THE EVIL WITHIN's troubled production is well-documented. 15 years from starting filming to finishing production and getting onto the screen (it received its UK premiere at DEAD BY DAWN FEST in April 2017) following the death of writer-director Andrew Getty; thanks to the film’s producer Michael Luceri who talks to SGM’s Stuart Willis about the production…
Stu: Hi Michael, thank you very much for allowing us the opportunity to talk about one of the most unique, fascinating and anticipated horror films of recent years, Andrew Getty's singular THE EVIL WITHIN.
Michael: Hi Stu. Thank you for liking our film enough to be interested in speaking about it Stu, it means a lot to all of us involved in making The Evil Within!
Stu: Firstly, can I ask about your own background? How did you become involved in movie production, and how did you end up working as a producer on THE EVIL WITHIN?
Michael: I was a working actor in New York City quite a while ago. I studied with Oscar Nominee William Hickey at HB Studios and also went to Mike Nichols' School. Every time I was on a film or TV set I was more interested in what was going on with the camera, its position and movements, the set design and lighting. Also, the post production process fascinated me too, I was a focused and professional actor, but was much more interested in seeing the results of the filmmaking than I was in seeing my performance.
Then I moved to LA and was taking classes in LA with Eric Klein at Tony Barr's - Film Actors Workshop. It's a class full of actors, but there have been a few filmmakers who have gone through and have gained a wealth of knowledge from Eric. Gavin Hood is one who comes to mind.
So I made a short film and it was well received. A friend knew Andrew Getty and knew that he was looking for a new editor. I gave her my card and Andrew called the next day. We met at his mansion and he gave me a scene to edit. He liked it and told me it was between me and 2 others who had a lot more experience than me, with Disney, MTV, etc. and he asked why he should pick me. I said because I'll work for free for 2 weeks and if you like me, great. We hit it off immediately and I quickly became his Producer for the pick-up shots, reshoots & VFX elements. It helped that I was already an Editor & VFX Compositor because I knew which shots would and wouldn't work before we would head back to shooting scenes and elements. Andrew was a great guy and a creative genius, it was always hard work, but fun!
Stu: What was your initial reaction when you first read Andrew's script? I'm trying to imagine a producer weighing up the commercial potential of a film where a mentally handicapped person murders pets and children!
Michael: His script wasn't overly daunting to me, but definitely risky. Because as you say, a mentally handicapped young man is committing murders. No one does a film with a mentality challenged person unless it's a feel good, coming of age story. But Andrew liked to take risks and Dennis is a risky lead in The Evil Within. Andrew had other risky leads in all of his scripts. He wanted to break free of the Hollywood mold of "Johnny Handsome and Sally Beautiful' being the leads, he wanted them to be the secondary characters and have someone more realistic as the lead in his films.
But Andrew knew it would be risky, especially in his first film. So he intentionally made Dennis' handicap come from a malicious act by his brother when they were young, rather than from birth. Andrew hoped that would make it much less offensive and ideally the focus will be on the two brothers dynamics, John harbors immense amounts of guilt, and Dennis wants revenge.
Stu: Your role of producer on the film ... can you elaborate on exactly what it was this entailed? Did it involve working closely with Andrew?
Michael: As producer of Andrew's film I worked closely with him not only on set, but also in post-production. He had a lot of ideas that were his own and getting certain effects and shots to work could be challenging. But he also had his amazingly creative cinematographer, Stephen Sheridan there too. Andrew and Stephen met in film school and Stephen shot all of Andrew's short films, prior to The Evil Within. We all worked very well together, along with the wonderful cast and crew.
Stu: Were there many creative differences between you and Andrew during pre-production?
Michael: Never one, when someone is paying me to do a job I do the job they ask of me.
Obviously the shoot was a long one (six years, on and off), and its troubles have become quite legendary. The end titles alone show how many crew members came and went over the years. What was the biggest headache for you during this period?
There were no big headaches for me. Andrew had the luxury of time and money and we always knew we would get there one way or the other. Even if there were obstacles, we'd go back to his mansion and come up with a new plan, and as Andrew would say- "Take a brave stab at it again."
Stu: I have to ask about the reported disputes with cast members. Is there any truth to these stories? And, if so, are you willing to divulge any further? No worries if not, but this is the type of thing readers will inevitably be fascinated by...
Michael: It was simply that Andrew was a technical director, not so polished at being an actor's director. He would talk to me about it, since I had a lot of schooling and experience as an actor. He always wanted to be better at his life's passion, filmmaking. So after this film was finished he had intended to take an acting class with me, so he could be more in touch with his actors on his next film. He also wanted to take a stunt driving class together after the film was sold, that would have been a lot of fun!
