I recently got the chance to talk to director Robin Morningstar about his new film, ‘Chakan The Forever Man’. Here, Robin talks about how the development of the film and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
Hey Robin. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘Chakan The Forever Man’.
No problem. Any excuse to wear my interview suit.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Basically Chakan is a warrior so good, and so arrogant, he challenged The Grim Reaper to a duel for immortality but it turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. The Grim Reaper agrees to let him off the hook and let him die if he brings in the powerful supernatural evils that do not fear death, that all have their own ways of surviving throughout the ages. That’s Chakan’s origin, but I wanted to get into the actual execution of that premise. I did not want another God damn origin story comic book movie. The people who read the comics know this guy’s origin, and the people who don’t, well they have it spelled out for them in the opening minutes. Lamenting around half or a whole movie with a characters origin is lazy comic book movie making at its worst. How many times in twenty years have we seen Batman’s parents die, that Superman crash in Kansas, and Spider-Man get bitten? So after the recap we jump into Chakan’s pursuit of a particular enemy he’s been hunting for some time, an evil sorceress called Elkenrod. Through powerful magic she flees into the future – our present day – and Chakan follows.
I understand the film is based on a comic book series – as the writer and director – how hard was it to turn the original text into a screenplay and put the film into production?
There were two big concerns. One; how to make it affordable. Two; how to make it accessible. It had to appeal to both fans of the character and complete strangers to it. That part we figured out first; Chakan is immortal so we set it in present day, which will let us lead in the new comers through that platform. Then it was a case of how to put him there whilst still including the sword and sorcery world from the comics. The first draft was an entirely different film to the final one, it was all present day and was a police thriller with voodoo gangs turning up dead, a biological weapon being smuggled…and rumours of ‘the man in the hat’ playing vigilante. So it was very much like the 1989 ‘Batman’ in that respect, with Chakan slowly taking centre stage and his origin being explained by flashbacks and detective work. But it did not work; it felt off, almost like a literally different film with Chakan shoehorned in like Pinhead in so many ‘Hellraiser’ sequels. So we scrapped everything apart from the present day concept, and a forensic technician that worked well as a sidekick but was originally the sidekick of a cop. We realized if Chakan was going to be more than some Michael Myers style figure then he needed an enemy that wasn’t going to scream and run off a building, and he needed a foil, an ally to interact with. So first things first we needed a villain that could present a threat. Immediately that meant they had to know who and what Chakan is, which meant they are from his past. But if we’re set in present day how have they survived Chakan this long? Time travel was the only way to sow those two concepts together. It solved a lot of problems. The opening of the film took place in Chakan’s familiar world, then kicked into the present day with flashbacks harkening back to it. It solved our accessibility problem, and gave us a break on the budget by not pitting Chakan against a massive army, but one evil sorceress. We also reduced an entire police squad cast to one forensic technician who becomes his companion after meeting him in the morgue. That Elkenrod is familiar to fans of Chakan, having been prominent in the video game license of Chakan in the 90’s, was also a plus.
To be honest, that there was ever a draft without a member of the rogue gallery known to the fan base in it, I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s one of those things where you look back and are glad you broke up with that script before it f##ked your life up. So yes, from a script point of view and production point of view, it was hard to translate Chakan into a film that worked on an economic level both in terms of being affordable to make and in having the potential to secure both the initiated and uninitiated audience.
What’s the reception been to the film so far?
It got a lot of flack in the early stages for looking ‘cheap’, but that was before all the costumes and SFX started rolling out. Then, it was more like “yes that’s a Chakan movie I might see”. As far as the actual finished film goes, not many people have seen it since its release was delayed to October 31st. I have, obviously I’m going to say everyone will love it, but no one would believe me, and why would you? On Halloween this year, you can judge for yourself. From a distribution angle it’s already sewed up from USA to UK to Germany, so on a behind the scenes business perspective, reception has been good.
What was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
Oh boy, we had to deal with what we called “The Curse Of Elkenrod”. Seriously we got through more Elkenrod’s on this shoot than an unfaithful blonde gets through balls at a bingo hall. The first Elkenrod was offered an LP, and being a singer first, they wanted it bad. We said “good journey” and wished them well. Elkenrod number two was dating a member of the team, but broke up with them on Facebook chat and ran away with some other guy. Elkenrod number three was offered another job she preferred, which clashed, and she bailed on us by text days before her debut. We got through a lot. Our final Elkenrod, I remember her first day, part of her costume had gone missing in all the commotion from actress to actress, and the missing part kept her collar up. This big, massive, ten-inch collar, which stands upright. And it kept falling down, which made her look like she was playing some blooming flower in a pantomime. Thank God we located the missing component.
There are some other anecdotes. The studio flooded the night before shooting, and a cameraman declared the shoot wasn’t just cancelled but that no one was getting paid for the time, which was an absolute lie, just so he could run off with some of the cast to make a short film about a prostitute being raped in the ass, before doing an interview in her underwear. Because that’s the logical, artistic thing to do… We call that a Noah’s Ark Hail Mary pass, the flood that cleaned house.
