Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Joston Theney’s Return To Cutter’s Creek: My Interview With The “Axeman II: Overkill” Director

Joston TheneyJoston Theney made his way into the horror world back in 2011 with “Bleed 4 Me”, but it was earlier own in his life growing up in Georgia that horror took him. A fan of the slasher and gore genre from childhood, Theney’s talents began to really shine at age 16 when his high school teacher encouraged him to pursue his creative writing, which got him published at that young age. Joston does have a strong ability to create worlds thick in mythos and nightmare. That became evident and solidified Theney’s place in the slasher genre when “Axeman At Cutter’s Creek” was released in 2013.

I first interviewed Joston back in 2012 during the production of “Axeman At Cutter’s Creek”. The film was highly anticipated, greatly buzzed about among horror-especially us slasher fans, and saw some positive response from horror fans, although the reviews where mixed. Since then Joston has gone on to create the nightmare “Adam K” which is awaiting release later this year. It to is a film that has caught a lot of buzz and media attention. Now Joston Theney steps foot once more into the killing fields of the Axeman at Cutter’s Creek. The film is in post-production and after a small space of time with no word on the film, stills and new details have began emerging from the movie’s front-line.

Here is my interview with the creative and ardent Writer/Director/Actor/Producer Joston Theney:

A Southern Life:  How has it been writing and preparing for Axeman 2, compared to the first time around?
Joston Theney: Equal parts satisfying and demoralizing, lol.  The path to finishing this series the way it was originally envisioned was almost squashed when the distribution deal we accepted turned out to be a turd.  Those filmmakers who've reached out about distribution have found me to be VERY frank about it.  And to those who haven't yet and are staring at their first distribution agreement - if someone expresses interest in your film, they should do it on terms all non-artists understand... money.  You've invested your life's blood and whatever money you could scrounge up - the least they could do is offer a minimum guarantee that puts you even in a financial sense.  From there, you can figure the rest out and make it make sense.  Know THEIR break-even point, when do you realistically see a return.  Alas, I digress.  I feel like I could write a book now, lol.

The great thing that came out of it though was that talent agents and managers starting reaching out to us to get their clients involved in the sequel, which had yet to be written.  Sales agents and distributors - legitimate ones - lined up to take meetings with us and this put the executive producer at Blood Red Films in an interesting position: settle for a loss on the first, which really DID sell a lot of copies and get seen... or double-down and go for gold, so to speak, with a legitimate sales agent and distributor with great talent attached.  He doubled down and suddenly, the trilogy which almost stopped at one film was back on track.

This led to what made the two filmmaking experiences very different.  In the first, with the exception of Brinke Stevens, Arielle Brachfeld and Tiffany Shepis, we were sifting through a largely unrecognizable pool of talent.  This time around, we had recognizable talent that expressed interest immediately.  We had talent agents and managers contacting us out of the blue to get one of their recognizable clients in to audition.  And we literally selected from the best of the crop.  Some casual fans might have their initial opinions about our creative choices, but I assure you when they are watching the films, they'll appreciate it.  They'll get it, lol. And I have even more in store for the finale in “Axeman III: Absolution”.

Axeman IIA Southern Life: Where you shocked by the mixed reviews that Axeman At Cutter's Creek received? Did the reviews have any effect in your approach to writing the sequel?
Joston Theney: I wasn't surprised by much of it.  I thought attacks on the cast were unwarranted.  These guys and gals were put through the paces to get this film finished in the small amount of time we had.  I think it was six full shooting days (originally 9, but 3 were wiped out because of weather.)  And that's me being honest - because Lord knows there are a few of them I don't particularly care for, lol.  But I'd never discredit anybody's work though. There were some wonderful performances under the most extreme shooting conditions.  So, yeah, the attacks on my cast were tough - I'm very protective of them.

The reviews though, I felt, were just opinions.  And opinions are like butt-holes - everyone has one and thinks theirs is special or desired, lol.  I took the good with the bad.  But the ones that actually went into specifics and outlined flaws were the ones I zeroed in on.  It taught me to listen to myself and trust my own voice.  The film was being made by committee inside Blood Red Films.  The tone became uneven.  But as the director, I have to accept the blame.  As well I should, it was my film to manage.  I need to trust myself more.  Trust my words on the page - they didn't need tweaking.  Trust my eyes - the shot list didn't need adjusting.  Trust my fearlessness - it's not foolish to rush into battle, it's foolish to think you can avoid it.  And assemble the right team and keep them happy - then you can trust them to follow you into battle and surpass their own expectations.

When I sat down to prep Axeman II: Overkill, the reviews had shaped me into the filmmaker I needed to be to pull this off and plant this film squarely where it was supposed to be the entire time.  I formed my own company #SinningWorks and kept the original work.. .well, original, lol.  I made sure to preserve the essence of what was on the page, no matter what.  The reviews fueled me to make an unapologetic film that goes for the red stuff as soon as the film opens.  The pics that have come out so far have been "clean."  When the trailer hits, you'll see how much red stuff gets spilled.  How intense the film is.  Yet it never lets it take itself too seriously.  The reviews gave me what I needed to make Axeman II: Overkill live up to it's name.  

