Megan Freels Johnston’s new darkly comical slasher film with a twist (The Ice Cream Truck), is one that every last loyal fan out there should be hunting down fervently. It’s a bare bones production, but it’s overflowing with spirit and what seems to be premeditated over-the-top insanity designed, exclusively to give you a cut-loose and enjoy a gorgeous nostalgic slice of yesteryear. If you’re watching this one, and you don’t find yourself in laughter-induced tears, you may not have a heart in your chest.
The Ice Cream Man is an amazing, throwback film that harkens back to some of our true favorites. You’ll notice subtle nods to pictures past, but for the most part this is a truly unique picture with a few revelations you’re going to enjoy quite a bit.
We were lucky enough to catch Megan while she had a few moments to answer some of our questions, and these answers aren’t just well-thought out, they’re the kind of answers that get fans excited for more work. But for now, let’s put our primary focus on The Ice Cream Truck!
Addicted to Horror Movie: I was born in Southern California, and lived in Pasadena for a while. When The Ice Cream Truck opens I felt a wild sense of deja vu. Did you film the movie in Southern California, or did the filming locations you opted for just bear a striking resemblance to Socal/Pasadena?
Megan Freels Johnston: I am from the Midwest. The suburbs of Detroit to be exact. Where my parents live now is filled with ranch houses so that neighborhood is what I was picturing. I tried to find something in SoCal that could look like any Suburb. The main house and the neighborhood in the opening credits is in Porter Ranch. The BBQ Party house was Pasadena so you are right on the money. I think the locations we found were really picturesque.
ATHM: Tell me a bit more about the shoot itself. How long was the adventure from pre-production to preparations to finalize in post? And furthermore, what kind of obstacles did you run into during the creative process?
MFJ: Well I wrote the script in July of 2015 and we shot the film almost exactly a year later. Finding money is always the hardest part. You try to make the best movie you can with what you have. I would say we didn’t have many obstacles. Fortunately, most of the people involved were really passionate about the project and we had a great team. I find that when you have a great on-set environment it makes for a better final product. The police came on our second to last day in the park scene and they cost us a shot. We didn’t have time so we had to sacrifice a scene that led up to the climax or reveal.
ATHM: There aren’t many “A-list” performers in the film, yet you siphon some top notch performances from a small ensemble that looks as though they really loved the project. Is it a challenge being a somewhat inexperienced feature length filmmaker working with a group of performers who, themselves, are still relatively green?
MFJ: A List is such a small number of actors. Sadly Reese Witherspoon was not available. (kidding) Most of our actors were seasoned vets. Deanna Russo was the star of the Knight Rider reboot and tons of people know her from Being Human. Lisa Ann Walter has a ton of credits, such as The Parent Trap, War of the Worlds and Bruce Almighty. Jeff Daniel Phillips has a huge genre following. He’s in all the Rob Zombie movies and Westworld. Dan Gaier is the voice of Edith in the Despicable Me franchise. Some of the lesser known actors had some great credits as well.
Emil Johnsen, our ice cream man is from Norway. This was actually his first American picture. He is one of the stars of the Norwegian National Theater. We actually had a known tv actor for that part and it fell through and Emil’s manager made him put himself on tape for me and I was blown away. He was just perfect for the role. The right combination of creepy and “tongue in cheek.” I like working with actors of all levels. I thought everyone did an amazing job. As you can tell I have a style for the type of performances I like. I like the subtext to breathe and the pacing is very deliberate.
ATHM: The titular vehicle feels like it takes on a life all its own, and actually becomes a character in the film. Interestingly enough, the Ice Cream Man himself feels less like a straight forward antagonist, and more like an extension of the truck. Is that something you consciously aimed to make happen?
MFJ: I never wanted the ice cream man to feel like a stereotype or cliché. To me, he’s a symbol of the past. He doesn’t embrace change and move forward with the times. He’s judgmental. The same can be said for a very heightened version of Suburbia.
