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IFH 586: Inside the Blumhouse Filmmaking Machine with Marcus Dunstan

Marcus Dunstan’s screenwriting with his partner, Patrick Melton, include such horror films as FEAST 1-3, SAW IV-V-VI& SAW 3D THE FINAL CHAPTER, PIRANHA , GOD OF WAR, FINAL DESTINATION 6, and SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Marcus Dunstan’s directing credits include THE COLLECTOR, THE COLLECTION, THE NEIGHBOUR, BLUMHOUSE’S PILGRIM and this summer’s BLUMHOUSE PRESENTS: UNHUMAN.

Dunstan is a producer of THE CANDIDATE, and executive producer of 2022’s horror-thriller TAKE BACK THE NIGHT. Currently Dunstan and Melton are collaborating once again with Blumhouse and Disney + on a soon to be announced suspense thriller series, as well as the horror film ESCAPE: HALLOWEEN with Live Nation and Insomniac.

The dead will have this club for breakfast. Blumhouse Television and EPIX bring you the story of a high school field trip gone bloody awry. Seven misfit students must band together against a growing gang of unhuman savages. The group’s trust in each other is tested to the limit in a brutal, horrifying fight to survive and they must take down the murderous zombie-creatures… before they kill each other first.

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Marcus Dunstan 0:00
You know, every day has its challenges. But really, it's in the survival of those challenges and the way to assess that and and outsmart it. You don't have to overpower any of this stuff. But you do have to, you do have to outsmart things because ultimately, an image has to exist. That conveys some information. There's several ways that can be done, you can do it the expensive way you can do it the in many more modest ways.

Alex Ferrari 0:25
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created Enigma elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like VHS and CRT images, smoke fog textures, DaVinci Resolve presets and much more. After working as an editor colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out and enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. Today's guest has a special place in my heart because he got his start in the film business the way I want it to back in the early 2000s. He was on the show Project Greenlight where he was the writer of the film feast. Now he used that and parlayed it into writing assignments to create and write multiple soft films. He used that to make his own film The collector series of films actually, and his new film on human four Blumhouse. Now we not only talk about his journey through the filmmaking world, as a screenwriter, and director, but also what it's like working inside the filmmaking machine that is Blumhouse so let's dive in. I'd like to welcome the show Marcus Dunstan how you doin' Marcus?

Marcus Dunstan 1:59
I am grateful. How are you sir? Thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 2:02
Oh, thank you for coming on the show man. I had a friend of mine work. He was a visual effects artist on one of your first movies, the collector went on. And I knew him. He and he told me all store all sorts of creatives, like was first big VFX job now he's working for Marvel and bond. And all this stuff. But his first thing was big, big thing that he did was the collector. So that's our connection, sir.

Marcus Dunstan 2:28
Oh, right. Oh, well, hey, special thanks. What is this person's name?

Alex Ferrari 2:32
His name is Dan Cregan. He's been on the show a bunch of times as if he's one of my best friends.

Marcus Dunstan 2:37
I owe my gratitude to Dan Cregan and because that Thank you. Thank you, Dan.

Alex Ferrari 2:44
So far, so first question, sir, how did you get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Marcus Dunstan 2:50
Well, it was an absolute. It was a it was a it was a desire, a joy I don't know it was a conversation in the dark of adolescence where I had horrible acne. Didn't want to go outside. I was embarrassed of how I looked and everything. And then I start recognizing the work of this really talented artists named Tom Savini. And oh, man, he could change the way he looked and we rang cover up my face too. And what oh, he does special effects. Well, then there's this movie, oh, this Friday the 13th. That's pretty cool. And it was a springboard all the way up until when he directed and none of the Living Dead 9090 and his episode of Tales from the dark side or episodes, I believe he did a couple and I just he was the reason he was a gateway because what I loved was this ability where the the fake traumas of life might be able to be a gateway to a little bit of healing, understanding. And maybe if you show the world everything scary through this lens that is not actually going to harm you, then maybe you can approach the next day of your life not being afraid of anything. And if you make that audience jump, maybe they're gonna jump closer together. And we'll all we'll all face the dark as as the best we can and will become light.

Alex Ferrari 4:12
That is the the most beautiful description of horror I've ever heard in my entire life. It's wonderful. Thank you very much. First, it was a very spiritual aspect to the horror genre. I've never heard it put so eloquently before. So that's awesome. Thank you.

Marcus Dunstan 4:28
Thank you very much.

Alex Ferrari 4:29
Now another connection we have, sir, is you got your start on a little show called Project Greenlight. The day Yes, well, sir. I was for five or six seconds in Project Greenlight Season Two. Okay, I made it to the top 20 of season two so I almost I almost made it onto the show. And I've had Chris Moore and I've had Chris Moore on the show and I first words out of my mouth like Dude, why don't I get into project

Marcus Dunstan 4:58
Right on okay.

Alex Ferrari 5:00
So you got your start on Season Three if I'm not mistaken with the feast, right?

Marcus Dunstan 5:04
Yes. And I was working at a blockbuster home video in a Kenyan restocking seasons one and and then to the screening the hey come see this movie screening passes we were asked to hand them out they're going to do a sneak screening of the Battle of Shaker Heights and in a theater out there and then on the radio Patrick mountains wife even heard that there was going to be a three and they'd be widening the net into potentially you know, something more genre could be you know, the at the time the the the gross out teen comedy they could do drama, suspense thriller or maybe a horror movie.

Alex Ferrari 5:47
Yeah, and it worked out that you got to it's so funny to so I did my time in a mom and pop video store for five years in high school.

Marcus Dunstan 5:56
Okay, now what have you and what

Alex Ferrari 5:59
You and I are similarly vintage, sir.

Marcus Dunstan 6:00
So we got your nametag, though.

Alex Ferrari 6:02
No, I actually was a mom and pop I didn't even have names. I didn't name text.

Marcus Dunstan 6:07
Let's not even my name. That's how this this blockbuster was struggling so I was Jamie with like a philosophy rafter scratch through. That's awesome. That's what happened to Jamie.

