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Interview: Justin McConnell Talks The Collapsed

Protecting family is an important part of life for many people, especially when their loved ones are prospectively put in danger. People would do just about anything to save the lives of those closest to them, even when it means putting their own life in danger. While many people can’t fathom the idea of what would happen to them and their families in the aftermath of an apocalypse, the all-important question of what measures they would take is an important question in the new horror drama ‘The Collapsed.’

Bow available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, ‘The Collapsed’ follows the Weavers, a desperate family seeking safety in the countryside after the apocalypse. They fled the city, which is now in ruins, as they’re being hunted by a mysterious, seemingly supernatural force. Most of the population has perished, and it seems the government has collapsed. While the father of the family uses his wilderness training to avoid detection, their situation turns grim when mankind becomes the last of their worries.

Filmmaker Justin McConnell spoke with us over the phone recently to discuss the process of writing, directing and producing ‘The Collapsed.’ Among other things, the filmmaker spoke about how he began writing the screenplay; his close working relationship with his writing and producing partner, Kevin Hutchinson; and how having a limited budget and shooting schedule put constraints on what he could include in the horror drama.

ShockYa (SY): Besides directing the film, you also wrote the screenplay for ‘The Collapsed.’ Where did you come up the idea for the story and the movie overall?

Justin McConnell (JM): It actually starts way back before we even came up with the idea. Back in 2008, we were trying to get a feature film called ‘The Eternal’ made, and the money just wasn’t coming together. It was a much higher-budget project.

While we were trying to shop for that movie, we wrote a bunch of other scripts, five in total. They all kind of exist in the same universe, in the same way that ‘The Dark Tower’ tie together.

So when we decided that ‘The Eternal’ wasn’t going to get made soon, we decided to make a movie with whatever money we had together, which was about $40,000. We took one element out of this universe, and we started writing it. We built on that, and ‘The Collapsed’ came from that one small element. We built a small, subtle apocalyptic film out of that one small idea.

SY: Would you be interested in returning to ‘The Eternal’ if you had the opportunity to make it?

JM: Yes. Actually, ‘The Eternal’ is the next film that we have on the docket. We’re working very hard to get that done. Again, that’s a much bigger film, and it takes time to get the money together.

Now that ‘The Collapsed’ is done and is being picked up by several companies, we’re in a better position than ever before. Now there’s more people that we didn’t even have access to before. The hope is that we’re gong to shoot ‘The Eternal’ later this year. Over time, we do plan on making all of the film in this universe.

SY: Besides writing the script, you also directed ‘The Collapsed.’ Did writing the script help you in your directorial duties once you began shooting?

JM: Definitely. This movie was written in a way that I knew, for example, certain locations in the scenes I had access to. As I was writing the film, I was also producing the film, and knew that we could actually pull it off. We shot our feature for way less than most people spend, and I needed to keep every dollar and cent in mind.

The script was essentially written based on how long we had certain actors for, and everyone’s schedule. I know that the actual realities of production shouldn’t dictate the story, but in some instances that was the case.

For sure, as I was writing, I was cutting the movie in my head, and coming up with the shot list. I had that written a month-and-a-half before we even went to camera. The director of photography (Pasha Patriki) knew exactly what we were in for, and anyone on the crew could see it. That’s sort of how we put it together.

In the future, I’d definitely take a lot more time. For example, the script for ‘The Eternal’ is on its fifth draft at this point. We’ve had four years to develop it and test it for people.

With ‘The Collapsed,’ it came together so quickly. It was pretty much the second draft that we had written. I’m very proud of the film, but even going back, if we had more time and more money, there are things that I would have done differently that would have worked better on screen. But again, I’m proud of the film.

SY: Since you had a limited budget and shooting schedule for ‘The Collapsed,’ if you had more money and time, would you have included more scenes to enhance the film?

JM: Well, it’s not just about the budget affording me more time. The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that everyone’s still working their jobs and trying to stay afloat. We’re working class people who pulled money together that was less than the catering budget for most movies.

So yes, if there was more budget, there would have been more time to do everything. We would have had more time to develop and more days to shoot. We wouldn’t have had to rush through some dialogue scenes. We would have had more time for casting and rehearsals. All that stuff costs money.

Instead of shooting it in 14 days, maybe I would have shot it in 21 days or 25 days, and really taken the time to get the exact takes I wanted. So yes, more money gives you a lot more luxury, and not have to rush through scenes.

SY: Besides directing and writing ‘The Collapsed,’ you also produced it. Do you feel that producing helped you in your directorial duties as well?

JM: Well, yes, but I wasn’t the only producer on the film. I worked with a writing partner and co-producer named Kevin Hutchinson, who was invaluable to the process as well. He definitely brought a lot to the table.

I think in this case, having worn as many hats as I did, including writing and directing and producing, it was more for necessity than anything else. I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to do it. When it came time to make transportation schedules or line producing or picking up props, it was Kevin and I, and maybe one other person.

The film really wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stepped up myself. Kevin stepped up as much as he could. Producing, directing and writing is a taunting task. But in the end, I think it allowed me to put my fingerprints directly on the film, as opposed to having a lot of people over your shoulder.

With that said, sometimes more producers is a good thing, if they’re good producers. There’s people there to bounce ideas off of.

