If you have not heard the name Jonathan Martin before, mark my words that it is a name you will be hearing a lot more from in the not too distant future. The director, from Provo, Utah, is making waves amongst not only the horror community, but amongst filmmakers in general. His new short film, An Evening With My Comatose Mother, is a fantastic thirty minute horror that brings some fun back to horror, whilst still managing to effortlessly scare you silly! The film is currently playing at just about every film festival known to man, and it continues to grow and gather great support and very very positive reviews. The film has won countless awards in its short time at the festivals, and it is clear that we have a truly special filmmaker about to really make his mark on our beloved genre. I was extremely fortunate to catch up with the director amongst his incredibly busy schedule, and ask him a few questions. It is with great pleasure that I share this quite wonderful interview with you, and I am sure from this you will find Martin to be a fun, motivated, dedicated and extremely honest guy who is incredibly focused on breathing new life into horror. Martin wants to make horror fun again, and I for one believe he can do it. Now, enough of this chit chat, please allow Martin to explain everything in this rather lengthy, but fascinating interview. Enjoy!!
1- Introduce yourself to our readers; tell us a little about yourself, your influences and what makes Jonathan Martin tick?
Well, where does one begin? I suppose I should tell you that at the moment I’m 28 years old, and born and raised in Houston, Texas in 1982. In ’98, my family and I moved to Provo, Utah where I’ve been ever since. I grew up playing all the classic American sports: baseball, American football, and basketball. I actually wanted to be a pro baseball player until I was in high school.
Of course, such dreams often do not come to fruition. I excelled in the arts, and while I continued to play sports (except for football, I had a terrible knee injury playing quarterback that still gives me some trouble to this day), I started coming to the realization that my future career would not be in athletics.
Honestly, I can’t tell you the moment I knew I wanted to be involved with filmmaking. I do know this: Unable to get the equipment to make movies, I decided to dedicate the art I made in high school to creating my own “film stills” with mixed media. I made a series of “stills” using assorted materials, images, etc. to create my own films based around the seven deadly sins. I also have to confess that as a young boy I’d fantasize about being in sequels to such crap as the The Mighty Ducks 2. Not because I really liked those movies to be honest, but because I figured I could hit a hockey puck better than those kid actors!
And herein lies the influences you could say. Growing up, I loved Ghostbusters. LOVED IT! My sick movie as well was Big Trouble in Little China. I got sick, I watched Big Trouble. Three times a day. For three days straight. Other fair included Gremlins, Predator, Conan the Destroyer, Excalibur, and more. Yes, my parents were awesome for letting me watch some of these flicks at a six year old. Oh, and I definitely wanted to be a Ghostbuster.
What makes me tick? Hmmm. Well, how about we get through the rest of this interview, and maybe we’ll find out!
2- What are you up to right now?
Currently, I’m doing quite a bit. I’m barnstorming the festival circuit currently (as of this interview we’ve been accepted into 43 festivals globally), and I’m having various meetings promoting An Evening with My Comatose Mother.
As well, I’m currently developing two television shows I’m attached to direct. I’m also in pre-production on two music videos. Finally, I’m writing the feature version of Comatose, which I’m planning on filming in 2012.
3- Your short film, An Evening With My Comatose Mother has gained some impressive reviews, massive praise throughout the horror community and has won numerous awards, you must be very proud?
I’m extremely proud of the success of Comatose Mother. First, I have to say how lucky and happy I am to have had such a fantastic team on board the project who bought into it and into me, and allowed not only my story to shine but their talents as well.
But yes, the one thing that consistently pleases me is how well received the film is. We’ve received huge ovations in Hollywood, Detroit, Florida, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Utah… it goes on. We’ve been a huge crowd pleaser, but more importantly for me, the horror audience has welcomed it with open arms. I had several goals set for the film before I made it, and so far we’re far exceeding them.
4- What made you decide that horror would be your choice of genre?
