Exploring the effects of trauma and the various forms it can take amongst a diverse group of family members and friends can be a stunning foundation for a multi-dimensional genre movie. That investigation is presented in a meaningful way in the new horror film, ‘Dreamcatcher.’ The drama examines how far people would go to retain their glory, no matter how much stress it can also cause, in a world that’s now driven by self-made fame and success.

First-time feature film writer-director, Jacob Johnston explores how and when people lose their sense of identity, and how that process causes them continuous agony, in the ensemble thriller, which stars Travis Burns, Adrienne Wilkinson, Niki Koss, Zachary Gordon, Blaine Kern III, Olivia Sui, Emrhys Cooper, Elizabeth Posey, Nazanin Mandi and Lou Ferrigno Jr. Samuel Goldwyn Films is releasing the movie, which delves into the notion that varying obstacles arise from people chasing their dreams with violent, reckless abandon, today in theaters and On Digital and On Demand.

‘Dreamcatcher’ follows Dylan (Burns), who’s known to his fans as DJ Dreamcatcher, as he’s on the brink of achieving global stardom. Everything changes the night of Cataclysm, an underground music festival, where two estranged sisters and their friends meet Dylan. After a drug fueled gruesome event, things begin to spiral into a 48-hour whirlwind of violence and mayhe

Johnston, Burns and Wilkinson generously took the time recently to talk about scribing, helming and starring in ‘Dreamcatcher’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker, actor and actress discussed what inspired Johnston to pen the script for the drama, and how creating the story influenced his directorial style on the set; why Burns and Wilkinson were drawn to play their respective roles of Dylan and Josephine, and how they subsequently built their characters’ backstories while they were preparing to bring them to life; and how they’re all happy that they’re able to share the thriller with genre fans through the dual theatrical and digital distribution.

The conversation with Johnston began with him discussing what inspired him to write the screenplay for ‘Dreamcatcher,’ and what his overall scribing process was like for the script. “I had known the producers, Brandon and Krystal (Vayda), for about six years before I started working on the script. We had met at a barbecue, and they had just finished producing a Wes Craven horror film,” the 2016 horror thriller, ‘The Girl in the Photographs.’ “We started talking about our love for ’90s ensemble thrillers, and how that genre had dissipated a little bit,” he shared.

“Then they called me six years later and said, ‘We already have the financing,’ which rarely happens,” the scribe revealed with a laugh. “They said, ‘We’d love to do a love letter to the ’90s with a modern twist. Let’s do an ensemble-based thriller, and we’d love for it to deal with music in some capacity.’ Those were the basic parameters that I had to work in, and the rest was whatever I wanted to conceptualize.

“So I sat down and started thinking about the characters and story, and let the characters dictate the direction and tone of the film. So I wanted to blend satire with thrills and epic set pieces-well, as epic as they can be for the budget we had,” Johnston continued. “It was about a month-and-a-half long process, in terms of creating the drafts before we settled on the final draft that we shot.”

The filmmaker then delved into how in addition to scribing the screenplay, he made his feature film directorial debut on the movie, and how working on the screenplay influenced the way he approached helming the drama. “My background was originally in production design; that was my emphasis in film school. So I have this love for these really strong, iconic visual moments, which is something I learned during my time working (as a visual development coordinator and producer) at Marvel. I learned to let those moments also feed into the scenes that come after them,” he divulged.

So directing ‘Dreamcatcher’ “was all about finding a cool angle in the visual language, as the characters are living in a world with EDM elements. The use of color comes second nature, because all of these parties and clubs where (Dylan’s) playing have all of these multi-colored lights. Since it’s an ensemble piece, we were able to tie the different colored lights to the different characters and their costuming colors,” the filmmaker also shared.

“After we got the look, it was all about the performances. So much of this genre relies on great chemistry between the actors. With this movie, I think the actors went out of their way to assure that they had great connections with each other. Then when I got on set with them, it was more about finding those emotional and nuanced moments together,” Johnston added. “They did a great job of spending the time together to create a great chemistry with one another, so it didn’t seem as though we were trying to force them to have a connection.”

Further speaking of the actors and actresses who star in the thriller, the helmer expanded upon what the casting process was like for the feature. “The auditions were all done pre-COVID, so we were able to bring people into the casting studio. Once we found some actors we really liked, we started doing chemistry reads, and did some mixing and matching, just to make sure that it would feel organic between whoever we brought in,” he shared.

