Skipping Class with DITCH DAY MASSACRE Writer Daniel Coughlin!

Daniel Coughlin is a delightful guy, and I’m not just saying that because he agreed to chat with me. Blessed with an endless amount of enthusiasm for horror, and extensive life experience as a marine, camera operator and writer, the guy exudes love for film, and excitement for the projects he’s worked on. While he’s had some terrific success writing features solo, DITCH DAY MASSACRE saw Daniel teaming up with his brother Ryan to make an old-school slasher with some new-school twists. I was lucky enough to get to spend a little time with him talking with him about his career, his influences, and what he’ll be working on next.

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Sweetback (SB): Do you think of DITCH DAY MASSACRE as a throwback slasher film? Was it designed as a tribute to horror films you love, or were you more interested in trying something a little different with the slasher framework?

Daniel Coughlin (DC): Hey Doug, thanks for the interview! I’m a big fan of Daily Grindhouse. So, yes, I am a fanatic when it comes to horror movies in general, but my favorite is the slasher film. At the time that I came up with the story for DITCH DAY MASSACRE I was obsessed with the Roger Corman slasher films from the 1980’s. That was the stuff I grew up on, against my parent’s wishes—you know, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE and all their sequels. Those movies were great! So, I wanted to write something fun, something twisted, something gory, but also something funny and something with a little depth and a message wrapped up in a bow that paid homage to those classic low budget slasher flicks. And DITCH DAY MASSACRE was what came out.

SB: You’ve had extensive experience as a camera operator in other people’s features. Is it difficult to return to helping carry out someone else’s vision, or do you enjoy the process of switching back and forth?

DC: DITCH is actually the third film that I’d written. Well, it was about the thirtieth that I’ve written, but it was the third film that I’d had produced and the fourth sale. My first film, also horror, LAKE DEAD was distributed by Lions Gate Films and After Dark Film (8 Films to Die For) and my second film FARMHOUSE starred Steven Weber (WINGS, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, DESPERATION) and Kelly Hu (X-MEN 2, THE SCORPION KING, FRIDAY THE 13th PART 8: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN) and Jamie Allman (“The Killing,” “The Shield,” THE NOTEBOOK). I’ve also had four novels published (“Ted’s Score”, “The Last Customer”, “Craven’s Red” and “The Heartland”).

But yes, to keep the bills paid I have worked as a camera op. And it is the best feeling in the world to watch your film being made. When you, as a writer show up on set and see the grips moving lights all over the place and camera men staging shots and the director barking orders, it really hits that you’ve done something cool.

SB: How did you first get on-board the project? Were you actively looking for a project that you could make your mark on?

DC: I like collaborating with my brother, writer Ryan W. Coughlin who shares an appreciation for the 80’s slasher flicks as well. And super producer Megan Waters and I had been talking about producing a film for a long time, so we put our thinking caps on and got to work. The road was bumpy but we’re very proud of the movie. We found Joe Hendrick, which was the a great piece to the puzzle.

SB: What about the horror genre made it the right fit for your first film?

DC: I’ve always been a fan of horror and I’ve always written horror. I freaked my parents out as a kid coming up with the kind of stuff I was writing. I used to write short stories in grade school. I think I wrote about twenty-five sequels to JAWS! John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN 2 is my favorite film and after I was honorably discharged from the Marines where I served as a machine gunner, I went to film school at Cal State Long Beach and I had the greatest internship that a horror nerd could score—I got to work for Wes Craven, my favorite director. And, by the way, that man is not only a genius, but a very kind and generous person as well. He would drop by the office on Fridays and give out cards with a couple bucks in them.

SB: Talk a bit about getting the amazing Bill Oberst Jr. on the project. While the cast as a whole is solid, it’s so crucial that the character of Vick makes an extremely strong impression. What made Bill the right man for the job, and how did you get him to sign on?

DC: I can’t say enough good things about Bill. He was professional. He was excited to do the project. He was insightful. He elevated the performance of everyone around him. He brought life to the character. He did way more than read lines off a script. He got into character, prepared at length and put himself into the story and didn’t return until they yelled ‘wrap’ on the last day of filming. It was a pleasure to have the great Bill Oberst Jr. on this project and we were so lucky to have him. He had worked with the director Joe Hendrick on a few projects prior and they had a good working relationship. So, Joe had approached him with the script and he read and agreed to terms. He even emailed a note regarding the script, which was quite touching. This film wouldn’t be special without Mr. Oberst.

