Your film Nightmare Box - in a few words, what is it about?
Nightmare Box is a strange, fantastical, psychological
thriller about a woman that wakes up in a room with no idea who she is,
where she is, or how she got there and must unravel the mystery of her
identity before the room destroys her. Along the way, she meets a host of
bizarre and frightening characters as she tries to put the puzzle pieces
together. It's definitely a mind-bending journey that is sometimes scary,
sometimes dramatic, and not at all what people are expecting.
hard/easy was it to get a film based on a bizarre story like this off the
was by no means an easy feat. Trying to convince people to finance a movie
that takes place entirely in one room with a lot of strange things going
on is like climbing a mountain covered in snow. I've had the Nightmare
Box script around for years and knew it was one of those movies that I
really wanted to make, but it was going to take the right group of people
to get it made. So every once in a while I'd pull it out and pitch it
around and everyone always wanted something more mainstream. And then in
2011, I set up Highland Myst UK with Carl Kirshner in England and he
wanted our first movie to be something highly imaginative and artistic and
that could be done on a low budget. We pulled out Nightmare Box and
in a matter of months the financing came together.
Now this may sound like a silly question based
on the subject of the movie - but was any of this based on personal
experience, and other inspirations for Nightmare Box?
canít say any of it was based on personal experience, but Nightmare
Box was definitely inspired by true events. The idea for the script
came to me back in 2003 when I heard a news story. The news story got my
mind reeling with ideas and slowly Nightmare Box grew out of it.
Unfortunately, I canít talk about what the news story was without giving
away the movie.
can you tell us about your co-writer Carl Kirshner and your collaboration
met Carl years ago when he submitted some scripts to Highland Myst. I
loved his writing and weíve been working together for a while. Weíve
written a couple of screenplays together that weíre working on setting
up. With Nightmare Box, I had written the original draft and then
would take it out every year or two and do some revisions to it as I
continued growing as a writer. Once we knew we were making it in England,
I turned the script over to Carl to do a lot of work on the dialog. He
added some fresh dialog to places that needed it and did a lot of
rewriting of the dialog to make it right for the way the British actors
would speak. Once he had the dialog down then we came up with a few more
scenes to fill out the rest of the story. It was a great experience.
What can you tell us about your directorial
approach to the subject at hand?
was the first time since my first two movies where I had complete creative
control on a movie. Much of the work Iíve done has been work-for-hire so
there were certain creative concessions that had to be made to fit the
needs of the companies hiring me. But with Nightmare Box I was
making this on my own terms Ė and my producing team of Carl, Matthew
Tompkins and Charles Burnley backed me on this. I made this entirely as a
Jon Keeyes movie without thinking about other movies, how they were made,
or what someone else might have done. I followed my gut and instincts
every step of the way, allowing the movie to unfold organically. We had an
amazing team of actors and crew that threw themselves into the movie and
brought so many wonderful ideas so I stayed out of my own way, supporting
the imagination of the movie as it came together. It was a really
liberating experience as a director.
A few words about your
lead actress Johanna Stanton, and what made her perfect for the role?
is just amazing. Sheís probably one of the most naturally talented
actors Iíve ever worked with. We auditioned a lot of people, and I had
certain preconceived notions in my head of how I wanted Woman to be, and
Jo not only surpassed those ideas but also brought some wonderful
personality traits to the table that I wasnít expecting. The thing that
made her perfect for the role was two-fold. The first - and most important
thing for a movie like this - is that you instantly care about her. She
has a quality about her that makes people like her and care about what
happens to her. And second, she is a truthful actor, which means that you
believe her every moment of the journey. She holds the truth and feelings
of the character in every pore of her body, in the soul of her eyes, and
you never doubt anything that she is experiencing.
Box also stars horror icon Debbie Rochon, with whom you have worked
before, right [Debbie Rochon
interview - click here]? Why her, and what was your collaboration
to work with Debbie again was one of the true joys of making this movie. I
think Debbie and I click and feed off of each other creatively in ways
that a lot of people canít comprehend. From the first day I wrote Nightmare
Box I knew that I wanted Debbie to play the role of Wife. She has a
way of channeling her inner crazy that was made for this role. With
Debbie, we usually spend a bit of time talking about the foundation of a
character, how the character might react to certain situations, where the
character has come from, and then I turn Debbie loose. A lot of time my
direction to Debbie was ďgo for itĒ and I knew that I could trust
Debbie to really tap into the character and drive her to places that would
up the ante of the movie and keep all the actors present and on their
What can you tell us about the rest of your cast?
