Jake West (Part 1)
In April 2006 I had an absolute blast hanging out with Jake West on the Romanian set of his third feature, Pumpkinhead III, which was released as Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes. I let Jake get back to Blighty and get some sleep before I interviewed him about the movie in July. Parts of this interview appeared in Fangoria.
Jump straight to Part 2 of this long interview.
What stage are you at on Pumpkinhead III?
“I am about to get picture lock. Once this cut goes out, we should get picture approval which means the cut will be locked, which means we can start on all the visual effects shots and sound design can begin. Processes like the ADR, looping - music, score - all that kind of thing. The cut is done but then all the rest of the post begins.”
With your background in editing, are you more at home leaning over a hot Avid?
“This time round I actually had an editor and it was very good actually. Because of the post-production schedule being quite short on this film, they needed to start the editing while we were shooting so the rushes were being sent back every day from Romania to the UK and a friend of mine, an editor who I’ve worked with for various companies, I got him in to do the edit. That also meant, although I’m not the credited editor, when I got back to the UK I did quite a lot of the polish editing because it’s my background. But it’s very much a Jake West film because I love the post production process.”
How did you actually get involved with this movie?
“I was very fortunate. I had two bits of good fortune which led to me getting this gig. The first bit of good fortune was the fact that a woman from the Sci-Fi Channel, Karen O’Hara, saw my picture Evil Aliens when it played at the Toronto International Film Festival. Obviously that’s a really big festival. She saw the film and approached me after the screening and said would I be interested in doing a film for Sci-Fi. I said obviously I’m always interested in doing work but it would depend on the script etc. etc., what the project was - but absolutely, of course. I was quite flattered because no-one’s really offered me a film before! So that was one bit of luck which meant that the Sci-Fi Channel would approve me as a director for something because you have to have approval before you can work for them, you can’t be an unknown quantity.
“Then the other bit of luck: as you know, we did a lot of extras for DVD companies and we’d done a lot of work for Anchor Bay in the UK. Mo Claridge at Anchor Bay was at AFM last year and he got approached by Brad Krevoy who runs Motion Picture Corporation of America who was putting together the Pumpkinhead sequels - and he asked if there was any UK directors Mo would recommend. And he recommended me for the job! Then when I spoke to Brad I told him, ‘The Sci-Fi Channel loved my last picture,’ and he said, ‘Well, this is great because we will be able to get you approved as a director and move ahead very quickly.’ So I owe a lot to Evil Aliens and to Mo Claridge. This film is actually dedicated to Mo Claridge because I don’t know if you know but Mo passed away, which was very sad so I’m dedicating my picture to Mo. Because he was a great guy and he really helped me get this. It’s very rare that anyone actually helps you in this business!”
There was a gap of seven years between Razor Blade Smile and Evil Aliens but this must have come together around the time that Evil Aliens was released.
“That’s right. Evil Aliens got released theatrically in the UK in March and I was in Romania prepping Pumpkinhead, which was a very unusual thing. With Razor Blade Smile, everything just went stone dead - nothing - and it was very difficult to get the money for Evil Aliens. We’ve spoken about the Evil Aliens finance: I got lucky in the end, a private investor gave me the money. So from Evil Aliens to this was a bit of a ride and I hope to continue at this rate. It’s a much nicer way of working than sitting around, doing nothing for years.”
You were originally going to do both Pumpkinhead sequels. Why didn’t you?
“What happened is that they wanted me to do Part III and Part IV. I wrote a script for Part III and Part IV but the Part III script was co-written with Barbara Werner, who has written scripts for the Sci-Fi Channel before and was one of their approved writers. But then I came up with a scenario and we wrote a script for Part IV called Dark Hell. Love Hurts seems to have inherited that title now. I don’t know if it’s going to keep it but no-one like Love Hurts so all that remains of my original Dark Hell seems to be the title! It was a very ambitious script but I thought it was the sort of thing that Sci-Fi Channel would like.
“At the end of Part III, which was going to be my classic Pumpkinhead story - Part III is basically a continuation of Part I, ignoring Part II which I don’t really think is that good - but Part IV was going to be a reinvention of Pumpkinhead. It was going to take the classic monster and then change him. I had the military coming to Razorback Hollow and taking away the corpse, then biogenetically engineering it for military spec. So the monster design was going to change. Everyone really loved the script but I think it was a bit too radical and I think people were worried about the budget. I wasn’t trying to censor myself, I was trying to have the evolution of the monster. Part III would be your classic feature, Part IV would be the next step up. It would start with the classic creature and it would become something else. I really liked that idea but, for whatever reason, that script didn’t get made. But hey, maybe if these two are successful they’ll come back to it!