Alex Ferrari 6:17
That is some street cred right there, sir. That is, that's a major street cred for all the kids. For all the kids listening Google what a video store was. Yeah. Now. Now when you work with on that show? I know you were on it for a little bit. And you wrote the script helped write the script for you. Did you write it by yourself? Or did you write it with them?

Marcus Dunstan 6:35
With Patrick Mountain and it was we were adapting a draft written by Pulseaudio

Alex Ferrari 6:40
Okay, so what was your biggest lesson you learned? Which is essentially the first experience in the business? What was the biggest lesson you learned working on that?

Marcus Dunstan 6:50
Oh, wait, are you talking about feast or on human? I'm sorry. Oh, sorry. No, feast was an original creation of ours. unhuman was based on a story about Okay. Wow, it's been oppressed de la hmm. And then this is the one Okay, got it. You know, feast was entirely a reaction episode where we, you know, we took the bait of what do you want to see? And I asked, like, why don't I keep wanting to rewatch Evil Dead two. And then why? Well, because it had this endless fountain of creativity, no matter what were, the budget didn't I didn't think of what the budget was, I just knew I was entertained. And it just didn't waste a molecule without finding the most creative way to bring it. And I thought it had it was ferocious in its ability to protect the attention span to galvanize the, the eyes, the brain and rope you into it's it's wonderful narrative. I just thought, This is great. This is this is all the this is all the inspiration and hope and that, you know, to really get us going. So then we felt like okay, well we know that kind of make things in the realm of a million bucks, we know. And we actually tried to enter it in Project Greenlight Season Two against the whole advice. And at that point, you do it there, we kind of do a digital submission, we'll somehow we got the whole submission wrong. And it turned into you know, 2000 pages of triangles and squares or something. Who knows? We it is the early internet, it was early, that wild frontier. And so then by the time this came around, we thought I mean, we were certain this draft that we had worked and worked and worked on could be made for $1 million and the budget came back at 20 Oh do a little more work

Alex Ferrari 8:51
So it's still when you were working on on with on the feast Did you did you I mean I gotta imagine was kind of a culture shock for you just to kind of like a shock to the system working even with the Chris Moore and you've been watching them on the on the show for a couple of seasons and all that kind of stuff.

Marcus Dunstan 9:09
Yes, well in fact it but yet at the same time, there's a lot of small world stuff and that is I lived in Melton and I lived in the same building on tamarind in it ran around Hollywood. So there's the like the Scientology celebrity center birds lapu Bell, and then there's Tamron. And we lived there for a while. And so we had a shared computer he had this one but it would overheat because we could type faster than I could process so it would overheat. We have to turn it off every 20 minutes and we'd run it up and down the stairs depending on who could have enough time to write that night. And so then there's this Willy Wonka moment and you know your life could change if the day is of West Craven, Chris Moore, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Nick Phillips, etc. Would would dare anoint you and invite you to that side of the room. But the location of that conversation was like 16 walks away. It was just, it was just in a hotel. We didn't know anybody and couldn't get into and couldn't afford to stay there anyway. So it's kind of like, you know, an absurd way. It's like, so we're going across the street were like, really, it's been here the whole time. That's, that's, that's awesome. And then the, and then like, oh, my gosh, there's this, the attention and there's cameras and whatnot. It's, it was a lot. And I would say thank goodness, we were, we kept our Midwest in there. Like, this was a wonderful area right before the instinct would be to be to want more camera than and lose sight of the opportunity at hand. No, we were there to make him. We were there to exist and help. And the fact that the cameras were there, you know, he learned later in life that those cameras were to keep probably a lot of the other people in line that had been in that industry a while and protect the innocence of it. So I really I that was a an absolute, it was a Willy Wonka moment, it was a miracle and for a first time experience to have it documented. I mean, at some point, I'll go back and watch that show with the memories of being on the other side of that. And that I mean, how that's just whimsy, man, that's great.

Alex Ferrari 11:13
Yeah, no, I mean, I've gotten close. I got close to many times to mention on both that and like on the lot if you remember that show.

Marcus Dunstan 11:21
Absolutely I remember

Alex Ferrari 11:24
I was flown up. I was flown up to to me, I was like right there about to get in? Oh, yeah. So I've always fascinated about the whole cup project green light and the whole on the lot, that whole reality stuff. But there was really, you know, to be honest, it wasn't a lot of people that came out of those shows that had like built a career. You're one of the few that really have you made it out?

Marcus Dunstan 11:46
Well, it was you know, and we were very fortunate I really got to think not not only luck but also thank being prepared for luck because before feast came out the show when it was when it was depicting us well, that was then attractive for you know, agents etc to want to take a meeting and we had a we had a we had an agents agents at this one of the big agencies, and they dropped us when the when the cameras were off, and we were unrepresented. It was July before feast had ever come out before anything had happened. And Patrick and his wife were expecting his little boy. And if they as a couple agree that if they don't figure out a way to stay solvent in the entertainment industry, he was he was going to he was gonna just have to change. Do something, do something, you gotta you got a family now. So over the July 4 weekend, he had this idea and he wrote the first draft of what would be the neighbor. Then we have this, this premiere in Vegas. For feast we're now feast is finally coming out after 18 months of us not knowing and the separation of Disney and dimension and Weinstein and whatnot. But they took us along then now the cameras are back on then, you know all of a sudden there's attention and all of a sudden like hey, and this wonderful agent by the name of David boxer bomb.

Alex Ferrari 13:11
Dave has been on the show.

