My history with these guys started out with my only political rant ever posted on my blog, as well as, backing up their film project Chronology in 2014 that originally was supposed to star Kevin Sorbo. Things change, years later, and I am still kicking it with these guys and keeping our connection strong, as we all progress with our chosen fields.
Hey, guys, in all honesty, there is not a better trio to share my return with! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions I want to ask you in this feature. Before we get into the juicy parts, I want to put in the plug for your most current project, Coffin 2, and share the trailer with those who have not gotten a chance to see what this film is about yet.
First and foremost before we get into the movie conversation, can you all take a minute and give the audience a brief background of who you all are?
JOHNNY ALONSO: Above anything else I am a musician. Touring, writing music and playing shows at punk rock clubs across the country is what got me into acting. I found out early in my career how to win the crowd. I still use these secret techniques in my acting. It’s my own acting method. I like to call it the “Johnny Alonso Method”.
KIPP TRIBBLE: I started in radio and doing lots of stage work, then switched over to the film world as an actor, writer, director and producer in 1996. Been doing it ever since, focusing mostly on feature films.
DERIK WINGO: I started in Makeup Effects and was lucky enough to work with some of the ‘bigs’ in the effects world like: Rick Baker (Men In Black II, Planet of The Apes, Click, Norbit), Master Effects (Star Trek: First Contact/ Voyager/ Deep Space Nine and Slither), Greg Nicotero’s KNB (Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian), and I got to work at George Lucas’ famed Industrial Light and Magic doing pick-ups for Star Trek: First Contact. I then went on to produce, write, direct and perform the lead role in my first ind-feature, The Waiters. Since then I have worked in various positions in the business and continue to produced, direct, write and act.
Let’s get to the exact topic we are all here for, Coffin. Can one of you guys give us a brief synopsis of the whole film series?
DW: Kipp would be be the best to answer that.
JA: Kipp, take the mic.
KT: You guys don’t know what the films are about? 🙂 The series is about a guy named Trick, who – as he says in the films – “puts people in situations.” Trick is an oddball ‘showman’ criminal who would have fit in perfectly back in the day when bank robbers were treated like celebrities and they would “perform” their crimes and show off for crowds. He gets off on playing with people and drawing them into cat and mouse mind games, always with a bit of money at stake. He started it as the ultimate performance game, and a way to make some cash, but things got dangerous and deadly pretty quick. Some cops get involved with investigating and tracking him, and they are still at it. And with every job, Trick wins himself some new enemies forever bent on revenge against him – like Jack Samms. And round and round we go…
The biggest thing that caught my eye the most on was not the project itself, but how close you guys seem to be, and not just as coworkers, but as friends. Was this the first film project that you all met each other on or have you guys known each other for a while before?
KT: Derik and I met in acting class back in 1999. We were also both filmmakers, so we hit it off pretty quickly. Then I left class to do a movie and he went to work on another project. We reconnected a few months after those projects were done and decided we should collaborate on some things. And we have done just that on several things: films, TV, stage, scripts, etc. But it’s way beyond work collaboration. It’s family. My kids call him and his wife Aunt and Uncle.
I first heard about Johnny from a mutual friend based in the DC/Baltimore area who had Johnny attached to a script of his that he was looking to get produced. He had told me that this actor friend of his was taking some meetings in L.A. and suggested we meet up to get acquainted. Johnny and I met for coffee and had a great meeting, talking about acting, films and the business in general. When it came time to cast the first Coffin, I had a specific vision for Trick, so I told Derik about Johnny, and this idea I had about him playing the villain. He loved the character and the idea. Things clicked almost immediately, and we all became fast friends.
Other than that, let the record state that I hate both of them. 🙂
DW: Kipp covered our history pretty well. We are family. His three beautiful girls (McKenna, Reegan and Peyton), my nieces, were even in my wedding. We’ve been in the trenches together for almost 20 years… literally, in the trenches, as we were on the film Jarheads, where we buzzed our heads and spent several 16 hour days submersed in freezing cold water-filled trenches for the training sequences in the film. We’ve been through so much together.