“Once we got the people who we felt really meshed well together and we started shooting, they didn’t have individual trailers; instead, we had a jumbo party bus, which had beds and a kitchen,” Johnston revealed with a hint of a laugh. “They all bonded in there between scenes. So even during their downtime, they were able to connect and get to know each other in an environment where they didn’t feel as though there was any pressure.”

Burns started his interview by delving into what inspired him to take on the character of Dylan in ‘Dreamcatcher,’ and how he was cast in the role. “The audition process for this film was a little different than what normally happens. I actually went in for a different role, but when I was in the audition room, they switched my role around. They gave me the sides and said, ‘We’d like you to read for the role of Dylan, as well.’ Later that same day, they offered me the role of Dylan.

“I was attracted to the character because he’s so different then what I’ve previously done. Dylan has so many levels and is so deep, so it was exciting for me to dig in and create his backstory, and figure out how he got to where he is in the beginning of the film. For any actor, it’s so exciting for us to create that,” the performer added.

Further speaking of creating the backstory for Dylan once he was cast in the movie, Burns explained what his process of preparing to play the character was like during the production. “When I was offered the role, and I gladly accepted, I went straight to my acting coach. We sat down for a few hours to figure out how Dylan got to the point where he is in the beginning of the movie.

“We agreed that Dylan is very much about his craft; it’s kind of like a drug to him. He would stay up all night working on his music,” the actor shared. “But then as things started to happen with him, it became more about business, rather than making the music itself, which he obviously doesn’t like.

“So we created the backstory, and then I came across a documentary a documentary on Netflix about Avicii. I watched it three times, and I had tears in my eyes. I was shocked because it was a very similar story to what I created for Dylan,” Burns divulged.

“For Avicii, it was about the music itself, and the passion of making it. Then as he got bigger, it became all about business, and getting a certain amount of shows per year-usually about 150-200,” the performer continued.

“I was like, wow, I can connect to that in a way. Obviously, I haven’t been through it personally, but I’ve been through it through Dylan. Using that as inspiration was hard, but it was also exciting,” Burns added. “When you create the backstory in advance, you can bring it all to life on set, and that can be really fun.”

The conversation with Wilkinson explaining why she was drawn to play her character in ‘Dreamcatcher,’ and how she became attached to star as Josephine the project. “I loved this character; she’s a force to be reckoned with, and is the kind of character that doesn’t come along very often, so I jumped at the chance to play her,” she shared with a laugh.

“I had to agree to take the part right away because this wasn’t a normal audition process, as there were sudden changes in the schedule for the film. I came into this with only hours notice; about 11:30 at night, the casting director reached out to me and said, ‘We suddenly have to cast this role. We were going to bring you in for an audition, but we think you’re amazing. Are you interested?’ So I then read the project and immediately said yes because I started work the next day,” the actress revealed with a laugh.

“So I dove right in, and didn’t have a lot of time to psych myself out. It’s entirely possible that I could have because this character’s so delicious. Once I read about her and knew her details, I wanted to play her so badly. So I’m lucky that it worked out the way that it did, and I didn’t have the opportunity to second guess myself,” Wilkinson added.

While the performer didn’t have much time to prepare for her role once she was cast, she cherished the process of creating Josephine’s cutthroat determination to maintain Dylan’s success as his agent. She admitted with a hint of a laugh that her character “isn’t a good person. I wasn’t excited to play her because she’s this beautiful vision of humanity. Josephine has instead given herself complete permission to do and be whatever she wants, and that’s incredibly exciting to play. Of course, that’s the life that none of us get to lead.

“So having the chance to have that much freedom and full-blown permission to act however you want and say whatever you want, and feel entitled, was a really fun outfit to put on and play in,” Wilkinson continued. “Josephine’s an agent who, like you said, is very cutthroat and determined. I think she’s worked incredibly hard to get where she is, and she’s skilled and talented. I also think she’s a pretty terrible human being,” she added with a laugh.

“She will do anything to protect her assets, and she considers her clients to be her assets. That means she’s cold-hearted and vindictive because she doesn’t care about the consequences, as long as she and her client are protected; basically, she’s protecting her money,” the actress also mentioned.

“So playing Josephine was a level of joy that you don’t normally get to have, because it’s not about the bigger issues of humanity; it’s purely about her being self-serving. There was something really fun about that,” Wilkinson added.