Marcus Dunstan 13:12
Oh, he's awesome. Yep, David Cheryl Debbie Doble. All of a sudden, we've got this marvelous team that you know elected to to roll the dice on us knowing that way. There's potential here you guys will actually work for this. Like you're not just being you know, needed to be handed to you know what worked for it, like, let's go. And sure enough, at that premiere party, I stepped into the back of it to do a verbal rewrite on the ending of the neighbor. So then dimension buys it. Melton breathes a sigh of relief because he's now a writer supporting his family. And then there's this movie that comes out and within a week we set up the Midnight Man, which would then become the collector and whatnot. And David, Cheryl and Debbie, it's like Thank you. Thanks for Thanks for catching us in freefall. We weren't gonna give up on ourselves and it was great to have them as team to do so that's a long way to long winded answer. But you know, it's there. There is some humanity in the in the realm that can sometimes be like our movies title on humans.

Alex Ferrari 14:13
Yeah, absolutely. Now you also got a gig, writing a sequel to one of the most successful horror franchises of all time saw? Yes. How did you how did you get that? Because you were still fairly young writer at that point?

Marcus Dunstan 14:26
Absolutely. Very. So that all happened within eight weeks of the fuse premiere. Now, we had a little bit of street cred the movie was getting, you know, favorable reviews, word of mouth, whatnot. And we and due to the sale of the neighbor, that takes a little time before the WGA makes it official. So the sophomore deal. They did not want to go with the union writers just yet. They wanted to hire three different writers with the task of writing a script called sophomore and And each of these writers or teams would be given a set of rules to follow because three hadn't come out yet. For some reason, we didn't get the thing of the rules. But it didn't stop us and wouldn't you know, we end up accidentally writing something that we got yelled at, because the budget was going to be too big. And then it then they went with it. And that was pretty cool. And then, you know, and we were able to make a deal with them to to keep working on that. I mean, my goodness. So in the span of a year, it was because they would make this movie so quickly. And you know, so efficiently. I mean, like, my gosh, we had oh my gosh, we're gonna we just got dumped dropped by our agents. This whole thing might be overweight or movies coming out. I was playing twice. And midnight. Did it say it really just gross? Like $5? Like, what is that? Wait, we got to X rating? Oh, we gotta cut Oh, we Oh, man. Oh, and then oh, and then the next year? It's my parents, my hit my world history teachers to on recommend at about a big ol premiere for a horror movie that folks have heard of. And that's it's another like, how did we get here? It was just awesome. But you know, we did. It's we've worked really hard.

Alex Ferrari 16:14
That's the thing. That's fascinating, because a lot of people listen and be like, Oh, these guys are just lucky. They just fell into it. I'm like, That's so much. No, you work hard. But the point is that you were ready for when the opportunity presented itself. Like if you would have just been sitting there like, oh, I have no other script, I don't have the neighbor, I don't have anything else I have ideas you actually will prepare for when these opportunities present. And then serendipity just happens. And after doing so many interviews on the show and talking to so many, you know, amazing writers and directors like yourself. I just realized that luck has such a big part to do with sustaining a career in this business. But every single one of them work hard. It's not like just sitting around in the middle of Ohio somewhere and an agent knocks on your door. Hey, I hear you have some ideas. Can I help you now that doesn't work that way?

Marcus Dunstan 17:06
Absolutely. No, you got to it's not it's like and you know, continues to this day, you still have to go for it. You still have to I this this experience with unhuman reminded me a lot of feast and that I wanted to bring some of the zeal and and creativity that John Gallagher did and try to say like, well, what if we were taking some of the expectations tropes stereotypes of the high school genre and flip them kind of like John was able to do with feast and what we were doing with the Creature Feature? And in doing so, can we sneak in a theme about bullying and and, and try to punch above our weight in that regard, but just can we stick this landing so this the narrative will have competent adrenalized attention span friendly stimulus, but nail that if we get that right amount of sugar, we can put in something of substance that could really keep us around for a while and bestow a lesson as some of the great horror movies had done to us.

Alex Ferrari 18:11
Yeah, and I think that's one of the big mistakes that screenwriters make with with horror movies is they don't put in that deeper underlining thing, they just do Gore or they just do the scares. But if when you're able to enter one intertwine or weave in these kinds of deeper themes and ideas, that's that's when those things become classics. And they just keep going and going and going. Yes,

Marcus Dunstan 18:35
I hope so. I mean, that's, you know, I mean, you sound like you don't have a goal to really set up we're gonna make a classic today but originally if you stick to this, this this goal of I want to get this message through no matter what can every performance synthetic in the production design, bolster it can the score enhance excellent and then oh, hey, if it's if it's lucky to earn that moniker All right, we did it right.

Alex Ferrari 19:00
Now how how did you get the collector off the ground because it you know, you guys are just at this point, just writers. So you got to direct the movie and it was a fairly decent budget and it was you know, it was by Studio and and so on. So how did you get that off the ground

Marcus Dunstan 19:17
That required outsmarting the system once again and the way it was I pre directed some stuff and I came up with a marketing and and so it was back in the day if I had a smartphone man I think would have been done in a second. But no this is when you needed to get cameras favors etc. And thank goodness it was the Gulag or family and it was after feast and fortress so this be Brett Forbes and Pat Rezai help provide a budget of about 7000 bucks to execute a scene that would show Oh, this guy can write a few words but he's he's good with actors and are like can can can accomplish the goal of the scene and And then it becomes a trailer. So then I wanted to get to jumpscares and set up the plotline. And then I wanted to earn a tagline at the end. And give it a whole sense of like if make it feel like a growing threshold event to lead up to someone that is introduced as a bad guy meeting a worst guy, and then bloodied in a rainstorm run out caressing a kid that's not his own, just with only breathing as a soundtrack. You know, just because he's like, not tonight, you know, he's he's reached a point in his criminal career where he finds something so awful. He'll stop.

Alex Ferrari 20:33
That's, that's awesome. That's a great story, because so many screenwriters want to direct. And they just, you know, you have to figure out how to get noticed. And that's a great way you shot that little demo. And they gave you they gave you the budget to do it. It's, it's so interesting, because we all have to come out when the collector came out, what were you what year was that?

Marcus Dunstan 20:54
That came out in 2009. But it was also similar to feast and that it took a while to get out there.