“I don’t want to tease people too much with the details. But ultimately what happened was, at the eleventh hour, they thought about it and it got pulled. Then they asked me to come up with another idea. I had already been working on Part III and Part IV and I was about two weeks away from going to Romania to start the actual physical preparation. l said, ‘In that time I can’t prep Part III and generate new ideas for Part IV and prep Part IV and do all of the casting for Part III, start shooting Part III and cast Part IV. It’s just not humanly possible!’ Fortunately they saw sense in that so decided to cast around what other directors might be interested in doing Part IV.”
Did you know Mike Hurst at that point?
“I’d met Mike Hurst about five or six years before in Cannes one year. Just briefly, but he was a nice chap and he had just made Babyjuice Express at that point, or had just got the funding for it. That was the only time I’d met him but I knew of Project: Assassin back from the days when Roland Emmerich picked it up and that was always an interesting storyline. So I knew who he was and I’d read about some of the things he’d done. I’d met him once before and he was a pleasant guy, so when I heard that he’d got the gig for IV that was kind of cool because it meant I got to hang out with him and see what he’d been up to. And he’d certainly been up to a lot more than me!”
What did you think when you got out to Romania?
“I had already been on a location recce for Part III and Part IV - for my script - in January, so I’d already been around to the studio and a lot of the locations. I had found locations for both films and did a lot of planning set designs for the military stuff too, which didn’t get made. So because I’d been there I knew what to expect. But when you first go to Romania it’s an interesting culture shock because on the one hand you’ve got a fairly modern city at the centre and then as you go out to the country, towards the studio, you see gypsies on horse-drawn carts and people selling stuff on the side of the road and it feels like you’ve gone back in time. But working with the Romanians, in terms of the studios that they’ve got there and the crews that they have: we had a full crew, we had a great kit. They’re incredibly good at building sets and just the level at which they pace themselves, which I was incredibly impressed by. The crew and all of the art department and everything was really top-notch.”
How did you cope with going from a minimal crew on your first two films to a full-size crew?
“There were about seventy people and it was an absolute delight, that’s all I can say. I had a big smile on my face because for the first time in my life I wasn’t the guy unloading the van at the beginning of the day and then loading it back up again and decabling and driving it back, whilst trying to pay actors money and organise all the travelling and trying to find food for people. So it was actually the first time I’ve been able to just concentrate on the directing. Hopefully that shows in the final product. I think it’s a much more polished piece of work. I’ve got a better level of actors, the production values and everything has just gone up a gear and that’s what money can buy you - and it’s wonderful to have that opportunity.”
Isn’t there a downside of having less hands-on control?
“It was interesting because that’s something that you worry about when you start a project like this. But the way that I was allowed to develop the story, with another writer, in the context of what I wanted to do, I think you’ll see a lot of Jake West trademarks in there. Yes, there are things that are subject to more approval and the one thing that I wasn’t allowed to do, because of the Sci-Fi Channel rules, is: you’re not allowed sex or swearing. So this is the first Jake West film that hasn’t got sex or swearing - but some people may say that’s a good thing!”
Is there going to be an unrated director’s cut at some point?
“They could do it but I don’t think there’s really going to be that much difference. I didn’t shoot any swearing or sex and obviously the cut I’m doing is the right one. But there’s a theatrical cut and a TV version so there will be a slight time difference in those but I don’t think there’s going to be a huge amount of difference between the two. Obviously the theatrical version is the one to see if you get the choice.”
Have you had to shoehorn it into the Sci-Fi Channel structure of ad breaks and so on?
“The script was developed with that in mind because you have to be aware of those things. But because this is a Pumpkinhead film, we did ask them if they would allow us to have a much slower build-up in the first act. I think it’s unprecedented on the Sci-Fi Channel that we’ve been allowed to have about 25 minutes before the first ad break, which is quite unusual apparently because normally they only allow 15 or something. There was an argument that Pumpkinhead doesn’t build in the normal way because we are resurrecting this creature, and you have to understand the set-up of the film beforehand. So it’s a little bit different to the Sci-Fi Channel’s normal format in that respect and I think it stays true to the Pumpkinhead mythology. I’m a huge fan of the first film and what Stan Winston did in there with the actual mythology of the beast. I really wanted to keep that clear and clean so hopefully fans of the first one will really see that there’s a lot of respect paid to that.”
Continue to Part 2 of this long interview where Jake discusses Lance Henriksen, Gary Tunnicliffe and working in Romania.