Jack Thomas Smith made his feature film-directing debut with the psychological thriller Disorder (2006). He was also the writer and producer of that film. Disorder (2006) was released on DVD by Universal/Vivendi and New Light Entertainment. It was released on Pay-Per-View and Video-On-Demand by Warner Brothers. Overseas, it screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Raindance Film Festival in London. Curb Entertainment represented Disorder (2006) for foreign sales and secured distribution deals around the world.
As a young adult, he produced films for noted horror directors Ted A. Bohus and John Russo, co-creator of Night of the Living Dead. From that point on, it was only a matter of time for Jack's growth as a filmmaker to expand.
Smith's current project Infliction (2013) is the actual assembled footage taken from the cameras belonging to two brothers who documented a murder spree in North Carolina
Hi Jack, how are things with you?
I’m doing great! We’ve been crazy busy promoting the release of my new film Infliction.
How much of a horror fan are you?
I’m a huge horror fan. I’m a big fan of George Romero, John Carpenter, Brian DePalma, Stephen King... I love horror films that have a story and keep you on the edge of your seat. I love horror films that stress stories and characters over gore... When you connect with the characters and get caught up in the story... Then you want nothing to happen to them. And if something does, their deaths are that much more horrible. “Dawn of the Dead” is my all-time favorite horror film. I absolutely love it. I wanted the four main characters to spend the rest of their lives in that shopping mall... safe from the zombies. Lol. The characters were great... The story... The tension... The underlying theme that we’re all mindless zombies going to the mall to buy our name brand items... And then the gore worked brilliantly because all of the other elements of the film were done so well. I’m also a huge fan of “The Thing.” It’s a perfect film.
What are your three favourite horror films and why?
As I mentioned above, my all-time favorite horror film is the original “Dawn of the Dead.” After that, I would say “Halloween” and “The Shining.” John Carpenter’s “Halloween” was all about suspense. If you watch the film again, you’ll see that there’s barely any blood or effects. It was all about the feel of the film... Building the tension... the music... Where’s Michael Myers at now? Is he around the corner? The film was scary because it kept you on the edge of your seat and didn’t need effects or gore to keep you engaged.
Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” is a masterpiece. The imagery is amazing. The mood and feel of the film is creepy and unnerving. In my opinion, it’s Jack Nicholson’s greatest performance. Again, just like “Halloween”, it was all about building the tension... keeping you off balance... the music... And then the gore was the icing on the cake as everything came to a head. When I first saw “The Shining” I hated it because it was so different from Stephen King’s book. But then when I saw it a second time, I loved it as a film separate from the book. In other words, I love the book AND the movie, understanding that they are different but both brilliant.
And what is the one horror film that you wish you could erase from the history books?
I’d say a lot of the remakes that have come out in the past ten years. There have been a few exceptions (the remakes of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes” were good), but the one that should never have been remade was “The Thing.” I mean... WHY????? The original is a masterpiece.
A lot of people think the horror genre is full of mindless films that have no meaning, what’s your thoughts on this?
I think EVERY genre has some mindless films. There’s great dramas and there’s bad dramas... There’s great comedies and there’s bad comedies... There’s great horror films and there’s bad horror films... Personally, I’m not a fan of torture porn. I don’t find it to be scary or suspenseful... The suspense is what makes a horror film work... Not knowing what’s around the corner... If you have a great story and great characters... Films can be good in any genre.
What is the one cliché you would love to see never used again?
I absolutely hate when the tension is building during a scene... The character in the film is walking down a hallway or alley slowly... scared... the character rounds a corner... Then suddenly... A cat jumps out hissing! I absolutely HATE that!!! Lol.
How did you first get into film making?
I started when I was a teenager. My dad bought me a Super 8mm movie camera and I started shooting horror shorts and comedy shorts with my friends in the neighborhood. It was a great learning experience. I learned about coverage and blocking... In other words, I didn’t just swing the camera from one person to the next as they spoke... I set up the scenes and shot everyone’s performances so I could cut back and forth. Those were great times and every here and there we pop in those old films (which we’ve transferred to DVD) and have a laugh.
Your first foot in the door so to speak was when you worked with Ted Bohus on the set of The Regenerated Man and later with John Russo on the set of Santa Claws. What did you learn about the film making process from these guys?
