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An Interview with J.C. Maçek III, Producer and Writer of the Novelization of [Cargo]

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2018

J.C. Maçek III on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie [Cargo] - in a few words, what is it about?

 

In essence, [Cargo] is about the choices we make and how those choices can come back to haunt us. Anthony Peterson (played by my good friend Ron Thompson [Ron Thompson interview - click here]) is a ruthless businessman who has set vicious examples for his business partners over the years. One day he is forced to face the same rules he made others live by when he awakens in a locked container with twenty-four hours to live, a cell phone and a ransom demand of ten million Dollars.

 

How did you get involved with the project in the first place, and what drew you to it?

 

I guess you could say I was involved with [Cargo] before it existed, ha-ha. Writer/director James Dylan [James Dylan interview - click here] and I have been collaborating for years. One day way back in January of 2012 I emailed James to ask if he would be interested in making a feature length film set in a single location. He responded that he had been thinking of making a film with a single on-screen actor, and within a day or two of discussions we had the original skeleton of what would become our story. James came up with the idea of using a shipping container. I suggested the name "Cargo", which James ultimately agreed with. Much later I suggested putting the brackets around the title for a few reasons. First, we wanted to make it stand out from the other films of that title, secondly I thought it added to the claustrophobic, enclosed nature of the story and third because it gives the impression of the title being stenciled onto a container.

Another contribution of mine to the project was the name of the main character. We knew we wanted to work with our friend Ron Thompson, who is most famous for playing the roles of both Tony and Pete Belinsky. As a placeholder, I started referring to Ron’s character in the script as “Anthony Peterson” (Pete being the “son” of Tony), and ultimately the name stuck. In public appearances I like to cite that as proof to Ron’s fans that we never considered any other actors for the lead.

 

What were the challenges of bringing [Cargo] to the screen from a producer's point of view, and how hands-on or hands-off a producer are you, actually?

 

I would have liked to have been on set a bit more for [Cargo]. During our long pre and post production times I was involved to a subatomic level, but for the actual shoot I was in the middle of a lot of things. I had just gotten married and had just finished writing my first novel, so I wasn’t as involved in the shooting itself as I was behind the scenes. This is normal, however, as producers on set often meddle.

This is where I need to give a big shout-out to our third producer on the film, Mr. Christopher Gosch. Chris is a total pro. He managed the shoot and scheduling with James Dylan and also acted as our cinematographer. I’ve worked with Chris before and I can say that I’ve always been impressed with the things he comes up with to get some of the best shots. If his idea doesn’t make the final cut, so be it. The point is, it’s there if it is needed.

One of the big challenges, obviously, is having an entire film set in one location with only one actor on screen the entire runtime. James Dylan came up with the idea of having the camera simulate some of the off-screen action such as the movements of the car, and Chris Gosch as camera operator managed to make it happen. This added a fresh new dimension to James’ already fascinating script. I wish I could take credit for that, but I can tip my hat to Mr. Gosch and Mr. Dylan for that added stroke of genius.

As producer I also vetted potential distributors and negotiated the contract we ultimately signed with Wild Eye Releasing, who released out our fine film. In addition to that and working with Wild Eye on artwork and theatrical releases, I also moderated and produced the actors’ commentary you can hear on the DVD of [Cargo]. I’m very proud of that as well. Give it a listen.

 

What can you tell us about [Cargo]'s director James Dylan [James Dylan interview - click here], and what was your collaboration like?

 

James is one of my closest friends. We became friends over a shared love of film way back in March of 2005. After a while we started working on film projects together. James is excellent as a collaborator. He accepts advice, sometimes taking it, sometimes using that advice as a springboard for something totally new. Being friends as long as we have helps a lot because even if we disagree on certain things it doesn’t impact our friendship, and the films end up all the better for the discussion. Also helpful is the fact that most of our collaboration is done via email as opposed to bouncing things around and seeing what sticks. Each of our new presentations is well-thought out before we talk about them.

James was eager for my input on casting and other crewmembers and I was there with him through all of that. I hesitate to take too much credit, however, as James chose some of the very best actors for the roles, so my involvement there, for the most part, was essentially me saying “Heck Yes!”

