William: "It’s always so hard on
the poor writers".
Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
August 9th, 2007
You can read a previous interview with William here
I remember the days when UK horror fans would have to wait up to 12 months after US audiences to see the latest horror movies. In recent months however, the gap has shortened and we've even had a few movies released here before the US, such as the recent Captivity. And that trend will continue with the upcoming DVD release of William Butler's latest movie Furnace.
I sat down to chat to Butler about his latest genre effort and he was honest as always.
Read on to hear all about the project, why Kane Hodder dropped out and working with Tom Sizemore.
What is Furnace about?
The story is about a group of prisoners who are assigned to help re-open the closed wing of a dilapidated old prison. Some unexpected inmate transfers from another unit are supposed to be housed there.
Unfortunately, they don’t realize that the furnace room in the old wing was the location of an unspeakable murder. Anyone who enters the room finds themselves cursed to die at the hands of the vengeful spirit who died there.
Where did the idea for your screenplay stem from?
The original script was written by a very good screenwriter by the name of Anghus Houvouras. My writing partner Aaron Strongoni and I had been meeting with the producers at Melee Entertainment on a potential Marilyn Manson project they were hoping to do and at one point the Furnace project got brought up to me. I loved the pitch; it reminded me a lot of the Charlie Band film “Prison” that I worked on as a kid. Producer Scott Aronson asked me to read it and I did - I was really into it. It wasn’t long after that that I was signed to direct. Aaron and I were asked to do a polish, mostly so that we could get the script in good shooting order and in shape enough that it could be shot at the budget the company was aiming for. The rewrite eventually turned into a six month event and the script ultimately changed a lot. This of course was no reflection on Anghus, but instead the team of people at Melee that sort of took the film
in another direction. It’s always so hard on the poor writers when this
happens. I felt bad for Anghus, knowing all of the crap that Aaron and I go through on most of the scripts we sell. He handled it like a pro though. After the script was finally locked, we cast the film and headed out to the location in Nashville, Tennessee.
You wrote the film with your frequent collaborator Aaron Strongoni. How do the two of you go about your work? Is there a structure to the process?
There is a structure. Basically, it’s that I drive him crazy and he copes the best he can. Seriously, we do have a system that we have honed
throughout the years. Aaron usually writes a great majority of the story
and I tend to contribute with the dialogue and re-writes. I typically handle the early interaction with the studio and Aaron works in the latter, polishing the script and working with the production up until the time we shoot. Often times this means he is up until three in the morning doing rewrites and printing the night before we shoot something. He has incredible patience, a virtue I can only wish to have. We offset each other quite well, I think.
"We spent about six months
casting the film".
Was it easier to get Furnace made after Madhouse was well received?
Yes I think so. I feel very fortunate that Madhouse did as well as it did. It definitely has paved the way for several of the other jobs I have recently booked. I still can’t believe it all came together so well. The producers at Melee watched the film early before I met with them, so I guess they liked it too. Furnace is ten times the movie Madhouse was so I am looking forward to seeing what unfolds.
Furnace boasts an impressive cast, how long did you spend casting?
We spent about six months casting the film with the casting directors Bob Macdonald and Perry Bullington, they cast all of my projects, whether it be the Disney Channel projects I do or motion pictures. I remember it was a tough time of year to try and cast a film; we started in November which is the start of the vacation season in LA. I saw lots of actors between November and March. Most of the stars, Ja Rule, Paul Wall, Danny Trejo were orchestrated by Scott Aronson at Melee. I consider it a blessing to have worked with someone so fearless. The cast is excellent.
How long was the shoot and where were the locations?
I prepped for one month and we shot for another month in Nashville, Tennessee at the old Tennessee State Penitentiary. One of our producers, Eric Tomasunas had located it. It was absolutely perfect for a film of this nature. The prison had been closed for ten years already and had a
reputation for being haunted…and for good reason. It was a horror fans
dream come true to walk through the cellblocks and offices, many of which looked like people just got up one day and left. There was paperwork on the desks still, coffee cups, mattresses and shoes in some of the cells.