SB: Similarly, the wonderful Lynn Lowry makes her mark in a small part. What was it like working with her?

DC: Yes, Lynn Lowry was great and such a sweet person. It was pleasure to work with her and she added something very creepy and comical, but very dimensional to her character, which really wasn’t that meaty of a part. But she made it memorable, which is what great actors do. And I love all those movies she did in the 70’s and 80’s so I was a googly-eyed fan!

SB: I was really impressed with Joffrey Mason’s cinematography on the project. What was your working relationship like? And how did you guys get those wonderful helicopter shots?

DC: Joffery Mason was key to this film. He is so detail orientated and made the best of this opportunity. Let’s face it, the budget was small on this project, but he read the script about a million times and he spent many hours putting together a plan of attack. And it worked, because this film moves and sways with the camera. He and his camera op Zak Shy went above and beyond. I don’t think there are too many shots that don’t contain movement or some crazy technique that Jeff wanted to use.

I hate to discredit Joffery, but the helicopter shots were stock. Had Joffery taken those shots, they would have looked much better!

SB: Where will readers be able to check out DITCH DAY MASSACRE? And, I suppose I should ask, what prompted the title change from DITCH?

DC: Well, there is a business side to the film world and it is a process. There has been an overwhelming amount of interest from distributors with this film, which is very flattering. At the same time, Megan is in the process of sifting through contracts and researching companies. She has been fantastic in every aspect of this film getting made. Thankfully she has this amazing creative business mind. I would say that, realistically, the film will be released within the next 6 months to a year, at the latest. Oh, yes, the title: It started as DITCH PARTY MASSACRE then changed to DITCH DAY MASSACRE then shortened to DITCH then looped back to DITCH PARTY MASSACRE and finally settled on DITCH DAY MASSACRE, again, which we all love!

SB: Do you have any other projects in the work? Anything else to plug?

DC: I am proud to say that we have recently wrapped production on my fourth feature film DIARY OF A PSYCHOPATH. The film was picked up by the fast booming production company Forge Apollo, LLC. Gabe Michaels directed the film and it stars Aqueela Zoll (WRONG TURN 6, CHOSEN) Adam Finley, and Ryan Holloway (AMBIENT). It was also co-produced by the uber-talented Stacey Crawford (BUCKWILD). I also have a couple more novels being released in the near future. Please look out for “Sunny California” and also please search Daniel P. Coughlin on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or anywhere else that they sell books and dvd’s.

Ooh, and don’t let me forget to thank one of our actors, Ron Burkard, who played the high school principal. He had a small role, but he was very helpful and memorable to the film. If you need a inspiration on set, this guy does his job and then enlightens the set with his over-the top personality. It was a real pleasure working with him.

SB: Finally, what advice would you have for a young or inexperienced writer looking to tackle their first full-length film?

DC: The advice that I have for any writer out there is to keep going; keep reading scripts, read books, take classes, go to any function where you can meet people in your industry, stay positive and more than anything DO NOT LISTEN TO THE ASSHOLES OUT THERE THAT SMIRK AT YOU AND TELL YOU THAT YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. THESE PEOPLE ARE USUALLY MISERABLE HUMAN BEING WHO DON’T HAVE THE BALLS TO DO WHAT THEY LOVE DOING.

Doug, thank you so much for this interview. I had a lot of fun and it was really great getting to know you. I hope that we can do more of these in the future. It was an Honor.

Doug “Sweetback” Tilley

Doug Tilley

Doug has been a geek for as long as he’s been alive, but has only been blogging about film since 2008; originally writing for his personal site and eventually moving to Daily Grindhouse where he writes regularly about micro-budget films and film-makers in his No-Budget Nightmares column. At the end of 2011 he started the popular No-Budget Nightmares podcast with Moe Porne, and regularly contributes to a variety of other genre film podcasts. He likes movies, movies and movies.

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