Collaborating with the rest of the film’s cast, particularly as they built the dynamic between their characters, was a process that Burns appreciated during the feature’s production. “Adrienne played Josephine, who’s Dylan’s agent, and she was great to work with,” he gushed as he praised Wilkinson. “My second day on set was her first day, and she was hired a couple of days prior to arriving on set. She had this big monologue that was about three pages, and I was blown away by how well she did it. I was also super excited to shoot other scenes with her.

“I think the relationship between Dylan and Josephine, as well as my relationship with Adrienne, was great; I think we worked really well together. We created such an element to our characters that’s unlike anything else,” the actor enthusiastically shared. “I remember shooting some scenes during which I looked at her and said, ‘That was really cool!’ She was like, ‘That was awesome and so much fun!’ So we kept the banter going during more scenes down the line, and it was fun working with her.

“Then exploring scenes with people like Zach, Niki and Elizabeth was great. I had a few scenes with Niki, and she was super fun to work with; she’s super talented and amazing. Like Adrienne, she’s such a pleasure to work with,” Burns also noted while he praised his fellow performers.

Once Wilkinson signed on to star in ‘Dreamcatcher,’ she also enjoyed the experience of working with her co-stars, especially in the sense of creating the relationships between the characters. “I loved this cast. There are so many up-and-comers, so it was the sexiest, most exciting cast to be a part of, especially since they have an amazing energy,” she divulged.

“But since I arrived on the set so last minute, the rest of the cast had already established their relationships before I had even met them. But in my opinion, that added to the story, because my character’s supposed to not care about the other characters at all,” the actress revealed with a laugh.

“So walking in and having them be perfect strangers on my first day of shooting was actually fantastic. I honestly think that it also informed their performances, as well, since they already had all of these weeks of already knowing each other and getting to build their characters together. So they felt like a tight-knit group of friends in real life, just like they are in the film,” Wilkinson also shared.

“In the film, they’re dealing with someone they’ve never met until this moment. That’s essentially what also happened in real life-they didn’t meet me until we filmed that introductory scene where my character confronts them. So I think it actually worked out perfectly,” the performer added.

Collaborating with Johnston as the drama’s writer-director was an experience that Burns appreciated during the production. “Jacob is one of my favorite directors that I’ve ever worked with thus far. He’s very talented, and he’s worked on so many great sets and with great people. So for him to finally be able to write and direct his first feature was great.

“We collaborated a lot on set, and I really trusted him with his direction and the input he gave me on set. As an actor, that really pushed me to the next level. It’s hard to trust a director when they say, ‘Do this or try this, or think about this,'” the actor admitted. “So to be able to trust him, and to be able to let go, was really important to me.

“Towards the end of the film, there’s a particular scene where I really pushed, and he said a few things to try to explore, and I did that. I was blown away a little bit by the way it actually ended out,” Burns added.

Wilkinson also appreciated having the opportunity to work with Johnston as ‘Dreamcatcher’s scribe-helmer. “Jacob is so talented. I’m so grateful that I’m in his orbit because our minds work very similarly. Everything that he felt about Josephine is exactly how I had seen her when I read the script. So we understood the character beautifully together, and that helped us create a shorthand that I had so much fun with,” she revealed.

“We both wanted to push the envelope with her because we didn’t want her to be a caricature. We instead wanted her to be as bold as we could possible make her be, and I think we succeeded,” the performer further shared.

“Jacob’s incredibly talented. He wrote this script so fast; my understanding is that it took him about 10 days to write the entire script. He knew exactly what he wanted visually, in order to be able to finish the project and bring it to life in all of its glory,” Wilkinson also gushed about the filmmaker. “He did that, and knew all of the pieces that were needed, from the color palette to the music choices. He saw all of it in his mind while he was writing it, which made the filming process really smooth and easy.”

Following up on creating the visual look for the thriller, Johnston also detailed what the process of working with production designer, Austin Johnson to create the look of the locations throughout Los Angeles that the feature was shot in was like. “I wanted to start the movie in a very stylized way, and then cut into a more suburban vibe, and then go back to the urban setting. There needed to be a roller coaster in the visual language so it didn’t feel one note,” he noted. “We wanted to take the audience on an emotional and visual journey as the characters went through these ups and downs.