Alex Ferrari 21:00
So I remember when my buddy worked on it, he told me what can I use this on my demo reel? I can't use this on my tomato.

Marcus Dunstan 21:08
So like it was amortized with the production of two sequels to Paul's two sequels to feast. And then we were the last one. At this point, I felt like, Oh, this is awesome. I'm the last one, you know, everything's gonna be great. Well, learn the hard way that went into the last movie in an amortized situation. That means all the overages from those movies come out of yours. So whatever budget was supposed to be there wasn't quite there. Whatever schedule was supposed to be there was kind of cut in half. And then by the end, I had a lot of middle of a movie, I had some ending, but I took every penny I made from writing the Saw movies then and funded two weeks of shooting on my own. And now we had at the beginning, now we had a middle and we had the ends. And with that it was it was done. Because I felt like you know, I didn't come out here just to do half of a first movie. I got to you know, do the whole thing. And a wind that was exciting, like the whole cast and crew coming along for that meant a lot. So then dimension, we got a call from Bob Weinstein saying, hey, and I got my money tied up and Inglorious Basterds and you know, if you want to put the movie out yourself, I dig it. You can, you can, oh, I can self release this movie. Great. That sounds like a deal. And so thank goodness, we had the wherewithal to be like, well, what would you sell it for? If we found a buyer? Oh, let me go away, all of a sudden the budget more than doubled. You know, all of a sudden, I couldn't get a copy of the budget that I knew we had. Now I know that I'm sorry, we can't give it. And thank goodness, we had two weeks to find a buyer. And on one of the last days of that possibility, Mickey Liddell came in, watched it left the the editing room, walked around the block and said, Okay, how much and that's what led to LD hiring freestyle to release a movie that was called The Midnight Man now is called the collector courtesy of Bob is now an LD movie. It and then so then it came out in the summer of 2009. After they you know, Mickey put in even more bucks for some more spit and polish. That was awesome. And like, the songs you hope to get. I mean, here's what I just so loved and appreciate it is. He understood that when you put an attempt song, you don't want to find another song, as in these things to this song. And they and even if you can't quite understand the why it does something, they all hold hands, you can kind of tell when something has been replaced at the last second because it's like, well, it's okay, I guess you know, it's up tempo, but you know, we have relationships with all forms of art and these things. And he got it and let it be so so now then we come out. And unfortunately, he would like to do another one and that led to then the collection and so on. So yeah, it was a an absolute for, you know, fortuitous time. But again, it was I thinking about it now. It's insane. Giving Yeah, I you know, whatever little nugget I had was just instantly vanquished in the hopes that something and then oh, yeah, I you know, guess what, you get to make a movie where you get to make half of it. And if you can finish it, you can release it yourself, if you can afford it. And if you can't find someone who paid double that, and to release it on their own, and maybe you'll get a sequel or maybe you know what, I'll hear from you again, who cares I love you know what it is?

Alex Ferrari 24:32
You know, I'm so glad that people are are listening to this story because you put your money where your mouth is, and that's so many filmmakers don't do that so many people don't take the risk to do that. And in this scenario, if I was consulting you back then it was the mind that I have today. I would say absolutely do this because this doesn't happen. You don't get this scenario. It was a very fortuitous It's also very kind of lottery ticket scenario where all of these things lined up. So, so beautifully.

Marcus Dunstan 25:07
They it was it prepared for serendipity?

Alex Ferrari 25:12
Exactly. Now, it what was on that shoot, what was the you know, as directors, we always go through that the worst, there's always a day that we remember, if not every day, but there's always a day that we're losing the sun, camera breaks, the actor can't come out. The car accident happened somewhere and we lost the camera in the truck. I've seen it all. What was that day for you? And how did you overcome it and make your day?

Marcus Dunstan 25:40
Thank you for that question. Because I think, you know, every day has its challenges. But really, it's in the survival of those challenges. And the way to assess that and and outsmart it, you don't have to overpower any of this stuff. But you do have to, you do have to add smart things because ultimately, an image has to exist, that conveys some information. There's several ways that can be done, you can do the expensive way you can do it the in many more modest ways. So one night, I'm in it. Josh Stewart is masked up. It's going to be the stocking casing of the house. He's assessing it, you know, Brandon Cox, beautifully lighting these things and we're getting all this awesome imagery. And then it's about you know, we still have another little sequence to do. And I remember one point, it's just quiet turn around and where is everybody? Everybody had quit because the strike had ended. And so why stick around for the the pennies of the indie budget when the commercial jobs are now flying everybody Yeah. So if the folks that stayed you've got Brandon Cox so a wonderful camera crew. But a most of our crew just up and watch.

Alex Ferrari 27:31
Walk in the middle of the day or walk like the next day or something.

Marcus Dunstan 27:34
No like that night we didn't I just we moved some lights and shot some stuff ourselves just to like do something with the time. I was like hmm, so now how did I overcome this? I couldn't overcome this. This was this was a moment where Courtney Ballack or Keith border the producers came through and Vince Palomino, who was our line who's you know, everybody that stuck around there essentially, as you know, lifelong friends, these are the metaphor. And so, what could have been an absolute cavity crushing events is turned completely around with the arrival of one person who had become a rider die. And that is BJ McDonald's, a a who has showed up as a Steadicam operator in his cut off camo shorts and is converse and his Danzig wristband and his faux hawk Mohawk what is that hawk? He's like, I didn't worry about it, man. We're gonna get we're gonna get it we can do like this. Excellent. We the movie couldn't afford him. He wanted to get out of town for an adventure. And so I that's how I met he and his now wife, Adrienne, who was in makeup. And all of a sudden, this is a transformative event. And it was BJ who talked me out of the shakes and the shivers of like, I don't know, it's like I thought Why did I have this whole thing? storyboarded I can't do it. Like hey, it's like hey, don't worry about let's have a beer and go bowling. And you know what you don't worry about it. You go have a beer and you go bowling. Because in that action, you the mind gets to settle and you get to realize no no, you're still creating just yes those storyboards whatever whatever you put in wherever that plan is, that is on the wayside, but that doesn't mean you still don't know what you need to execute now in the moment to challenge yourself to find a way to do so. And that that has been the most rewarding lesson of all is IT professional studio big yeah that you get more toys but the lessons they get you through even those moments were learned when you had nothing but that desire and and hope to to convey a story convey an image and get it drag it into that lens however possible. And you do it again and again. So you find success what you like what you're comfortable with and and hopefully people are there with you for the ride. And it's so exciting because BJ is is now the director and that he his last film studio 16 Six. Right? So how cool is that to see him, you know, from from converse to the universe, he's out there.