Johnny has been in the mix for the last ten years and it’s been a pleasure. He is one of those actors that makes directing so fun. He takes direction so well and breathes life into his characters that you didn’t know was there. Not to mention, he’s a blast to hang out with outside of work – so long as you’re not opposed to tequila shots.
JA: The problem with answering questions after Kipp and Derik is that everything I want to say has already been said!! Aaaaggggghhhhh!!! 🙂
I remember the meeting I had with Kipp in Los Angeles. Very informal, very cool. I remember Kipp talking about a new project he and this actor/writing/producing partner Derik Wingo had put together. “The project is called Coffin,” and he started filling me in on the story line – a beat the clock ransom with hostages, a mask, car chases a heist. I was totally down. He had me at the word ‘mask’.
I remember getting in touch with Derik via email. I reached out to him and said “If I sign on to play Trick, if Kipp is setting up the shot, could I ask you for direction?” Deik replied “ Hell no, that’s your job. Get with it!” – immediately followed with “Of course!! Kipp and I are directing this project together. Whatever you need, man.” Right then and there I knew all three of us were going to get along great.
So getting back to Kipp – right before we wrapped our meeting, Kipp said, “Oh yeah, we’re talking to Kevin Sorbo to play opposite the character Trick. It’s going to be wild.” As I got into my Jeep I thought to myself how wicked cool it would be to work with Kevin. Then it dawned on me, the dude is like 6’5. How am I going to pull this off?? Great….
Kipp, we are diving into the writing portion. Now I am very curious on where the storyline of Coffin originated from? What’s the story behind this idea? Where the fictional characters influenced by real life individuals?
KT: As with most of the stories I write, it originates with just one idea for a single scene. And more often than not, that scene will formulate from a dream or nightmare I have had. I will keep that scene idea in my head and let it “collect” characters and other story elements as the days, weeks and months of everyday life pass. I’ll see or meet someone interesting, overhear an interesting exchange, or see a story in the news, and try to place a piece of these people or their particular backgrounds into that scene. So by borrowing slivers of real people and projecting them onto the scripted characters and then placing them within the scene, other scenes will organically grow from there. What would that character do if this happened? So while none of the characters I write are actually based on one real life person, they are made up of many real people.
In this particular example, the scene idea was two people wake up trapped in a wooden box. And for the record, this was well before the film Buried came out. A few people had said we just ripped off that film, which we’d never even heard of at the time and it came out several months after we shot Coffin, but whatever. Anyway, that same guy way back when that was shopping his script, David Stever, called me and said that the Executive Producer and company who produced that film – Spencer F. Johnson and Skyrocket Productions – was looking to do a low budget thriller in L.A. I had actually ended up doing some producing for that film, but I did it all from L.A., so while I had spent many hours on the phone with Spencer, we had never formally met in person. Long story short, he and I had dinner and talked about his plans. I pitched him the idea for two people trapped in a box. That was in late January and he greenlit it on the spot. We started shooting May 31st that same year.
Beyond that scene of two people trapped in a box, I wanted to do a crime thriller but with horror elements. Horror situations without the gore and blood. While I am not against those kind of horror elements at all, this film didn’t call for it. Plus, we were also aiming to maximize our foreign TV sales and that usually means less blood and gore. So from there, the writing was driven by asking and answering the obvious questions: Who are these people in the box? Why are they in the box? What do we learn from them? Who put them there and why? Is someone looking for them? How is that person going to react? All of these answers are slowly revealed as the clock ticks closer to the deadline before these two people run out of air. And of course, the two cops following the trail are always one step behind, and it’s nighttime, so the bank is closed… but Jack needs that money.
I’m also a big fan of twists, so that was always something I was going to build into the film. The double twist idea came at the very end of scripting, though. Because one twist just isn’t enough!
Is there a particular location or type of scenery that influences your writing?
KT: Not really a particular location. I grew up in the south, so I naturally have some scripts and stories set in small town southern America. Overall, I’d say that most of my writing is scaled down in scope, meaning that my stories have yet to involve an asteroid hurtling towards Earth or a tsunami destroying Manhattan. I imagine this is because I come from the indie world and usually am writing more confined pieces. I’m not opposed to writing those big films at all, I just never have yet. Maybe that’s what I’ll do after Coffin 3…
Kipp, you are currently working on the script for Coffin 3. How long did it take you to write Coffin initially? How long did it take you to write the second and third sequels compared to the first film?
