Shawn Ewert. Born and bred in North Texas, Shawn started writing short stories at a tender age. Following a deep love of film of every kind, he was encouraged by friends and professors to pursue his love of writing. Growing up during the heyday of the slasher film in the 80′s, Shawn immediately developed an affinity for horror films that bordered on obsession. Currently, Shawn is working on a number of different projects. Focusing his energies on Texas indie films, he moves from writing to directing, acting to set photography, and even catering film shoots to move into any role he is needed on set.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Texas, and have always been a storyteller. When I got into high school, I started putting those stories down on paper after the prodding of some of my teachers. From there, I started writing short stories, and eventually paired that with my love of film. I’m a little on the liberal side for the state I live in, but I’m definitely a Texas boy.
Right Left Turn Productions, is there a significance behind the name?
When I was putting together my first film, I needed a name for the production company. I really liked the idea of the duality of man, and came up with a handful of names that I thought held some connection to that. I put the names out there, and had my friends vote on which one they liked the best. Right Left Turn Productions is the one that people liked the best.
You started writing stories at an early age, what made you make the jump from story writing to screen writing?
I remember always being fascinated with film. I’ve always tried to fully immerse myself in the world of every film that I watch. Sometimes, that’s a good thing, sometimes bad. I think the idea of being able to show people the things that were floating around in my head has always appealed to me.
Like many of us you grew up in the age of the slasher film, can you remember what your first slasher film was?
I most definitely do. The first slasher film I remember seeing was the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. I saw that when I was about 5 years old, and it definitely had a lasting impression on me. I remember weeks of nightmares after that one.
Why do you think these films had such an impact in the 1980’s?
I think people have always loved being scared. I also think that in the 80s, the effects masters were really coming into their own. They were able to bring a certain amount of realism to the gore and I think people gravitated toward that. I think a lot of us still do.
What do you think was their biggest downfall?
I think everything can reach an oversaturation point. I think when there are too many people trying to repeat something that works (and makes some money) that the quality goes to hell. I think that is happening now with a lot of the horror subgenres. One vampire film makes it, and suddenly we have to have twenty. People get sick of them, and the moviemakers move onto the next big thing.
What is your favourite slasher film of all time?
I don’t think I necessarily have a favourite slasher film, but I do have a favourite slasher. Jason Voorhees will always be my favourite. He’s just a big killing machine. He reminds me of Jaws in a lot of ways. Jaws being one of my favourite films of all time. My favourite film of all time is Psycho, and I guess some people would classify that as a slasher, but I think it’s something more than that.
Apart from the slasher film do you have any other favourite films?
Like I said, Psycho and Jaws for sure, but I love all kinds of film. I grew up watching the things that came out of Jim Henson’s company like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and I love those films to this day. I am also a huge fan of films like Leon, House of Flying Daggers, Ils, Haute Tension…and then of course, anything by Kevin Smith. I could literally go on for hours about the films I love. I think every genre has something that is worth watching.
What do you think of modern day horror films? Are we in a drought or a golden era of film making?
I think we are getting to the point where the mainstream audience is actually getting sick of the repetitious stuff coming out of the Hollywood system. I think independent films are actually starting to get far more attention than they have in years. I think the game is changing, and there are a lot of filmmakers ready to take up the sword.
What do you think is the most overused cliché in recent years?
Honestly, I think the thing being overdone right now is the paranormal house haunting films. I think the market has been flooded with them, and the quality has gone to hell because of it. There are some genuinely creepy films out there, but I think they get missed a lot of the time because there is just so much out there to see.
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
That may be the strangest question I have ever been asked. I would have to say that I would love to live next to Midian, the place where the monsters live in Clive Barker’s Cabal. I don't think I would ever feel safer or more at home. The nightmare neighbour would be the Five Points Church from Kevin Smith’s Red State. Part of the reason I wrote Sacrament is because of people like that.
Who would be on the sound track to your life?
Most definitely Jane’s Addiction, Extra Fancy, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson…music is another subject that I could go on about for hours and hours. I love music. I always try to find the right music for my mood. It helps me focus. When I write, I have to get the feeling of the scene, and usually grab music that I think fits it so that it keeps me on track.
