Struggling with the effects of a devastating accident can lead some people to take shocking measures to make themselves feel better. But those drastic actions can often lead them to suffer from even more heartbreak, as seen with the two protagonists of the new horror movie, ‘Anything for Jackson.’ The couple is so driven with grief over losing their young grandson, the title character, that they turn to the supernatural to bring him back, only to discover that they summoned more than they bargained for in their misguided ritual.
The drama was written by Keith Cooper and directed by Justin G. Dyck. ‘Anything for Jackson’ is now available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of RLJE Films.
Set after a tragic car accident that took their grandson’s life, ‘Anything for Jackson’ follows Audrey and Henry (Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings) as they’re unable to go on without him. Following the guidance of their ancient spell book, the elderly couple decide to abduct a young pregnant woman with the intention of performing a reverse exorcism to channel Jackson’s spirit inside her unborn child. But when it becomes clear the ritual has called upon more than one spirit, the couple realize they have summoned more than they bargained for, and must put an end to the evil entity they’ve invoked.
Dyck and Cooper generously took the time recently talk about producing ‘Anything for Jackson’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed how they cherished having the opportunity to collaborate with the actors, especially McCarthy and Richings, on building their characters’ emotions and physicality, particularly the fights and overall action sequences. The helmer and scribe also mentioned that they enjoyed being able to shoot the majority of the movie in Cooper’s house, and collaborate with the production designer and art team to create the sets’ visually frightening elements.
ShockYa (SY): Your new horror movie, ‘Anything for Jackson,’ stars Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings as the married couple, Audrey and Henry, who decide to try to bring their grandson’s spirit back following his tragic death. What was the casting process like for the drama?
Justin G. Dyck (JGD): The casting started with Sheila McCarthy. The script was written, but we didn’t have any way of making it. So we said, “Maybe we should try attaching some people to see if that will help stimulate some finances.”
I had a friend who worked with Sheila on another project, and I had just seen her in another film she had done. She’s absolutely phenomenal in everything she does, so I reached out and sent her the script. I think she got back to me about two days later and said, “I just read it and love it, so I would like to do the project.”
We didn’t have any money to offer her yet, so we just had a verbal agreement that she would do it. With that information, we started shopping around, looking for smaller studios to finance the movie. We finally found one, but they wanted to shoot in six weeks.
So from there, we had to cast the rest of the film. Having Sheila went a long way for the casting. When we went out and told other actors that she was going to be the star of the film, they were all eager and willing to jump on board.
We had a great casting director, so the casting went really fast. We called in people we knew from our past lives, making kids and Christmas movies. We also had people send in self tapes, and through that process, we discovered some absolutely incredible actors who I hadn’t known about before. So it was a normal casting process, outside of the beginning, and it went three times as fast as normal because we had to get the film cast right away.
SY: After the film was cast, what was the process like of collaborating with the actors to build their characters?
JGD: Keith and I had a table read with our main four actors, so they were able to flush out some things that day. I know they stayed in touch and worked through some things together because we didn’t have any money for rehearsal time. We also did a lot of work on the day while our great crew was setting up. I was spending all my time with the actors.
It’s nice working with a writer like Keith, who’s always there on set, throwing out ideas. If something doesn’t work because the actor isn’t exactly what he pictured during the writing process, he throws out new lines to make things better, scarier and funnier.
Keith Cooper (KC): Knowing that Sheila was going to be in the film ahead of time, and throwing in the fact that Julian may be someone I had a connection to, and always wanted to write something for, really helped. So I wrote with those two in mind, and we were really lucky that they wanted to do it.
Anytime they had a different idea, we would embrace it, because the film was very collaborate. They would tell Justin and me, “I’m thinking about changing this line here or there, what do you think about it?” Or they would ask, “Can I get an alternate line?” We would agree because I’m certainly not precious about the words, and I don’t think Justin is, either. Whatever works the best is what we want to get on screen. They had tons of great ideas.
SY: What was the process like of also collaborating with the actors to build their physicality for their roles?