KT: Well the first one I wrote in about 3 ½ to 4 weeks. Like I said, I pitched the rough outline of the idea to Spencer in late January, but didn’t actually start writing it until March because Derik and I were finishing a rewriting job we’d been hired to do on another film. Given that March is also the NCAA Tournament – and for me, that takes a backseat to nothing! – the writing didn’t really get started until the 3rd week of March. I finished up in April, got notes, did a rewrite and then focused on putting together all of the elements to direct, produce and act in the film. Other than adjusting a couple of scenes for locations, it was pretty much completed from start to finish in under 4 weeks.
When we were greenlit for Coffin 2, I had no solid story for it yet. So I started asking myself questions to kickstart the ideas: Where is Jack now? Rona? Sean Justice? The detectives? And of course, did Trick get out of that box? I started going back through my ideas folder and pulled out a treatment I had written for a horror film several years prior. The story was called Rag Dolls and it was about 5 people that are being held in the middle of nowhere, in the woods, all being kept paralyzed from the neck down. A mystery man shows up everyday to torture them, keep them immobile, etc. In that treatment, there was a lone FBI agent that was tasked with looking into a series of recent disappearances and we learn about the victims and how they disappeared through flashback. Throughout the course of that story, the FBI agent gets closer, the captor becomes more unhinged and the hostages try to figure a way out of their predicament before it’s too late. And there was a twist built into the ending. So I took this treatment and tried plugging in characters from the Coffin world: Trick, Epperson, Scott, Rona, Jack, and a few others. Some aspects of this worked nicely and others presented quite a few obstacles. But overall it started to take shape, so I used that blueprint to work from, which was very helpful. And Rag Dolls had also originally started with just one scene idea: 5 people wake up, held hostage in the woods.
It took about 6 weeks to write Coffin 2. A little longer this time, mainly because I had more characters and storylines to pay attention to, as well as sort of reintroduce the original characters and summarize the original film for the viewer, so it presented a few more obstacles. We were also actively in pre-production so my time was split between writing and producing – and preparing to direct – so that presented some time management issues.
Coffin 3 is in the early stages, but it, too, has branched from just one scene idea. I’m trying to take a little more time with this one, though. Mainly so I don’t drive myself mad trying to finish it all so quickly… and also have somewhat of a life while doing it.
Even though Kevin Sorbo didn’t end up in your Chronology project, you all still had the privilege of working with him on the first film project for the Coffin series. Tell me how it was working with the actor best known as Hercules?
KT: Kevin is very cool and fun to work with. He’s well trained and came very prepared, asked great questions about his character during our preparation stages, and was a total pro throughout. He is in that wooden box with Rona (played by Sunny Doench) for almost a third of the movie, and that is hard to pull off as an actor. We shot all of the box stuff in one day – including all of the water submersion and the ending poolside scene, so he had around 20 pages of dialogue to rip off in that day and he didn’t skip a beat.
DW: Kevin was great to work with. A total pro, comes prepared, he’s low maintenance and friendly with everyone on set. Not to mention, we had a marathon day inside the coffin, where we had him and Sunny cooking the first half of the day, as we shot outside. It was probably 110 degrees in the ‘box’. The next half of the day was spent in a freezing cold swimming pool as we submersed the box to achieve the water gag. Not to mention, especially in the water , the incredibly claustrophobic feel inside the coffin, combined with the true sense that one could actually drown at any moment. Kevin was incredible through the whole experience.
JA: Kevin rocks! I remember meeting Kevin when we shot the theatre scenes – I think the theatre/sound stage was in Studio City. Kevin and I were introduced on set. I don’t know how we got onto the topic of golf, but he invited me to a fundraiser he was hosting in Palm Springs. A charity celebrity golf tournament. I told him I love golf, that I’m pretty good and can run with the best, but Christ, I’m not THAT good! Kevin said “Don’t worry, you should see Joe Pesci play, and Joe’s on my team.” I signed up.
Speaking of Sean Justice, you had the character alive at the end of the first film. What made you decide to switch gears and build a storyline that killed him off in the opening sequence of Coffin 2?
