefield. The script is your blueprint - a foundation upon all this is built, so it had to be solid and it sure was. So, The Hunt was really just a scene relying on basic visceral action to get reactions as to where 'DCH' is intricate in its relationships and emotional.
The entire production itself was a difficulty. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Everyday was a new challenge and every night was a new panic attack. I wouldn't take any of it back thoguh. It roots into you. I can't wait to make another movie - to tell another story.
The success for me is the feeling you get when you complete the movie, the friends you make, the incredible actors you work with, the production team that brings your direction to life. All these moving parts working together to bring the vision to a finished product.
That's the real pleasure.
WHH: That’s quite inspiring; we can tell you really enjoy your work! Do you recall how your interest in horror originated?
JH: As far back as I can remember I have always been into horror. I picked up my first Fangoria in 1984 or 1985, followed by Gorezone at my local grocery store and I just couldn't take my eyes away. Special Effects captured my imagination first. Learning about Savini, Smith and KNB compelled me to do make-up on myself and family members all year around. My first Halloween costume was Collegeville's Universal Wolfman - my favorite character in horror - and I refused to take it off. I literally wore it to shreds! I spent hours assembling and painting Aurora Model Kits and collecting Remco Universal Monster figures. I'm currently replacing Dracula's Castle that I stupidly took into the bathtub with me when I was little. I love all things horror - it's just what I'm into! Just like any horror kid of the 1980s, I'm fanatical about it. We have an understanding when we meet each other. Then I discovered King and Koontz. Horror literature that led to Poe and finally Lovecraft. That opened up the idea of storytelling in the horror genre - actually creating the world where monsters live.
WHH: You seem utterly enraptured by horror, which is what we love to see!
Bill, as a fellow veteran you’re no stranger to indie horror, but while playing Jordan you really seemed to be in your element. Was it an enjoyable and fulfilling role, or do you just naturally slip into these characters’ heads by now?
Bill Oberst Jr.: Thank you for the chance to speak to the We Heart Horror community! Yes, I found Jordan interesting because he leads a cult. I'm a follower of Jesus; have spent a lot of my life around churches; and I've known some preachers who were dangerously close to encouraging a cult of personality around themselves. Jordan was my second time playing a cult leader on-screen and in neither case was the character preaching Christianity or even a monotheistic God. In Jordan's case there is a Call Of Cthulhu/Lovecraft vibe to his teachings - he does have a sort of theology, although he is clearly a megalomaniac. I think about each of my character's worldview and state of mind quite a bit. One should get to know the people who are about to invade one's mind.
WHH: A little birdy tells us you’re more inclined to the psychological aspect of horror rather than the literal bloody entrails, and that found footage is a style you’d prefer to avoid. Can we ask you then, what changed your mind about The Dooms Chapel Horror? Was it enough of a mind-bender to get your malevolent juices flowing?
BO: I do prefer the psychological, which is why I liked The Dooms Chapel Horror script. Kyle is fighting monsters and ghosts in his own mind - as do we all. As a viewer, found-footage is not my preferred format but as an actor my job is to do my job and keep my nose out of other people's jobs. I loved Jason Turner's script and I trusted Chris Bower, the producer - I'd worked for him before. When I met John Holt and found out what a fellow fan of classic horror he was, I was sold. It's a good role in a fun film. I'm lucky to be a part of it.
WHH: You’ve garnered fantastic support in the horror genre since Take This Lollipop, but how do your experiences now compare to your stage-focused roots?
BO: They are so different: an audience is a blind date and a camera is a voracious lover. I love both. I need both. So I do both. I've just started touring with a one-man show of The Book Of Genesis and will be going back to Ray Bradbury's hometown to perform his Pillar Of Fire there again, as I did the year he died. When I retire my secret little dream is to open a tiny theater and direct my own productions in a black box, until I die - onstage, hopefully.
WHH: Is there a director, living or dead, which you’ve always wanted to work with? Who, and why?
BO: Tod Browning. Because he and my favorite actor, Lon Chaney Sr., pushed one another and challenged one another and created some of the most memorable weird, dark films in the history of cinema. I won this Chaney Award last fall and as Lon Chaney Jr.'s grandson Ron Chaney was handing me the plaque, I had a secret hope that maybe there could be a modern-day Chaney/Browning team...and that maybe Lon Chaney wouldn't kick my ass when I get to heaven for daring to think such things.
WHH: What’s the future of indie horror - and your place in it? Are you two a match made in heaven, or will you cheat on horror at some point?
BO: I cheat on horror all the time! But horror doesn't seem to mind. I always come home. Even with the scent of rom-com or western or a talking dog movie on my breath, horror throws back the covers and says "What took you so long." My place? In the bed, of course, sleeping peacefully besides the horse I rode in on.
WHH: How would you describe your experience of working with the other cast members on this title?