In baseball, they say that if you want to make it to the big leagues, the fastest way and easiest way to do so is by becoming a catcher. I look at filmmaking and horror in the same way. The easiest and quickest way to making a mark is by making a quality horror film. If you can make a great, high quality horror film, people are going to notice in a hurry. So far, that’s very much so proving to be the case. As well, horror has such a strong and large fan base, that I think you’d have to be an idiot to not want to make at least a few horror films in your life! People tend to forget that while Spielberg had directed two films prior to Jaws, the film is definitely a horror film, and it is what made the man a household name.
5- Do you have a favourite horror film? Tell us why you love it so much.
I have two favourite horror films: Evil Dead 2 and Poltergeist.
Evil Dead 2 gets some sugar because it not only influenced my horror sensibilities, but it also just makes me laugh. It’s both funny and scary. Raimi’s direction is consistently mesmerizing. Bruce Campbell is a god. I love how raw it is; yet at the same time it’s very slick. Jo LoDuca’s score is badass. Let’s face it, Evil Dead 2 is very nearly a perfect horror flick: It has fun scaring you, and it has no shame. And yes, I’m very pissed off about the remake. In my vanity, I wish I could have gotten a chance to show Comatose before Raimi’s team. I could have nailed it!
Poltergeist to me is perfect horror. Ironically, I rate Evil Dead 2 higher on my personal list, but Poltergeist works so well for so many reasons, both technically and in story. Part of what makes that film work that I love is that it is in essence a love story first and then a horror story. The character development is fantastic. Yet it then throws everything in there including the kitchen sink. It starts out creepy, slows down a few steps, and then continues to pump up the volume. It also does a very Spielbergian thing in that it lulls you into believing the story is over, and then brings the hammer. Very much like Raiders in plot structure actually.
6- An Evening With My Comatose Mother is a very authentic, old style horror that somehow feels incredibly modern, how did you create the perfect balance of the films look and feel?
During the filming of Comatose, the buzzword for me on set was “fun.” I wanted everyone to have fun during the filming of the movie, because I felt that if we were having fun than that would show on screen. It didn’t matter what we threw up there on the screen, as long as that overarching sense of fun prevailed, it would shine through. I think we succeeded in that goal.
As for the old style feel of the flick, I would agree. That was my goal, to create something that would have been at home in another era. Yet, I think by bringing that into a modern world, with modern sensibilities, is all it took to do the trick. Honestly, I feel that the reason my film is standing out is because its very much so an ode to the classic horrors of old, and is unapologetic about it. And the reason it feels fresh at the same time is because no one is doing it anymore. I mean really doing it. Very, very few are.
In regards to how I see myself as a director going forward in the horror genre, I’m always going to have a throwback feel to what I’m doing, and I’m going to embrace it wholeheartedly. I will always have fun with the genre, and yet embrace the conventions and archetypes of the genre as well. There’s a reason they’re conventions people: Because they work.
Finally, I’d say that in regards to the look of the film, I think that a lot of people have lost a sense of style. I don’t want to sound pretentious as I say this, but no one is stylish anymore. A good film doesn’t have to be stylish, but we’re making movies, man! The audience knows they’re watching a movie. Allow them to be lost in this new world you’ve created. Create the rules of your world. Yes, moonlight is blue. Yes, the house is foggy and atmospheric. Why are those candles lit? I don’t know! Because it looks great! I think the look and feel really comes down to the creation of your own rules and abiding by them.
7- What would you consider to be Horrors ‘Golden Age’?
I may not be the best person to answer this, but being the child of the 80’s, I think the horrors that came out of the 70’s and 80’s, culminating in an Oscar Best Picture win for The Silence of the Lambs in 1991, was the “Golden Age.” Think about that for a moment. A thrilling, and down right honest horror film won the Best Picture award and was only the second film to ever win the “Big 5” at the Oscars if I’m not mistaken. Then where did we go? Down.
