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Interview with Ryan Schifrin of ABOMINABLE
By Don E. Peterson
October 05, 2006
Ryan Schifrin and Lance Henricksen of Abominable
© Ryan Schifrin
While the horror masters like John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Don Coscarelli and Stuart Gordon are getting much needed attention as of late, the new generation of horror masters are rising to the surface.
The latest to get that much deserved attention is writer-director Ryan Schifrin who has been making a splash with his debut feature ABOMIMABLE which just hit DVD shelves.
A revisionist take on the bigfoot legend, the story focuses on a man (Matt McCoy) in a wheelchair in a remote cabin who witnesses a hairy beast roaming the area and picking off a cabin full of beautiful women. With only his wits to guide him through the night, he becomes an unlikely hero in an attempt to stop the beast from taking his own life.
With nods to Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW and the classic horror movies of the late'70s and early '80s, ABOMIMABLE is an accomplished debut film filled with gore, nudity, cheeky humor and supporting appearances by genre favorites Dee Wallace Stone, Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs.
Schifrin (whose dad is famed composer Lalo Schifrin), spoke with CINESCAPE recently about his debut feature and what else he has on the horizon. CINESCAPE:
What were the challenges of working with such a low budget on such an ambitious movie? RYAN SCHIFRIN:
It's a challenge from every aspect, starting with the screenplay. You have to find a way to entertain audiences used to multi-million dollar CGI spectacles and set-pieces. The key to that is by trying to engage them emotionally, because emotions don't have a price tag. We have a prolonged end battle between our hero and villain, with smaller-scale set-pieces, but the feeling of a struggle is conveyed just the same. The characters have to be engaging and interesting. Then, after the script is done, casting is a huge challenge. You'd like to get names, not only because they're good actors, but also because it helps sell and market the movie. Yet, you have no money to pay them, so even getting their agents to talk to you is a hurdle. Production is a challenge, since time and money are in short supply. You want to light everything to look like a Bruckheimer movie, and you want dolly shots, but you have to cram in so many set-ups per day, so it calls for a lot of innovation. We shot on 35mm film, but could only afford a few takes for each shot, due to the cost. We had a great crew, but finding people who are great at what they do and willing to work for very little money is difficult you still need things like the sound to be flawless. The limited time and money applies to post-production as well. We never did make a print of the film, because we couldn't afford to do a digital intermediate transfer. Usually, the conventional wisdom is to not try and make something that looks like a studio film when you're low budget, and to try and be innovative with what you have, the way BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was. But, we decided to be very ambitious, and make it look like we had a much bigger budget than we did. CINESCAPE:
What surprised you the most out of what you were able to do with your low budget?
SCHIFRIN: The over-all level of quality that we got exceeded my hopes in many areas. A lot of this was due to favors being called in, and getting world-class artists to contribute their talents to the movie. For example, Christien Tinsley, our FX wizard, was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the PASSION OF THE CHRIST. He made this effect where a character's face is bitten off, that is just amazing! My father, Lalo, did the score to the film, and it was recorded in Prague with a 90 piece orchestra. Our D.P., Neal Fredericks, had a friend at Panavision who donated a techno-crane to us for a couple of days. And the caliber of actors we were able to get, both the names and the unknowns, was wonderful. Seeing them bring the characters and dialogue to life, and make it better than I had imagined was a thrill. And, finally, the sound design. I'm very proud of the sound design in this movie, as sound is at least 50% of the experience if you watch it with the volume turned low you're missing out! CINESCAPE:
Many people think the movie is about the Abominable Snowman, when it really is about Bigfoot did it start life as an Abominable Snowman movie?
SCHIFRIN: No, the intention was always to do REAR WINDOW as a creature feature. Since I grew up loving Bigfoot so much, and since there hadn't been a theatrical movie about it since HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, I figured it was a perfect monster to use. I had done a lot of research about "hairy bipeds" and their appearance in the myths and legends of every continent it really is a globally known creature that has different names in different parts of the world. Since the titles BIGFOOT and SASQUATCH were taken, and since it was a horror movie, I thought ABOMINABLE sounded more sinister. We justified this by having a cryptozoologist character in the movie describe our monster as meaner than Bigfoot, "more like the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas". CINESCAPE:
What did your dad, Lalo Schifrin teach you the most about the industry that helped you in making your first movie?
SCHIFRIN: That's a great question! He taught me that the industry is brutally hard to get into, and that you must really work hard, persevere, believe in yourself and never take "no" for an answer. He also taught me that creative people love to be inspired and trusted, and the way to get them to do their best work is to truly collaborate and have faith in them. CINESCAPE:
Alfred Hitchcock seems to be a major influence over this movie, what made you take inspiration from the master of suspense as opposed to the horror filmmakers of the late '70s and early '80s?
SCHIFRIN: I think every generation is inspired by the generation that came before. Hitchcock was before my time, but my parents took me to SEE REAR WINDOW when I was 8, and I loved it. One of the smart things to do on a low-budget film is to limit the number of locations you use. In coming up with the idea, I immediately thought of REAR WINDOW as being the best limited location movie ever. Hitchcock was also a master of suspense, and we wanted to have a lot of tension in the movie, along with the thrills and gore and violence. Truth be told, there are a lot of diverse influences in ABOMINABLE from Hitchcock, to Spielberg, to George Romero. I wanted to combine the feel of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS with FRIDAY THE 13TH and CREEPSHOW. How's that for a strange combination? CINESCAPE:
What special features are on the DVD and what makes them cool?
SCHIFRIN: We packed the DVD full of extras, as I know I love as much supplementary material as possible when I buy DVD's. There's a 40 minute documentary about the making of the movie, with cast interviews. I did a commentary track with Matt McCoy and Jeffrey Combs. We have deleted scenes, a blooper reel, one of my USC student films on there, the screenplay, a storyboard gallery, stills gallery, trailers.... And a really cool foil cardboard slip cover of Drew Struzan's art. CINESCAPE:
Is this a different cut of the movie than the one that was on SCI FI Channel?
SCHIFRIN: Oh yes. This one has all of the nudity, gore, and foul language uncensored. And no commercial breaks! CINESCAPE:
SCHIFRIN: I just finished writing something that I would love to be my second feature it's a mix of action-adventure and horror, with some dark comedy. It's a bigger budget than ABOMINABLE, but could be a lot of fun. If there's one ingredient I think is missing from a lot of films today it would be that most elusive one: Fun. There's a scene in ABOMINABLE, where Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs and Rex Linn are out camping and hunting Bigfoot. We shot it a year later, and I wrote it in a different tone than the rest of the movie more playful. I've really enjoyed seeing audiences react to that scene in particular, and that was my goal with this new script to do an entire movie with that tone. That's hopefully what I'll do next.