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An Interview with Jack Skyyler, Creator of Night aboard the Salem

by Mike Haberfelner

July 2012

Jack Skyyler on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your upcoming film Night aboard the Salem - in a few words, what is it going to be about?

 

Night aboard the Salemís synopsis is: Six paranormal investigators are trapped in a bizarre alternate existence inside the U.S.S. Salem. We see their experience through the footage retrieved from their cameras... They are not in the U.S.S. Salem, at least not in our world year in 2012. The group is seeing their own ghosts; and they're not even dead, yet...

The honest truth is this film hits the ground running so quickly, I donít want to give away the twist that you see in the first 5 minutes! So Iím not going to give you any sort of plot outline. Iíll tell you this though: Night aboard the Salem is constant twists. I wrote it thinking of Sixth Sense. Sixth Sense was amazing but ultimately, the whole film was build up to its one final twist. I wondered: Can we have a twist in the first 5 minutes, and then a twist in the next 10 minutes, and so on, until we reach an ending that explains all the twists? Night aboard the Salem is my answer to that riddle.

 

So what can you tell us about the actual U.S.S. Salem and its haunted history?

 

As soon as I got onto the Salem, I went right for the stories. I asked everyone about their experiences on the U.S.S. Salem. I got all kinds of stories: a ghosts who makes regular appearances Friday night at Midnight, a ghost of a burn victim who appears in the quarantine, a ghost who can be heard opening the hatch and walking down the stairs into the belly of the ship every morning at 7am, and my favorite story: a ghost capable of turning on and off a flashlight when asked!

 

Most of those asked traced the origins of the hauntings back to the refugees of the Great Ionian Earthquake of 1953. The earthquake leveled several islands and killed approximately 500 people. The Salem was immediately involved in a rescue effort in which many critically wounded/injured refugees died aboard the Salem.

 

Despite this I didnít really find the Salem the slightest bit scary. Some people were terrified of it! It didnít work for me though. And until recently, I would have had to admit Iíd never seen anything weird there ... that was until a few months ago. I was with an actress, walking past the quarantine - we looked in, shined around with our flashlights and walked off. Later we walked back. When we looked in again she said: "That window wasn't there before, was it?" I kind of laughed at her getting freaked out, but then I got thinking. And I didn't remember seeing it before. To my knowledge, no one was in the ship; but somehow, she was right; something had been blocking the window.

 

As Night aboard the Salem deals with a paranormal investigations - is this something you're also into personally, and how much research did you do on the subject?

 

No, I am not a paranormal investigator. Mostly because Iím too cynical to ever actually believe in anything.

When I started writing this script, I did do a lot of my own research; but honestly I had a lot of prior knowledge on the subject - Iím a nerd, I know weird things. Ultimately though, I connected with an actual paranormal investigator who gave me a lot of personal insight on paranormal investigations as well.

 

A few words about your partners in crime, Alex Zinzopolous and Joel Brook, how did you all meet up, and what is your collaboration like?

 

Iíve known Joel Brook my whole life. Weíd worked on just-for-fun film projects on and off for years! One of these is the film: Cheers: An Ode to John Woo, which you find on IMDb or view on our website: http://www.dearskyyler.com/cheers/film.html.

 

When I was in college I was studying video game design - and honestly, I realized it was easy. Note: I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and never studied. I donít want to do something that isnít hard, it just seems like a waste of time. So one day I called Joel, and I said: ďWeíre making a feature film next summer.Ē We made Hitting the Wall, which won a REMI at Houston WorldFest International Film Festival and both ďBest New DirectorĒ and ďBest DirectorĒ at Atlantic City Cinefest / Downbeach Film Festival. From that point on weíve been making movies.

 

We met Alex Zinzopoulos during the production of our next feature Isabel. Alex went from being camera operator to confidant; and immediately after Isabel, Joel and I co-produced Alex Zinzopoulos film Death of Love. Both of these films will be in festivals later this year.  

Two other members of the team I donít want forgotten are:

Joe Charbanic, the director of The Watcher (James Spader / Keanu Reeves).

Glynn Praesel, producer of Palo Pinto Gold and costar of Hitting the Wall.

Both Joe and Glynn have been collaborating with us on the upcoming film Haunted Ship (which Iíll discuss later).

 

Joe is one of the executive producers on Night aboard the Salem, and Glynn is one of the producers.

Iíve known Glynn for several years now; and from the moment I met him, heís been helping me out. Heís genuinely one of the best men Iíve ever met in my life. Heíll fly across the country to help out a stranger, and I know that because I was that stranger once.

Glynn actually put me in contact with Joe, who flew in from L.A. to meet me on board the U.S.S. Salem, Joeís another awesome whoís helped us put this film together just because he believed in the film.

Both Joe and Glynnís contact with distribution and have been invaluable to the Night aboard the Salem (more on that later though.)