Then there’s the riot. All out anarchy took over London in some areas this year. The studio we were shooting in at one point was right in the middle of ground zero; a war zone. We were trapped. Very quickly we realized we were cut off from civilisation as we know it, and help wasn’t coming, and the rabid mob was growing whilst the city was burning. It was apocalyptic, like a zombie movie. Soon we were making plans to reach a getaway vehicle and get out. If we’d kept the camera rolling, and had to follow through that plan, that would have been a movie in its own right. It turns out in a ‘Walking Dead’ scenario; I’m the Rick of the group. People just elect silently and quickly in a crisis, you know? I’m not sure if that’s my leadership quality, or just the hat.
Let’s talk a bit about you Robin. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
Because I’m insane. What is art if not a controlled insanity? It serves no purpose. Art may move some people, raise awareness of things, or make money, but taken purely on its own it serves no purpose. It is the mind taking a dump and polishing it. And my mind is constantly taking a shit. For me, getting into the industry wasn’t a choice. It was an inevitability created by a necessity born of an insanity.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
In the United Kingdom, specifically? I would say this; everything you know is a lie. 75% of the independent film industry here doesn’t know what it’s doing. That’s a big percentage. And they lie better than the other 25% that tells the truth. These parasites run around making useless short films, with people working for free, on the basis of it will go to a film festival and the director getting funding for a feature. A short film is nothing more than an expensive business card. It might get you a job, but it will not get you given money. No man worth his tie is ever going to give money to some punk to make a feature film, based on a short film he has made, not when there’s another guy who has made an entire feature. He’ll get the money. If you’re working in or on shorts, you’re getting screwed or screwing yourself, unless you’re doing it to bench test some new technology or technique.
Another thing, you’ll come across independent film production companies that are making a full-length feature, and you’re still expected to work for free. I’ve seen it happen to so many actors and actresses. But you’ll get good show-reel material, the company says. And they’ve got more than one camera, a lot of lighting equipment, a lot of staff, so the actor or actress believes that they know what they are doing. Everything you know is a lie! They’re going to be trying to make money off that movie, so don’t let them treat you like a sweat shop worker in a third world country. I’ll tell you what makes a film production company. One; a camera, just one is enough. Two; paying people, because they’re doing a job. Three; they actually make films, not shorts, or trailers, that’s why it’s called a film production company. If these three boxes are not ticked, as is often the case, don’t let the fact that 75% of them fall into this category blind you. Run. Fast. And don’t meet people in hired community centres or huts or libraries. Meet in a bar. It’s full of people and cameras. Don’t worry about the guy who wants to throw down business with you in a bar. Be worried about the guy who has hired an empty room. That sounds mainly like advice to thespians doesn’t it? But it applies to filmmakers too. Ignore the 75% doing it wrong. Everything you think you know is a lie.
What films have inspired you as a person? Any favourites?
‘Nightbreed’ has to come in at number one. A massively underrated movie from Clive Barker. I’m surprised it hasn’t been hit with the remake stick, given it’s all about vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, everything that’s suddenly popular these days, and they’re the good guys of the movie. Before Bella Swan followed Edward Cullen into the woodland, Lori followed Aaron Boone into Midian. Yeah you’d have to have seen the movie for that to make sense. Basically, there’s a city called Midian where monsters live in fear of the greatest monster; man. It’s about tolerance, about what really makes a beast, and stuff like that. It’s also maybe the greatest celebration of practical effects work in the history of cinema. Personally, I buy a 50% successful model or prosthetic shot over a 90% successful CGI shot because it’s something real, it has real characteristics, real values. We went that way with Chakan. Oh by the way, a massive uncut version of ‘Nightbreed’ has been recovered from the vaults, but Clive needs people to prove there’s a demand for it. There’s a petition online. I implore everybody to seek it out and sign up. The man has suffered enough DVD ‘Hellraiser’ sequels. Let’s balance it out with a special edition ‘Nightbreed’ on DVD.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Presuming any dead ones wouldn’t be dead during the dinner right, because that would be weird? Okay. One of them would have to be Cheryl Cole, I’d give her a chance to impress me over conversation… The other two, hmm, well one would have to be Clive Barker, and… I’m tempted to say Osama Bin Laden so I could punch him in the face but that’s not very politically correct. So Cheryl Cole to see if she’s the full package, Clive Barker because the man was gay before gay was cool, and Robert Pattinson to ask him the greatest question. Sparkling vampires. What do you think Robert? Have your people e-mail my people.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
Well I’m talking to Juan Carlos Fresnadillo about the ‘Highlander’ reboot, he inherited the reigns after Justin Lin’s departure on that perpetually delayed project, but Juan’s new angle on ‘Highlander’ is that immortality is a curse, which is absolutely genius but…I’ve kind of just done that already as Chakan, so that may well knock me out of the box. I will definitely be starting on a remake of an old Pierce Brosnan film by years end, so I guess I’m cursed with remake fever whichever way you look at it.
Thanks for the interview!