First and foremost, if you are expecting the new rendition of The Lion King to be parallel to the 1994 edition, don’t.
I went into watching it, making that mistake. To the expectations of James Earl Jones going word for word in his 1994 role of Mufasa, and the uneasy role of Scar being replicated to Jeremy Irons role. I had to erase those expectations after I started getting disappointed left and right.
After stopping the film, mentally erasing those expectations, taking a day or two, and hit restart, it became very clear. Director Jon Favreau made sure to make this version its own identity and on that level, he succeeded.
The realistic animation of the animals involved in the film and the color palette hit it on the head for the production crew. So, congratulations for the production department for executing that aspect of the film successfully.
Again, I had to adjust to the acting and dialogue of this film, and I think a lot of critics would agree. As for the music, I personally enjoyed the renditions of the songs, but that’s just my forte, since even Elton John would differ in that department. Who knows, he is more of a professional musician than I am, so I won’t bark up that tree, myself.
Overall, even though I did enjoy the remake, and would use this film as a reference for a color palette lesson, I also would still prefer the original animation in itself, unlike that of the predecessor of the newly live-action films under Jon Favreau’s brand, The Jungle Book.
Life Itselfis one of the most beautiful performances I’ve seen in film today. In my opinion, Oscar Wilde and Antonio Banderas did wonders carrying this film and bringing the beauty of the stories to life. This is one of Banderas’ best performances in his whole career, in my opinion.
It’s a sophisticated story-line that you have to pay attention to find how two worlds end up colliding. It has a lot of similarities to the approach and direction as the films Babel and Crash does. So if you are not a fan of those directives, this will not be a film for you.
Unfortunately, there were also a few failures to this film. I felt for this film was that it was a bit uneven in the delivery, as the first half of the story being more of an unfiltered dramedy and the second half more of a heartfelt drama. I feel the setup at the beginning with the opening scene and Samuel L. Jackson narrating failed. I feel the film itself could be balanced more to bring a more smoother transition rather than hoping for the narrations to do the transition for you. Unfortunately, this film could have done without the narrators.
Overall, the message and the performances itself was beautiful and meaningful to the point of the necessity of Kleenex.
I interviewed this guy with two other essential individuals last year for Coffin II. Now, I sit alone with Johnny Alonso in this interview where we talk about his upcoming film projects, his philosophy in life, and the tricks and trades that has kept his longevity and freshness in the film career, as well as, his life in general after twenty years of hanging tough as the individual he is! (smiles)
You started 2019 already with one impressive schedule. You just got done shooting your promotional video for your new mob film, The Driver, out east this week. Along with that production, you are also preparing to head to the Sundance Film Festival, not only to be apart of the Click on This! crew, but also the showing of your film What Death Leaves Behind. You must be excited for how the year is starting off. Yes?
Johnny Alonso: This year has already started off like a rocket to the moon, and I love it; however, I’ve been planning for 2019 for the past eight months. I’m more than ready for this inhuman schedule, Sundance, Click on This!,What Death Leaves Behind, The Driver, and The Riddle House. This is the short list of what’s happening in the next four months.
In this industry you need to keep moving forward and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself, period. Make a better you without relying on others. For the past six months, I’ve been pushing the motto, “2019 is about change and about being positive.” I have a saying, “Never listen to anyone who has never done anything.” and that includes change.
This isn’t your first trip as a Click on This! host for the Sundance Film Festival, is it? Who has been some of your favorite artists to interview at the Sundance Film Festival previously, and who are some of the artists you are looking forward to interviewing this year?
JA: I love Click on This! I’ve been with Elena and the revolving cast and crew for ten years. TEN YEARS! I’ve been through two jeeps in ten years! I’ve interviewed so many great people on the show. It’s hard for me to say who’s my favorite interview. If I had to choose, I’d say it’s between Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, and Kevin Smith at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
Another favorite memory of mine was when I ran into Rachel Leigh Cook randomly at Sundance, our interview was like two friends trying to catch up at the mall, while your friends are trying to pull you away from each other (laughs).
Add the guys from Steel Panther, because they were just hilarious and wore as much patchouli as I do.
To top off my favorites, my most recent Gotham interview with pretty much the entire cast. Robin Lord Taylor kept telling Gotham producer Danny Cannon “Johnny Alonso is Gotham alumni!!” It was so rad and an unforgettable moment for me.
Is What Death Leaves Behind your first film project to be featured at the Sundance Film Festival?
