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An Interview with Jonathan Zuck, Director of Within the Darkness

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2018

Films directed by Jonathan Zuck on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Within the Darkness - in a few words, what is it about?


Within the Darkness is about a group of opportunistic would-be ghosthunters who set out to shoot a pilot by faking everything and the house turns out to be actually haunted.


How did the project fall together in the first place? And what can you tell us about your co-writer Cheryl Compton, who I understand also came up with the story this is based on, and your collaboration with her?


So Cheryl wrote the first draft over a weekend after seeing a classified in which someone was looking for ghosthunting gear. She thought “who does he think he is that he can just buy some gear and hunt ghosts? I’ll show him” I’m a bit more cynical and believe that guy would be just as qualified as a “real” ghosthunter, so how do we give the genre its comeuppance as well. So in addition to eliminating most of the locations in Cheryl’s script (as too many locations can kill an indie feature!), I came up with the third act you see in the film.


What were your sources of inspiration when writing Within the Darkness?


I guess we were both inspired by would be ghost hunters, just slightly differently inspired!


With Within the Darkness being about a paranormal investigation - did you do much research on the subject, and your personal thoughts about "ghosthunting"?


Cheryl knows the territory much better than I do but perhaps I know a bit more about confidence schemes…


Do talk about your film's approach to horror for a bit!


Well, we approached the “horror” in a number of ways. There are some straight “boo” scares, but some more specific ones as well including ulterior motives, phobias, etc. When I found out that Tonya Kay was afraid of the water, I wrote a scene involving her in the water. The fear is REAL my friends!


Within the Darkness also has a comedic edge to it - was that intended from the get-go, or did that just transpire during writing or during the shoot even?


Definitely intended from the get-go. I think comedy, specifically dark comedy, is my favorite genre so I weave it into just about everything I do. I kind of like messing with the fourth wall sometimes as well. Here’s a horror short we did:


What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?


I’m pretty sure with all this character development I might just have created the first horror film for the Lifetime Channel!


Do talk about Within the Darkness's key cast, and why exactly these people?


Well, I took a workshop with Dov SS Simons and he says for your first feature throw a bunch of people in a house and kill them so we did just that. We also had everyone living in the house for 10 days so cast selection had as much to do with whether I thought people would get along as anything else. I was determined to only cast people I had a chance to meet. THAT didn’t work out. The locals just weren’t getting the job done and I got video interviews from Erin, Tonya and Shanna [Shanna Forrestall interview - click here] and they were AMAZING actors so I took a chance and hired them and crossed my fingers they wouldn’t end up burning down the house. We all came away friends. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life shooting this movie.


You also have to talk about your location for a bit, and what was it like filming there?


I had access to a friend’s lake house on Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. The biggest challenge was making this place look spooky. It’s such a beautiful contemporary home that we really struggled, covering the furniture in sheets, putting up cob webs, etc. but the beauty of the place is hard to hide. That said, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend a couple weeks in August. I got to swim in the lake every morning!


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


The atmosphere was more collaborative than I ever could have hoped for. We had a great chef staying in the house with us and everyone got along so well. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replicate that. The cast and crew of this film are friends for life.


The $64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?


The movie comes out on DVD and VOD on April 3rd. It’s already on Redbox streaming if you really can’t wait for Amazon and others, but it should be everywhere. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Within the Darkness yet?


We did a focus group screening to see where the lulls and laughs fell and went back in and tightened it up. The audience reaction was entirely positive. After you’ve seen your film a hundred times you really start to wonder if you have created anything worthwhile so watching an audience watch your movie is invaluable. Critics have all been positive, for the most part, criticizing an effect here or there but, in the end, being glad they went the distance.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Just shot a feature called Meant to be Broken ( which involved doing a road trip down the East Coast, breaking the rule about locations. This should come out in the fall.


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


Went to film school in Maine in 2001 and ironically, my first film in film school was a ghost story as well… about a deceased interior decorator who haunted people who messed up his designs: - so, as you can see, always with the jokes.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Within the Darkness?


We have made dozens of short films and a few music videos, some of which can be seen here: Several have had good festival reception including one which went to Cannes.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


The cast of Within the Darkness came to refer to me as coach and that’s probably how I would describe myself. I’m working with a bunch of talented artist in both the cast and crew and they don’t need to be micromanaged but instead coaxed, nurtured and allowed to do their best work.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Ironically, my favorite filmmaker is Hitchcock, who was quite a bit ore domineering than me but I appreciate his unique ability to combine entertainment with social commentary and that is certainly something I endeavor to emulate.


Your favourite movies?


I think Rear Window might be the best film ever made but I love so many movies and my favorite is based on my mood. Lots of Hitchcock, Kubrick and now Fincher I like a lot.


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


I hate most of these action sequels. There’s an expression I coined for Muppet Movie 2: It’s the hundred frogs on bicycles-problem. In the first Muppet movie they showed Kermit riding a bike and the audience went wild, so in the sequel they had a hundred frogs on bikes and the audience didn’t care. Think agents in the Matrix sequels, robots in the Transformers sequels and gone is the humanity that made the first worth watching.


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


Support indie films! They’re the only thing left that might surprise you.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD