I first encountered Derek Cole through his projects with his brother Shane, including 2006’s HUMAN BEHAVIOR – which showed sparks of talent among a fairly standard slow-moving mystery. Since then the young director has focused on assembling a strong creative group, including actor/writer/producer Stephen Twardokus and Actor/Producer Jon Gale, and has been developing increasingly polished and impressive works on extremely limited budgets. Recently Derek has formed the production company 2 MAN PRODUCTION with Gale and Twardokus, and he sat down with Daily Grindhouse to talk about their latest film AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY.
Sweetback (SB): Thanks for taking some time out of your schedule to talk to Daily Grindhouse, Derek. AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY went through a few different title iterations before its release. What prompted the changes, and do you feel that the change from REVENANT to AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY was a positive move for the film?
Derek Cole (DC): The name change was a call from the distributor cause they felt people wouldn’t know what it meant, so they sent over some ideas and we had our own and it was a mix between both. I think for making money I trust that the distributors know what they are doing well enough to know how to get more attention, but I prefer REVENANT.
SB: While the film has an eerie, cohesive story at its center, many of its biggest frights come from the many night-time haunting scenes. How fleshed out were these sequences in Stephen Twardokus’ script? Or, did you piece much of it together on-set?
DC: It was a mix. Stephen had most of the detail in there, but both of us always want to try something different, so sometimes we made it bigger and sometimes we stuck with exactly what was written.
SB: You have a long relationship with Twardokus – and have recently started a production company with him and Jon Gale. Can you talk about how you and Stephen met, and what your collaboration was like on AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY?
DC: Stephen was in my first film and we have worked together ever since. He’s in all my films because we get along so well, and because I know his love for film is as big as mine so I can always trust him to be there and do his best every time. Collaborating with him is easy cause we have worked together so much. We think very much alike, so if I start saying something he knows what I mean before I’m done telling him.
SB: You started your career as a production assistant on a variety of projects before transitioning into directing. What were some of the lessons you learned on those sets that served you well when helming your own projects?
DC: I have never been to filmmaking schools so everything I know was taught to me in the field. All of it served me pretty well.
SB: Unlike some of your previous films that relied a bit heavier on onscreen violence, AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY elicits fear from a much more quiet and psychological place. Was it fun to be able to dig into your bag of filmmaking tricks to try and creep out the audience as much as possible?
DC: What I found out is that I enjoy making violent films but loved watching them more. So we really wanted to make an old fashioned scary movie in the vein of POLTERGEIST except with a 500 dollar production budget. It was a lot of fun using atmosphere and suspense to make the film scary instead of going straight to the gross-out factor to get a reaction.
SB: The ghosts in the film are only visible as sheet covered figures – perhaps the most traditional form of what people visualize when they think of the word “ghost”. Was this an intentional response to audiences who might scoff at the idea of a bedsheet being scary?
DC: No, we didn’t think about it like that. The idea was to make it so the ghost was not visible, but it still had mass and could physically hurt you. But I didn’t want to have him shuffle around the room as if an invisible ghost was beating him up, so we used the sheet idea to be the way he could find him and have something to run from. We were aware it was old, and thought of it as cheesy, but we tried our best to take out the campy and make it scary.
SB: What were some of the films that most influenced the film? There are echoes of some recent movies, but much of it has the feel of a classic haunted house film in the vein of THE HAUNTING or THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.
DC: The influences came from many films in the 70s and 80s, since those were the movies that made me want to make horror films in the first place. Most of the new films that I have heard were similar, I have not seen.. or it was done filming long before they ever came out. Mostly I was influenced by POLTERGEIST, THE HAUNTING and THE CHANGELING.
SB: What’s coming up next for 2 MAN PRODUCTION? And what’s the best way to keep up on your current and future work?
DC: We are doing a bigger budgeted creature feature next summer. It will have the suspense, but it will be much different than AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY because it’s going to be a crazy, fast paced film. Till then we are looking at doing more short films before the feature film starts, and we have been writing several other films. We are working on our website to make it cooler but www.2manproduction.com is where you can see what we are up to, or look me up on facebook or imdb.
SB: You’ve been working in the entertainment industry for over a decade, and have been helming your own features for years now. What advice would you have for young or inexperienced directors looking to tackle their first feature?
DC: The only advice I can give is make movies you like. Persistence is key, and don’t listen to the negative reviews because you will never please everyone.
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