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Brian O'Toole

Brian: "I have always considered myself a screenwriter first".

Conducted by Terry Coe
February 10th, 2010

Brian O'Toole has been making a huge impression with horror fans. For those that do not recognize the name, Brian was co-producer of Dog Soldiers. Along with other horror films such as Boo, Cemetery Gates, and Death Valley. In the last few years, Brian has started to show his talent as a writer. Creature horror film Cemetery Gates staring Reggie Bannister. The horror slasher, Basement Jack and very fun Evilution about a virus that infects the soldiers of a military base turning them into zombies. We were lucky enough to have Brian answer a few questions for us.

Hey Brian, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for Horror-Asylum. I like seeing your movies take off like this. When did you decide to jump into writing the movies as well as being involved with producing them?
I have always considered myself a screenwriter first. The reason I came to Hollywood in the first place is because my agent at the time, Leslie Kallen, was getting some heat from the studios on a Holiday adventure script I wrote called “The Day Before The Night Before Christmas”. So, I made that decision many before me have made and moved to California in July of 1990 – not knowing anyone or what was going to happen. Not a brilliant decision. The heat died on the script and I was stuck working at a book store. Thank goodness Leslie saw talent in me and took me under her wing as a junior agent. I read hundreds of scripts and had the chance to pitch to many of Hollywood’s movers and shakers. During my time with Leslie, I had a chance to work with UCLA’s Chairman of Screenwriting Richard Walter. Between Leslie and Richard, I really learned the ropes of the real Hollywood. I owe them both for any success I may have now and in the future. The downside of being a literary agent was that you can’t really discuss scripts with writers. Unfortunately, we live in a very litigious world filled with a lot of desperate people.

That's why the form letter exists. It's a pity because there were a lot of great scripts I read that with just a little bit of guidance would have probably sold but you just can't give notes. After four years of being an agent, I met a producer named Luigi Cingolani from Smart Egg Pictures ('Critters', 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' 1-3). Luigi is probably the smartest, forward seeing man I have ever met. He and I really hit it off and I soon was working with him in a new company that we created called Intrazone. I loved the creative freedom that you have as a producer so I never looked back to the agent side. Not that producing doesn't have its own set of headaches, but in perspective you are making a movie and that is the best job you can ever have. A day doesn't go by that I don’t think how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing.

Is there anyone in particular in the horror genre that inspired you to get into the producing and writing horror films?
Richard Matheson is a writer I really love. 'I Am Legend' is my favorite book of all time. 'The Poseidon Adventure', 'Jaws', 'Planet of the Apes' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' are the films that really made me want to make movies. 'Phantasm' and 'Halloween' showed me that scares don’t come from expensive special effects but from great storytelling.

But the film that changed my life was 'Night of the Living Dead'. My parents took me to see the film at the Harlem-Irving Drive-In in Chicago. They put me on the roof of our station wagon with the speaker.

Alone. My five year old mind couldn't separate what was on the screen from the shuffling movie goers walking slowly across the gravel in front of me. I didn't sleep for three days. To this day, I have trouble watching the film alone, but I've seen it dozens of times at midnight screenings. Go figure! Life is funny because almost 35 years later I had the opportunity to meet George Romero and tell him that story. Guillermo del Toro introduced me to him when George was looking to make Dead Reckoning (which would later become 'Land of the Dead'). There I was having dinner with George Romero rambling like a school girl sitting on Zac Effron's knee - wait, that's a bad comparison. He is a very gracious man and I admire him immensely. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to work with George on Dead Reckoning, but maybe someday a project will come up again. In any case, how cool is it to have one-on-one time with someone you have admired most of your life. It’s a great memory.

I read a while back that the original Dawn of the Dead is one of your favorite movies. With all the new remakes and new horror films coming out weekly, it seems, is it still your number one?
I hate-hate-hate the fact that I now have to preface my favorite films with “the original” before the title, the original 'Halloween', the original 'Friday the 13th', the original 'Last House on the Left'. What’s even scarier is that I mention the original of some remake and people actually didn’t know it was a remake. Ugh! What all these people remaking movies are forgetting is that the original films were creatures of their time. You cannot re-create that. So why not do something in the Now – that speaks to audiences of Today? But, as a producer, I can totally understand the draw of the remake. It’s all about the money. If you had ten million dollars and wanted to invest in a film, would you invest in my original project or in Friday the 13th Part 20? You’d go with Friday the 13th because you know there’s a better chance in getting your money back. That’s what makes it tough for independents like myself to raise money. Unless the property is based on something else (a successful book, song, comic book) or you have a track record, investors are shy about putting money into a new intellectual property.

Raising money for a film is not a job for the weak of heart. I have been fortunate to find investors who understand the need for new stories and have had faith in my ability to bring a crowd-pleasing story to the screen. Personally, if given an opportunity, I would love to remake 'The Car' or 'Grizzly'. I think I have a great modern take on those stories.