As well as writing and directing films you have also turned your hand to acting. Is this out of necessity, or are you responding to some deep rooted narcissistic feelings?
I’m definitely no actor. I only act when a filmmaker needs someone that fits my type. I’ve enjoyed it the few times I have done it, but I’ve never taken on a major role. I usually play small bit parts that I think will be fun.
Where do you feel the most comfortable, in front of or behind the lens?
I am far more comfortable behind the camera lens. I am a bit of a control freak, so I need to be able to be the one directing other people to get to my vision. Being in front of the camera relies so much on someone else to tell you what they expect of you. I’ve been on sets a few times that I have found myself subconsciously directing the director from in front of the camera. It’s disrespectful, so I try not to do it. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with authority.
You have also turned your hand to catering, what’s your favour dish?
I definitely do a bit of cooking here and there. Mainly, it has ended up being for friends and family, but when the occasion arises, I try to help out where I can. One of my favourite things to make is sauerbraten with spaetzle and red cabbage. My family is predominantly German, so it’s definitely a comfort food for me.
Your latest project Sacrament is due to be released onto the world on June 7. How are things going for the launch?
As I sit here, our colorist is going through and making tweaks to the visuals. We have a lot of people working on separate things right now related to the final edit of the film. I am really happy with what I have seen so far. Of course we are getting close to that final date, and that’s a little nerve-wracking. I have faith that we’ll have a product that I am happy with in the end.
How has the shoot gone?
Everything went pretty well, for the most part. We definitely had some hiccups along the way, but everyone really pulled together to make this thing happen. I am really proud of the group of people we have on this film.
What would you say has been the hardest part of the whole filming process?
Waiting. Waiting is so incredibly hard. I am ready to see, and show, this film. I want to have the film ready for the world, and it’s just hard to know what we have and not be able to show it yet.
With being the writer and the director it must be hard to remain objective, and motivated. Was there ever a time where you started to doubt your own creative process?
The motivation is not an issue at all. I have been very energized by this production, more than any other I have been a part of. There have definitely been times that being objective has been hard. I have a good team around me though, and they help to keep me honest. They have forced me to make some hard decisions that I would not have made otherwise.
How did you go about assembling the cast and crew?
I definitely started with the people I know. I try to surround myself with creative people, and we all tend to help out on each other’s projects when we can. For the cast, we held a lot of auditions to get the right people in the right roles.
You have managed to get horror film legends Marilyn Burns and Ed Guinn on board, how did you manage to convince them to take part?
Both of them I met at Texas Frightmare Weekend, a horror convention that we volunteer for every year. I met Marilyn first, probably about 4 years ago. She was very sweet, and we have kept in touch over the years. I wrote the role with her in mind. Ed I met a couple of years later. It just seemed natural to me to have Marilyn’s saviour from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre come back as her husband in this film. This is the first time they have shared the screen in 40 years, so we’re happy to have been able to make that happen.
Was there any embarrassing fan boy moments when you first met them?
Not on set, but I’m sure the first time I met Marilyn I was a ball of gushy fan boy. She’s so sweet that she would never let on. Ed was also just a true pleasure to meet. I could not have asked for more from them.
The film starts with seven friends leaving the city for a weekend of “booze bud and bonding”, it must be hard finding a narrative starting point that doesn’t seem over used?
I think that in any film you have to walk the fine line between cliché, and losing your audience because there is nothing familiar for them to connect with. I think, though we do have a jumping off point that is a little familiar, that we have taken the film in a very different direction.
The film sets out to take the viewers out of their comfort zones, do you think audiences have got lazy and complacent with regards to horror films?
I think it goes back to that comfort in familiarity. When a new film shows you something that you recognize, I think it feels right for some people. I do think that filmmakers lately have been making films for lazy viewers, though.
The film deals with concepts such as love, religion and survival, why these three concepts?