JA: Yes, What Death Leaves Behind is my first film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve always covered the festival with the Click on This! crew and nothing more until this year.
I’ve always loved the opportunity to work with Elena Moscatt and company, but this special screening at Utah Film Studios is going to be so rad. In fact, I did a couple interviews, I think back in 2015, at Utah Film Studios for Clickon This!, so it’ll be cool to be back, but this time on the red carpet, and then getting interviewed on the panel.
Can you share a small synopsis of What Death Leaves Behind?
JA: I can say this, it’s a nonlinear film like Memento, Dunkirk, and Manchester By the Sea. The What Death Leaves Behind story-line is not spoon fed. It carefully jumps from one idea in the time line to the next systematically forcing you to pay attention. It’s dark, intelligent, and it’s one of my favorite projects I have worked on to date. That is all I can really share, other than the link to the trailer. So below this answer is the trailer for the film, What Death Leaves Behind, for the viewers.
You are known as an extrovert in this field of work, but you must get exhausted from all the travel and demands that comes with it. How do you stay grounded with your type of schedule? What are some outlets you lean towards to re-energize yourself when you do get burned out?
JA: Honestly, I have never been an extroverted guy, especially with typical choices like sports. It’s my lot in life to be exhausted (laughs). I do find great downtime with snowboarding and horseback riding. Unfortunately, I don’t get enough time to do those things as much as I would like, so it’s just that much better when I do find the time to disconnect, escape, and snowboard or horseback ride.
My brothers and I go bowling. That’s another way for me to decompress. We bowl several games, order bowling alley pizza, and drink gross bowling alley beer. That is the Alonso recipe for success (laughs).
Otherwise, I’m a musician by nature. So, another way for me to decompress is to play music. I love writing and playing music. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in making short films and recording in the studio. I have hundreds of short films that I’ve shot through the years, but these are just for myself. I’ve never shot these short films for anyone or written music for others. It helps me know where I am in a film on set, to be a force without being forced.
On the downside, you’ll have those who have to say, “…but, how is anyone going to appreciate what you’ve done?” Here is my answer, I appreciate what I’ve done, and I like looking at my work for myself. So, when there’s a time when I must perform or show my work, I know you’ll like what I’ve done, because I don’t put myself out there like everyone else. I don’t need that recognition. I do it for me.
Where does this drive and passion for your work root from?
JA: A lot of my drive and cloaked ways comes from my upbringing. My parents are super driven in their lines of work. They’ve built their empire on relying on no one else, but themselves. I get a lot of my lone wolf qualities from my old man. He’s never really ran with the crowd. When all his friends were finishing their residency in Boston, as surgeons, my dad said he was going to go on to be a plastic surgeon. They all laughed at him and said, “Cool, we’ll see you when decide to drop out and hang back with us at the hospital.” He didn’t listen to them and signed up for another several years of school, residency programs, and being bossed around by doctors you know you could dance rings around. All that hard work and perseverance has helped him where he’s at today. With that, he continues to be the best at what he does.
As for my mom (laughs), if there was one person in this world my brothers and I get our artistic, non-conformist qualities from her. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She too built her career as a well-respected pediatrician, where she has cared for baby patients that grew up to become mothers and fathers who wanted their kids under the care of my mom. That’s a very valuable skill in life, and that commands respect.
My mother, when we were kids, would play classical piano at the old house and persuade us to play instruments. She has a voice, so she also encouraged us to sing. Her entire family is very artistic with the lively arts. To this day she’s still a little off center when it comes to being in the “norm”. We never really subscribed to being in the norm, but that’s a good thing. That’s where I get my “art weird” from. I could go on about this for days… (laughs)
(Laughs)… Alright continuing on. You’ve been working in this line of work for over twenty years. Inquisitive minds must know, what motivates you to keep up in such a fast-paced life? How do you keep the longevity in your career?
JA: Holy God has it been that long? I’m just getting my stride! (Laughs). I was an individual who was coined an outcast back in my early adolescent days, but I took it was a compliment and just ran with it. It was all that i knew. I didn’t care about the crowd. Fuck everyone. I really enjoyed being an individual, and not follow other’s flaccid ways.
Even within the outcast crowd I still would find myself an outcast within this group. I really believe this has helped me to come up with my acting choices. You know, being a little off center. I never go with the usual choices. I can’t. It’s not me.
As for the longevity and remaining youthful, my brother, James, says that I live in Peter Pan hour and can’t find my way out. In all seriousness, a lot of it’s genetic. I have this surfer build that I’ve always sported. I also work out and try to stay healthy, so I can stay toned with my body.