JGD: It was interesting, because like we mentioned before, we had a very small budget. So I think we had two days with the stunt coordinator (Chris Mark). There isn’t anything too dramatic in the film, but the actors certainly had some fighting to do. On the days we had the stunt coordinator, we were able to go a bit further. We had a huge help in getting the physicality where we needed it.
There were also days that we only had minor stunts. We also had some action-driven scenes on days that we didn’t have the stunt coordinator. So there would be a lot of tricky camera work, and we would set it up to only do very small pieces at a time, so that nobody got hurt.
I know Julian and (co-star) Josh Cruddas at one point were wrestling over something. They joked that it was going to be a battle of the titans, and we were going to put the Avengers to shame. They’re not the biggest actors I’ve ever worked with, from a physical standpoint, so it was really great to see them bring that out. We worked to make sure that everyone stayed safe, and no one got hurt.
SY: How did you approach designing the special effects and look for the spirits who Audrey and Henry inadvertently bring back while they try to bring Jackson back?
JGD: We had really talented people who worked on this movie. We had to trust that everyone knew how to work in their department.
Tina Razian came up with great ideas for the costumes and wardrobe that had mood and tone, and told its own story for each character throughout the whole movie.The same thing was true with our art department.
Everyone worked closely together to make the same movie. Sometimes when you’re on set, not everyone’s on the same page. But with this one, everyone had a very specific-and luckily, the same-picture in mind while making it.
SY: The majority of the story in ‘Anything for Jackson’ takes place in Audrey and Henry’s home while they try to bring their grandson’s spirit back. What was the process like of designing the look of their house, particularly while the couple is performing the rituals to reconnect with Jackson?
KC: For the look of the house, the easiest thing was the fact that we filmed in my house! (Cooper laughs.) We didn’t have any money, so we decided that my house was going to be the house we were going to film in.
We created one bedroom, which Justin can probably speak better about, in terms of the design that we had in mind. We also shot a few scenes in his house. We wanted as much of our budget to stay in the movie as we could, so we cut costs anywhere we could. So my house really worked out well for it.
JGD: Yes, as you can see, Keith has a highly unique house, but it’s not what you typically think of when you think about a haunted house, like an old Victorian farm house. So it was really great to play in a new space that you don’t typically see as being haunted.
But we had our production design team paint everywhere, so they changed the colors of the whole house. Hopefully Keith likes it because we didn’t have the money to paint it all back. (Dyck laughs.) Also, all the artwork and props were brought in by our art team, who were incredible.
In regards to the bedroom (where the young mother is being held during Audrey and Henry’s ritual), we designed and built it in a studio because we needed more space for the amount of action that was going to take place in there. We were able to put all of the nooks and crannies in that we needed for the ghouls to jump out at the right time. So we completely built Jackson’s bedroom, and it was great.
SY: Besides writing and directing the movie, you both also served as producers. Why did yo both decide to also produce ‘Anything for Jackson,’ and how did you balance your scribing and helming duties with your producing duties?
KC: I loved the producing experience myself. I’ve never produced a feature to that extent before; I’ve only assisted here and there. So to have that control with the team at Vortex (Media), who was producing with us, was really great.
So we were able to bring in the teams that we really wanted to work with; we picked the art team, as well as hair and make-up, and the VFX (special effects) departments. They were friends of ours, so we were able to call in those favors we saved up over the years, and make this low-budget film bigger than what we could actually afford. So for me, the producing experience was great.
JGD: Yes, I would echo that. This film is something that we’ve always been working towards, so we’re happy that everything turned out great.
SY: ‘Anything for Jackson’ (is now available) on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of RLJE Films, after it was released on Shudder this past December. What was the process like of securing the distribution deal, and why do you feel the digital and disc release is beneficial for this type of film?
JGD: Unfortunately, that was something that was a little bit out of our hands, as Vortex Pictures owns the film. So we were able to produce the movie, but the distribution was a little bit out of our hands.
But I’m thrilled with the way that it’s been going, as Shudder was a great home for us. I’m also really excited that people can now buy it on Blu-ray; I’m excited to get a copy myself, as well. But all I can do is tip my hat to the great team for putting the distribution together.