BO: Flawless, intense and fun. It was a class-A shoot all the way.
WHH: We expected nothing less. Your role as a tortured villain never ceases to amaze us, and you’ve played your fair share of them!
Austin, as the leading man and a newcomer to the genre, what was it like to work alongside Bill Oberst Jr. on this project?
Austin Madding: My first impression of Bill - meeting him in the middle of a fast-pace night shoot in which we had no scenes together - was the perfect image of a professional. We exchanged fast greetings and went our separate ways for the night, both understanding we'd get to know each other later. Over the two weeks of principle shooting, he was a big inspiration for everyone, as you might imagine. My initial mindset was to not get too chummy, just because I had to really embody this corrosive hatred for him on-screen. But I couldn't help sitting and talking with him, listening to his stories or going over scenes with him. In the end, it ended up working out even better - because once we got comfortable with each other, that's when the gloves really came off on-screen! I learned a great deal from him - in terms of both performance and professionalism.
I was honestly extremely excited to get in on a horror film because it's one of those genres in which I had limited experience. And it's a genre that John Holt had near endless experience with, subject-wise, so I knew it would be in good hands. Just listening to John explain his vision for the film was extremely heartening. He knows this material, and the background material, back to front. This was a huge learning opportunity for me and it paid off in a big way.
WHH: What were the associated challenges in portraying your character? Was it familiar ground or full of new experiences?
AM: I think most people understand the idea of pulling from inner pain to portray any kind of character. Everyone experiences tragedy, everyone has their own story. I just did my best to bring my own experiences to the character and give the audience a character that they could imprint themselves on before going on this grotesque emotional ride. At the same time, for the character to make sense to me, it had to have this quiet-but-constant rage that just festers in Kyle like an ulcer. He's successfully hidden it for years, but even nothing but the scenery of Kaler Mills starts to break down his shield and he begins a fight through the entire film to keep that rage under control and struggle with the guilt that comes inherently with it.
WHH: And what about yourself, Joshua? You’re certainly no 'knight in shining armour' in The Dooms Chapel Horror. What did you take away from the experience of being Jordan’s protégé, Samuel? Is being bad really so rewarding?
Joshua Mark Robinson: This was my second feature working with Mr. Oberst. He is a very kind and humble man off camera. On camera, he makes his co-star’s jobs very easy. He immerses himself in his character, he looks you right in the eye when delivering his lines. He is the definition of a pro, it is always great working with someone who is that passionate about the craft.
To be quite honest, Samuel was not a challenge. He is so sadistic and mean, it was easy to let myself slide into a personality so opposite of my own. The hardest part was switching on and off.
I wanted to be as helpful as possible behind the camera, but sometimes it doesn't serve a film to jump back and forth so much.
If I had it my way, I would take a page from Bill Oberst's book. I would love nothing more than to be 100 different bad guys in a hundred different horror flicks. Being bad is so much fun! Everyone loves a good bad guy. If they don't, then there is something wrong with them!
WHH: If it’s half as fun as it looks, who on Earth would ever want to be the hero!?
Shaun, what were your experiences of the cast and set on this project?
Shaun Gerardo: The cast was very funny, supportive and I definitely learned a few things being able to travel to Kentucky. It was great working with them - definitely a really awesome group of people. They are all seriously talented and good people!
Bill is like family to me. We met years ago and I am glad I was able to work alongside him for a few days on The Dooms Chapel Horror. He is a kind-hearted individual and overall, a true artist - that is probably why we have stayed so close, because this type of actor is lacking in Hollywood. It was a great experience as always, and I am sure we will do it again.
It was full of new experiences - because being on-screen a limited amount, I felt like when I did get the chance to shoot and face the camera, I was ready for it. I tried to be real detail-oriented. Being off set was full of new experiences too, as I got to see lightning bugs for the first time.
WHH: Would you agree, Austin? Was the cast as a whole supportive?
AM: Josh Robinson and John Holt were my constant sources of reassurance and support for my performance. Josh Cornelius, Abby Murphy, and I had tons of fun picking through our scenes together and coming up with little nuances for the characters. This was a very difficult film to shoot and yet it was still, for us, a celebration in the independent spirit. We helped each other solve problems, we helped each other work, sometimes until the sun came up. For a lot of us, this was the movie you read about in famous stories where future artists find some of the people they'll be collaborating with for a very long time.
WHH: And Joshua? Were your experiences purely positive as well?
JMR: It was not my first feature, but with any project comes learning opportunities. Everyone wore more than one hat on this project. I learned a lot about production and people management. I just began my first Producer gig a year ago. The lessons I learned on set have been invaluable in running my own set.
As with any job, where people are passionate about what they do, there will be arguments. I am happy to say, that on the set of 'DCH', everything went really smooth. There were some very huge days, and everyone did a great job of working together. I would work with all of them again in a second!