I learned a LOT. With Ted, I learned how to put a film together from beginning to end. I learned how to put together a film budget and business plan. And I learned how to raise financing and structure the business side of film production. I also learned set etiquette and the roles of the crew on set... It was a great experience. With John, I learned how to cut corners and how to minimize costs... Keep in mind, John co-produced and co-wrote the original “Night of the Living Dead”, which is the ultimate indie horror film. I learned from John that you don’t need a hundred people on set to make a movie... that you can make a film with a dedicated skeleton crew. That helped immensely when I later made “Disorder” and “Infliction.”
The story behind on how you got to work with Ted Bohus almost reads like a fairytale. Where a video store worker thanks to a chance encounter gets to make a film. How do you think your life would have panned out if it were not for this one in a million encounter?
That’s a great question... I’m honestly not sure. We all have our path that we look back on... And we see all the bends and turns and how we got to where we’re at now... Here’s what I can say... I’m very passionate and determined... Making films is part of my DNA... It’s who I am... I guess, if it didn’t happen that way... I would have found another way... There would have been another path, if that makes sense. But I’m glad it happened the way it did.
You co-wrote and produced Regenerated Man with Ted, can you tell us what the film was about?
“The Regenerated Man” was a ‘50s-style horror/sci-fi film about a scientist, who creates a drug that can regenerate body parts. One night, two thugs break into his lab and force him to take the drug... And he becomes this mutated creature that terrorizes the locals... And every time it is shot or wounded, its injuries repair themselves. It’s a fun movie. Tongue-in-cheek.
You also helped to raise the finance behind the film, how did you go about raising the money to shoot it?
Ted and I both raised the financing. The entire budget for the film was $75k and we raised it from private investors... Mostly friends and family. I personally took out a credit card with an $8k credit line and used that as my part of the investment, which was crazy. Thank God, we were able to secure a distribution deal for double our investment.
As an indie film maker what was the hardest thing about making the film?
For me, it was raising the money and flying blind the first time on a movie set. I didn’t know what I was doing... So I threw myself into the mix... It was all trial and error... Learning as I went... Asking a lot of questions... I had to learn on the fly. Ted was really running the show, which helped. It was a great learning experience. I’m one of those types of people who learns by doing it.
If you could go back and change one thing with a bigger budget what would you change?
It’s a fun film. Like with any indie film, some performances are better than others. The biggest problems are the CGI effects. When we did this film, CGI was in its infancy, so there’s one effect in particular that by today’s standards would not hold up. So if I could change anything with more money... I’d fix the CGI effects.
The next film you worked on was Santa Claws from John Russo who wrote and produced the original Night Of The Living Dead, which is one of your favourite films. Did you ever have a fanboy moment with him?
I did in the beginning. At first, it was unbelievable to meet him. I had read so much about him along with George Romero and Tom Savini and that whole group. But then as you work with someone you realize that they’re just people... No different than yourself. It was very cool to work with him. I’m a fan of his work. Night Of The Living Dead is one of the greatest horror movies ever made and the script was brilliant.
Working on these films gave you an interesting look into the whole filmmaking process, that many directors don’t have. How do you think that your grassroots experience has helped to shape your role as a film director?
It’s helped IMMENSELY. The one thing I learned early on is that an independent filmmaker wears many hats... and you’re not above any job that needs to be done. Indie films usually don’t have the budget to hire a number of people for everything that needs to be done. But that doesn’t change the fact that the jobs still need to be done. So as a producer and director, it’s my job to do those jobs. That could be props or location scouting or wardrobe or transportation... You can’t have an ego! With that being said, it helps to know the roles of every position on a movie set. It gives you an understanding as to what goes into each department and the time and energy needed to do it right. The end result is all that matters. When the audience watches your film – the finished product – they don’t care who did the wardrobe or props or location scouting... They want to be entertained and they want to get caught up in the film. But if something doesn’t look right or if it doesn’t work... It can take the audience out of the film. Your film is only as strong as its weakest link! I’m a firm believer that every film has to be as perfect as possible... Right down to the smallest details.
How nervous were you when you first sat in the director’s chair for Disorder?
I was nervous... But not crazy nervous... I had prepared quite a bit before shooting. We had numerous rehearsals... I storyboarded the entire script and had detailed shot lists... In other words, I tried to do as much work in Pre-Production as humanly possible so that I could manage the day to day operations on set without spreading myself too thin. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how much you prepare for a shoot, things are going to happen that you can’t plan for... But the preparation you do in advance can help minimize the blow if something happens that knocks you off your game a little bit. On a personal level, it blew me away on the first day of shooting to watch my vision come to life... It was a dream come true to direct my first feature.
