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An Interview with Jonathan Scott Higgins, Producer and Co-Writer of Truth or Dare

by Mike Haberfelner

April 2014

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Your new movie Truth or Dare - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Truth or Dare is about 6 friends who gain overnight internet stardom after making truth or dare-videos for their marketing class. It goes viral and they amass a huge fan base. All is good until their #1 fan decides he wants to play by his own rules…

 

How did the project come into being to begin with? And how did you meet up with your co-writer, director and star Jessica Cameron [Jessica Cameron interview - click here] in the first place?

 

Jessica and I were (and still are) fascinated by the concept of “internet stardom” and how people become so obsessed with how many people are following them on Twitter/how many likes they are gaining with each of their Facebook posts. A lot of people go as far as to buy fake followers (which not only does nothing, but weakens their own social media account for various reasons) so they can feel better when they look at their numbers. This psychological delusion affects many people and Jessica and I wanted to tell a story where the villain is fueled by this hunger for fake fame.

I met Jessica through mutual friend and director/writer Pearry Teo [Pearry Teo interview - click here]. When I first moved to Los Angeles, he was my very first friend in the industry. I was hungry to get on film sets and he suggested I go the indie horror film route so he introduced me to Jessica. After a number of months we decided to collaborate on Truth or Dare, so we began writing it together. She is such a joy to work with.

 

Jonathan with Jessica Cameron

So what can you tell us about your inspirations for Truth or Dare when writing the movie, and about writing with Jessica?

 

As mentioned above, delusional people primarily inspired us. Specifically desperate aspiring actors/directors who don’t love films but just want to be famous above all else. Some are so delusional that if you read in the newspaper one day that one of these obsessed individuals took a group of strangers hostage in order to nab a role/deal, you really wouldn’t be all that surprised. 

Writing with Jessica was a dream. I would have various ideas that were either too grand for the budget or not pertinent to the story and she would help my mind get back down to reality. That is why I love collaborating with people I trust. It gives you an opportunity for your work to make sense so that it doesn’t fall into the category of “movies that suffer from an identity crisis.”

 

What can you tell us about your personal "truth or dare"-experiences, and are any of these mirrored in the movie?

 

Ha! Thankfully none of the truth or dare games I played involved blood and gore. I remember playing the game when I was younger but strangely enough, I was more of a fan of spin the bottle and the Ouija board. Are these potential Truth or Dare sequel titles? Possibly ;)

 

You were also one of the producers of Truth or Dare - so how hands-on or hands-off were you during the shoot? And how did you experience Jessica Cameron [Jessica Cameron interview - click here] as a director?

 

I am a hands-on producer. Producing is the biggest passion of mine and I was on set every day. I also handled all of the still photography because our still photographer did not work out, and I have a deep respect and love of photography. In 9 shooting days, I took over 20 gigs of photos and 100 gigs of video.

I also liked being on set everyday to see how the movie was progressing. I trusted everyone on set (otherwise I would not have hired them) but I wanted to make sure the vision was coming to life properly. Luckily, Jessica was the director and she made the movie just as we envisioned when we were writing the script together.

 

As far as I know, Truth or Dare features quite a few quite gruesome scenes - were there scenes where you thought you'd gone too far, was there ever a line you refused to cross? And do talk about the gory bits as such for a bit!

 

Carrie Mercado, Jessica Cameron

and a very bloody Heather Dorff

Jessica and I originally intended to push boundaries. One of our slogans during the making of the movie was “We Aim to Offend.” There are so many negative people in the world, and everyone is a critic these days. Even if we made a much tamer version of our film, we would have offended someone since there are people out there who get offended by PG-13 movies or horror movies in general, let alone graphic torture films.

As my grandfather used to say; “You don’t know where the line is unless you cross it every once in a while.” We worked really hard structuring the gore in regards to boundaries being pushed and what to show and not to show to make the most effective film possible. There’s not just one specific scene that seems to be burned into people’s retinas; there are a handful! We tried to write a scene that would affect just about everyone and I believe we have accomplished that. I love when a hardcore horror fan who claims to have “seen it all” comes to us and congratulates us for “getting under their skin” with the violence and horrors of Truth or Dare.