I love Hammer, and I love the Vincent Price era of horror film. The Universal Monster period was a classic one, but honestly, flicks like the original Dracula are pretty dang boring, although they have some great moments of creepiness. I pretty much despise the last 15 years of horror films. The lack of fun and imagination that has existed over the last decade and a half is leading to one of two places: A renaissance will take place, where we’ll return to the more classical horror films, or we’ll see the films continue to impersonate each other and confuse gore with fear. We’ll see.
8- In your short film I found your use of visuals to be incredibly unique, the way scenes are cut together, the often invasive and ‘stalking’ camera following Dorothy around the house. Was this all your ideas?
Again, thank you. You do flatter me, sir! But yes, these were mostly all my ideas. I wish I could tell you when and where the influences of the film come in, but outside of a few shots or gimmicks here or there, the whole films visual style and aesthetic comes from two people: Myself and my storyboard artist, Lisa Sabin.
I’d say 90-95% of the shots came from me, especially all of the main setups, master shots, and “money” shots. But during the storyboarding process, as we broke down the script, there were a few instances were I hadn’t specified anything and I was too concerned with the construction of the scene, that I gave Lisa a little bit of direction and I allowed her to choose the interpretation of the scene in the boards. I still approved the shots, but Lisa definitely deserves some credit.
As for the choices behind those shots, I definitely wanted to make people uncomfortable. I wanted to go in and out, to keep people on edge, especially during the second half of the film. Is she being watched? Wait, are we the ones stalking and watching Dorothy? While there was a purpose behind the decisions and shots, some of it I confess was done purely for style and because I felt like it. Ha!
Finally, I should note that it did all have to make sense. What we did always felt right, and while there are couple of shots I’d love to reshoot and change, I was always very comfortable with how we were going to shoot and setup the film as we developed the storyboards. In essence, Lisa and I made the movie before we made the movie and I knew the film would work before we shot a single frame.
9- Wendy Macy was a superb choice for Dorothy and she played her part very well indeed, how did you prepare her for such a challenging and, at times, quite fun role?
Wendy really pulled off the role quite well I think. But all was not always smooth sailing. When we were rehearsing for the film, I started getting apprehensive as I felt she wasn’t quite “getting it.” The role was always intended to be played very tongue-in-cheek and for an actor who had never done this before, it can be a very hard concept to grasp.
Fortunately, the storyboards were being created and the artist, Lisa Sabin, was depicting the acting perfectly in the drawings. Once Wendy was able to see the visual presentation of a tongue-in-cheek performance, she grasped it quickly. Ultimately, it was about trust. I trusted Wendy would grasp the concept, and I casted her because I knew she would be able to do so. And then, she needed to trust me and know that I wasn’t making her look a fool. That mutual trust is what ultimately brought us to what you see on screen.
Wendy, I should point out, has to date been nominated twice for Best Actress, and has received numerous amounts of praise for her role. Tongue-in-cheek doesn’t always work for everyone, but it works here. I should also point out Michele Wilson, who was Mrs. Poe, has also been nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress, to date, and Missy Hill as Mother has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. It’s one of the achievements I’m most proud of.
10- An Evening With My Comatose Mother takes a sudden shift from Halloween night house sitting fun to suddenly becoming a full on nightmare, how did you manage to create this shift in tone so dramatically?
It’s the shift in directing style, which from your review I can tell you noticed. When you watch the film, the angles and the setups are actually fairly tame for the first 13 minutes. While there are definitely some fun shots and style on display, I wasn’t letting the freak flag fly. The editing is a bit more “crisp” in that the edits are not allowed to linger, and the score hints at you.
Once we hit Tiny Tim and his bleeding eyes, the power goes out in the house, and boom! We’re in. The colour palate takes a shift into the blues from the warm oranges, and the camera starts having fun. The music and sound design also goes up a notch, and what we’re building for is an ultimate crescendo which (SPOILER!) culminates in Mother crawling up the wall. So what you’re seeing is ultimately two approaches to filmmaking, one a more conservative take the other a more liberal take.