I also give James full credit for gaining the involvement of our excellent score composer Thorsten Quaeschning. James had wanted a “Tangerine Dream-esque” score for the film and posted an advertisement seeking someone to write the score. Some helpful fan (or fans) out there managed to get that word to Thorsten himself, frontman of Tangerine Dream. Thorsten and his band Picture Palace Music amazed us with his brilliant score that wouldn’t have come about without James Dylan’s tenacity.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

Well, minus the torture (ha-ha), Ron practically lived [Cargo]. The unique exercise of being the only on-set actor caused Ron to experience a similar voyeurism to that which his character endured in the film. All eyes and much responsibility was on Ron. He also endured a similar isolation during the eight day shoot. Lucky for him we didn’t make him sleep in the container itself, but he did live in the empty house where the container was located for the full shoot.

In that we shot the film sequentially, I believe you can see that progression in Ron’s performance. The intermittent isolation and spectacle really united him with his character.

The other actors (including myself) recorded our lines separately from Ron (who interacted with an off-screen production assistant while on the set). Ron truly did have the weight of the film on his shoulders and I think he pulled it off great.

 

You are also one of the voices on the other end of the lead's line - so do talk about that aspect of the movie for a bit!

 

Actually I’m more than one voice. Hopefully the different characters aren’t all obviously me. Ha-ha. I believe we always knew I was going to at least make a cameo in the film.

One very interesting thing happened as we came close to locking editing on the film in 2017: Actual photography on [Cargo] was completed back in December of 2015, which is the same time most of the voices were recorded. But we also had some re-recorded lines here and there to make the film tighter. The biggest change came in the “emergency room” scene in which Danika Fields, and I recorded an entirely new scene to interact with both Ron Thompson on-screen and Mark Wood (as Tom) off-screen. Danika and I play an emergency room team of doctors and nurses, but she and I recorded our lines completely separately. The end result is a scene with our new voices, recorded separately with new sound effects added by the editor mixed with Mark Wood’s voice from 2015, mixed with Ron Thompson’s voice and on-screen performance from a different day the same week. The whole thing sounds like we were all in the same room together.

 

You've also written the novelization of [Cargo] - so how did that come about?

 

Yes, I’m very proud of that book. [Cargo] had a long production for an independent film and by the time we were starting to wrap it up I had published my first two novels. One day I suggested to James that I write a novelization of our film because I had read every version of the screenplay so many times as producer. James’ response was “So I don’t have to do anything? I love it!”

Luckily he wasn’t the only one who loved it. British publisher Bloodhound Books picked up the publishing rights and put the novel out in January of 2018.

 

How much artistic license did you take or did you demand with your source material, and how closely did you work with James Dylan [James Dylan interview - click here] on the novelization?

 

Excellent question! As anyone who has read a novelization knows the book is always different in some ways from the movie. My first draft of [Cargo] followed the screenplay almost exactly and that made for a book that was too short for publication. Bloodhound Books suggested I expand the novella to full novel length which meant I had to add quite a bit to it.

I had some discussions with James on how I might make that work. Should I expand it with dream sequences? Should I add additional stories that we had discussed for sequels? James ultimately said that he trusted me to do it justice and agreed with me that I should have free reign.

Eventually I realized I had to (quite literally) get “outside the box” and tell the story that Anthony Peterson doesn’t see. This forced me to treat the screenplay like a “jigsaw puzzle”. Every time a scene left off I knew something was happening in the background. Surely the police must already be aware of some of these connections. So I took it upon myself to tell the story of the police investigations and some more detail about the kidnappers and mercenaries. Once I was sure everything fit, I sent it off to Bloodhound and they happily published it.

 


Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

The most immediate projects I have on my plate are my upcoming novels. I have a new novel called Hard Core, a sequel to my first novel Seven Days to Die, that I am sending to publishers. I also have started the sequels to [Cargo]. James and I have decided that the [Cargo] story will be continuing in both book and film form. You can expect a larger world to come out of that small container. I’m also working with James Dylan on some new film projects outside of the [Cargo] universe. I guarantee they’ll be worth the wait.

One fun side project I’ve been working on is a web series called Metro PD with Will Pumpkinhead. It’s an animated spoof of cop shows in the mockumentary format using CGI animation and very dry humor.

It’s pretty damned funny: https://youtu.be/oQZc7pl4A4M

 

From what I know, you've first entered the filmworld as an actor, so what can you tell us about that part of your career, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I was always an actor going way back to my childhood. I did a good bit of stage acting before I moved to California to begin work in film. I did study acting under some very good teachers including Richard Folmer, a successful actor and director himself. I did a good deal of musical theater including portraying the lead in A Chorus Line years ago.

