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An Interview with Paul Butler, Writer of Book of Monsters

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2019

Films written by Paul Butler on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Book of Monsters - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Book of Monsters is about an 18th birthday party that gets gruesomely gatecrashed by a horde of monsters. Sophie, a shy outcast, must rally together her team of misfits to take on the beasts over one blood-filled evening.

 

What were your sources of inspiration when writing Book of Monsters?

 

We had lots of sources of inspiration for the film. The main ones that spring to mind would be Shaun of the Dead and Gremlins 2. I love the tone and witty dialogue of Shaun of the Dead. It mixes amazing visual humor with a real sense of peril. It hits a perfect balance between characters you can relate to and an outlandish premise that brings excitement and thrills. As a kid I watched Gremlins 2 way too much! I loved the wacky characters, the comically psychotic creatures and even at an early age I could tell that the film wasn't taking itself too seriously... yet certain parts still terrified me! Also, that scene when Gizmo finally fights back and takes on the bullying gremlins really struck a nerve with me as a kid. You gotta love an underdog story. Gremlins 2 is a really fun movie and it's my hope that people get the same kind of kick out of Book of Monsters I got watching Gremlins 2.

 

Do talk about Book of Monsters' approach to horror, and is that a genre at all dear to you?

 

Obviously I love horror. There are so many shades of horror, there really is something for everyone. Ironically though I scare very easily! Book of Monsters takes a ďwink and a nodĒ approach to the horror in the film. Yet both myself and Stewart were careful not to cheapen the events in the movie. We do poke fun at some of the typical horror tropes but we do it with love and I think that care really shines through on the screen. This is our second horror feature film and I still find it impossible to know if the films we make are scary. You get so close to the subject matter that it's difficult to see it objectively... I guess the audience will ultimately decide. However, right from the start we knew we wanted to make Sophie relatable and the horror elements needed to stay in the realms of possibility. This would aid the sense of peril Sophie is in. It was key to us that the characters acted in a realistic way, if a big monster suddenly appeared in front of you what would you actually do? Scream, run and hide! At least that's what I would do. I hate to see horror characters act in ways that so clearly would never happen in real life.

 

What were the main challenges of shooting Book of Monsters from a producer's point of view? And how hands-on or hands-off a producer are you actually?

 

Haha, we could write a book on the challenges of shooting this film, but then I would say any low budget filmmaker could. I suppose the biggest challenge we faced was time. We had an amazing crew, brilliant cast and a fun atmosphere on set throughout the shoot, but not even that could change the fact that as soon as you start to make a movie your hours turn into minutes and your minutes turn into seconds. Our main shooting block was a tiny 14 days which was filled with practical effects, gore, monsters and puppets. We was up against it from day one. Luckily we had the brilliant Stewart Sparke at the helm. He kept us to time and on target even whilst juggling the endless responsibilities of directing. And he did it all with a smile on his face! Unfortunately, I wasn't able to be on set as much as I would have liked with this film so I would say I wasn't able to be as hands-on as I would like for the production. Yet the life of a film and the role of a producer far outstretches the shooting period. With my dual role of writer/producer I was able to work with the actors ahead of the shoot to assist Stewart with getting the actors comfortable in their roles way before we hit set. With this film we had crowdfunding, development, post-production, marketing and the festival run. Thankfully Stewart is also a very strong producer and we were joined by the brilliant Cal O'Connell as a co-producer. Many hands make light work and it always felt like everyone was working towards the same vision.

 

What can you tell us about Book of Monsters' director Stewart Sparke, and what was your collaboration like? And since this isn't the first time you two have worked together, also talk about your previous movies, and how did the two of you first meet even?

 

I've worked with many directors and I can honestly say Stewart is the most talented and creative I have seen. He is a very visual director and really knows how to call the shots. He edits in his head on set and can see a scene coming together with crystal clarity even when we are shooting out of sequence or doing something very challenging like a group action scene. I often 1st AD on set and in that role I have every confidence when Stewart turns to me after a take and says ďWe got itĒ. I know from that understated expression that we actually have something really special. A lot of my role as writer/producer is centered around supplying Stewart with the tools he needed to realize his creative vision. Stewart is also the most hard working filmmaker I know, he is a perfectionist but also pragmatic. He knows what he wants and how to get it in the most efficient way possible. He is able to get across his brilliant vision by always being collaborative and listening to those around him. It's a joy being on set with Stewart and an education to watch him work. Iv'e been lucky enough to work with Stewart for many years now, as we run our company Dark Rift Films together. We collaborate with every stage of the process from story to promotion. It's always a thrill developing projects with Stewart as he has a vivid imagination and a determination that makes the impossible possible.