Sacrament was based on a nightmare I had a few years ago. The core of it, anyway. With the news today constantly playing up the clash of LGBT people and the right-wing, it was hard not to write a bit of myself into the film. I definitely wanted the film to make a statement. I think every film is a little bit about love. Love of self, love of another, it is present in almost all films. Religion was an important piece. I did not want to make a film about Christians, but rather religious extremism. I think it could translate into any religion where we see zealots taking an idea, and forcing it upon other people. And ultimately, isn’t it all about survival?
The film is set deep in the Bible Belt, were you ever concerned about upsetting the Religious Right in America?
Conscious of it? Yes. Concerned? No. I put a lot of things into this film that I know will push some buttons for people. I also want people to think. I know there will be a portion of the viewers that, if they see it, will immediately have a bad reaction to it. I do think that if people give it a chance, that they will enjoy it.
Who is your favourite character from your film and why?
I think my favourite has to be Brahm. He is the epitome of why I wrote this film. He sees nothing wrong with the beliefs in his congregation, and thinks they should go further. He is single-minded, and knows what he wants. He says a LOT of things that I hate him for, but I love the character for it.
How about your least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
I think that is probably going to have to be the character of Simon Feltham. He’s a lackey of the town preacher. He is just such a cowardly character. He has a few chances to stand up to people, and always backs down. He also says some really horrible things in the film. He has a role in one of the most pivotal scenes of the film, and after watching it over and over I really grew to hate the character. Not the actor, though. The actor, Vernon Reeves, is a very sweet man. I just grew to hate his character, knowing full well that it was my fault because I wrote him.
I would imagine that one of the hardest things for you in the run up to its premier is getting word out about the film. How do you go about doing this?
Getting the word out can be difficult, most definitely. We’ve met a lot of people over the last year or so that have been really incredible in helping us to get people interested in the film. Troy Ford, one of our leads, has done an amazing job getting people to check out our trailer through Twitter, and our Facebook page has definitely gone a long way too. The last couple of years, we have had a table at Texas Frightmare Weekend as well, and that has definitely helped to get people interested.
Is there any chance of you brining the film to the UK?
We have every intention of screening the film in the UK. I’ve never been to the UK or Europe, and am definitely looking forward to traveling with the film. We have been getting a lot of love, especially from the UK, for the film. We would love to be able to meet the people that have been helping us get the word out.
In this day and age of online streaming, do you think it is easier for filmmakers such as yourself to get noticed and more importantly make some money? Or do you think the online world punishes the smaller filmmaker more than the big studios?
I think it’s a little of both. I think that a lot of the studios have recognized the attention being shown to the smaller independent filmmakers, and are doing their best to cash in on it. Call something independent, or put out a press release about how a multi-million dollar project is independent, and all of a sudden you have a following. I do think it is easier to get your film out there thanks to crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. You still have to have something decent to make people sit up and take notice, however.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Not really. I did get one really bad review of my first film, and I took that, turned it around, and made it a positive. I ended up using excerpts from the review as promotional quotes when we were sending the film around to festivals.
Fame, fortune, or respect?
Respect. I don’t really care about the fame, the fortune sure would be nice, but the respect is what I hope for. You may love my stuff, you may hate it. As long as you can see the work that went into it, and respect the drive that we have to bring it to reality, that’s all I really need.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Before Sacrament, I would definitely say the things that I have been the most proud of have been photography related. I have worked very hard over the years to hone my skills behind the lens, and I am pretty proud with the things I capture. Currently, I am definitely the most proud of Sacrament.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
We did a film called Property Lines as an entry into the Splatterfest Film Competition a few years ago. It was a rough couple of days, and I was ultimately not terribly pleased with what we entered. I had a great time with some of the cast and crew, but I think we all knew we could have done better.
Can you tell us about what you are working on next?
I have two scripts in the works right now, actually. One is going to be a very stylized arty psychological horror film. Visually, it will be along the same lines of Beyond the Black Rainbow or an Argento film. The other is a horror comedy that I am in the process of writing with one of the leads from Sacrament, Avery Pfeiffer. He has a great knack for adlibbing, and I really enjoyed working with him on Sacrament.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do?
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
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