I would love to mention certain gory bits but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. The special makeup FX was by the endlessly talented, Carrie Mercado and they were all done practically. Some scenes are so effective that people have walked out of screenings because they were disgusted. A few people have vomited and one person passed out at our world premiere. It is safe to say we have done our job effectively.

 

To what extent were you involved in the casting process, and what was it like working with these people?

 

Jessica was mainly responsible for the casting process. She knew specific actors for certain roles in the film and we wrote some of the characters based on some of our actors. For the roles we didn’t have filled, we reached out to indie actors that we like and had them audition. Jessica and I have very similar taste so reaching a casting decision was almost always mutual.

When it came time to cast the talk show host, our 1st AD Joshua Lou Friedman reached out to some of his actress friends. All but one of them passed because they said the script was too disturbing (even though the talk show host is not in any gory scenes). Eventually, he called up his good friend Grae Drae, who is the host and main critic/interviewer at Rotten Tomatoes. She had less than a night to memorize over 12 pages of dialogue and she nailed it. She was fantastic and a joy to work with.

 

What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

We only hired people we trusted and knew would not be a problem on set. Even though the days were long and the set was very hot and sticky for most of the shoot, we all had a blast. We shot on location in Salton Sea, CA (i.e. the middle of nowhere) and we all slept in the same house we shot the majority of the film in. Our 1st AD’s “day job” is Hugh Hefner’s bartender at the Playboy Mansion so he made all of us drinks every night after we wrapped. That brought us all closer together and created a very fun environment. Oh, and the drinks were top-notch.

 

As far as I know, Truth or Dare has of late played quite a few festivals - so what can you tell us about your festival run so far, and critical and audience reception?

 

The festival circuit has treated Truth or Dare very kindly. We have won 27 awards thus far and still have a good amount of festivals to screen. We even screened at the Academy-qualifying Twin Cities Film Festival in St. Louis Park, MN last year. Truth or Dare went on right after the Meryl Streep vehicle August: Osage County that was nominated for two Oscars. Our film has also been fairing very well internationally and we have screened in Mexico City all the way to Bruges, Belgium. Next up on our festival run are the 9th annual Myrtle Beach Film Festival and the Buffalo Niagra International Film Festival. We have been accepted into some other major festivals but cannot reveal them quite yet.

 

Horror fans are the best in the world because they are endlessly loyal and just so fucking supportive. They tweet at us everyday and we always have fans asking where they can catch the film or when the DVD/Blu-ray will be released.

We have also been receiving a plethora of positive reviews from critics and are so happy to read that people are enjoying the film on various levels. My movie functions as a horror movie, social commentary, and very dark comedy and audiences have picked up on all of that which makes me happy.

 

Any future projects beyond Truth or Dare you'd like to share?

 

Just last month, we wrapped filming on a movie called Utero, which Jessica and I produced along with Rich Marincic. It tells the tale of an agoraphobic mother (played by Jessica) who is 8 months pregnant and is in a miserable relationship. She starts to wonder if the baby inside her womb is of human origin or not. It was the best time I have ever had on set and the story is very old school. It is a slow burn with an amazing and bloody final act that I know horror fans will appreciate. It is currently being edited and I cannot wait to start showing it to people.

 

What got you into the filmworld to begin with, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?

 

I was blessed to have parents that frequented the cinema. We made it a tradition of sorts to go to the movies nearly every weekend and that is when I fell in love with films and storytelling in that medium.

However, I was discouraged to go into filmmaking for a time and to look for a more stable career path. I was quickly approaching a time in college where I had to make a decision in regards to what I wanted to do. A “hinge-moment” occurred when I was vacationing in Rocky Point, Mexico for Spring Break. I walked into our beach house and one of my friends was watching The Matrix Revolutions and I pulled my sister Maggie aside and told her to watch a scene that was coming up. I told her everything I knew about the scene, story-wise, and the behind-the-scenes information. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “dude, you need to go into filmmaking.”

