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Jeff Monahan
Horror Interview by The Gravedigger

Q: HOUSE CALL is an atmospheric period piece that also happens to be creepy--and with a surprising twist ending. How did you get the idea for the story? There is a scene where I kept on thinking MARTIN! (the Romero movie).

I love Martin, but I wasn't consciously influenced by it with House Call, which was really borne out of something else entirely - the sense of isolation. I'm always fascinated by people off alone somewhere, having to deal with something supernatural.

It's great when people see other things in stories. We had someone say that House Call is really about mothers needing to let go of their sons, to let them grow up and move on. Someone else said it's about the son's journey with sex, finding women. And everyone's right in their perception because a story doesn't exist by itself. It's really the story, (and sure, there's the writer's intention), but it's that, plus whatever the reader or the viewer brings to the party. It's a lot of fun when that happens.

Q: What is your background as a screenwriter? Influences?

I'm an actor, so it came from that - wanting to have something to act in. I think any ability I have as a writer comes from knowing about story, because an actor is there to serve that, to tell a story. And from knowing character, dialogue, motive, the sorts of things actors deal with when playing. Plus, I love movies, so the visual sense of that is great fun for me to do in a script.

I wrote two feature films that had great roles for me, and got to work with really wonderful actors in them (Michael Ironside, Alanna Ubach, Martin Sheen), but I didn't really like the movies because of changes that were made in the way the stories were presented - by people higher up the food-chain than the mere writer/actor.

I then did a film with John Sayles and it was an epiphany to see him writing, acting, directing, editing, working closely with a sympathetic producer, working with the music, everything. One vision. So that's how I got involved in producing.

I now have a letter of intent from Martin Landau to do a very spooky psychological thriller called The Collaboration, so I'm trying to get that done.

As for my influences, I'm so eclectic, or schizophrenic, whatever. For horror, Jack Ketchum, Stephen King, Ray Bradubry, Clive Barker. I also love James M. Cain, Donald Westlake, Richard Prather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, JD Salinger. And I know I'm not just talking screenwriters, but stories and how they affect me. Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, David Mamet. I guess in film, I really love the Cohen Brothers, David Lynch. Woody Allen. And Donald Westlake again.

Q: Were you involved with the casting of the actors? How do you think they contributed to the episode?

Yes, I was. Actually, I wrote the role of the doctor for Bingo O'Malley. Writing with someone in mind is something I don't usually do, but in this case, it really was fun to have it work out that way. Bingo played my father in a production of House of Blue Leaves a long time ago, and he's a wonderful actor. After I wrote House Call, I sent him the script, he signed on immediately and was absolutely spot-on perfect in the show.

Jason Hoehnen was cast during auditions, as was Maryann Nagel. They not only needed to be terrific at the roles, which they were, but also needed to play well as mother and son. I'm very pleased with everyone. The cast. The crew. I'm giddy.

And Tom - we were so pleased that he joined up with us as host and director, but man - he brought such a sense of suspense to the story and so many beautiful images - watching the episode is like watching a moving painting.

He's got a great respect for the script, which I love, and what he brings to it is magical - lighting, composition, pacing, a complete awareness of filmmaking.

Mark Fallone was our extraordinary cinematographer, and he and Tom just built these beautiful images.

And Tom's an actor, too. So he knows how to communicate with actors to bring out their best. This has all been such a perfect matching of elements.

Q: How long was the shooting schedule?

We had one day of exteriors, and three days on a set that we built ourselves. I think the behind-the-scenes features on the DVD goes into that pretty well, creating rain, fire, it was so much fun and very inspirational to us that we could pretty much make anything happen that we imagined.

Marty Schiff, our wonderful producer, was basically this general, spearheading this campaign to get the movie made and made superlatively well. He's that rare combination of creativity and practicality that great producers are made of.

Q: How did the whole idea for CHILL FACTOR come about?

Well, Marty is also an actor. We saw each other at an audition, asked what the other was up to, and since neither of us was really up to much of anything resembling a job, we brainstormed for a few minutes and came up with the idea of doing this. It's sort of like asking yourself, "What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail?"

This idea gave us full reign to create movies - writing, acting, producing, directing, all the things that we love. Putting the idea together was almost instantaneous, like it was there, just under the surface, just waiting for some opportunity to come out.

At what point did Tom Savini's involvement come in?

We went to Tom pretty quickly. At first, he thought we should make a film, which seemed the logical thing. But after we talked about the possibilities, both artistic and business - in this arena of mini-movies - it not only seemed right, it seemed downright innovative.

We have this content-is-king project, we can do it as pay cable, as an anthology film, as direct-to-DVD, it's such a versatile thing. Just like we're taking the stories in so many different directions, we also have a wide range of selling possibilities, and we're being approached by different companies now from different areas of the entertainment industry. It's great to have options.

Q: It's kind of unusual to just have a short movie/episode released on a DVD Why release them singly rather than 2 or 3 together, like an anthology?

The idea of releasing the show on DVD was always to do it as a 2 or 3 story thing, plus the behind-the-scenes features.

The pilot DVD, which contains only one story, plus about an hour and fifteen minutes of behind-the-scenes features and interviews, was done the way it was for that age-old reason - money.

When Marty and Tom and I connected with Chuck Zvirman and Mark Fallone at New Perspective Productions, we were so pleased that they got what we were trying to do. But it was still a financial risk that NPP had to take, and we all wanted to see how things worked out.

Doing one story and seeing how things went, from prep through post through release, was important for everybody, and I gotta tell you, this was the smoothest film experience I've ever been a part of, and we're all extremely pleased with the results.

Now that we know how effectively we did the first one, we're confident and eager to take a run at doing this for a long time to come.

It was - and still is - fun! And that's important. Not in a Pollyanna sense, but because when it's fun, the creative juices are flowing. The work is better. The scares are scarier.

And every review we've gotten has been extremely positive, we've been getting raves. We're onto something. And I don't mean to sound cocky, we're very grateful, really. We're fans of the genre, we're an audience, we love horror movies. Our experiences as filmmakers goes hand-in-glove with our own inmost desires to be scared, so that's the experience we're trying to bring to others.

Hey, if you love horror movies, ask yourself, when's the last time one of them scared you? Made you sleep with the light on? It's a personal, subjective thing, but we have so many stories planned that we know we're going to reach out and get some things stirred up.

Q: What's in store for future episodes of CHILL FACTOR?

Well, I have about a dozen scripts written, lots more outlined, about 96 stories all together so far. Most will be around 30 minutes, but some are 15, some are 45, so we can still give the same number of programming minutes per DVD, but without padding a story to make it longer than it needs to be, or truncating a story to make it fit. Small cast, large cast, modern, period, traditional, innovative, sexy, bloody, ironic.

Like I told you, I'm schizophrenic.

Official Web Site at www.tomsavinischillfactor.com

find information about Jeff Monahan at imdb.com find horror stuff by Jeff Monahan

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