Do you think it also helped being the writer of the film as well? Or do you think it put added pressure on you for the film to work?
I think it helped. I love writing AND directing. For me, when I write, these characters are a part of me. They’re alive in my head. And that way when I direct from my own script, I’m bringing them to life as I had pictured them. No one knows a story better than the writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to write and direct two features now – Disorder and Infliction – and I’ve had complete creative control over both projects. Every word in those films...every location, prop, sound effect, visual effect, etc. has my fingerprints on it. I don’t see it as just writing a script or just directing a film... I want to bring something inside of me to life from beginning to end.
The film has one of horror’s stock villains the masked killer, why do you think this stock villain is one that still endures to this day?
In Disorder we referred to the masked killer as “The Figure.” The masked killer goes along with what scares us all the most... Fear of the unknown. First, if someone comes after you wearing a mask you know that they do not have good intentions. Second, it’s the unknown... Who is this person and why? Why are they coming after me? Third, the mask hides what the attacker is feeling or expressing, which can be terrifying in its own right. Are they crazed? Or are they calm and methodical? There’s something haunting about an expressionless mask.
How does your masked killer differ to other ones?
The figure differs from the other ones because throughout the film you’re not sure if he’s even real. In “Disorder”, the main character David Randall is a paranoid schizophrenic. The entire film is told from his perspective so you’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t. And right when you think you have it figured out, there’s a twist ending... With that being said, David witnesses a murder committed by the figure... But you’re not sure if the murder really happened... Does the figure truly exist? Did David hallucinate the figure and the murder? Or is David the actual killer and hallucinating that the figure is actually committing his horrific acts?
When the film came out you have said that copies of it were available in every Hollywood Video. Do you think we have lost something special with the demise of the video rental store?
YES! I would kill to have video stores back. It was great to get up on a Saturday morning and go to the video store and walk around... finding those hidden gems. You’d look at the front of the box... and the back... and read the synopsis. I definitely miss that. I’m honestly not a fan of watching movies on a laptop or phone...
Is the film still available to view?
“Disorder” is still available at Walmart.com, Amazon, Netflix, and other online retailers. You can also get it on my production company’s website foxtrailproductions.com.
Which brings us to your new film Infliction, and I must say I am really looking forward to this one. You must be sick of the term found footage by now?
I am. We actually refer to Infliction as an assembled footage film rather than found footage. I know there’s a backlash right now against found footage films, which I don’t think is fair. There are good found footage films... And there are bad found footage films. There are good films in ANY genre... And there are bad films in ANY genre. I don’t think it’s fair to discard a film without seeing it based solely on its genre.
Just to set the record straight this is an assembled footage film, rather than a found footage film, can you tell us exactly what the difference is?
Found footage implies just that... Someone found the actual footage that was left behind by the victims as with The Blair Witch Project. Assembled footage means that the movie is more of a documentary that was shot for a specific reason and the footage has been assembled for storytelling purposes.
And just because I have to ask, what’s your favourite found footage film?
I really liked Quarantine. It was a fun movie... Pretty intense. There were some parts that were crazy and over the top. But overall, it was cool.
How has the film been received so far?
The reviews for the most part have been very positive, which is great! We’ve been having Q & A sessions after each screening and the discussions have been intense. It seems that women are really connecting with the film. Infliction is pretty brutal and deals with a subject matter that enrages moms in particular. It’s been a great experience to be a part of those discussions and to see people so caught up in my film.
It’s had a limited theatrical run with several special screenings. Any idea when there will be a bigger theatrical release or is there a possible DVD release on the horizon?
I’m not sure if there will be a bigger theatrical release. We’ve been screening in select theatres in the US and have more screenings lined up at the PA Fantom Fest in Scranton, PA on Friday October 3rd at 8pm; two at the Chiller Theater Expo in Parsippany, NJ on October 24th & 25th; one at the Camp Jefferson Theater in Lake Hopatcong, NJ in November; one in Union, NJ in November; and one at the Days of the Dead convention in Chicago, IL on Saturday November 22nd at 5pm. Infliction was released in the U.S. and Canada on DVD, VOD, and Digital HD on July 1st by Virgil Films & Entertainment, which is the same company that distributed Supersize Me. Infliction is available at most major retailers such as FYE stores, Walmart.com, iTunes, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Family Video, Google Play, Cinema Now, Vimeo OnDemand, and Vudu. Infliction is not available on Netflix yet, but we’re asking people to add it to their queue. I just signed with a foreign sales agent, who will be representing Infliction for sale to foreign distributors at all of the major markets including the Toronto Film Festival, the AFM, Sundance, the Berlin Film Festival, and Cannes.
