Josh Hancock had the chance to get an early look at Jeff Ferrell’s chiller, Dead West (here’s the official review), and not only was he thoroughly impressed (Josh is an amazing creator himself, and I’d invest in his opinion any day of the year), he was plenty pleased with the chance to pick Ferrell’s brain just a tad bit. And we were lucky enough to catch Ferrell at a moment in which he was able to share a few minutes with us. So, we’re grateful all around.
Check out the quick one on one these two engaged in, and be sure to pre-order the flick right here, before it’s made available to the masses on February 7th.
Josh Hancock: Were there any particular films that you used as reference points or inspiration when writing and making Dead West? Or, more generally, what films or directors do you find the most interesting or significant to your career?
Jeff Ferrell: I wouldn’t say I was referencing any particular films with Dead West, although the films my cinematographer Ty Migota and I spoke about most in regards to the visual style were Paris, Texas and No Country for Old Men. Although I did take some influence from Maniac and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, since they are told from the killer’s perspective, and are dark character studies, much like Dead West. And you can even see Maniac playing on the drive-in screen in a key scene in our film.
The directors who have had the biggest impact on me are David Lynch, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, Tim Burton, Brian De Palma, Mario Bava, Alfred Hitchcock, Guillermo del Toro, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero, the Coen brothers, and Clive Barker; directors that work in dark genres who have a singular style, and who are true artists of their craft.
JH: Dead West features strong dialogue that really sets the film apart from other thriller pictures. The characters actually talk and listen to one another, which makes every scene engaging and important. As a screenwriter, how do you go about writing realistic dialogue?
JF: When I’m writing, it really is a matter of just channeling the characters and listening to them talk to one another, and writing down the words I hear them speaking to each other. I try to develop fully formed characters that feel as real as possible, so when they do get together and talk, all I have to do is write what I hear them saying in my head. I’m very close to all my characters, and I care about them a lot. Hopefully that comes across in my films. I want every character to feel real, even the smallest ones. So I try to give everyone their own voice, and be true to that character without passing any judgement on them; to let them be a unique human, flaws and all, as we all are.
Also, just being out in the real world and meeting different people, you really get a sense for the way humans talk to each other. There is no substitute for real life experience when it comes to being a writer. I always say, hanging out in dive bars and meeting strangers is the best way to become a good screenwriter, especially in regards to writing dialogue.
JH: Dead West includes some bloody moments, but a lot of the violence happens off screen as well. As a director, how do you decide when to let loose with the blood and mayhem, and when to hold back and let the audience’s imagination do the work?
JF: The concept for Dead West from day one was to keep all the violence off screen, and to focus mainly on the characters and their psychology. I didn’t want to make a slasher film, or an overtly gory film. I also didn’t want to make a police procedural with the safety net of a cop character you can identify with. I wanted to make a film from the killer’s perspective, but to really get inside his mind and explore why he does what he does, and what made him the way he is. The film is all about exploring the effects of violence and what it can do to us. I always thought of the film as being not about the killings, but the before and after of the killings. There are some splashes of blood here and there, but really most of the violence is kept off screen, and I wanted to let the audience use their imagination to fill in the blanks. The sequel, however, is going to be a very different, much more brutal, story…