ATHM: And how in the hell did you find that old truck?!
MFJ: I had been searching for a truck that was artistic and polished. I wanted something “clean” looking. The opposite of a grungy “kidnapper van” something that people wouldn’t be afraid of. I had found an ad for a restored milk truck on craigslist and looked up the company. It was called Laguna Vintage and this is what they do. They restore old Divco Milk Trucks and Harvester Metros (what we used in the film). I called them up and told them what I was doing. Asked if they would design a truck to my specs and it would be on loan. They loved the idea and were amazing to work with. The truck will actually be for sale soon.
ATHM: Watching this film, I was very torn on the female lead, as she comes across as a wonderfully likable character, but she also ventures into despicable territory by crossing marital lines, should I say. Was the idea behind that kind of a decision to remind us that she’s a susceptible human being dealing with loneliness, or was there a different motivation there?
MFJ: I am a mom in my late 30s and so are most of my friends. I think we all, as we get older, reminisce about the “good ole days” when we had no responsibilities. We look back at youth with such fond memories. In reality our teen years and 20s had their own set of challenges. But Mary was a young mom and her youth was cut a bit short. She wanted to experience being young again even if it were for just a short time. Society reminds women, everywhere we look of what “young” is. There is a lot of pressure on us as we grow older and can make us feel older than we actually are.
ATHM: And, speaking of the scene I was just referencing, it leads directly into a shot in which Mary’s husband has arrived and everything seems normal… until a familiar face that, as far as we know, was recently killed, walks by.
MFJ: What’s terrifying in horror movies are things like ghosts, clowns, the boogeyman, an ice cream man. But it’s not real. What causes fear in real life is far more subtle. What’s scary to Mary is getting older, moving back to a repressed suburb and constantly being judged. Misogyny and people thinking that a woman’s place is in the home. A Delivery Man who comes into do a job and is looking for more than a tip, who doesn’t know when to leave. Who’s still there…
ATHM: Please, help me out with that finale. I get the impression that we’re intentionally being left to form our own opinions, but can you provide any clarity whatsoever to that last shot?
The one thing I’ve read on numerous outlets is that the climax can be a little confusing, and that’s why I really wanted to probe that territory and hopefully emerge with some semblance of understanding. I like the twist a lot, but I’d like to feel as though I fully understand it, as well.
MFG: Mary is a writer and she’s staying in a home by herself away from her usual distractions. She’s looking for a story to tell.
I think Hilary Barraford who plays Jessica in the film has said it best –
We’ve seen it from a man’s point of view who’s bored, lonely and going crazy (All work and no play make Jack a dull boy), but we’ve never really seen it from a female point of view. And I’m not saying we’re doing Kubrick here (because he’s WAY out there) – but the world that Megan’s created is one that feels familiar and worse, plausible, until you realize that nothing in there was as far fetched as it seemed. And that’s the devious thing about women. People (often men) think they sort of know what women think (women think about sex less than men, etc etc)—but as it turns out, what they don’t know, could fill a feature.
ATHM: Before I let you go kick some more ass behind the camera, I’ve got to know: What are you planning next, and is it something you intend to get into at the first chance you get, or are you taking a little time to enjoy traveling with the film and meeting fans who are crazy about it?
MFG: I had already started early pre-production on my next film prior to this film coming out. It’s called Hunting Season. I would love to shoot it next spring/summer. It’s a straight horror thriller. Psycho meets Get Out. It’s far more action packed and gorier so I think the horror fans will really like it. With each of my films, I have added more action and gore. I think it’s something I had to become more comfortable with as a filmmaker. Dialogue and tension I can do. Set pieces and kill scenes are intimidating and also expensive so if you are going to do them, you need to do them right. Hopefully by the end of the year, we will have some casting info. But I have no doubt that there will be a lot of familiar faces from The Ice Cream Truck in Hunting Season.