Yes, the original 'Dawn of the Dead' is still my favorite film of all time. Romero really captured the human experience in a very apocalyptic way. I am a child of the 1980s and I lost a lot of friends to AIDS because irrational people were happy looking the other way. Prejudice and out dated Judeo-Christian beliefs were allowing innocent people to die, treating the infected like non-humans, 'those' people. It only happens to /those/ people, not us. Well, then AIDS came for them as well. And it was too late. There were a lot of truths in 'Dawn of the Dead' that were seeing the light of day in the eighties. All good movies, memorable movies, touch us and make us think about the world around us. I think that’s why I love horror movies the most out of all the film genres. A good horror film scares us, sure, but it can also make you think. 'The Omen', 'District 9', 'The Exorcist', 'The Bad Seed', '28 Days Later' – these are just some of the films that left us with something to think about after the film was done. That’s what I strive for in my films as well – something to think about as you wipe away the gore.

Not sure if it’s just me or not. But, I noticed a little different style in the movies after Cemetery Gates and some of the others you were involved in. Seemed like you went away from the creature and supernatural type of films with Basement Jack and Evilution?
Well, I would hope that each film has its own style. That’s why I work with a different director each time. Where a film gets its style is really in the editing room. 'Dog Soldiers' was made in the editing room - on set the animatronic werewolf heads rarely worked and when the werewolves were together they looked more like drag queens than hell beasts. I remember going over the VHS dailies and cringing at some things that were captured. But we worked together in the editing and we made a great film.

I eventually want to do a movie in every sub-genre of horror. When my producing partner and friend Eric Peter-Kaiser and I came up with Black Gate Entertainment, the horror division of Island Gateway Films, we knew we would be making three horror films. We decided on a zombie movie, a slasher film and a creature feature. 'Evilution' would become the zombie movie, although to be honest the infected in our film are alien-possessed and only working as hosts but I think that gets lost when you see people biting down on one another. 'Basement Jack' is the slasher film but I tried to break out of the usual good-girl-kills-the-metaphor-for-sexual-awakening-in-a-mask scenario by adding more of a Western element to it. The victim and the killer are hunting one another until their final showdown. The creature feature will be 'The Necropolitan' and pits the Manager character from 'Evilution' and 'Basement Jack' against a mythical beast. We’re excited to be doing it in 3D. My goal is to treat the 3D as Hitchcock did in 'Dial M for Murder'. So rather than it be something very gimmicky where we stop the movie to have a yo-yo bounce at you we use the depth of 3D to grip the audience. But I’m sure there will be a few body parts flying at the audience as well.

I think the common element in a Brian O’Toole film is that there is always a pretty big body count. 'Dog Soldiers' had only one survivor. 'SleepStalker' had one survivor. In 'Cemetery Gates', seventeen people die in ninety minutes. In 'Evilution', I infected a whole apartment building and only one survives. 'Basement Jack' had a pretty high body count. When people ask me, “Why is there so much murder and mayhem in your films?” I simply answer, “I take public transportation.”

What can you tell us about your upcoming film Necropolitan? I was seeing that that status is currently "unknown." Is this something you're still moving forward with?
'The Necropolitan' is all set to go. We are still seeking financing. It’s a tough market out there, but with 'Evilution' and 'Basement Jack' performing as well as they are in home video and with a fan base growing, thanks in part to Nathan Bexton’s amazing take on the Manager character, we hope to be filming 'The Necropolitan' later this year.

Do you have anything else in the works after Necropolitan?
Eric and I have quite a few projects in the pipeline. We’re stepping out of the horror arena for a dramedy currently titled 'Never Surrender' that is about a man at the crossroads of his life who meets a free-spirited woman who helps him realize a life long dream. I’m currently finishing a first draft on a demon possession story called 'Outside the Eye of God' that we may be doing early this year. We have a modern re-telling of the Elizabeth Bathory story called 'A Necessary Evil' that we are currently seeking financing on as well.

This is something I've been dying to know about. I'm sure you probably get a lot of questions about it also. What was up with Dog Soldiers 2? Dog Soldiers was a HUGE hit and positive reviews coming from everywhere. Why was that project scrapped?
I probably know less than you do on that project. When I left the production company in 2004, they had a script based on an extensive treatment I did. I’m not a fan of sequels because we all know that most of them are made to cash in on the success of the first film and in many cases are never as good as the first film because the integrity is gone.

I always thought that 'Dog Soldiers' said all that needed to be said and should remain a single film. But if one has to do a sequel then I like sequels that take place right where the first film left off. If sequels are continuations of a story then let’s continue the story. I liked how 'Phantasm II' and the original 'Halloween II' started off. So, in my take for Dog Soldiers 2, the film literally would begin after Cooper’s struggle with the werewolf Ryan when he and Sam the dog are discovered by the rival war games team. It was all pretty logical and expanded the mythology set up in the first film. It was definitely bigger, badder and bloodier. I know that at one point director Neil Marshall handed in a treatment called Sea Wolves that pitted Cooper against naval werewolves on a ship back to civilization.

Thanks for this opportunity to chat with you and the readers of Horror-Asylum. I, like all of you, am a huge horror fan and I really strive to make movies that /we/ want to see so all of your positive feedback on my films have been a great reward and I take every comment and suggestion to heart.

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Brian
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

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