KT: Story-wise, within the structure of Coffin 2, Sean Justice’s storyline just didn’t fit. The story was more about this new collection of victims and seeing Trick’s string of crimes finally coming back to bite him. So we learn more about Trick – without the mask – Epperson’s past, Scott’s current path, etc. Instead of picking up immediately where the other left off, we decided to make this one real time. So obviously Jack, Rona and Sean’s lives would be very different years later because of what they all did. Detailing the violent way things ended after the first film also raised the stakes a bit for this film.
We also had a very tight window in which to produce the film and we had seen Kevin’s schedule was incredibly tight for when we were planning to shoot. The guy never stops working! With that in mind, as well as having a really tough time shoehorning everyone’s story into this one, Sean Justice ended up being a victim of story and scheduling circumstance.
Was the final product of Coffin 2 the original storyline you had scripted before shooting or was there some twists and turns in the mix while making this film?
KT: Really no extra twists were added during the filming, but we lost a couple of scenes because of shooting circumstances and scheduling. Like, there was a scene where Buddy (played by Robert Mukes) was supposed to cut off another one of Epperson’s fingers in the cage, but that scene had to be cut – no pun intended. And myself and Agent Church (played by Scott Hamm) were supposed to ‘raid’ the warehouse at the end and find the carnage left behind, showing us cops still one step behind. Our characters were supposed to learn what happened from Epperson after raiding the warehouse while he was still strapped in the chair. But circumstances resulted in us having to shoot that exposition in the car while rushing Epperson to the hospital, intercut with some flashback of what went down in the ‘cage’. That sequence was never in the script, so it was added on the fly using pre-scripted dialogue from the raid, with Derik adding in some additional lines to make it fit for the car ride.
I’m going to put Johnny in the spotlight for a minute. You play the main villain, Trick, in the Coffin film series. Was the character Trick who you originally audition for or did you audition for another character initially?
JA: I didn’t audition for the role of Trick. At least, I don’t remember auditioning! I didn’t have a script. I don’t think I was offered one before the meeting. I think the meeting I had with Kipp was my audition. We spoke for an hour or so about music, the East Coast, films we both like and hate, snowboarding, New York actors vs Los Angeles actors. Then Kipp gave me the TV Guide version of the character Trick and the Coffin story.
Again, he had me at the word ‘mask’.
What was it like to play your character Trick? Was it a challenge for you to play someone that’s so different from yourself?
KT: Wait. You think Trick is different from Johnny? 🙂
JA: Yeah, Trick is real, Dude. Johnny Alonso is just the actor. Ask Jack Samms. He’ll tell you Trick is real… 🙂
I love playing the character Trick. I remember when they sent me the script, finally. Man, I was down for the count with a bad cold. Fever, achy, hoarse voice, zero energy – but I wanted to dive into my script. And once I started rifling thru it, I couldn’t put it down. I started building the character in my head, taking down notes and saying the dialogue out loud. I really dug my character Trick. A few days passed and I was getting over my cold. I picked up the script and took it back a few pages to get warmed up and try acting out a few of the lines. But for some reason, this round I wasn’t digging Trick. The slick character I built in my head versus the crap I was acting out back at my place just wasn’t as cool. I had to figure out what went wrong but I couldn’t figure it out. I even tried saying the lines in bed when I was sick. Then it hit me. When I was sick I had no voice and no energy so my voice register was lower and raspier, and had shortness of breath, making my delivery somewhat forced and anxious. If you watch the opening kitchen scene in Coffin, watch and study my character’s speed. Trick’s reactions are slower than how most would react in a heightened situation giving that scene a cool tug of war between him and Jack Samms. And when Trick blows up after Jack puts a knife to his neck, I was mimicking what I’d sound like and how I would breathe and feel when I had the bad cold. I remember out of all the scenes I wrote notes for in my script, this scene had the most. I wrote stuff like “don’t forget your fever”, “you’re sick… slow”, “where’s the creep voice?” This scene is what brought Trick to life.
Do you have a certain routine to get into your character for each film?
JA: Not really. When you’ve been building a character for months you know where you’re going to take it. Even if your director guides you into a totally different direction, what choices you make as an actor playing that character will register and feel natural. That’s why I love dark character acting. Who’s to tell you you’re not doing it right? 🙂
Kipp & Derik, you all have multiple roles on set of each projects. How do you maintain your different roles when it comes to shooting each scene?