Stu: The film is a very ambitious one visually. Some of the sets alone are incredible in both execution and depiction. Can you speak a little about the concepts behind these, and the practicalities of realising such visions?
Michael: The set design, the camera movements and its stillness, lighting, framing, everything was all in Andrew's head before any film was shot. He saw it all and wanted every artist on board stick vividly to his vision. There were challenges to that at times because he was uncompromising. But the results speak beautifully in the finished product.
Stu: Were there any ideas that were too "far out" to be recreated?
Michael: We attempted the Giant Spider attacking Dennis on his bed 3 times until it finally worked. But that's Andrew, he would trial and error things on his own terms and by his own unique design until he got the result that satisfied his vision.
Stu: I'm going to ask about Andrew's alleged downfall into methamphetamine dependency. Purely because it's become a big part of the myth surrounding this movie, and if true I wonder if it affected the shoot, and your working relationship? Again, don't answer if you're not comfortable doing so and the last thing I want to do is come across as being disrespectful.
Michael: I never saw anything like that. The wonderful thing about working for Andrew was that, unless we were shooting, I was 9 to 5. I only saw Andrew by day, and what I saw was a very passionate, hardworking creative genius. There were times when he'd come out with my friends and I, a birthday party or a Halloween party, etc. and he was just like anyone else. What I would see was that he would only have one drink early on, and then drive home responsibly later on.
Stu: Plot-wise, THE EVIL WITHIN is pretty bonkers. Which I mean in a good way: it's insanely entertaining, and you never know where it's going to take you next. I understand a large part of it is based on nightmares Andrew suffered as a kid. With you working closely with him, can you shed some light on those nightmares?
Michael: That's a good question. Andrew talks about these nightmares in the US DVD extras. You should listen to him and enjoy what he has to say. He says it a lot better than I can :)
Stu: Obviously, Andrew tragically died while in the process of editing the film and you took over the role, effectively completing the task in his absence. How difficult was it to take over this task once it had been started? Had Andrew mapped out how he wanted his final cut to look?
Michael: Andrew and I were very close. It's like a marriage when a director has a good working and creative relationship with their editor/producer. And when one loses the other it can feel like you've been ripped in half. But, when Andrew hired me he said that if you can learn to think like me you can work for me for as long as you want. So I thought like him when I cut it down to its current version. Knowing him so well and hearing him speak about the film so often, I think I cut it down very close to the way he ultimately would have.
Stu: What made the cutting room floor? Can you reveal the nature of any scenes you felt were suitable for deletion?
Michael: There was a monster type-floater that Dennis had turned into in the bathtub. It was a really hard effect to pull off and unfortunately it looks lesser than the rest of the film. More importantly, the sequence didn't do anything to further delineate Dennis. So that was an easy sequence to cut out. If you want to see it, it is in the US DVD as well.
Stu: The film has received a positive reception. What were Andrew's hopes for it? And how do you feel about its release in his absence?
Michael: There’s an excitement, but also a heaviness to the release. Because of Andrew's absence. It was his life's passion, so our "silent producer" and I finished it for him. But we both would give up anything to have him back and have him experience this with us. Andrew loved film and he loved the horror audience. He would have loved to have been secretly sitting amongst audiences watching his film. In fact, I can see him being incredibly giddy about that!
Stu: Which films influenced you during the making of THE EVIL WITHIN? My review made mention of the likes of PHANTASM, THE CELL, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ... Is there any accuracy here?
Michael: Those are very good calls, but Andrew never mentioned any of them. The ones that were influential to him, beyond his imagination of course were Jacobs Ladder, The Exorcist, The Evil Dead part 2, and Eraserhead.
Stu: The film's final act is one of the most outrageous in recent memory. What the fuck?!
Michael: Glad you feel that way about the final act! Throughout the entire film Andrew never wanted you to know what was real and what wasn't. He wanted the audience to experience the story through the eyes and mind of Dennis. The end was a culmination of Dennis' broken brain feverishly trying to fix itself.
Stu: What's next? Do you plan for a sequel to THE EVIL WITHIN?
Michael: Not sure about any of this? It's been a long and intense filmmaking journey. We are taking a bit of a break, for now.
Stu: Cheers Michael, best of luck with the film - it deserves success and I assure you, cult status waits!!
Michael: Wow, thank you Stu!
THE EVIL WITHIN is out now on DVD and Blu-ray by Screenbound Pictures.
Special thanks to Michael Luceri and Debbie Murray at Aim Publicity.