We had such an
amazing cast. I could say something great about every person involved in
the movie. I was fortunate that Matthew Tompkins and Hayden Tweedie were
able to come over from the States to be in the movie. Iíve worked with
Hayden since she was eight years old and audiences have watched her grow
up in my movies. Sheís one of the finest talents Iíve ever encountered
and the brilliance of her performance as Innocence canít be stated
enough. Matthew and I have worked together a lot over the years and I knew
he would be great as the villainous Husband Ė and he nailed it. Matt is
one of the nicest guys you can meet but when he puts his bad guy hat on,
heís truly vile. And the great thing about Matt is that he doesnít
have to go over the top, or scream and yell, or do any of the clichť
things to make a character evil. You just look into his characterís eyes
and you know this is a guy that would tear your soul out just for the fun
All across the board
I was surrounded by amazing actors. Carl Kirshner brought a few people he
had worked with before such as Sal Esen, Scott Christie, Nicholas Ball and
James Simmons. All incredibly talented actors that fully immersed
themselves into their characters. And then we worked with some new talent
to us Ė Katie Kensit, Claire Jared, Laura Whitehurst and Craig Bramley.
They all embodied their characters and are so much fun to watch on screen.
I definitely believe that when reviews for the movie start coming out, the
quality of acting is something that will definitely shine.
to my information (and I might be wrong), Nightmare Box is the
first film you have shot in the UK? Why there, and what was it like
filming abroad? And what can you tell us about the actual shoot and the
are correct. This was the first movie Iíve made outside of the United
States. Doing Nightmare Box in England sprung from my relationship
with Carl Kirshner who spear-headed that move. Over the last ten years
Iíve been told by a lot of people Ė including my wife who lived in
England Ė that I have a very European sensibility when it comes to
telling stories and I wanted to test that theory. When the opportunity to
make this in the UK came along, I jumped at it. I have to say, I
absolutely loved it. There is something quite theatrical about Nightmare
Box and because of the rich theatre history in England, the cast and
crew tapped right into that. We had some very experienced people working
on the movie and some people that are so talented yet fairly new to the
industry. Across the board from top to bottom, every person gave
everything they had to make this the best movie possible, and when people
like this surround you; it really ups your own game as a filmmaker. The
atmosphere was one of camaraderie and passion Ė everyone having fun,
laughing and at the same time being fully committed to the movie. It was
one of the best experiences Iíve had.
As we speak, Nightmare Box is
still in post production, right? Any idea when and where it's going to be
released onto the general public?
Box is about 95%
completed. If everything stays on track, weíll be completely done with
the movie in October. Iím really excited for everyone to see it. Itís
a movie that I think will do well at film festivals so as soon as possible
weíre going to start taking it out to the festival world and run it
there through the spring before we start actively selling the movie. I
think itís reasonable to say that Nightmare Box could be
available in regular release by this time next year.
Let's go back to the
beginnings of your career: What got you into moviemaking in the first
place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
traditional sense, I came into filmmaking later in life. I never had any
formal training and never really believed that I would end up directing
movies. In my later twenties, I started working as an entertainment
journalist and during this time tried my hand at screenwriting and wrote American
Nightmare. I had given it to my friend Brinke Stevens to
read, thinking that I might try selling it, and she suggested that I go
out and make it. And suddenly it was like a door opened up and the
universe said, ĎHereís what youíre supposed to be doing.í So
almost a year from the day I decided to make it, we were rolling cameras.