The bad thing about shooting there was that the structure was very dilapidated. There were some rooms that we weren’t allowed in because they were afraid the floors would collapse…and then there was the asbestos.
The prison or “main attraction” so to speak looks amazing, was it really creepy to work in?
Unbelievably creepy. We spent a great deal of time on the real death row and it had a horrifying vibe in there. I would never walk by myself through any part of that place. The electric chair and switches was right there in the open…complete with smoke damage on a grill that hung above it.
My favorite place was the prison hospital where again, it looked as if one day everybody just left. Muffy Bolding who plays Polly in the film and I stole one of the production golf carts one day and drove out there, we then dared each other to walk through the hospital in the dark. I have to say it was the most terrifying experience of my life.
The place is filled with all kinds of scary noises and the sense that you never ever feel alone in there. It still smells like a hospital in there.
That whole prison is truly a work of art. All of the death and hatred that was housed there certainly made it easy to make the place a creepy setting for the movie.
Muffy and I made it all the way inside and went into the old kitchen with flashlights. It was hilarious, we were both nervously laughing as we dared each other to open the old refrigerators and stick our heads inside. They were still packed with old rotten food and it was unbearable. I think it was around the time that we came upon a big old dried up hunk of meat hanging in the old meat locker that Muffy went berserk and started screaming. We both dropped our flashlights and just started running. It was hilarious. I have no problem admitting that I am the world’s biggest chicken.
"I actually look at the structures in my films as one the characters".
You seem to like creepy buildings in your movies. Would you like to do a horror film set in a wide open space?
I would. But there is certainly something to be said about the personality of an old building and the claustrophobia that it can bring to add to the tension and tone. I actually look at the structures in my films as one the characters.
I have to ask about Tom Sizemore and Danny Trejo. The general public seems to think they know everything about these two actors, but what were they like in real-life?
Danny Trejo was one of the kindest, most professional actors I have ever worked with. It was an honor to work with someone so skilled and revered.
Originally Kane Hodder, the actor who plays Jason Vorhees was cast in the role that Danny played, but Kane dropped out at the last moment due to a death in the family. I was in the middle of shooting and had no idea what we were going to do to replace him on such short notice. Luckily, Scott Aronson got on the case and somehow got a hold of Danny. I think he showed up in a days notice. The one thing that I think is interesting about Danny is that even though most of the time he plays gruff guys – he is really actually very genuine and gentle. Having him involved in the project absolutely elevated the quality of the film and made my job
easier. He was also instrumental in me keeping Mr. Sizemore in line.
I don’t know what the public knows about Sizemore other than his arrest record. Unfortunately, Tom was struggling with his own demons during the filming of Furnace. I originally was worried about using him for this very reason, but decided to give him a break since, for one the production wanted me to and since he is actually such a brilliant actor. I took a meeting with him and he seemed to be capable of being a stand up guy. All I can say was that it was certainly entertaining having
him around. A stand up guy he is not. He has since then been arrested
again, so hopefully he will finally get the help that he obviously needs and get himself back on track. Lucky for me, he is still a great actor no matter what shape he is in he delivered an awesome performance. I wish him luck in getting sober; I know first hand that it’s a struggle.
What’s the latest on the film?
When can US audiences expect to see the finished product?
Negotiations are currently wrapping on the film with a major label. Odds are the film will be released on DVD but it will be a very wide release.
I was very pleased to hear of the deal and the distribution plan.
Everyone should be happy because the film turned out great with lots of moody tension and scares.
What’s next for you?
I am prepping a thriller called RUSH which is in the vein of “Cruel Intentions” after that I will be directing a drama about the American comedian Paul Lynde.
What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen this year so far?
1408 – Go see it its awesome!
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview William.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."