Rumor has it, there is still no sign for you slowing down this year. In fact, you have another production lined up for your return to Los Angeles after the Sundance Film Festival in February? Can you share some details about it and what your role(s) are for this project?
JA: I’ve never felt like I’m going too fast. I’ve set a standard and this is the speed I’m cruising at. Like i mentioned earlier, in this industry, you have to line up your work and not just any work, but legitimate work that’s going to help you advance your career.
The production I have lined up is called, The Riddle House. It is a new horror independent film that is going to knock your socks off. With one of the most solid casts I can’t wait to work with. This new haunted house horror is going to be the one to break us through to keep producing films and television projects.
I will be playing one of the main characters, Peter Gunn. I also am a producer for the film. We recently produced one of the coolest concept trailers ever. The way we shot this thing it looks like the film has already been shot. It’s sick. I’ll want you and your readers to chime in and give us feedback.
Are there any other projects in the works for you in the producer field?
JA: I’m currently producing another project, aside from The Riddle House, in Los Angeles. The other project is a television series a writer and I have been throwing around for a while. We’re not waiting for one project to happen. We’re trying to make things happen, so all these projects will happen. One will springboard the other, so to speak. My good friend, Irv Becker, has always said that I’d make a good producer.
You have some returning cast and crew members from previous film projects joining you for The Riddle House like Robert Mukes, Richard Siegelman, etc. There must be some comfort already knowing how the work flow will progress throughout the production with these individuals.
JA: Yes, of course! If I could produce and cast every awesome actor I’ve ever worked with, my film would look like the carnival end scene in Grease. (Laughs) There’s a comfort working with actors you admire and trust. A lot of the actors I admire are power actors. What that means is the actors really go against conventional thinking to get to the level of acting they show on screen and on stage. I like real risk takers; actors that have put in the time have lived through the battle. Those are people I respect and will work with again and again. So yes, working with repeats means we have an admiration for each other’s work.
Is there anyone who haven’t worked with that you are looking forward to working with?
JA: Vincent Young was on that list. I always admired his career and how he handles his craft. He also comes from the dark method acting some actors, including myself, need to use to get to our characters. After we worked on What Death Leaves Behind, Vincent calls me and said he’s preparing for his new film Escape Plan II with John Travolta. He continues to tell me how he’s getting mentally prepared, but this also requires him getting physically prepared. We talked for hours about his routine. We compared notes and laughed at how we both do similar things to change and become serious character actors.
Another individual I am looking forward to working with is actress, Tracey Fairaway. We’ve known each other for over seven years. We really know each other way too well. This is one of the main reasons I’m dying to work with her. I cannot wait to see how she’s going to test me and make choices I’m not going to be able to catch. Of course, I must do the same to her.
I told Tracey, “When I’m on set and when it comes to my dialogue, I punch and I punch hard. I hope you punch back, Fairaway.” Her reply was “Go for it. Let’s see what you’ve got, because I’ll break you, Alonso!”
It’s like a game of chess. You’re always thinking several moves ahead. Tracey is always ahead of the curve which gives her those Jedi qualities. So, when we become our characters in The Riddle House, you will see a tug of war like no other. And that’s what gets me motivated to act.
So, I’ve mentioned two actors off my (not-so) secret list. The other nine will remain secret. You’re just going to have to wait and see. (smiles)
Speaking of Vincent Young, you got to work with him on What Death Leaves Behind. What was it like to work with another prestige seasoned actor?
JA: Vincent Young and I became good friends since working on the project, What Death Leaves Behind. I remember meeting him at a pre-production meeting a few weeks before filming in Philadelphia. We were getting wardrobe measurements, hair and makeup tests, producer questions answered, etc. I remember saying to myself, “Christ, this guy is as hyper as I am. We’re going to get along really well!”
I was familiar with his work so I was a fan from jump, then we got a few drinks, smoked cigars, and the next thing you know, we’re talking about four film projects we can each find our way into. (laughs).
There are some actors you meet that you gel on and off screen with. I really dig his character in What Death Leaves Behind. I’ve always described his character Andrew as the small town, blue collared guy that everyone has known or met in their past.
Andrew is the type of guy that you remember from when you were growing up. He’s the type of guy who would mow your parents’ yard, deliver appliances to the house, check your oil when filling up. It’s not easy harnessing that into a character. It goes beyond and it should always go beyond with what we just see visually on screen. That’s what I love about all the characters in What Death Leaves Behind. Everybody came prepared. Our performances force you to watch the film and take us seriously. I am very proud of this project.