SY: How did you and Kevin begin working together on ‘The Collapsed?’ Did he approach you with the idea, or did you approach him?

JM: Actually, Kevin and I had been working together for about 10 years now. We’ve been making music videos and short films, and writing all these scripts that we’ve written over the past five years or so. He was the co-story and co-producer on ‘The Collapsed.’

We’ve known each other for a long time. We met as neighbors, and started working together. From this point, he’s essentially my partner in crime. Most of the stuff that I’m going to make in the next several years, or longer, will be Kevin and I.

It wasn’t just something that came together for ‘The Collapsed.’ We’ve been working together as a team for a long time.

SY: Kevin worked as the special makeup effects artist on the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake and as a prosthetic assistant and on additional photography on ‘Diary of the Dead.’ Did he bring any of his experience from those types of films into ‘The Collapsed?’

JM: Well, generally that’s the way our working relationship is. I’m more the actual on-the-ground writer-I’ll actually write the script, and we’ll workshop it as I write, and we’ll come up with the story.

But in terms of art direction and make-up, he’s the one that spear-heads that side of things. Through him, we have contact with some of the best make-up and effects crews in Toronto. He’s worked on all this big productions and gained more and more people we can bring into our fold as time goes on.

For example, for ‘The Eternal,’ the make-up people we have lined up for that are pretty massive in this part of the country. Our effects should be able to rival much larger films, basically. Kevin, on the artistic side of things, is a very valuable member of the whole team, really.

SY: The apocalypse genre has been popular in films and on television in recent years, in such projects as ‘Battle Los Angeles’ and ‘The Walking Dead.’ Why do you think fans are so intrigued by the genre?

JM: Well, I think everybody’s got a different reason why they like this thing, why they like the post-apocalypse. People are in it for the idea of zombies and people having to survive and run away from whatever monster or creature or disaster that happens to be destroying everything.

I enjoy that as much as the next guy, but when we set out to do ‘The Collapsed,’ we really didn’t want to do that. Well, for one thing, we couldn’t do it, because we didn’t have the money. Secondly, we didn’t want to do a film where it was just people running away from zombies or crazy people, or whatever else. That element is sort of there. There’s no zombies in it, but it’s there, to an extent.

But really what I was interested in was seeing what people hold onto when everything else falls away. When you no longer have the cell phone or the computer with you, and the comforts of home. You don’t have access to a shower, and even getting food is more difficult to come by. You may die at any moment. What’s really important to you, that’s the basis of how I wanted to approach this-what we do when a society collapses-run, duck, hide, kill something.

SY: Were there any films or television shows that inspired you while you were writing and directing ‘The Collapsed?’

JM: The list would be endless. I’ve been watching film and cult film and horror probably since I was 11 or 12, probably even earlier, but I don’t remember that early stuff.

But ‘The Collapsed’ specifically, there was a lot of stuff in there. There were touches of Sam Raimi and George Romero. The way we shot the forest was somewhat inspired by Lars van Trier’s ‘Antichrist.’ The forest was almost like a breathing, living character on its own. When we built the atmosphere, a lot of that came from that.

Again, it’s a massive list. Some of the shot compositions were inspired by other films. But there was nothing that I could directly say, this is just a retread of this. It took a lot of the elements from things that we enjoyed over the years, and we brought them to the story, if they fit.

Obviously, there’s some ‘Evil Dead’ in there. Anything post-apocalyptic, you’re going to have shades of ‘The Road’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ and all that sort of thing. It’s really just a giant melting pot of influences from over the years.

SY: Besides ‘The Collapsed,’ you have also helmed several short films and documentaries, including ‘Sleep Tight’ and ‘Working Class Rock Star.’ Do you have a preference of one medium or genre over the other?

JM: Well, it terms of genre, I’m most interested in horror. But in terms of format of actual films, it really depends on what I’m working on at the time. If a good enough short film idea comes up and we have the finance, I love making them.

But there really isn’t a lot you can do with a short film. You can do festivals for a long period of time. You can sell it, and make a little bit of money. It might get you some notice, and if you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll get something more out of it.

But in general, feature film production is where it’s at, whether it’s a documentary or a narrative. However, with documentary, it’s a completely different scene. With the types of documentaries I’ve made, I’ve shot two feature documentaries at this point.

They’re very much several years of me following around subjects with a camera. It’s like you’re living your life through a lens for a little bit, getting a story. I really enjoy that, but it’s such a different process than making a narrative.

With a documentary, the film really isn’t finished or discovered until you feel like you’ve shot enough to put together a cohesive story. Then you put the story together and edit it for a period of time. With a narrative film, you plan everything together before you even shoot a frame, in order to have something be pulled off somewhat successfully.

SY: Are there any upcoming films, whether documentary or narrative, that you have lined up that you can discuss?

JM: Well, we’re look at a couple of short films this year. One we’re going to be producing pretty soon, and the other one’s going to be a little further on, maybe in August or September. We’re also gearing up to do a web series, and, of course, ‘The Eternal.’ I don’t know if we’re going to be shooting that this year or early next year. But we’re working very hard on getting the final bit of money together so we can move ahead.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Justin McConnell The Collapsed Interview

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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