Harrison Smith has been passionate about movies since he first saw Jaws in 1975. This passion has led him to become a producer, writer, and director of several films; some of these movies being Camp Dread, ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard, Garlic & Gunpowder, and the upcoming Death House. Wanting to learn more about Smith’s career and Death House, I was able to interview Smith for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to get into film production? Was there a specific film that inspired you?
Harrison Smith: Jaws is the movie that made want to make movies. My mother took me to the theatre to see it when I was eight years old in 1975. It’s my favorite film of all time. EVERYTHING you need to know about film production can be learned by devouring everything you can on the making of Jaws.
It’s a classic movie that truly should not have turned out as great as it did. Watching the audience around me scream, yell, laugh and then stand at the end…I knew at eight years old that this is what I wanted to do.
Yanes: You have worked as a writer, director, and producer. Which role do you enjoy the most?
Smith: Writer. It’s the only time I get to focus on that 100%. When working on these budgets you are more than director or writer. You’re line producer, UPM, talent negotiator, everything. How do you focus on the creative as a director when you have to vet caterers, see what your crew can do for rates, camera packages, grip and electric truck…you get it.
Yanes: Thinking about your career, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome?
Smith: The biggest challenges are yet to come. However the hard part is trying to please everyone. You can’t do it all and you will never please everyone. So the real challenge is losing the idea that you can. I learned from watching John Carpenter…find a good crew and actors and make as many movies with them as you can. And that is great when you can. But there comes a time when you have to change up and some people are accommodating and others not so much. You piss someone off because you can’t pay what you want to. You hate going to a great actor with an offer under their quote and knowing it’s the best you have. I hate worrying about every dime because it means someone isn’t getting what they deserve and that also includes me. I have worked on some of my films where I found the money, wrote the script, secured the locations, got the talent, did the SAG paperwork, and my DP or director made more than me. And that’s sometimes just the way it goes. I’ve had to answer to investors for overages that were not my fault. However, they are my responsibility when I am in charge.
Yanes: What are your thoughts on the state of horror cinema? On this note, given how inexpensive a horror movie can be to make, do you think there might be too many of these films on the market?
Smith: That’s a really good question. It doesn’t matter so much what I think of the state of horror. However, I think film in general has some issues and if you look at the following Cynema articles it shows my stance. Especially this one, titled “Not a Reboot. Not a Remake. It’s a Repackaging.”
Yanes: The film that I wanted to talk to you about most is Death House. What attracted you to this story?
Smith: The project was brought to me by Rick Finkelstein and Steven Chase of Entertainment Factory. They had an original script by Gunnar Hansen and they wanted a director and a rewrite. After seeing Zombie Killers, they felt I could get this done. I liked the idea of a compendium of horror names so it could be like a horror time capsule. So many great names out there but in a few years some will be gone and I think it is important to keep history alive.
Yanes: Death House has been described as The Expendables for the horror genre because it has so many stars of horror. How do you approach a film like this so that you tell a great story but you allow each person a chance to have a moment?
Smith: Yeah, the media created that little concept of “The Expendables.” However it’s more like a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with the names of the genre popping up here and there. There will be a lot of surprises and “Get the hell out!” moments.
The approach is simple: have a good script. Gunnar had this great concept and we discussed varying changes and directions. When I came up with the prison concept he gave it his blessing and was pleased that the film rose and fell on good characters, not just torture porn blood and gore. It’s ironic that Gunnar was known for such a horrid icon as Leatherface. In another world he could have been Santa Claus. He was soft spoken, had a great sense of humor and was truly a gentle and kind soul. It proves that roles are just that…things people are paid to do. Because Gunnar the man was nothing like Leatherface in the slightest.
Yanes: As Death House develops, what do you think are some of the difficulties you will encounter during production?
Smith: You will never please everyone and we are not trying to. We are delivering a high octane horror film with respectful portrayals. We show love and respect for the genre and we show respect for our audience which is a lot more than I can say from major, big budget pictures.
Yanes: When Death House is finished and people get to watch it, what feeling do you hope they have once they watch it?
Smith: That’s something I was never asked before. What I really hope is they will see some horror names they might not have ever experienced and go out and look at their other works and fall in love with the genre all over again. There are so many “fans” who know only the major horror franchises and characters and nothing outside those worlds. So I want people to feel curiosity, interest and above all…a damned good time.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you are working on that people should look forward to watching?
Smith: We are bringing Adrienne Barbeau’s hit novel, Love Bites to the screen with a new name: Vein. Look for a great supernatural horror/thriller called Keepsake and a terrific and important thriller Believe all in the near future. I think that’s a fair and realistic assessment of what is coming up.