So, you mentioned the dark method acting technique. Can you describe to those not familiar with acting techniques, how one would get into a character by using the method that only a few are drawn to use?
JA: For sure! For example, if you watch me in Coffin, Coffin 2, or What Death Leaves Behind, I walk, slouch, and twitch. I also don’t use my left dominant eye, or left dominant hand. I also lower my voice register, and slow my reflexes. The trick of all of this is done consciously and unconsciously. That’s just for starters. It’s a mindset we have to create to successfully deliver to the viewers. Physically, we’ll lose weight or even gain weight to make an internal statement. I know for the next project, Vincent and I work on we’re going to go in full force with the dark method technique, and I can assure you, it’ll be a mental and physical ride.
With the Johnny Alonso brand that’s developed over the years, you seem to be drawn to the horror, thriller, and suspense genres more. Were those genres always preferences from the get-go, or did it create itself naturally?
JA: It was more created naturally. The Johnny Alonso brand was created out of necessity. I, as a person, am not interesting enough to just walk on stage and play these dark, macabre characters without little theatrics behind me. So, through the years, I’ve learned to create a version of me that is acceptable for camera that would be interesting enough for people to understand and to enjoy on screen. Like any organic acting, it just takes shape, whether you want it to or not. I don’t like to dilute myself or my acting like other actors. I do this for me.
Are there any roles or genres you haven’t done yet, that you’d like to challenge yourself with?
JA: I’d love to be in a chick flick/light-hearted romance like the film, Serendipity. Come on! Who doesn’t love Serendipity? (laughs) I don’t see myself in a film like that, but I am totally game to challenge myself, and love to try my hand at more of a light-hearted film and acting. I believe I could do it.
Are there any other announcements you can share as we head our way into February? Do you foresee it to be a good year for the Johnny Alonso brand?
JA: I’d love to share one project that’s happening in the next couple months, but I’m under contract not to mention it publicly yet. When I’m allowed to say, the whole world will know in fifteen minutes. That’s how exciting the news is!
In this business we never stop working. It’s a continuous cycle. I sincerely enjoy what I do. Seriously, the best is yet to come. (Smiles)
Thank you, Johnny, for taking time out of your chaotic schedule to sit down for an interview with me, yet again! If any of my readers are at the Sundance Film Festival, make sure you make some time in your schedule to head to the Utah Film Studios on Saturday night, January 26th, to watch the Sundance premiere of What Death Leaves Behind, and capture the cast and crew, including Johnny Alonso, at the panel!
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’.
Johnny Alonso reprises his role as Trick in “Coffin 2.”
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!
“This is what I love about LFN fans… zany fun and boundless creativity wrapped up in compassion and kindness. This is why there was a successful convention 20 years later, and this is yet another reason why LFN remains a special period in my life. Congratulations to all involved, and a very happy birthday to you, Heather. I hope you enjoy the book.” -Christopher Heyn
*Disclaimer: Code Names of my mission team are used due to protection , but mostly strictly for fun.
For those who know of me, know of two things; my passion for film and my fandom of La Femme Nikita. As I stated in previous blogs, I got to experience a once in a lifetime event in Toronto earlier this summer to meet half the cast and help volunteer for the event. What I didn’t realize, is what ridiculous friends I would make and bring home with me from the convention.
My 31st birthday was and wasn’t recently; it was earlier this summer on June 6th. A week after a lot of us came home from the Reunion Convention in Toronto (my personal birthday gift to myself this year). I met few and very amazing individuals, as I also reunited with Maxine and a few of the ladies of the Official Roy Dupuis Fan Club during this trip. The memories are solid, however, I would have never imagine the wits and ends my new friends would go to put together a little adventure for me in order to receive a very special birthday present and a long winded birthday.
So, what had happened was, behind my back, a couple of my LFN friends decided to team up to buy me one of Chris’s books, “Inside Section One,” due to my passion for TV, film, and writing in general. However, they wanted to make me WORK for the damn book and send me on a scavenger hunt that would take me “around the world.” It wasn’t just a scavenger hunt, it was a mission directed from Nikita. The objective of the mission was this, SURPRISE! The directory was taking down from digital encryption and transferred to hard copy, in result of multiple attempts of Red Cell stealing the damn directory again. I had to “travel” around the world and warn my team of operatives to execute Omega Protocol and go dark until instructed otherwise. In reality, my travels were teleported through messenger, tipping off each operative.