 

What were your initial inspirations when writing Night aboard the Salem; what can you tell us about your narrative approach and the writing process as such?

 

I had the idea for the script of Night aboard the Salem when I had been prepping for the filming of Infested Ship, I'd had to stay on the Salem over night so that I could get up and watch the sun rise on the Salem; I had to see what it would look like for a shot we were planning. The funny thing is: after shutting myself into the Salem for the night, it started to get creepy. The huge ship would constantly groan like a monster purring, and sometimes you could hear metal slamming into metal - probably just the ship bumping up against the wharf; but it was unnerving. I realized if it is haunted, and I didnít make it out: I was kind of asking for it, I mean I just sealed myself into a haunted ship to study it for a haunted film, if I didnít make it out, I certainly had fair warning! But I made it out, saw a beautiful sunrise, and I had the idea for a new feature film: Night aboard the Salem

 

As far as I know, Night aboard the Salem is based on a recent short of yours, Infested Ship. So what can you tell us about that one, also in relation to Night aboard the Salem?

 

Night aboard the Salem grew out of Infested Ship. It has the same location: the U.S.S. Salem, and it has a lot of the same cast & crew: Anna Shields [Anna Shields interview - click here], Jerry Dwyer Jr. [Jerry Dwyer interview - click here], Vanessa Gall, Jeremy Blaiklock, Maya Landi, Lee Simonds, David Benedetti, and Christopher Nolan (not Chris Nolan director of Dark Knight but just as cool). But Night aboard the Salem is not based on Infested Ship. Infested Ship is a vampire horror/thriller while Night aboard the Salem is ghost-horror.

 

As we speak, Night aboard the Salem is still in fundraising stages, right? So what can you tell us about your fundraising campaign?

 

Weíre currently raising financing for the film via KickStater:

http://kickstarter.jackskyyler.com/ 

KickStarter is a crowd funding website that allows anyone to contribute any amount from $1.00 on up. In return for the contributions, contributors get: DVDs, signed scripts, their name in the credits / on IMDb! We are even giving out appearances as ghosts in the film! Beyond that, we even have ways to get people into the film even if they canít make it to the filming location!

As Iím writing this we have slightly more than $3,000 of our $9,000 goal. Thatís slightly more than 1/3 of our goal at slightly less than a 1/3 of the way through our KickStarter campaign! So raising money for this film has been an up-hill battle, but weíre making it - mostly because weíre not looking for a lot of money. Everybody making sacrifices; a lot of us are putting in our own money! (Iím putting in over $5,000 of my own money!) And we just need a little bit more money from KickStarter so we can cover essentials like food and special effects!

 

Any revelations you can make about your projected cast yet?

 

*This is not a complete list yet.

Anna Shields Jerry Dwyer Jr. Vanessa Gall Laura Pizzutti Glynn Praesel

 

How will you tackle your subject on a directorial level?

 

Wow, thatís a broad questionÖ

As a producer/director I believe it is my job to put together a team that will make this film.

Iíll be on set for every moment of the film; Iíll be laying on the floor, hanging from beams, and dangling from ropes to make sure we get this right. But when I do my job in preparing the right team, I donít need to be there. Iím just a failsafe because the team can make this film and make it right without my smothering them.

 

With Night aboard the Salem being a horror film, is this a genre you're also fond of personally, and why (not)?

 

There are a lot of horror films I love, but a whole lot more that are completely flat and underdeveloped.

As an example, horror villains are rarely anything more than devices to get from one scare to another. They are clearly thought out as devices to move the story along; but they are not people or entities thinking out their own actions as characters who have a goal and a method to achieve that goal. Most horror villainsí powers or abilities vary throughout the film just to increase the intensity of the film, and again they function as plot devices not as real people or entities.

 

It might be waaaay too early to ask, but any idea yet when and where the film will be released onto the general public?

 

Night aboard the Salem is expected to release late this year or early next year. Actually Night aboard the Salem has already received offers of distribution from 3 different distributors, but on the advice of our producers, we are not signing with a distributor until we have a finished product; so that then we have the leverage, and we are able to ensure maximum exposure for Night aboard the Salem, bottom line.

 

Any future projects beyond Night aboard the Salem?

 

Yes, 3, but unfortunately 2 of them we are not publically announcing yet; I can only say I will be a producer on both of them. One is a crime thriller/drama and the other an auto-biographical drama based on a true-life story.

 

Haunted Ship I can discuss. I am the writer/producer of Haunted Ship, which is also set on the U.S.S. Salem and will be filming early 2013. Haunted Ship has attached the director Joe Charbanic of The Watcher (James Spader / Keanu Reeves). Glynn Praesel, who co-starred Hitting the Wall, put me in touch with Joe Charbanic immediately on hearing that we had secured the filming location the U.S.S. Salem for our next film. Joe Charbanic flew in from L.A. and stayed aboard the U.S.S. Salem for about a half a week, and immediately committed himself to the film, declaring it a ďno brainerĒ. Haunted Ship has also attracted multiple named talent, a few of whom we are still in negotiation with, and again taking the fun out of it, I canít discuss them yet.