 

Do talk about Book of Monsters' cast for a bit, and as a producer, how much of a say did you have in that department?

 

I was heavily involved in the casting process, we did all the casting ourselves and used a lot of people we have worked with previously. Any film lives or dies on the performances of the cast and I'm proud to say Book of Monsters has a stella cast! Everyone really gave their all into the roles regardless of the size of their part. The dedication, passion and hard work everyone put in really shows on screen. I have no doubt many of our cast will be snapped up by Hollywood as their performances are outstanding. We had an incredibly large cast and it would be difficult to mention each one individually but I want to talk about Lyndsey Craine [Lyndsey Craine interview - click here] in particular as her dedication and talent was mirrored in all of our cast. Lyndsey gave a breakout performance as our lead Sophie. It was a joy working with Lyndsey in the pre-production stage. She really delved into the character talking to me at length about her backstory, her motivations and her hidden intent. All this resulted in a depth to Sophie's character that really grounds her in reality, making her endearing to the audience. Lyndsey had full control over her expression of Sophie which lead to some powerful moments on camera. This elevates the film beyond a typical teen horror movie.

 

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

 

The on-set atmosphere was great. We always try to make sure people are having a good time yet also working hard. Everyone was cracking on with the task at hand but had a smile on their face whilst doing it.

 

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

 

The film is out now in USA on iTunes and many streaming services and Blu-ray via Dread/Epic Pictures:

epic-pictures.com/
merchandise/book-of-monsters-blu-ray
.

We have sold to other territories (outside of the USA) but we are just waiting to hear when those release dates will be.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Book of Monsters?

 

People really seem to be responding well to the film, we have had several sell out screenings, one of which was at the premiere at FrightFest London. And we have had a great festival run, meeting some amazing fans and picking up some cool awards. We feel so grateful to those festivals and audiences who have supported us and promoted the film. Here is a list of what awards we have been nominated for and wonÖ

 

AWARD WINS: Best Feature/Best Special FX/Best Sound Design - NYC Horror Film Festival (Book of Monsters), Best International Feature - Spooky Empire Film Festival (Book of Monsters),  Best Practical FX - PDXtreme Portland Underground Film Fest (Book of Monsters), London Horror Society Award/Last Shirt on the Left Award - Unrestricted View Film Festival (Book of Monsters).

 

AWARD NOMINATIONS: Best Actress/Best Horror Comedy/Best Feature - Nightmares Film Festival (Book of Monsters), Best Feature/Best Actress - Unrestricted View Film Festival (Lyndsey Craine, Book of Monsters), Best Feature/Best Actress - PDXtreme Film Fest (Lyndsey Craine, Book of Monsters), Best Feature/Best Director - Dead of Night Film Festival (Stewart Sparke, Book of Monsters, Best Feature - Dark Veins Horror Fest (Book of Monsters).

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Paul (right) with cinematographer Hamish Saks, director Stewart Sparke

We are always in development of projects and Iím going to do that really annoying thing now of keeping those cards close to my chestÖ sorry. Itís just things change and certain projects suddenly pick up pace so itís difficult to say exactly what we will be going into production next on. What I will say is that I would love to revisit the characters and world of Book of Monsters, and Iíd be lying to say we havenít been playing with ideas for more chapters. Watch this space!

 

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

 

Iíve always enjoyed writing but as a kid I struggled with the basics, spelling and grammar. Truth be told I still struggle now but I care less. Yet growing up I loved movies, I remember I desperately wanted to be a stunt man! Then I wanted to be an actor, then I thought about directing but all the while I kept writing and coming up with stories. It wasn't until I started to learn about script formatting and the way in which scripts are constructed that I realized screenwriting was what I wanted to do. I love the format of scripts, the immediacy, the energy. Itís unlike any other form of writing. I did go to university and studied theatre, film and television. There was probably only one module on screenwriting, but being around other filmmakers made my passion grow. My house mate Ali gave me the book A Hero's Journey, and when I read that it was like a light turned on in my head. I got obsessed with story structure, that led me to delve into the craft of writing and how to connect with an audience, and things just spiraled from there. A lot of my study in the craft was self lead but there are so many amazing books on the subject and YouTube videos, and I'm sure I have read and seen just about all of them by now.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Book of Monsters?