KT: Prioritizing becomes incredibly important on an hour-to-hour basis during production, but above all, preparation is an absolute must. It is amazing to us how many people want to dive into making a movie without truly preparing. In the indie world in particular, you encounter of lot of first timers or inexperienced filmmakers, so they oftentimes want to forego the preparation and just jump right into the ‘fun’. But without preparation, it is all going to go to hell very, very quickly and not be fun at all. No one has ever started a film and said, “Wow, we wasted so much time over-preparing to do this!”
This is true for everything from script, to actors, camera department, locations, and so on. Luckily, Derik and I have been able to lean on one another and divvy up duties on the set of a few films. We’ve had a shorthand for many years and that doesn’t come naturally for a lot of people, so it’s great to have. For Coffin 2, I directed solo and Derik was unable to commit to producing because of scheduling, but my preparation remained the same. The process is the same because you always prepare as an individual and then bring your prep work to the team dynamic. There might be more duties to shoulder and you might have to be a little more careful in your prioritizing, but the hurdles to clear to get you from A to B are still going to be the same.
DW: Kipp just summed it up. Preparation is a must. The projects we have partnered up on as directors/producers, like in the first Coffin and Chronology, we were so prepared by the time we get on set that we fall into a natural rhythm that is very efficient. This is especially a must on low budget projects where literally every minute counts. We split and rotate the duties, where one of us can be working with the actors and concentrating on the performances, while the other is working with camera and lighting, or the producing duties. Then we’ll switch. Also advantageous, is if one of us is performing on camera, the other can take over the directing and producing duties so the other can focus on performance.
Derik, you co-directed the films. Can you give the audience a little detail of what is entailed in the directing position when shooting a film?
DW: I co-directed Coffin and Chronology with Kipp, and as he mentioned he took the reins on Coffin 2, due to a scheduling conflict with another project I was working on. There’s a lot that goes into directing, and again, we’ll stress preparation. There are so many moving parts of a production that people may not even realize. For starters, there is the performance side, where you are giving direction to actors and working with them throughout the film. Then there is the technical side, which ranges from working with camera and lighting, through every facet of the film, from art and production design, to wardrobe, through locations, special effects and so on. You must insure that everything is working cohesively towards achieving the final look and feel of the finished film. It also requires having a very clear understanding of editing the story together and post-production. There’s an old saying, ‘you learn to direct in editing’. That is, once you are in post, you can truly see how things you shot during principal photography cut together. What you have to work with, and more often than not, what you didn’t get during filming. Also, how performances in a scene, or in adjoining scenes, need to have a natural flow and cohesion, that often even the actors may not be able to see/feel this while shooting. All of the cinematic ‘rules’ of photography: the 180, eyelines, entrances and exits, and how they all look cut together, are a must. And that’s not even getting into one’s artistic vision of the film you are directing.
KT: So, so true. Just to piggyback on what Derik said, editing is so crucial in making the film, but this is where so many films fail. We cannot stress enough the importance of key crew members, but above all, a DP that understands how to tell a story visually and capture the necessary elements for you to have at your disposal in editing. First and foremost, this means a person who understands the story you are telling and makes the necessary preparations to tell that story. A person that understands the characters, their personal arcs, their relationship with others within the story, and what their ‘life’ within the film means to the overall project dynamic. Once they have a real grasp for the story – and develop a passion for it – then they need to understand how the puzzle pieces we are creating will fit into the whole to tell this story during the editing process. Caring about making the quality of the image look good is certainly important, but what separates a real DP from someone that just functions as the ‘camera person’, is a visual storyteller who also has an eye for interesting framing to fit your editing game plan. When they bring all of these necessary elements to the set, especially on an indie film that is tight on time and budget, their storytelling work will be efficient and extremely effective. This will pay off huge dividends for you in editing and that will make all the difference for your film. Bottom line: learn and understand editing and surround yourself with others on set that also understand it.
The word on the streets is you are green lighted to start shooting in the fall, rather than in the summer. Can you verify that? Do you have a location for where you are shooting the film yet? Has all three films been shot in the same location over the years? Was it hard to reserve the location of these films?