 

What made you branch out into writing and producing eventually?

 

In many ways I’ve always been more of a writer than I am an actor. My degree is in English Literature and I won awards for writing going back to elementary school. My first novel wasn’t completed until I was in my forties, but in the meantime I kept my writing sharp with reviews of movies, books, music and television for various magazines like PopMatters and WorldsGreatestCritic.com. I also write the film column The Next Reel and have done a long list of celebrity interviews.

I’ve done some directing as well, so the producing came from a knowledge of the industry and my skills with developing scripts. [Cargo] is the first actual film I have produced but it won’t be the last.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to [Cargo]?

 

After moving to California I did a scene with Drew Carey for an unaired pilot, then acted in some short films. Coming somewhat full-circle (back to music), I appeared as the main villain named “Scout” in the horror-themed music video for Beat of my Heart by Natalia Lesz. They had me in devil horns leading a gang of Mad Max style desert marauders who attack the singer and her boyfriend after their car breaks down in the desert - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX5ONKVJNNI

On the more comical side of things, I starred in a comedy short called New Guy in Town in which I move to a new city where all the citizens have a rather unique method of greeting each other. Painful shoot. You’ll see what I mean.

 

Actors, writers, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?

 

I think I learned a great deal about getting into character from my stage work. A great deal of it has to do with the repetition that is required to memorize an entire play, but merely “saying the lines” isn’t exactly “acting”.

One thing that I always concentrate on is what happens with my character when we don’t see him. The lines are on the page and (especially because I am also a writer) I am loyal to the lines on the page, but those lines need to lead me to things the audience never sees. How does my character react in this situation? What led to his actions? What is he outside of what we see? Who is he trying to be when he delivers these lines?

For Zach, the lead character in A Chorus Line, I was on stage almost the entire time, but I also had to interact with the actors from off-stage, being the guiding, yet judging, presence of a casting director. I really found that character when I vanished from the sight of the other actors and surprised them when my voice boomed from elsewhere. Thus, my in-person interactions onstage were also enhanced.

When it came to Scout, I had no lines. I was simply a malevolent presence with almost animalistic aggression and nothing else. I’m not sure if Natalia knows this or not, but I was in virtually every scene with her and the actor who played her boyfriend. I stood just outside of the camera shot watching as Scout would, seeing them through the windows and preparing to strike. A lot of the fear you see in the shot where the trap is finally sprung is 100% legitimate. I was a barely seen force who finally attacked.

 

Actors, writers, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?

 

Not to sound pretentious (and I hope it doesn’t) but my favorite writer is still William Shakespeare. Absolute genius. Isaac Asimov is another amazing wordsmith. Sticking to film, however, my favorite writers are often my favorite directors. John Carpenter, Robert Altman, George A. Romero, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese. I’m a big fan of Leigh Brackett as a writer. Ditto Edgar Wright, Dan O’Bannon, Shane Black and Joss Whedon.

Favorite directors are Ridley Scott, Julie Taymor, Bob Fosse, Sam Raimi and even though I’ve mentioned him before, I’m just CRAZY about John Carpenter.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

I may be the biggest fan of The Thing (1982) who ever lived. I have yet to tire of that film after possibly hundreds of viewings and I get something new out of it every time I watch it. Other big favorites are Apocalypse Now (1979), Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), The Long Goodbye (1973), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Disaster Artist (2017) and Star Wars (1977).

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

To be honest, I generally find something to like in virtually every movie I see. I’m a big fan of “bad Italian horror movies”, most of which are terrible, but have redeeming qualities, be that gore effects or low-budget innovation.

But some of the films I’ve been least impressed with include Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008), Punisher: War Zone (2008), D-War (2007), Corpses Are Forever (2003), The Amityville Curse (1990) and Drag Me to Hell (2009) - which is strange because I generally adore Sam Raimi.

 

Your website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

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My reviews, including some scathing indictments can be found at WorldsGreatestCritic.com

My Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/JakeSlaterMystery/

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Well, this hasn’t come up lately, but I am the first and potentially thus far only critic to seek out and review all of the "video nasties" which were banned in England back in the 1980s. That is a fun read to say the least - http://www.worldsgreatestcritic.com/fallvideonasty2007.html

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Hey, it’s great to be on this side of the table, ha-ha.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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