One of the main themes of the film is the ramifications of one person’s actions and how that affects other people’s lives. What do you think is the one act that you have done personally that has had the biggest impact on someone else’s life?
That’s a tough question. On a personal note, my divorce affected my daughter, who is now 24. She’s a great kid, but divorce can affect ANYONE with the breakdown of the family structure. On a positive note, I hope the people I work with on my films can use my films as a way to help grow their careers. I’m a very positive person and I live a clean life. I’ve never had to look over my shoulder or worry about people I screwed over coming after me. I do the best that I can and I’m honest with people. What you see is what you get with me. By nature, I’m a caring person and I only want the best for people. I truly hope that any impact I may have on someone’s life is positive and not negative.
Another theme of the film is the perception on who the victims are, and who the villains are. Does the film resolve the question to your satisfaction, or do you leave it purposefully unanswered?
It’s a combination of both. There are a couple of characters who are CLEARLY bad people... But for the most part, you’ll find yourself discussing the fine line in this film between the protagonists and the antagonists. It’s all about perception... An action by one person, with good intentions or not, can have a long-term effect on others. From the brothers’ point of view, it’s how they see everyone... And how theses specific people have affected their lives.
In one scene one of the protagonist’s parents finds one of the tapes. If one of your parents found a tape in your teenage bedroom what would be the most embarrassing thing on it?
LOL! That’s funny. Nothing that I would ever admit to! LOL. Just kidding. We used to make comedy shorts and horror shorts when we were teenagers... The comedy shorts were definitely over the top and offensive.
The film itself looks very disturbing just because of the actions, but I believe it becomes even more disturbing when the motive behind their actions are revealed. Can you give us any hints on what this is, or do we just have to watch the film to find out?
Here’s what I can give you... Infliction deals with the long-term ramifications of child abuse and the empowerment of the victims over their abusers. As I mentioned earlier, women are really connecting with this film because it deals with the horrors of child abuse. When you mention child abuse to women... especially moms... You’ll see the claws come out. Infliction deals with a terrible subject matter that effects way too many people in our world.
The film was part of Entertainment for The Cure. How did the event go? Did you have good weather for the outdoor screening of the film?
We had a solid turnout. It wasn’t packed, but we did get a respectable turnout. The weather wasn’t the best that day, which I think kept some people away. But it was a fun day. The bands were great. It was cool to watch the film screen at night at an outdoor amphitheatre.
How was the film received at the event?
It was great! As the day went on, more people showed up and it seemed that the crowd really enjoyed the film. The amphitheatre is in the middle of the woods with a lake behind it so it had a naturally creepy feel to it. A perfect setting to watch a scary movie!
Is this a one off event or will be it a recurring event?
We’re hoping to do it again next year. Like with anything, it takes a while to build up an event and develop a following. We had a great time and it’s for a good cause.
So what is next for you? I believe you are filming a more traditional horror film featuring zombies?
I’m hoping to shoot my next feature next year. It’s an action/horror film called In The Dark. I’ve already written the screenplay and I’ll be directing it as well. It takes place on a small island in Michigan that gets overrun by zombie/vampire creatures. There’s a handful of people left alive armed with guns and they have to fight hundreds of these things as they try to escape the island.
Why zombies? I’m sorry to say that over the years I have become rather jaded to this sub genre. Why should I be looking forward to watching your film?
They’re not really zombies... They’re more like zombie/vampire creatures. They need blood to survive and their need to feed is maddening. They’re rotting and crazed... This isn’t Twilight. Lol. When they attack, they tear their victims apart to feed on their blood. And In The Dark is more than that... The characters are strong... And there’s an underlying theme to the story that is consistent throughout with the protagonists and antagonists. There will be imagery in certain places in relation to the characters’ specific flaws. I love blurring the lines between villains and heroes.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Do you have any final words for the readers?
Thanks for your support! I appreciate you taking the time to put these questions together. If your readers would like any additional information about Infliction they can visit the official website at www.inflictiontapes.com They can also find us on Facebook at inflictiontapes. Or they can find us on Twitter at @inflictiontapes.