Alex Ferrari 30:07
That's amazing. That's a great story. And you said something really interesting. And I think something is so important for filmmakers to listen to, is please let them know, every single moment of every single day as a director on set, the biggest thing that we have to do is compromise. Because you said I had this long storyboard list or a shot list, and all of it's out the window. Just days of working on it. You had the Kubrick, you had the Kubrick shot, you had the Sam Raimi shot, you had the oh, you know, all of that stuff. Yeah. And Gone. Gone. Can you tell it to you tell? How can you explain to people that process internally as a director, because that's what I think that's really what makes a great director, one of the elements is to be able to compromise on the fly with what is given to him or her on the day, and just flow with what you have on the day and not be so rigid that you're like, No, if I can't get my shot, I don't want to shoot it and Bolton, you're not going to work?

Marcus Dunstan 31:10
Well, absolutely. Well, this happened with this happened with unhuman. And in the way, like, we had to deal with weather, we had to deal with lightning, that could shut us down. And then our entire ending had to be reconfigured. Because the entire ending was built around a certain ability, I like a certain location, a certain aspect of the location. That was cool to look at Vintage Gray, talking about an old school amazing elevator. Well, of course that breaks. And anything that came along with it is instantly out the window. But thank goodness for 10 years of experience because you like it's not about an elevator, it's about falling distance, if it's not about the what. And then I by that point, courtesy of those Paulito are one of our producers on this on the site there who leaned in and said like, this elevator was built in the 30s it's being repaired, you might want to have a plan B at the ready just case. Now if I was a naive person that knew no, it has to be this I must stand my ground. But now it's your I asked to be an elevator, there would be no ending there would be nothing but instead courtesy of Paul and also courtesy of enough experience to listen to someone who's giving you good advice. We were ready and it and the solution wouldn't you know Eureka, it's a heck of a lot better. And we ended up getting more motion more movie more. There is it just it just it works. And everybody was on the same page because I think people get excited by talk of solutions. There's nothing more wasteful and disparaging. And that talk of just the problems like okay, well everything's got a problem. But what if we try this? Can we do this and then instantly you get everyone's back in the creative mode of of willingness thing into being and that was nice that that that allowed a lot everybody to shine.

Alex Ferrari 33:18
Now, is there anything you wish somebody would have told you at the beginning of this whole journey? That little nugget of man, this is going to do this, this and this man, you really should look out for this.

Marcus Dunstan 33:31
There are a handful of things. I'm gonna keep the two big ones to myself.

Alex Ferrari 33:39
You all could suffer?

Marcus Dunstan 33:41
No, no, no, no, no. In that sense, it was like no, you know, what if I want to find the positive not the beware but the positive and that is regard your inner voice, you know and lead in and when the when the inner voice when the little voice says something? What is holding it back from entering volume? Is it fear that maybe the collaborator won't hear it? Is it hesitation because you're not sure is it? Well, why don't we try saying and see what happens? And wouldn't you know or if you're thinking like you know, second guessing can be okay, but why are you second guessing what doesn't feel right? Do you feel you did not get that shot? Do you feel that? The the just wasn't quite there and like okay, then then respect that respect your own? I mean, no matter how overwhelmed you could elect to be no matter what happens if the little voice is just saying no, no, this is fight for this. No, no, protect that. And just have the patients and yourself to understand why explain why and you're going to find that the right team will will always understand you and give you a shot. You know, and I thought that that was good because the last thing you want to do It is have someone in editorial go. Well, I kind of wish we had that shot. I know I knew it. I know. Once you say anything, you're right,

Alex Ferrari 35:14
Oh god as an editor, I used to do it to my directors. And that is when I worked with editors they used to do to me, I'm like, I should have gotten that. It would have taken me another five minutes to get that shot. Why did I have to move on? Yeah, you know, it's sometimes when you're on set, you've got to fight, fight for the vision fight for those that coverage. You're like, I need the closeup of the spoon. If I don't get the closeup of the spoon, I'm not going to be able to cut away and I'm going to be stuck on this performance. I need this cut away. And everyone on the side and on the sets look like you're insane. It's just a spoon shot like No. If I don't get the spoon shot, it's not going to work. And that's only experienced over years of being in an edit room. Understanding like I need I need some safety. I need some escape hatches, just in case. My brilliance doesn't show up on screen.

Marcus Dunstan 36:02
Yeah, yes, absolutely. Great, Scott. I mean, you know, we and that's the that's the fun of it, too. It's really always touching that third rail.

Alex Ferrari 36:13
Yeah, no, no question. No question. Now I have to ask you, you know, when you're on set, even at the beginning, on the collector when you were first onset, or later now with your new film on human? Do you ever get impostor syndrome? Do you ever get that thing that you deal with? Like, oh my god, security is gonna come in at any moment. And go, what are you doing here? You don't belong here get out. kind of vibe. But I know a lot of artists deal with that.