I had watched some of my friends and family members over the years attend film school and observed their experience. They either ended up hating movies (watching the same silent movie 6 times in one week apparently takes its toll) or graduating with a useless degree. I started to sit in on a few of the film classes offered at my college (The University of Arizona) and realized that none of them taught any business classes. I know a lot of people like to think that movie making is all fun and games but the reality of the matter is that it is a business like anything else.

 

I started to fall in love with the producing angle of movies so I decided to go to business school. I felt like I loved and knew more about movies than anyone I ever met at film school so I could learn more about films on my own time. Not only that, but if my filmmaking career never got off the ground, I would have a business degree to fall back on.

Anytime someone asks me for advice in regards to how to get into the film business I tell them; “Fuck film school. Go to business school.” I cannot speak on behalf of all film school programs but every person I have talked to who has suffered through film school has told me the same two things; “you don’t learn anything about the actual film business and they don’t teach you set terminology/etiquette.” Why waste all of that time and money for a degree that is completely useless?

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Truth or Dare?

 

Prior to Truth or Dare I worked on a couple spec scripts and prior to that I worked as a PA on a few web series. Nothing terribly exciting.

 

with Jessica Cameron on the set of Utero

Filmmakers, writers, whatever else who inspire you?

 

Stanley Kubrick’s work always mystifies me in the sense that I can watch all of his movies dozens of times and pick up on something new. He was in such a different category than anyone who has ever picked up a camera. David Fincher is one of my all time favorite directors. I will see all of his work the day of release. He has such a style and unique narrative voice and I think he is so attuned to today’s times. He is one of the quintessential filmmakers of my generation. I also am a big fan of Alexander Payne since his movie Sideways is one of my favorite movies. It is the perfect blend of drama and comedy in my mind. I am also a massive Wes Anderson fan. His movies are so unique and so wonderfully “him.”

I am also heavily inspired by video games and my favorite sub-genre of all time is survival horror. When I play one the first few Resident Evil games or one of the Dead Space games, I feel like I’m 12 years old watching The Exorcist by myself. Those sorts of games really dig up that primal fear that I have grown out of when it comes movies.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

I love when people ask me what some of my favorite films are because some of my list always changes. Not because I don’t like certain movies any longer but because I love so many different movies it becomes hard to keep track of them. So off the top of my head I would go; the Star Wars Saga, the Matrix films, Sideways, Terminator 2, Broken Flowers, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Fight Club, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Eyes Wide Shut, the Godfather trilogy, The Room, American Beauty, The Game (1997), American Psycho, and Wall Street. American Beauty was actually one of the most impressionable movies in my youth and got me to start studying and obsessing about the film world.

I also love watching certain terrible movies such as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. The first Mortal Kombat film was such a great adaption of a video game and when I saw it back in ’95, it was just the coolest thing ever. The sequel ignored everything in the first film and it was thrown together so quickly. The acting, dialogue, and special FX are atrocious but it is such a fun film to watch.

 

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

 

Hmmmm… Anything by Hal Hartley. His movies are just not for me. They don’t make much sense, they are boring, his soundtrack choices are terrible, and they are completely unfunny. Watching one of his films makes me legitimately angry. I also can’t watch the Transformers films mainly due to the fact that the movies consist of a bunch of CGI metal hitting each other followed by Shia LeBeouf screaming “No!” over and over again.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

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Thanks! My personal Twitter handle is @JonScottHiggins and you can find out information about my movies at the links below:

Truth or Dare:

Website: www.truthordarethemovie.com

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2762738/?ref_=fn_al_tt_5

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TruthOrDareTheMovie?ref=hl

Twitter:https://twitter.com/FilmTruthOrDare

Utero:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Uterofilm

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UteroFilm

Instagram: http://instagram.com/uterofilm

 

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

 

Yes, I dare you to watch Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and not laugh or roll your eyes while drinking whiskey. I bet you won’t be able to make it 5 minutes.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
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A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
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Rudy Barrow

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