“Being able to shoot in Los Angeles was great. We wanted to authentically highlight the city’s grittier underground vibe. We also wanted to make it a little beautiful at times through the lighting,” the director continued. “We also wanted to create a world that’s surreal in some ways because some parts of the story blend reality with fantasy.

“So we worked to figure out how to showcase Los Angeles in that way because it’s such an interesting, complex city. We also wanted to take the audience on a roller coaster through the visual language,” Johnston added.

Several of ‘Dreacatcher’s most important scenes are set in a mansion where the release party for Dylan’s latest music is held. “I wanted a location that’s tied to Dylan as a character to have a larger-than-life environment. While people watch the film, there’s an aspirational element, in which they think, that’s a beautiful house, which helps sell the fantasy of this lifestyle. That grandiose mansion contrasts with the beginning of the movie, when the characters are in a normal house,” the filmmaker shared. “So there’s an evolution from where we start and where we end.”

Burns also chimed in on the experience of shooting the movie on location in several different places throughout Los Angeles. “I personally shot in two locations, including in downtown L.A. in this massive warehouse, which I later saw was also used in ‘Ford v Ferrari,’ which was cool. So being in that big, open warehouse, and then filling it up with people in that big scene, was awesome!,” he exclaimed. “We also shot at this magnificent mansion in the Hollywood Hills, which overlooked L.A. It was very surreal.

“All of my scenes were shot at night. So I started at 5pm and finished at 4am, which takes a little toll out of you,” the actor admitted. “I had about 12 working days over five or six weeks, and on the days I worked, I was getting to bed at 5am. I’m not one to really sleep in, so I was back up at 8, and did it all again. It did become a little exhausting, so the night after I wrapped, I slept for about 15 hours, which was nice. But whether I’m shooting on location or on a studio set, it’s just exciting to be working.”

Filming ‘Dreamcatcher’ on location was also an experience that Wilkinson appreciated while she was shooting her scenes. “The locations do the work for you if they’re done well, and these were perfect. These were real locations; they weren’t sets that had to be manufactured. We shot scenes in this incredibly sexy house up in the Hollywood Hills for the party, and it had an incredible view of Los Angeles,” she noted.

“So you’re looking at a manifestation of what this character was trying to do. We weren’t trying to fake any of it; everything was right there. Josephine’s up in the clouds above Los Angeles,” the performer added.

“Where we shot the musical festival was incredibly sexy. We shot in a downtown warehouse space that was utterly perfect for creating this story,” Wilkinson also noted. “It’s exactly the kind of space where events like this are held, so our imaginations didn’t have to fill that in; everything was right there in front of us. I couldn’t have been happier with all of the locations that they were able to wrangle together.”

Also speaking on how the cast helped bring the visuals to life during the film’s production, Johnston noted what the process of working with them to create their physicalities throughout the production was like. “There are a few actors who really get put through the ringer. We had a safety team on set, but the actors wanted to do their own stunts; they were adamant about wanting to stay in their characters’ mindsets. There’s a part of the actors who think, if I’m living in this moment where I’m being chased and the situation is heightened, I want to do the stunts myself,” he revealed.

“But we wanted to keep it so that there weren’t extremely long chase sequences because a lot of the characters are wearing heels; you don’t want someone running up and down stairs and down wet hallways in pumps, due to safety reasons,” the helmer added. “But we found some great moments to inject some action sequences, without making them feel repetitious.

“We were able to truly highlight the actors’ physicality. Someone like Elizabeth Posey, who plays Ivy, is tall, lean and quite muscular. So being able to lean into that when she’s fighting off the killer helps make viewers buy that she’s able to do that. She’s a girl who has such a strong sense of physicality,” Johnston continued. “So we were able to capitalize on the actors’ own physical attributes, and tie that into the action sequences, which I thought helped a lot.”

Being able to create the physicality for his performance as Dylan was also an experience that Burns enjoyed during the film’s production. “We started off with the costume, which I loved. Dressing up as DJ Dreamcatcher, especially during the first couple of scenes at the Cataclysm music festival, was great.”

But the actor also admitted that overall, creating “The physicality going into filming was a little hard because you’re put onto a stage, and you don’t know what to do. I was up on stage and had about 100 extras down below. So I had to just let go and have fun with it; otherwise, I just wouldn’t be doing it justice.”

