Writer-director Don Coscarelli’s deliciously bonkers sci-fi comedy JOHN DIES AT THE END tells the tale of two mid-western slacker buddies, John (Rob Mayes) and David Wong (Chase Williamson), who both are dosed with “Soy Sauce” – a street drug that promises an otherworldly experience. It’s when a group of kids mysteriously turn up dead or missing that hijinks and hilarity from another galaxy ensue. Acting as the audiences’ stand-in to David Wong’s unbelievable yarn is skeptical journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti), who also isn’t entirely in his right mind.
Since we had a blast at the film’s press conference held at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, we wanted to share with you the hilarious details the filmmakers shared with all of us journalists.
10. Of course a side story about BEASTMASTER would be spilled. When the name of Coscarelli’s flamboyant assistant director on BEASTMASTER was brought up, this opened the gates to a hilarious story. He says, “Richard Graves would show up on set in military costume every day. One day he’d be a German soldier… because everybody is going to war to make BEASTMASTER.” Giamatti questions, “He’d show up in a Nazi uniform?!” Coscarelli answers, “Oh yeah! British the next day. It was amazing.”
9. Giamatti was on board not only as an actor in JOHN DIES AT THE END but also in a behind-the-scenes capacity as an executive producer. “The whole thing spoke to me, frankly. I’ve wanted to work with him [motions to Coscarelli] for awhile. I’m a big fan of his – PHANTASM, BEASTMASTER and BUBBA HO-TEP especially. I like that kind of Philip K. Dick type of thing which is what this is in a lot of ways – that kind of twisty stuff. The monologue about dreams the Rastafarian guy has? If I could be in a movie where that’s gonna be on screen where its funny and weirdly disturbing, I wanna do this.”
8. The film has a specific look and presented a challenge for the filmmaker. Coscarelli says, “As an old school film guy, this was my migration to digital so there’s a learning curve there. We had a color palette we were working from. It’s easy now as it’s done in post-production so you can go into a color correction sweep at that point.”
7. This is Chase Williamson’s first film after graduating USC. “It’s hard to believe really. To actually work – and watch him [motions to Giamatti] work – was an invaluable experience.” And Williamson wasn’t nervous about spending most of the shoot with such an impressive actor either. He explains, “I felt like I already had this job so there’s nothing to be nervous about.” Giamatti adds, “You seemed incredibly relaxed.” Williamson continues, “After one of our first scenes, Don says, ‘It looks like Chase is going to work out,’ and I thought, ‘I guess I should have been nervous.”
6. The actors had to keep from laughing at some of their dialogue. Williamson says to Giamatti, “When I asked if he called you the n-word and then you say, ‘Is that some kind of joke?’ That was the hardest I had to try not to laugh. It was so sincere.” Giamatti says, “It was the joy and the pleasure to play that stuff.” Rob Mayes chimes in with one of Giamatti’s lines from the film, “Atlantic City!” The tremendous trio of actors laugh and reminisce, “that was amazing!”
5. One of the locations helped to inform the film’s underlying spooky vibe. Giamatti remembers, “One of the coolest places we shot for the exteriors of the restaurant was the decayed ruins of a juvey center.” Adds Williamson, “It was terrifying. It had all this stuff still written on the chalkboard. It was super creepy. And you found that weird Sanskrit.” Giamatti continues, “And there was weird stuff scrawled on the walls. It’s easily the creepiest place I’ve ever been in. So that was awesome. That’s good stuff.”
4. This project was a joy for all involved. Giamatti says, “I was really happy to be in movie with a turkey headed man. I love that kind of thing! It was kind of on my bucket list. This kind of thing is what I grew up liking – it’s why I became an actor. I liked monster movies when I was a kid. I’ve reached a point in my life where I can do a movie with a turkey-headed man.” Mayes says, “It’s such a terrific book and script. It was such a treat to do something that you really believe in. To play a character – that was my favorite part.”
3. Giamatti and Coscarelli first met when discussing the sequel to BUBBA HO-TEP, BUBBA NOSFERATU. “I read the script which was great. The part I would play would be Colonel Parker, who was Elvis’ manager. There was always a kind of sinister relationship between the two of them. How he managed to get Elvis to have a control over him. And Don answers that question in the movie. It’s a vampire movie so it has a kind of tone – that’s how he has a hold over him. It’s in that realm. It’s still about aging and compromising yourself in the great way that BUBBA HO-TEP is about getting old. It’s about being middle aged in this movie, in a great way. I hope that we can still get it done.”
2. The “Meat Monster” might have been totally different if not for some quick thinking and ingenuity. Coscarelli explains,“I went to Bob Kurtzman, who had created the BUBBA HO-TEP mummy for me on a tight budget, early on with this idea of the Meat Monster. But it really came out of another creative partner that we had. We have this animated sequence done by this terrific animation director, David Hartman. I was complaining to him, ‘Are we going to make the Meat Monster a digital construct or what’s this going to be?’ He said, ‘Let me try to do a drawing of what he could look like.’ He did a little design where you’d look at it and it could be a man in a suit. It could work. So once I could see it, that raised the comfort level in that direction. We had an actor on set who the guys could relate to and talk to.”
1. The scope and scale of the movie making business has changed drastically and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by those both in front and behind the camera. Coscarelli explains, “It’s never been harder for independent filmmakers in terms of the release aspects. The glory years of when VHS and DVD came out, wow there was a lot of money to be made back then and that’s kind of evaporated. We’re in this period of transition where we’re waiting for the digital world to catch up – and maybe it won’t. Maybe everybody is gonna have to make micro-budget movies here on out. There’s not as much money flowing into Hollywood any more. That could also be a good thing – maybe make it more democratic in that respect. In terms of me making movies, I love making movies. I have the ability to work with interesting material and actors and try to do something different. I do feel sorry for a lot of the young filmmakers. On the good side, everybody’s making independent movies now but the downside is so few of them can actually get seen. We’re excited to be working with Magnolia as they have an extremely successful distribution plan – where we have two different markets with those who like to go to the theaters and those who like to watch it on their couch.” Giamatti concurs, “The independent film thing has become next to impossible. It’s hard to get the money in the first place. Acting-wise, it’s tricky. It has changed! There’s less work for actors – the competition’s gone up and what they’re gonna pay you has gone down. And I don’t know that stars open movies anymore. It’s all about what’s going to sell overseas now – that’s before anything. All of this will work out to become something but I’m not sure what it will turn into.”
JOHN DIES AT THE END opens in cinemas on January 25 and is available now on VOD.