I should take a moment to point out the score, which I think is fantastic and excellent. Kevin G. Lee was the composer on the film, and he truly bought into the concept. Without his score, this film would just not have the same jive as it does. He brought it, and for that, I’m grateful. Oh, and you can get the score on iTunes as well. So go get a copy!
11- Dolls have been out of favour in horrors of late, however you have brought them back in a big way with possibly the scariest looking clown since Pennywise in IT. How did you design such a wonderful and unsettling creature?
All the credit in the world to Chris Hanson. Chris is such a fantastic makeup artist and he’s the go to guy in Utah. Chris worked for Rick Baker, and his credits include Hellboy, Underworld, Men in Black, Galaxy Quest, and many more. His first film was Troll 2 in fact!
For the film, I always knew we needed to make this clown creepy as hell. I didn’t give too much direction to Chris as I hired him because I trusted him, and I told him a few things I wanted, such as the clown having a white face, have a geisha quality on top of the jester look, and to also embody the qualities of a paedophile. With Chris, we gave him elongated hands and fingers, along with oversized feet, and voila we had ourselves one creepy ass clown.
The first prototype of the clown was actually much more maniacal looking, but perhaps a little bit too much of a stereotype of a certain race of people. So we toned that down, and ultimately “Reddy Mercury” was born. The name comes from the fact that Chris based the final design of the clown off of Freddy Mercury sans ‘stache. Another fun note is that the nickname of the clown was “Ghost Monkey” on set.
12- Where did the idea come from to have a Mother who was ‘comatose’ in bed surrounded by creepy dolls?
While I was writing the film one of my mantras was to just go all out. If I came up with the idea, and it was funny and creepy and even a bit ridiculous, I was going to put it in. I also knew I’d have the clown doll in the film, so it was only natural, in my mind at least, to have Mother just surrounded by an assortment of old and creepy dolls. I wish there was more to the story, but this one’s pretty simple. Yet, I should say that with a bigger budget it would have been really creepy. On a scale from 1 to 10, I think we’re at about a 7.5 or an 8. I want to take this to 11!
13- How did you decide on the setting for the film, both the creepy house and the fact it was Halloween night?
I always knew right from the beginning that we had to go with the creepy horror mansion. It was a convention I had to use. I actually based the house on my parent’s home, and went from there. So it was fairly easily to conceptualize the home.
As for the Halloween setting, that came with the second draft of the script. Initially, the film was to be filmed during winter and take place during Christmas. Yet, when they become an unlikely possibility, I updated the script to a Halloween scenario. Then I threw in the thunderstorm with the final draft for good measure! I figured if we were already going with Halloween, then let’s throw in the storm and be unapologetically horror in our archetypes and conventions. Plus, it’s just more visually interesting.
14- What can we expect to see next from you? More horror or do you plan to try a different genre? Personally, I would love to see a feature length horror from you.
I’m glad to hear you want to see a feature length horror, because that is exactly what I’m currently planning for my feature length debut. And you might even be more pleased to hear that it is the feature length adaptation of An Evening with My Comatose Mother. I am writing the screenplay now, and I anticipate the first draft to be completed by October 1st.
I’m also directing two music videos, and I’m attached to direct two television pilots as well. I’ll be shooting the first music video in early October, and that should be out and available sometime in November. I promise, you’re going to love it.
Ultimately though, I see myself as a filmmaker of the fantastic. Whether that includes horror, fantasy, sci-fi, or action, drama, and romance, I always intend to have something a little bit different going on regardless of the theme or genre.
15- An Evening With My Comatose Mother is your first short film but to watch it the film does not look like a first time film. The quality, production and skill on show here are as good as anything I’ve seen from director’s who have been around for years. What’s your secret?