Wilkinson also chimed in on her experience of creating the physicality for her portrayal of Josephine. “Well, I have a history of doing stunts for a lot of projects, so I went in with a feeling of knowing how to do them. But the interesting thing about Josephine is that she was described by Jacob as Coco Chanel meets Elizabeth B├íthory, which I felt is so delicious. But it also meant that she might kill someone, but she’s going to look amazing while she does it,” she divulged with a laugh.

“So I was really excited to find out what our wardrobe was going to be. I had this amazing idea that I wanted her to dress in a hint of menswear. It’s all women’s clothing that she’s in, but she’s in a lot of pants suits and animal prints. She’s also slightly aggressive with the way that she dresses,” the performer shared.

“She also wears spiked heals. Any woman knows that when you put on a pair of heals, it completely changes your posture and how you walk and move,” Wilkinson added with a laugh. “So her style forced a certain style of movement, and she constantly had to be aware of her balance. It’s almost like her shoes are a weapon because the heels are so high. Again, the outfit did the work for you.”

In addition to the visuals, the music is equally as important in creating the nuances and scares in genre movies like ‘Dreamcatcher.’ Johnston also explained what the process of working with the drama’s composer, Alexander Taylor, to create the score for the thriller was like.

The filmmaker noted that all of the tracks for ‘Dreamcatcher’ are “original. Alexander Taylor created the score, and he’s such a genre fan; he knows the history of every horror score. He’s so collaborative and creative…and leaned into horror elements, like the violin. I’m a huge string instrument fan, so he was able to use them in a jarring way.

“We also worked with different EDM artists like Eva Shaw and Johnny Gleeson to create original tracks for the movie. Since the film revolves so much around music, we really wanted to play that up,” Johnston continued. “Instead of licensing songs, we created a soundtrack of all original music.”

With Samuel Goldwyn Films releasing the film today, the director delved into what the process of securing the distribution for the feature was like. “We actually premiered the film in 2020 at EFM (European Film Market). Obviously the pandemic then happened, which shifted everyone’s buying appetite all across the world.

“So there was a little bit of a lull. We had this finished film, and we premiered it internationally. Then all of a sudden, everything was called into question, in terms of release,” Johnston pointed out. “But things started to pick up at the end of last year.

“So being able to partner with Samuel Goldwyn for this release, and it’s been such a blessing. They’re a great company, and they really rallied behind the movie…The release got pushed back two or three times because of the pandemic, and now it’s coming out (today). I’m excited that the world is finally going to be able to see it!,” the filmmaker added with a laugh. “It’s really invigorating to finally be able to share the film with people,” he concluded.

Burns also shared her thoughts about ‘Dreamcatcher’s official dual limited theatrical and digital release. “So far, only (film critics) have seen it, so I’ve been getting little bits of feedback from you guys. I haven’t seen the movie in about a year, so I’ve forgotten a little bit about what it looks like, and I’ve never seen the full finish,” he revealed.

“Originally, the movie was supposed to go fully theatrical, but then COVID hit and we had to change the release strategy, and ended up with the digital distribution. But it’s still super exciting,” the actor continued. “I’ve also had feedback from my friends and family, who are so excited to watch it at home, so it’s been an exciting process to now have the dual release.”

The way Samuel Goldwyn Films is distributing the drama is also being supported by Wilkinson. “In a way, we’re kind of heart-broken because of course, we wanted life to be normal, and have the normal experience of this big film launch. It behooved all of us to instead be excited and supportive of this digital co-release, because it’s what’s demanded during this time,” she noted.

“We have no control over the circumstances, and it’s our job as humans to support the end of this pandemic by being responsible,” the performer added. “To be honest, it’s where the industry is headed anyway; we’re just leading the path of films being released online, which started before the pandemic.

“In good news, I’m excited about the release because I’m getting to talk to people like you at home with my dog in my lap,” Wilkinson added with a laugh. “There’s something really stress-free and comforting about that, especially during the pandemic.

“All of us are really working to find ways to make things work during these circumstances, which we never expected to happen, and we’re all just now learning to navigate. Everything is about looking for the ways that it’s working and is good. Getting to chat with you while I’m at home, chilling with my dog, is amazing,” the performer concluded.

Photo of Jacob Johnston, Travis Burns and Adrienne Wilkinson
Jacob Johnston, Travis Burns and Adrienne Wilkinson
Job Title
Writer-director, actor and actress of the horror-thriller, 'Dreamcatcher'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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