American Nightmare was great to make. It was my first movie and
we made it with a lot of friends that werenít in the movie industry but
now Ė because of that movie Ė have built careers out of it. It was
also the first time I worked with Debbie Rochon. She and I knew each other
because of interviews I had done with her, and through some articles she
did for the magazine I worked at, and after getting to know her and her
movies, I knew she had to play the serial killer Jane Toppan. And talk
about a killerÖ Debbie turned Jane Toppan into an iconic horror movie
movies of yours you'd like to talk about?
be nice to talk about every movie Iíve made but Iíve been blessed to
have made quite a few at this point. Some have done well and others not,
but I try to do the best with everything I have available to me. The last
few years have been really exciting and I feel like Iíve taken another
step as a filmmaker. Besides Nightmare Box, I also got to make a
Victorian era murder mystery with a vampire twist called Phobia. I
shot that one a couple of months before Nightmare Box and itís
just been completed. It stars Erica Leerhsen from the Texas Chainsaw
Massacre and Wrong Turn 2. Itís just now starting to get sent
out to distributors and sales agents. I also made a short film called The
Mechanical Grave with Matt Tompkins and Charles Burnley. Itís a
steampunk, horror, sci-fi story set in 1895. The short has gotten a ton of
attention and has been playing at conventions all over North America, so
Matt, Charles and I are now developing it into a six-hour mini-series that
weíd like to get sold to one of the networks.
You've also worked on a
handful TV- and webseries like Inspector Mom and Throwing Stones
- as a director, do you approach these any differently from your
stand-alone features and shorts?
and no. When I stepped into both of those shows, they had already been
established so you have to approach them in a way that keeps it consistent
with the series. But, in both cases, the producers gave me a lot of
latitude to bring my own creative style or stamp to the episodes. I have
to say: directing both of those was a lot of fun.
A few words about your
company Highland Myst Entertainment?
established Highland Myst in 2000 with Richard Carey when we were making
Nightmare. I didnít really think of it becoming a brand at the time.
We just established the company to make the movie. But with the success of
American Nightmare, Highland Myst just kept growing and growing.
Under the banner weíve been able to produce more than a dozen projects,
some of which Iíve directed and others where we were involved in some
capacity as producers. The company has grown in reputation and that also
allowed us to branch out with Highland Myst UK.
Most of your
films are of the horror variety. A favourite genre of yours, and why
thrillers and the like are definitely my favorite genres. I grew up loving
horror movies more than just about any other genre. I love the fact that
horror can evoke so many different primal emotions and being able to play
with those as a filmmaker is a dream come true. Iím also very interested
in psychology, particularly the darker aspects of our psyches, and horror
is a great playground for that.
How would you describe yourself as a director?
think Iím an actorís director Ė or so Iím told. I think every good
movie begins and ends with a good script, but as a director the actors are
of paramount importance to me. I want to be able to communicate with them
in a way that they can understand and I want them to always feel that they
can go out on a limb and try new things and Iíll be there to catch them
if they fall. When I was first starting out I would hear actors talk often
about directors they worked with that were only concerned about the camera
and the visual elements and didnít seem to care one way or another about
the actors and giving them direction, so I took it upon myself from the
very beginning to do the best I can to always support the actors.
who inspire you?
list could go on and on, but Alfred Hitchcock would be the most
influential director. Iíve loved his movies for as long as I can
remember and Iíve spent much of my life studying his movies, his style
of directing, and how he constructs a movie. After Hitchcock, other
directors that most immediately come to mind include Steven Spielberg,
Tony Scott, John Carpenter, Tim Burton and John Sayles. Each have very
different styles of filmmaking and yet I love nearly everything that they
Your favourite movies?
Psycho, Rear Window, Beetlejuice, Edward
Scissorhands, The Hunger, Black Hawk Down, CabaretÖ Iím really not
hard to please when it comes to enjoying a movie but these are some of the
ones that I can watch over and over again and I never grow tired of them.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
are plenty of movies I havenít liked but I donít like sharing them.
Whether a person likes or dislikes a movie is completely subjective. Even
if I donít like a movie, I still want to applaud every person who had
the guts to go out and get a movie made.
Facebook, whatever else?
Entertainment - http://www.highlandmyst.net
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/jon.keeyes
Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/jonkeeyes
And, of course, the websites for Nightmare Box are
Anything else you are dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
just wanted to say how incredible our crew was on Nightmare Box. I
worked with an amazing group of people who are incredibly talented. I wish
I could talk about all of them, one by one. Nightmare Box
couldnít have been made without all of these people and Iím looking
forward to being able to bring them all back together one day for another