 

Very early on in my career I made my own short films and even co-wrote another produced feature film. I started making films with Stewart when I started working with a production company called Glass Cannon. We made commissioned content for the heritage and education sector. I loved working with that company as it was filled with the nicest and most creative people you could ever meet. However the content we were creating was very family friendly and safe. Me and Stewart longed to dabble in something darker. So we started making horror shorts on the side. These grew in scope and we started getting them into festivals. We even got onto a horror anthology feature film. The next logical step was to make a feature. We saved up what little cash we had and rallied the troops. All of our past collaborators came back and all of Glass Cannon's team helped out on the film. The film was called The Creature Below, and despite it's tiny budget it got worldwide distribution. From then on we were hooked and formed Dark Rift Films to make more horror movies. For Book of Monsters, many of our previous collaborators came back to help and support the film. We are blessed with a very supportive network of creatives who we love working with.

 

How would you describe yourself as a writer?

 

Still learning, but then I think you always are. I love words, I love the craft and strive to be better at it. I've been obsessed with screenwriting for 15 years or more but only now do I feel like I'm starting to find my voice. I'm interested in exploring people under pressure, battling insurmountable odds. I write a lot of action but I'm actually more passionate about becoming a better dialogue writer. I love the witty back and forth and rhythm of writers like Sorkin. I'm a big fan of Sorkin as he has the confidence to write the way he wants to write. A lot of his drama plays out on the dialogue level. I'm keen to ďborrowĒ as much as I can from that style whilst mixing it with my own draw to raw, visceral action. I like writing characters who get their hands dirty and are put in situations where they have to dig into their animal instincts to survive. Book of Monsters was my first attempt at writing comedy. I have always avoided comedy as it is the hardest genre to get right. Luckily I work very closely with Stewart when I write. We plan the story together and Stewart is always filled with clever and funny situations for our characters to find themselves in. It's great having that collaboration as I write as I always have an audience to try stuff out on. I've found writing comedy horror gives me the perfect opportunity to test myself in creating witty and funny dialogue. Yet it also offers up the opportunity to explore visceral action, placing my characters in situations of building terror. I hope to continue writing in this sub-genre.

 

Writers, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?

 

I guess Iím inspired by storytelling craft and that can come from any level in the industry. If someone is doing something different or just doing what they do so well that they capture the attention of the population, then that inspires me. I have nothing but admiration for the likes of Fincher, Sorkin, Tarantino, Carpenter, Spielberg, Scorsese, Cronenberg, anyone really who is at the top of their game. Yet there is also some really interesting and inspiring things happening in the indie world, and I think this is where the horror genre really shines.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Wow, thatís a hard question as I love so many movies. Iíll divide this question up if thatís cool into horror favorites and non-horror favs. 

Horror favs include Ė The Thing, 28 Days Later, Predator, Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Aliens, Shaun of the Dead, Gremlins 2, From Dusk till Dawn, Iím missing out some obvious ones here Iím sure but the list goes on and on.

Non-horror Ė Anything by Tarantino, anything by Nolan, anything by Fincher but particular mention goes to Fight Club. Also Human Traffic, The Matrix, True Romance, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Iím also well into my indie low budget contain thrillers so things like Exam, Red Eye, Locke, The Hide, Confine. Then there are the films of Pixar, you canít help but be impressed by the storytelling craft at work in films like Inside Out and Finding Nemo.

 

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

 

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Haha, Iím not falling into that trap! Getting any movie over the finish line deserves respect regardless of the quality of the product at the end. What I will say (as I sit here firmly on the fence) is that any film that disrespects the audience or treats the audience like idiots annoys me. Entertaining the audience is the main reason for making movies and you canít entertain if you donít first respect them.

 

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

 

Yes, please reach out and connect with us over social media, we love meeting and chatting with likeminded people.

The movie website is our company's Ė www.darkriftfilms.com

Facebook - www.facebook.com/bookofmonstersmovie/ and www.facebook.com/darkriftfilms/

 

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

 

I just want to say a massive thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. I really appreciate the support you have shown us and Iím over the moon you enjoy the film!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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Tales to Chill
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
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you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

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

out now on DVD