KT: It is looking like the fall, but there is not an official start date. It’s getting tougher and tougher to lock in everyone’s schedules as we all are getting busier with other projects. That’s a great thing individually, but slows things down for the franchise! But we’re all committed to doing it and it is looking like this fall.
As for where, we will likely shoot in SoCal, but there have been some casual conversations about shooting on the East Coast. The first two were both shot in and around L.A., and I live here – as do most of the actors in the films – so that’s kind of convenient for us. 🙂 Derik is from here, but lives in NYC, and Johnny is always on the go, so L.A. was an easy choice. Skyrocket had wanted the first to be shot here and it fit nicely, so we just continued that on Coffin 2.
We’ve been very lucky to find and secure the locations we’ve had for both films. The first one was a collection of personal contacts and renting some spaces. The interior of the coffin was shot at an apartment complex owned by Derik’s parents. The dry stuff was shot on the pool deck and then we put the box in the pool when it came time to ‘drown’ them. In the sequel, we needed more of the same, except this one required some larger set pieces for extended periods of time. Scott Hamm had also come on as a producer and he was able to secure an insurance office in Fullerton for us that doubled as the police station, as well as the warehouse where the hostages are kept. The warehouse alone was almost half of the script and it was an extremely key location. It was originally going to be a decrepit house or basement, but once we saw the warehouse – and saw that it had a cage already built inside of it – we were sold. But again, personal contacts led to all of these locations, which is huge. Locations can drain your budget dry, but they are crucial to some specific scenes.
What can you tell us about how the story kicks off with Coffin 3? Is Trick still in his infamous coffin? Are there any characters returning from the dead for the third installment?
KT: I don’t know about Trick, but Johnny sleeps in a coffin every night in real life!
JA: This is true. I’m a 300-year-old vampire.
KT: Not going to reveal too much about Coffin 3 or how it starts just yet because it is still evolving. But it does deal with revenge. Some characters will be back. And some won’t. How’s that for a non-answer? 🙂
Will this be the final Coffin film in the series or are you planning more?
KT: There actually is another one being bounced around. It would fall earlier in the current timeline and be a bit different than these current films. But that’s just been talk right now. As far as more beyond that, as long as people are still tuning in, then why not keep it going? Not sure if that means with these same characters, but we’ll see.
DW: We’re actually thinking of taking #4 into outer space… we should probably get that Indiegogo started now. 😉
JA: Hilarious. I thought you were kidding about that outer space storyline. Get outta here….
For the audience who has or may have some interest in the film industry beyond what they see on screen, can you share some insight and/or advice on how the life in the film industry is portrayed compared to the reality of it?
DW: I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but truthfully it can be a tough road. You have to really want to do it, but if it’s in your heart and you truly have that burning desire, then the rewards outweigh the hardships.
KT: It is a lot of very hard work and weathering a lot of soul-crushing storms. Other than that, it’s a breeze! 🙂 For real, though, it is not an easy road and even when you get some success, there are still difficulties to face. Biggest piece of advice: Stop having meetings or long brainstorming sessions about projects you “could do” or are “planning to do”. Talking about it just leads to more talking.
JA: It’s a tough business. If you can do something else and be happy for the rest of your life then that’s my suggestion! Do something else. In this business you need training. Lots and lots of training. On your own you can only take your natural ability so far. You need to be able to take direction and have the ability to switch gears at the drop of a hat. Audition technique, memorization skills, etc. Being able to build a character and winning the audience. These are things I work on all the time. And even still the odds are always against me. I’m a very positive person and I love what I do. I also don’t quit. I’m an entertainer. I love acting.
Do any of you have any last words you want to share to the audience reading this?
DW: Sincerest thanks for the interview and to all of those who have supported us all! Hope you enjoy both installments of Coffin.
KT: Yes, thank you and thank you to all of our fans and supporters! Your support has always been noticed and appreciated. It’s because of you that we are preparing to make a third Coffin!
JA: Yes, this was a blast, thanks for the interview! Link up and follow us on all the social media platforms for the latest updates on Coffin and Coffin 2. Coming up next: Coffin 3. See you on set!