Thank you for the praise. It means a lot to me. Well, as it is, I didn’t go to film school at all so maybe that’s the secret? Of course, that being said, I still took some film history classes, all theory mostly. I did a lot of research into the filmmaking process on my own, bought some books, etc. I can honestly tell you I didn’t read any of the books all the way through. So… hmm… I don’t know what the secret it is.
I think a part of it comes down to having a great team. Without them, you just aren’t going to be able to pull off what you need and want. But on top of that, and perhaps this is the secret: It’s vision. A clear, well thought out and planned vision that you can easily communicate to your crew. I believe I was able to do that, and while it took perhaps a day or so for some to catch the vision, they all ultimately did and the results paid off.
I’m reminded of a story though. When we premiered the film in Beverly Hills at the Famous Monsters of Filmland festival, where we went on to win Best Short and Best Effects, the programmer started talking to me about how these obscure horror films that I honestly had never heard of. I confessed to her that I actually am not that familiar with horror films on the whole, and she looked at me shocked. After a moment, she said to me, “Then how did you make such a great genre film?!” I laugh now thinking about that, but perhaps that’s the secret.
16- I see you spent some time over here in England back in 2002, how did you find our lovely little island?
Oh, I spent more than just 2002 in England. I spent 2002-2004 in the UK! I was actually called to serve an LDS (Mormon) mission to Manchester, England when I was 19 years old. Besides spending 18 months in Manchester I also spent 6 months in north-western Wales. I had a fantastic time in the UK, where I developed a true love for the people, the countries, and cultures. I have stories of my life being threatened multiple times, I watched people change their lives for the better, and I made friends that will last me a lifetime. I wouldn’t trade those two years I spent amongst the British people for anything, and I honestly doubt I’ll do anything better with my life. And yes, I still crave a proper chippy and kebab on a regular basis.
17- Tell us a little about your documentary “I Am From Nowhere: The People History Ignored”
This little film was my first film. Literally. I had never shot anything before, hadn’t edited anything before, hadn’t done nothing before. I was given the chance to finally make some film, so I took it. I shot it with my friend in Poland, Slovakia, Canada, and the USA in the late summer of 2008. The film is about an ethnic group living in the sub-Carpathian region of Europe, and these people are called Lemkos. Basically, they’re a little known people who have been literally forgotten by even their own governments despite being persecuted and pushed into genocide through assimilation post WWII by the Polish government.
The film got praise from the few who saw it, got into a festival and all that, but a funny thing happened along the way. I personally found it to be boring. So once things settle down, I’m going to re-edit the film, give it a new score, and streamline it so that it runs smoother and becomes a more interesting project. Then I’ll submit it to a few more documentary festivals, and probably sell it. One note: It is incredibly difficult to make a movie in a foreign language when one doesn’t speak the language! Ha!
18- A completely none film related question, but one which will certainly be of interest, how did it feel to win Mr April in the Men on a Mission Calendar 2008?
Ha! Why did I have a feeling this would come up? Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say I won the opportunity, but more offered the opportunity. And I took said opportunity and ran with it. Basically, I was a “beefcake” model in a calendar back in 2007 that was published in 2008. I was Mr. April in a calendar that depicted muscled and shirtless returned Mormon missionaries in not very provocative poses. Let’s just say it was an interesting experience, but as a result of it I ended up meeting a producer from The Daily Show, was on MSNBC, Fox News, featured in Rolling Stone magazine, and many more things. It was an interesting experience that I have no regrets for, but I wouldn’t do again.
19- Tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
Just one?! Ha! I guess it depends what you think is interesting, but I am an avid video game player, and I was a Blockbuster video game tournament champion for the Genesis back when I was 12. In fact, one of my filmmaking goals is to direct the adaptation of Gears of War or Mass Effect. So I got to get moving!
20- You have an interesting blog called “Go Forth My Son and Rock: The Cosmonauts Guide to the Halls of Valhalla” please tell us about it.