Marcus Dunstan 36:38
No, no, this one it was entirely someone's gonna tap you on the shoulder and say you have COVID And then you're

Alex Ferrari 36:45
That's even scarier than imposter syndrome

Marcus Dunstan 36:49
Because imposter syndrome. I'd be like, I'm already confidently trying to, like, do an impersonation of all the great filmmakers before, like, I all admit that I want to, I want to impersonate their success and convey the story. They want their ability to scare, convey, share, you know, get get these things done. But no, I mean, on the first I would say on the first one I was I was just kind of terrified because I thought I had a really good plan. And then the plan had to be abandoned. I didn't. And that was a crash course and plan B. And ever since then, I was you know what, but I want to say like, I want to say when it comes to what's a good why, like, Why Why am I feeling I don't say yes, it is probably because of the writing part. Whereas if I was not already imagining the story, but I was putting myself onto another story, then the the footing isn't quite there. Like I don't know, I'm doing and I'm doing an impression already of what I think the writer minutes. But I know exactly what I meant, when I would be writing on this. And so then all I had to do was have a quick meeting with my own brain, it'd be like, alright, you know how to pull this off, if not rewrite it. And then and get it to that point. So that that was neat. The the writing the rewriting really of this because it was a real rewrite from scratch allowed me to almost be off book with the screenplay, and and constantly be living in it. So it wasn't I didn't feel anything other than trying to be a bit of a tour guide or an audio book for anybody just to constantly keep them informed of something that was moving at such a clip and attempting to you know, wrestle wrestle a kind of a bigger a bigger hitting movie over the line in a record amount of time.

Alex Ferrari 38:40
Now how did you get involved with Unhuman

Marcus Dunstan 38:44
I was it was a phone call out of the blue from I think Alex crooner began as a producer and seeing if, if I if I you know, be available up for coming aboard. And you know, is it was definitely a gap me at hello moment because the first time I ever felt that there were more resources than I could know what to do with there was enough time to do everything I possibly wanted. And enough support to to constantly, you know, hang the sun and the moon every day was on the Blumhouse production of Pilgrim which if you look at the budget, it was it was a very modest budget, but simply taking the advice and having a crew with a second second hand way of communicating as super passionate, experienced producers. It was an education in that. Yeah, you know, if you don't need more, you've got plenty. And in that case, we did not need any more than we had a great script from Noah Feinberg. We had it just we just had everything we needed and could actually add things along the way and they would inspiration was encouraged. So then with this, it was like wait, I get to go back and play with you guys. And there's even there's a bigger boat If there's a little more time, and there's gonna be some familiar faces, yeah, I mean, let's go.

Alex Ferrari 40:05
Simple as that. So, can you tell everybody what the movie is about?

Marcus Dunstan 40:09
Yes. unhuman the first title card says a Blum house after school special and yes, this one is going to Sledgehammer your eyes like no other as the characters who probably were intending to be in the genre of the teen comedy find themselves on a fateful field trip, designed to bring them closer together and understand each other and maybe get over the bumps and bruises of combustible adolescence. Instead, run smack dab into the rules of a horror movie that shows up in the form of a possible zombie plague invasion with a twist. Will these this breakfast clubs survive? Or will they be devoured by the on human?

Alex Ferrari 40:45
First time you've done that, right? You've never you haven't? First time, right, I was.

Marcus Dunstan 40:50
Stammering I should have been a little more polish.

Alex Ferrari 40:54
That is amazing. That is amazing. Now, what was it like, again, working inside the Blumhouse? Machine, because I've had Jason on the show. And I've talked to Jason. I don't I love Jason. It was interesting human being on the planet. He's just so much fun to talk to. And I'm just always fascinated with his model, his model of how he does it. And everyone thinks he's crazy. And he doesn't get the respect in town that he deserves to be honest. Because he's just pumping out stuff, left and right. And the way he does it is it's so I asked him straight up like, Were you afraid that once you let everybody know what you were doing that everyone was going to copy you? He goes, yes. But no one has, like, you know, the basic rules are all out there for everybody to do. But no one does it because no one has the balls to do it like he does. So what was it like going in that machine and working on the creative side?

Marcus Dunstan 41:48
It was wonderful. Because how about this, I would say in terms of the respect for him, looking at the cast that shows up looking at the crew that's dedicated to it. There is a lot of respect for this guy. Because that moniker of Blumhouse means people show up. And they they know they're getting into into business with somebody who is great at the business. And that I mean, the ripple effects of that name alone. It was just wonderful people, the recognition of it, and all it it's man, it's yes, there's a lot of steps up to the plate with with the company. And that's also marvelous, like they're the loudest voice, I watched that series three times, I never would have guessed it was a Blumhouse joint. But it is because I think there was always an evolution happening. There's always a push into different spectrums. And I also love that what started it with an even more modest kind of budget paradigm is getting bigger in certain regards, is it has figured out a way to work within COVID has has grown and blossomed. And it's awesome to give opportunity, as well. There, there's a lot of it's resulting in art, you can't instantly put a pin in it. No, no, it's they're gonna do something that surprises you all the time. And how about that? The black phone's gonna come and ring in this summer. And eventually, it's gonna be a wonderful new pillar in a palace that is Blumhouse are?

Alex Ferrari 43:20
Yeah, no question. And I mean, and a lot of people don't even know that he's been nominated three times for an Oscar. Yeah. As a producer, you know, and it's fascinating. He's such an interesting, interesting character and what he does, and I love his his technique of just like, giving opportunity to directors, just play, and he really let you play and let you go out and just have fun. And you could see it in the films.

Marcus Dunstan 43:51
Absolutely. No question. Now, that opportunity is just priceless.

Alex Ferrari 43:53
Now, you know, as a writer, you've written obviously, a lot of horror. I mean, this is this is this is your, your sweet spot? What, in your opinion, are the key elements in writing a good horror movie?