Mind you, I don’t do a whole lot of role playing, since my life is already 3-Dimensional as is, however with a little nudge from The Accountant and my team leader, Kendra, I gave in, and the mission was underway. Another note for you all, this scavenger hunt/mission/role play started on June 15 and finished on June 25! Here are the hints that came up for my travel log:
First hint to start me off was going to Melbourne, and connect with codename: Katiebug and tell her to execute Omega Protocol.
Katiebug then sent me the hint, “give a message to the Bulgarian, by La Brea Tar Pits.” That hint sent me to codename: Bulgarian Lass.
Once identity was verified, Bulgarian Lass cussed at me in her native tongue after giving me the hint, “What about Sag Harbor?” My first reaction was, what the hell is that?? Eventually the hint led me to a New York operative, which we don’t have a cool codename for yet. LOL!
The fourth hint from the NY operative was, “I hear the band likes Nascar Hall of Famers, but they’re scared of the judge.” LOL! I pinned it down to N.C., but I knew of two operatives from NC. I sent a message to the first one, but within two minutes, I told her, “disregard.” I then remembered who codename: Judge Judy was.
After succeeding with the Judge Judy factor, she then sent me a hilarious, but long ass hint. “New assignment from Ops has me working on a TV show called ‘Judge Judy’ to infiltrate the networks. Agenda currently unknown…”
That’s when the banter was taken a step further, “POGUE! YOU NEED TO COME TO ORDER OR I’LL FIND YOU IN CONTEMPT!” LOL! After she calmed Pogue down, she sent me back to our “b” channel to wait further instructions from ‘Nikita’. I then made my way back to “b” channel, where Nikita displayed a new hint.
This next hint sent me out to Venezuela with a code to decrypt and a photo of the largest waterfalls in their country. That’s when I knew I found codename: LatinChica.
After LatinChica, I would head to Washington State to an operative who goes by the codename: The Accountant. No, I am not talking Ben Affleck movie lingo.
From there, The Accountant, sent me the hint, “There’s an operative who bounces a signal off Virginia. Their substation shares my coast.”
That hint led me to the operative, Valencia. Once I verified my identity and sent her to execute the Omega Protocol, she sent me back to NC to deal with the feds. LOL!
I guess I was too good of an operative, because the last operative (*cough*The Fed*cough*) had me hanging for like two to three days, purposely. My retaliation, you may ask? I sacrificed her and fed her to Red Cell and went ahead with my team leader to head to the cargo plane to intercept the directory.
The reality of my next step to work towards my gifts, the cargo plane ended up to be another escape room for me and Kendra to piece together and get out. As I went behind the cargo boxes, an envelope dropped into my hands. It turned out to be a couple of the pieces of the extra goodies that Chris sent to everyone who bought the book during this time around! Even though I was distracted momentarily, Kendra and I managed to get out of the cargo bay of the plane with twenty minutes to spare. We were trained well! LOL! However, my mission wasn’t done. Saturday, I had another piece of the puzzle awaiting in my mailbox to reveal another essential of the gift. When I put everything together, I didn’t hesitate to call Kendra to demand my answer… “YOU GOT ME CHRIS’S BOOK, DIDN’T YOU!?!?”
As usual, Kendra had a good laugh over the phone and she finally explained the whole ordeal of putting the mission together and her and Jennifer both assisted in buying me the book for my birthday. She knew I was catching on quick with the scavenger hunt, but she gave me each piece of the puzzle separately just to keep me second guessing myself. Let me just say, it fucking worked. Today, as she came over to have lunch and watch one of Roy’s more ‘current’ films, “Cyanure”, she finally delivered my copy of “Inside Section One” which will be a good tool for me for further education with the film industry and how film and TV projects are put together.
Let me tell you a small secret, I have had NOBODY in my life that went through all of this planning to feed my geekiness, and to give me a gift that I would cherish for life. My life is nowhere easy for me. I found Kendra has certainly earned a place in my “chosen” family here in Madison, and I am super blessed that ReCon seriously brought us together to cherish so many memories together already!! I just hope someday I can provide such amazingness creativity to celebrate her life and our friendship!!
Also, I am blessed for the individuals who played their part in this game. It was soooooooooo perfect and fun with everyone involved!!!! All the clues and banter was priceless between me and those involved. I just hope the Bulgarian Lass can teach me a few words in her native tongue. Last, but surely not least, thank you Chris for giving us this opportunity for a crazy birthday ride that lasted ten damn days with these friends!