 

Let's go back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in the first place?

 

How I got into filmmaking is actually a great story. First year of high school, my neighbor Seth Donald and John Fluger were bored and playing around with a DV camera, and they made a 2 minute short movie that was eventually played at a birthday party. The movie was really funny, and Duane Weed, my best friend said: ďWe could make an hour long movie and make it way better.Ē Back then I was always writing something, so he asked me to write. I wrote a script, we got everybody involved even Seth and John, then it was decided since Iíd written the script, I should probably direct it.

 

The film was Apocalypse: A Medieval Comedy, an epic albeit comedic quest to find the ancient scrolls and save the country of Full-a-Bolognia from destruction by the Mongolians. It was very much a Monty Python and the Holy Grail with special effects. The issue was none of us had ever used a camera, edited a video, or even really thought of making a film. But we spent a whole summer prepping, and we were too far in to quit, so we learned. We had some epic fight scenes, some really slap-stick humor, and some scenes that totally fell apart; but we had a magician who could throw lighting and a digital castle we destroyed. And I am very proud of it: it was a great first work: even if it was just great in terms of the experience.

 

Itís interesting to note that 3 of the 5 of creators of Apocalypse are now working full-time in film; that includes myself, Joel Brook, and Seth Donald. And 1 of the remaining 2, Duane Weed, works part-time as a composer and has done more soundtracks than I can count including the soundtrack for my film Hitting the Wall.

 

Did you receive any formal education in film?

 

Well to be honest, I went to one of the most prestigious film schools, it started both James Cameron and Steve Spielberg in their film careers.

 

A few words about your production company Dear Skyyler?

 

I find in the indie film community there are two schools of thought:

(1) make a movie just good enough to pay the bill and then do another one.

(2) create art.

Dear Skyyler Productions is not interested in turning out films like a puppy mill. For us, what we do is a matter of pride and honor. Weíve had humble beginnings, and weíre proud of that. Weíve worked our way up from a DV cam and a forest, and weíre proud of that. But at every step our agenda is to create something we can be proud of, and to achieve that we need to make each film better than the last.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Ridley Scott has been a favorite director of mine for the longest time. Since we're filming on the battleship the U.S.S. Salem we've often referred to the film Alien for inspiration on general cinematography as I love Alien. The thing about Ridley Scoot which I respect is he's always making something new. He has a range as a director. Alien (Monster Horror/Thriller), Match Stick Men (Drama/Comedy), A Good Year (Romance Comedy), Gladiator (Epic Dramatic Action)... and his list just keeps going. He's an artist not a machine.

Brian Helgeland, unfortunately hasn't directed in a while, but his two strongest films were: Payback (Mel Gibson) and A Knight's Tale (Heath Ledger). Brian Helgeland is a director who understands the group/social dynamic of filmmaking. I remember in the behind-the-scenes for A Knight's Tale he was missing a tooth because Heath Ledger knocked it out while they were jousting with broom sticks. The filmmaking process has to have that energy where you need to get right down in it and get a tooth knocked out or you're not going to see that energy on screen.

Edward Burns, and in particular the film Brothers McMulen, made me take the leap from thinking: film is fun, to film could be my occupation. When I saw Brothers McMulen, I realized you donít need to blow anything up or have any a-list actors to make a major motion picture. With that in mind, I came to the belief that I could get noticed without a studioís help. 

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Matrix (duh!), Knightís Tale, Payback, Mr. Brooks, Notting Hill, Zombieland, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Closer, Love Actually, Kick-Ass, and Star Wars: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, & Revenge of the Sith.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

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Now thereís a question that could get me in trouble. But I think staying out of trouble is for cry-babies. So Iíll tell you:

I canít see Scream is horror; itís a horror parody. Itís a different genre but itís still just an Epic Movie or Date Movie. I canít see it as being any different from Scary Movie.

So a safe answer now, everybody hates them: Star Wars: Phantom Menace & Attack of the Clones.

Honestly, I could go on all day with movies I hate.

Red State: When youíve written yourself into such a hole that only the rapture can save you, youíve gone too far!

Perfume: The Story of a Murder: That passes for a believable motivation?

Romeo + Juliet: You canít use ďtheeĒs and ďthouĒs while pumping gas.

 

Your website, Facebook, Kickstarter, whatever else?

 

Night aboard the Salem

KickStarter: http://kickstarter.jackskyyler.com/ 

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2257736/ 

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/NightAboardTheSalem/ 

 

Dear Skyyler Productions

Official Page: http://www.dearskyyler.com/ 

Jack Skyyler IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4457201/ 

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/JackSkyyler/ 

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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