Marcus Dunstan 44:06
Well, in this case, I mean, my goodness, it what are the what are probably the three lines that have always been there? You know, and, you know, there's some there's some fairly obvious answers to go to, like, Well, you gotta give a care about the characters, you have to you have to you have to have a threat. That's a legit intimidating presence of some sort. And, and if you put as much care into the scares as you do in the creation of those characters, then maybe you've got something that will resonate and really pop. Well, then what I do like, is this this other element that sometimes comes and goes, and that is embracing a theme, what is the movie, actually suddenly teaching? What is what is it saying? And so for us, for example, is like yes, we're going to take some three familiar elements. Teens, Woods zombies. Oh, okay. Now how is that going to be any different any spent anything special to really earn the attention span? Well, one, my guy when you see Bran and you understand these characters and what they're trying to reach for and be an identifiable reflection of the high school experience in a way that hasn't quite been depicted before. Great, then next, well, what can we do with the, you know, go into the woods? Well, it's not a traditional woods in the sense that it's sort of a bridging zone between two genres the bubblegum teen comedy getting invaded by the horror movie. And then the last thing is, what are we doing with the zombies like, well, once you see once you see this sucker California is his alacrity. His wickedness, his cunning is something else this this thing seems to be working out some rage issues, and wants this to happen with some sort of other engine other design in play. And this thing is smart. Why how why does it know more about us? What that that gives us that little hook that little step into into another place, which leads to the final thing, which is, what is our theme that well, it was it was a chance to talk about bullying, and peel the layers back and not not just for a singular character, not just the typical victim number one that asks for it loud gets it nasty, and is out of the movie by you know, the first act break, but to go in and really find the hero, the victim the bully, throughout. And so by keeping that conversation, maybe, you know, maybe someone sees this and feels a little better that they can, you know, stand up over above a bullying episode that may have happened, like, I still harbor mine, I remember. And I just needed to figure out how to turn that wound into a weapon. And this this, this opportunity allowed me to really get it out, go back to high school, leave some damage there and bring some hope out that there was a I do

Alex Ferrari 47:19
It sounds like I mean, I always find that some of the best horror movies and movies in general but the best horror movies are when they slam together genres that generally have not been slapped together before so like the first thing that comes to mind is army of dark an army of darkness but well army of darkness. Darkness is definitely one of them. Army of the Dead the new one by Zack Snyder. A heist movie with a zombie movie you're just like, why hasn't anyone done that before?

Marcus Dunstan 47:48
It's fun I really enjoyed that but I also I mean I what a what a gift. Just that trailer I'll watch that trailer man the time to listen to it with its use of the gambler and this is tastic and I really love how you know now that I want to say that his his arrangement with Netflix has even given him more freedom to really make the the beautiful covers of heavy metal magazine comes to life. Yeah, there's nothing other about them that is that is cool. And yet you know, they they're they are only as impactful as the heart He's protecting as well.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
Right exactly. And I and I forgot which one it was it was either Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead. But the social commentary the one in the mall

Marcus Dunstan 48:36
Gone yeah, that was his interpretation of Don was what

Alex Ferrari 48:40
Was x was and then but the original as well but Zach's was Yeah. Oh my God, it was amazing.

Marcus Dunstan 48:46
Well, I quote was it a Stephen King and I want to say Roger Ebert both were like Hey, check this out. Whereas both were in a position Roger Ebert gave you know the original four stars and I was like this thing is amazing. You know, Stephen King Of course, your friends and collaborators with George Romero. But the but his but Zack Snyder's reinterpretation was I thought was so smart because it took the same situation and a location but did make a different movie. If you could see I would pay homage here and there with a glimpse of the chopper the reprisal of some of the actors from the original and in different notes and then if if George Romero was was was the commentary of consumerism and this was more of the commentary of of almost terrorism like at some point something's just gonna come out yet. What what do we do you know, and I man and that Screenplay by James Gunn was friggin awesome. I mean, it's that was smart. That was that was a that was just loved it that was a Droid and

Alex Ferrari 49:54
So in the in the pantheon of zombie films, because I do I do like a good zombie film and I I loved many of the seasons of Walking Dead what do you what do you think is on the top three of the zombie on the Mount Rushmore of zombie films?

Marcus Dunstan 50:12
Okay, well I mean I this is where I get super familiar by Dawn of the Dead the originals the one I keep going back to like it's opening 20 minutes I love listening to it I love the just the sense of building chaos and collapse and I also like how you know typical of the Romero verse It was bold and it's casting and lead decisions and how I think it was Miss Ross who plays our lead how she makes kind of a an utterance or not quite a scream at the beginning more of a gasp but just didn't want this this character to scream and this character would become a pilot in this yet we there's there's just respect in there amongst all that I you just love it I mean and I man the Dan Krauss Romero book The final one you know the the living dead is is just phenomenal it's it's man we've been trying to get enough people together to try to get that thing made for so long and it's just it that would I think be the ultimate because it's his voice it's him you know go on to the end. That would just be manna from heaven so come on Netflix I know you can do zombie bank heist can you do one from the from the godfather of the whole genre? Can you do that? That'd be great. So then that leaves open some other ones I want to be let's see if I can be somewhat what is the best way to do this movies okay, it may be easy to say night and then day I think but okay night and day are pretty I find does someone count dead alive? Because I just loved it yeah did alive. It's vicious dedication to you know, gruesome shocking or criminality and momentum I think that was a lot of fun. And then I would like to say ash and I want to make sure I get this one right because this is a this is a this is a very precious top three and as maybe because I recently kind of watched it and and really appreciated what it was doing but I liked WARM BODIES I thought it was such an unexpected take and in kind of how it it had something to say about romance and whatnot. So the now the more like verbose answer is like Well ideally just go anything Romero that's that's the cream so have that cream of the crop down in the desert one that still resonates with me dead alive for like, Hey, you don't have to be boxed into any corner just because it says zombie. You can have a giant mom beasts and chainsaw, you know, fights and whatnot. And to that regard I'd even say like, I think neither the creeps had a wonderful take. Well, who doesn't like thrill me and then warm bodies? Because who then what expect such an affectionate moment, you know, and something that had a genuine? Gave a genuine and literal metaphorical heartbeat to the

Alex Ferrari 53:12
No, no pun intended, sir. Yeah. Have a fun time now. Now where can people watch Unhuman

Marcus Dunstan 53:23
Unhuman begins on Paramount June 3. And then I think we'll be coming out swinging again in August. So we want to scare the kids who are graduating and then scam again when they're going back to school. June 3 is when is when we come out to roar courtesy of paramount. Thank you so much.