JostonA Southern Life: Your character Darren returns in Axeman 2, how has he evolved since the first run-in with the Axeman?
Joston Theney: Well, the film picks up pretty much where the first one left off.  Actually a few minutes before.  Without giving away too much, Darren's broken.  Literally and figuratively.  The woman he loves has been slain.  And all of his friends are dead.  Oh so he thinks.  And he feels as though the walls are closing in around him.  There's nowhere to run.  And no one really believes the claims that the Axeman is alive and wreaking havoc.  It was actually a pretty lonely feeling.  But things happen in this film that will surprise you.  Things that surprise Darren.  His arc will be very memorable though his screen time is limited, lol.

A Southern Life: Have you already wrote the third installment, or will you wait until after Axeman 2's release?
Joston Theney: I'm currently writing Axeman III: Absolution.  Many things changed regarding the character line-up following Axeman II: Overkill.  Some things took me by surprise in the finished film and had a direct impact on the storyline for the finale.  Much like the sequel, the final installment will pick up right where the previous film left off.  All roads lead to Absolution.  All previously unrelated incidents will suddenly have their connections revealed.  But much different than the previous two films, Absolution will be wall to wall gore!  The trilogy will end with a bang, lol. 

A Southern Life: There is also a new guy stepping into the role of the Axeman, how hard was it finding a new killer?
Joston Theney: Believe it or not, Bryan was my first choice right out of the gate for Axeman II: Absolution!  We needed someone to sell the new direction - darker, grittier, bloodier, more menacing.  And he showed me all of those things, plus I was a huge fan of his from WCW.  He was there during the golden era as Wrath and just ran through people.  I knew that was what I wanted for this killer.  Plus, the big man has range!  I needed him to turn on the water works for a very emotional scene and he knocked it out of the park!  Very blessed that he took the part.  I trusted him and he delivered.  

A Southern Life: What can horror fans expect from Axeman 2: Overkill?
Joston Theney: Danger at every turn.  There are no heroes.  No help is coming.  There are only murderous mercenaries, bank robbers, crazy Christians and a vengeful town of vigilantes.  Oh, and TWO Axemen!

A Southern Life: Was it always your intentions to have multiple Axemen in the story or how did that develop?
Joston Theney: It was always designed that way in my original plan for the trilogy. To be honest, there are technically 3 Axemen. There is Bill “The Axeman” Talbert played by Bryan Clark, Bill’s father Polk Talbert played by Michael Foster and then the man responsible for the original Axeman murders whose named I won’t reveal due to the surprising nature of it’s reveal in the sequel and how we expand on it in Axeman III: Absolution. This was always designed to be an ever-expanding story that folds into itself by the conclusion of the third film – I’m just glad that I’m actually having the opportunity to do so. And have a fan-base that’s not only eager to see it but really demanding it. It’s exciting!

adamkA Southern Life: Adam K. is in post-production, when can we expect to see that film hit wide release?
Joston Theney: Adam K. is about to exit post production and will have a slate announced very soon.  I had to take my foot off the gas on that one to finish Axeman II: Overkill and get my upcoming modern re-imagining of Macbeth titled "The Letter Red" off the ground.  It stars some Axeman II: Overkill alums in Edward Gusts, Arielle Brachfeld, Arielle Hader, Rachel Reilly, Angelica Bridges and Linda Wong, as well as some awesome newcomers such as Melissa Mars, Mindy Robinson (who I worked with on Adam K.), Linda Bella, Azim Rizk, Constance Brenneman, WWE's Maria Kanellis, Jessica Sonneborn, Ethan McDowell and Tanya Gorlow.

A Southern Life: A re-imagining of Macbeth, why Macbeth? Does the film hold special meaning for you? And how does “the Letter Red” see the fates of these literary staples?
Joston Theney: Macbeth is not only my favorite work of Shakespeare, but my favorite play of all time. When Ed Gusts and Arielle Brachfeld approached me about co-writing and directing, I said the same exact thing and they laughed, thinking I’d given them a Hollywood answer until I broke out into soliloquys, lol. It holds a very special place in my heart because it is a tale of the dangers of love, ambition and self-betrayal, but it also allows you to explore the darkest hearts of the warmest people – at least in my eyes. I viewed the Macbeths as being victims of the Macbeths. They cannibalized themselves. And that’s where I placed the focus in The Letter Red. There were so many themes to explore but I made sure to keep the focus squarely where it told the best story. Ed and Arielle had created a very interesting world where the Macbeths lived and breathed and existed – they gave me a great skeleton to work with. I fleshed it out and gave it specificity – wipe the lenses of the glasses clean and gave it better focus.

This story is very much about fate and destiny, however unlike the original source material written by Shakespeare, I gave the witches a motive. There is a reason why their prophetic visions of Macbeth’s rise and fall are tainted or slightly off. They have a vested interest. The fates of (John) Macbeth and Lady (Jane) Macbeth are tied to what’s advantageous for some and detrimental to others. Much like life I suppose. One way or another, our fates – or at least some measure of them – are all tied to someone else’s vested interest.

A Southern Life: And just a final “fun fact” question to end with, Who is your all time favorite final girl from the past and why?
Joston Theney: Gail Weathers, without a doubt.  Tenacious, ambitious, take no prisoners.  And even when she has her ass handed to her, she dusts off and seeks out the son-of-a-bitch that did it.  She may not have the arc that most final girls have, maybe because she broke it when she knocked it over during her grand entrance, lol.

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