Basically, the blog is my random, semi-crazed musings of the world we live in. I’ll write about such memories as my days playing Risk and being manipulated and used by my dad and uncle in their quest for global domination. I’ll write about what it must be like for a man to give birth to a childe. I’ll write about the fictitious life history of Yngwie Malmsteen. While I don’t write in it too often, it’s a place for me to enter my so-called “Dark Place,” a la Garth Merenghi.
21- You founded Bohemian Industries and Rotwang Films LLC, can you tell us about these companies and your goals?
In a nutshell, Bohemian Industries is my Virgin. What I’m trying to create and establish is a new entertainment corporation by which I can create and distribute not just films, but also publish books, comics, video games, music, and more. Rotwang Films LLC. is the most established of the wings, and is dedicated to film production and intellectual properties. While I’m mainly focused on the film side of things, I’m also semi-actively pursuing the music and publishing divisions too.
22- What is your opinion on the current state of horror films in general?
I know this is a statement that will probably offend some, but honestly, horror is in a terrible place. Torture porn? Please. Oh, they have their place, sure. But did we really have to flood the market with it? I feel like everyone is just imitating their contemporaries, when if you’re going to imitate someone, imitate Dante, imitate Polanski! What I see is a severe lack of originality and a lack of fun. No one wants to scare you anymore, and there is a severe misunderstanding that watching someone have their eyeball cut out is somehow scary. It’s not, it’s sick. I actually don’t think a lot of modern horror filmmakers are actually trying to scare people anymore, but rather gross them out.
Look at James Wan and compare Insidious to Saw. There is nothing scary about Saw. Nothing! The premise is in the title, so the whole time you’re just waiting for someone to saw something off, which is just lazy storytelling. Sure it sparked a movement, but was that a good thing? But then you take Insidious, and you have this great old school, demonic horror film that is creepy as all get out! And you know what? It’s Wan’s best work to date. Easily.
I do think we’re on the brink of a return to the classics. I think that’s why we do so well at our screenings. We’re taking people back to a time when horror films were creepy, they were scary, and they were fun, man!
23- Do you have any favourite films or favourite directors?
Ultimately, our favourite films are often the ones we loved as a child growing up. As I talked about before, some of my favourites include Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, and Evil Dead 2. But other films I love include M, Once Upon A Time in the West, Excalibur, The Empire Strikes Back, Alien, and more. I love Lynch’s Dune. Sue me.
A few of my favourite directors include Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Fritz Lang, Sergio Leone, Quentin Tarantino, and Stephen Spielberg. All for various reasons, namely that they are awesome.
24- Finally, this has now become a Horror Cult Films ‘classic’ question: If you could spend an evening in a pub with any director, alive or dead, chatting about films, who would it be and why?
Oh snap! This is actually a tough one. There are so many good ones to choose from, I think it would almost be more interesting to tell you who I wouldn’t get down with, and why before I tell you who. So here’s who I wouldn’t do: Tarantino, because he’d intimidate me with his film knowledge to the point that I’d feel like my penis was no longer adequate. Not Raimi, because as much as I dig his work, I kinda feel like I might turn out being more of the adult in the conversation… and because I probably wouldn’t shut up about how pissed off I am about the Evil Dead remake.
I could probably go on with this, but let’s just say Ridley Scott because he’s got a man’s man quality about him, which means I’d probably enjoy his company more than others. Yet as well, he has a fantastically visual directing style, and is very big into the art direction of his films and includes himself heavily into the process, and I’d enjoy gleaning into that and taking something from it.
We at Horror Cult Films thank Jonathan Martin for taking the time to do this interview and share some of his thoughts and ideas with us. I am sure you’ll agree that this interview was a lot of fun and very interesting and honest. We need director’s like this to keep horror fresh and imaginative, and we at HCF wish Jonathan all the very best for the future, and we also hope the high praise and awards continue for such a superb short film. You can read my review and see the trailer for An Evening with My Comatose Mother here
By Matt Wavish