Alex Ferrari 53:41
Now I'm going to ask you a couple questions as well. My guess? What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Marcus Dunstan 53:50
Oh, goodness. Well, okay, in terms of a practical bit of advice, if you can answer that question, what do I want to see? Like what type of movie do I want to see? And like really be specific about that? Like, I want to, you know, and then all right, then challenge that. I mean, let's just say what I want to try to pivot into is because the theater stratosphere and the streaming stratosphere seems to exist. And there's like the Marvel Universe where it can be $200 million, or whatnot. And then there's other tiers that are depending on their budget or their need, or if it's Star driven or something all the way down to a budget that can give them a greater chance for existence because the idea while not expensive, is big an implication IE, sci fi horror, in some cases, groundbreaking action like the raid, and can you come up with something that fits in that that you haven't quite seen before that acknowledges what is kind of popular that that is something you really want to seek Chances are if you write something that you really want to see with respect to kind of a budget that is making up a larger percentage of things that actually get produced, because it's a safer bet. And you know that the imagery in there if you can then watch the trailer to that in your head and say, like, would you still see that movie? Is it about someone, you know, stuck in a bland room with, you know, interfaith? I was like, No, you're not, that's not going anywhere. Right. But I every movie that inspired people to get from A to B probably came from a point of someone just saying, I know what my resources are. And I'm still going to out create out imagine and out deliver the potential of of that, you know, Evil Dead to, like, come on, like, what do we have, we've got a similar task, we've got the same location, we've even got kind of the same plot. But we got cameras, and we got imagination. And we got to go for broke aesthetic, we're gonna do it. You know, fine. I there. It's inspiring. So Gosh, I wonder if that's be enduring if that's helpful. If that's whatnot.

Alex Ferrari 56:02
No, it is helpful and the director of evil that you did, okay. He's done okay. for himself.

Marcus Dunstan 56:07
All right, you know, yeah, the kid panda.

Alex Ferrari 56:09
The kid the kid, the kid made it, sir. The kid made it. And what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life, the one

Marcus Dunstan 56:19
I got right right away, was that was on the set of feast. And this would be the last one of my last conversations with my grandmother, who procured my first issues of Fangoria walked me into dirty comics and said, this kid reads anything from that same magazine, gifted me body parts and put a camera in my hands when I was a kid. Last conversations was, Hey, there, they're making one of our movies. You know, it's it's this monster one. And boy, it's, it's, you really love it. It's just absolutely disgusting and offensive. She was, Oh, I'm so tickled. So then, you know, this is now we're on a set. And I was I went up a staircase, which the staircase didn't go anywhere, as movie set staircases kind of go and I went around the corner, I shut my eyes. And I thought, I'm going to take a soul photo right now. And that means I'm going to create a time machine right here. And I'm going to remember how it smells, how it feels. And what I see. And I will always be able to come back to this moment, if I ever need to recalibrate, my hopes, my dreams and whatnot, because right now, everything just came through. And how absurd is that? So that's been helpful along the way, was the one that took me a while to figure out I mean, that's just many like, hey, you know, maybe make it make some make a little more time to have, you know, go on more adventures in between these things. Like, you know, travel more. Yeah, it's it's pretty, pretty ordinary. And,

Alex Ferrari 57:59
But I gotta tell you about that answer. I've had, I've had six 700 800 shows at this point. That's one of the best answers to that question I've ever heard. Oh, thank you. It is so it's so beautiful. The soul photo, it is such a beautiful thing because we as filmmakers forget when we're on set, we're the luckiest people on the planet. That we as directors as filmmakers have all these other people around us, helping our vision our dream come true in front of our eyes is a very rare place to be as an artist and as a human being with massive amounts of money. I mean, even if it's half a million dollars a million that's a lot of money you know that's a lot of money for a lot of people so to take the you have the insight to go man i I've hit where I was going for it. Let me get up I love the soul photo that you can go back now now I'm sure as you were saying you were back there. As you're saying you smelled it yourself. And I have images like that in my head of like the first time I was on set the first time I got to do this the first time I'm meeting this big actor this big situation I'm in this big meeting or something like that, that you're like, oh my god, I'm I'm sitting here talking to what legend or something along those lines. But to actually have the insight to stop for a second, close your eyes and go take this Take this with you. is fascinating. I think we all need to stop for a sec because we're always hunting for the the next thing we can't stop in the moment and enjoy the insanity of where you were at at that moment, which was on Project Greenlight, getting your film made on a set and you were in you were literally you know, moving those seasons on the video store shelf a year earlier. Like that's insane.

Marcus Dunstan 59:55
It's there's a number of stops along the way where like so hoped for any of this would have been in Audacity on parallel. So if you're lucky enough for some of it to happen regard,

Alex Ferrari 1:00:09
Marcus it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you my friend. Thank you so much. Thank you for so much for coming on the show man continued success, my friend you're, you're a hell of a guy and I wish you nothing but the best. And by the way, everybody who's not watching this, Marcus has arguably one of the coolest rooms I have ever seen. Oh, my life has so many geek things around everything. I'm seeing the Django the Django is guys the action figures. I see rock guessing GI Joe. I see a Yoda see original Star Wars, some et I mean, all sorts. It's like the 80s exploded in your room. Thank you for that, sir. It was a joy just because I was talking to you. I was glancing over and like, is that what I think? Senator Rocky? Holy cow. That's a rocky action figure.

Marcus Dunstan 1:00:59
Yes, it is. Absolutely. And that one with the right here. This is a Place Beyond the Pines action figure by Erik Moreno. That same artists made action figures of the cast of unhuman for the movie,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:15
You see you see this is this is what it's all about, sir. I appreciate you coming on the show brother. Thanks again man.

Marcus Dunstan 1:01:21
Absolutely. Bless you have a great one.

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