Exclusive Interview: Jack Thomas Smith
After his 2006 directorial debut with Disorder, director, producer and writer Jack Thomas Smith returns with the gritty ‘assembled footage’ thriller Infliction.
He speaks exclusively to Ross Wildish about his horror favourites, his inspirations and his career in the genre thus far.
By Ross Wildish - 8th October 2014
WeHeartHorror: How did you start your career in film?
Jack Thomas Smith: When I was a teenager, I worked at a video store in Sparta, NJ. A customer by the name of Lee Estrada would come in and rent horror movies all the time. Lee and I would talk about horror films and we became friends. At that time, I had just started working on my first screenplay, which was a horror script, and I told Lee about it. He told me about a friend of his named Ted Bohus, who had directed a couple of indie horror films that received a theatrical releases. He gave me Ted's phone number and told me to reach out to him when I was done writing it.
As soon as I finished the screenplay, I called Ted and sent him my script. He read it, liked it, and suggested we work on something together. He felt the budget for the screenplay I wrote was too large to shoot as an indie. So Ted and I co-wrote The Regenerated Man and raised the financing to shoot. Ted directed it and I worked with the crew so I could learn. When we completed the film, we were able to secure distribution with Arrow Entertainment and doubled our investment.
After that, I met John Russo at a horror convention in NYC. John wrote and produced the original Night of the Living Dead, which is one of my favourite films. It was definitely cool to meet him. I was able to raise the financing for a film he wrote called Santa Claws, which was about a guy dressed in a Santa Claus costume going around killing people. John directed the film and I produced it. I learned a lot on this project as well and we secured a distribution deal with EI Independent.
After working with Ted and John, I took what I had learned from them and applied it to my film Disorder, which I wrote produced and directed. Disorder is a psychological thriller told from the perspective of the main character, who is a paranoid schizophrenic. You’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t, and right when you think you have it figured out, there’s a twist ending. Disorder opened in select theatres and was released on DVD by Universal/Vivendi and PPV & VOD by Warner Brothers. It was in every Hollywood Video, Movie Gallery, and Wal-Mart across the United States. It was a trip to go into Wal-Mart and see your indie film sitting on the new-release shelf between major Hollywood films.
WHH: What are your favourite horror films or directors that have inspired your work?
JTS: My all-time favourite horror film is the original Dawn of the Dead. I saw it at the theatre when I was nine years old and it absolutely blew me away. Some of my other favourite horror films are the original Halloween, John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Shining, The Evil Dead, Seven, Frailty, Night of the Living Dead, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Carrie to name a few.
I can go on and on. I’m also a huge fan of The Walking Dead. With that being said, my favourite horror directors are Brian DePalma, John Carpenter, and George Romero. Other directors who have inspired me outside of the horror genre are Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Stanley Kubrick.
WHH: What inspired the story of Infliction?
JTS: I’m not giving anything away here by saying that Infliction deals with the long-term effects of child abuse and the empowerment of the victims over their abusers. I knew a person, who came from a very abusive family and I saw the cycle of abuse. Her parents were abused, and their parents had been abused, and when this person’s siblings started having children, they weren’t the best with their kids. I witnessed first-hand the damage that child abuse causes not only to the individual but to society as a whole. I don’t want to say that Infliction is a true story but there are elements of truth to it. Honestly, I could probably say Infliction is based on a true story; all you have to do is turn on the news and everyday you’ll see somewhere in the country the horrors that take place in Infliction.
WHH: What made you decide to shoot the film as a ‘found-footage’ film?
JTS: I didn’t set out to shoot a “found footage” film. As I wrote the screenplay and the story took on a life of its own, the story dictated how the film should be shot. In other words, there’s a reason why the brothers are documenting their actions. It ties in and drives everything they’re doing. The one thing that drives me crazy about the “found footage” genre is when it doesn’t feel natural for the camera to be on.
For example, when you see characters in a film being chased by a monster or zombie, and they keep the camera going. Your natural feeling is, “Put down the damn camera and run!”
With Infliction, I made it very clear that the brothers had a specific agenda and reason as to why they’re doing what they’re doing, and why the cameras are to never shut off during their journey. It all makes sense as the story moves forward and comes together at the end.
WHH: A lot of horror films tout the ‘based on real events’ tagline, but you went one step further and advertise Infliction as ‘actual assembled footage’. What made you decide to promote the film in this way?
JTS: I came up with the phrase “assembled footage” because Infliction is not a traditional “found footage” film. Here’s what I mean; “Found footage” implies just that - the footage was found. A camera happened to be on at the time that something horrible happened and the footage we’re watching was found after the fact. “Assembled footage” means that the movie is more of a documentary that was shot for a specific reason and the footage has been assembled for storytelling purposes. Infliction is a character-driven, story-driven film shot in a way to document the brothers’ actions and to expose the individuals, who they felt neglected and/or hurt them.
WHH: A theme of the film seems to be the pursuit of justice and how society often fails in that regard. Do you think it can make things scarier when we can almost sympathise with killers? A lot of characters like Michael Myers had somewhat tragic backstories, but the story of the brothers in Infliction is far more grounded.
JTS: This is a great question. I do think it’s scarier when you can almost sympathise with the killers. It makes it more real and disturbing to feel like you can actually understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Doesn’t this also apply to real life? Things are not always black or white. For example: Charles Manson. As a child, his mother was a prostitute and had sex with her Johns right in front of him. He had a horrible childhood, so your heart breaks for Charles Manson the child. Then you see the monster he became as an adult, and you despise him. With Infliction, the lines are blurred between the protagonists and the antagonists. As the film plays out, you’ll find yourself asking, who are the true criminals here and who are the true victims?
WHH: Finally, have you got any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
JTS: I’m hoping to shoot my next feature next year. It’s an action/horror film called In The Dark. I’ve already written the screenplay and I’ll be directing it as well. It takes place on a small island in Michigan that gets overrun by zombie/vampire creatures. There’s a handful of people left alive armed with guns and they have to fight hundreds of these things as they try to escape the island.
The zombie/vampire creatures are rotting and crazed - It’s not Twilight! When they attack, they tear their victims apart to feed on their blood. However, In The Dark is more than that - the characters are strong. And there’s an underlying theme to the story that is consistent throughout with the protagonists and antagonists. There will be imagery in certain places in relation to the characters’ specific flaws. There’s a fine line between the heroes and villains.