Dallas filmmaker Shawn Ewert with Right Left Turn Productions is completing work on his feature-length horror film “Sacrament.” The dramatically unnerving trailer has recently been revealed, and it recalls the nightmarish intensity of Kevin Smith’s “Red State” mixed with a gruesomely cannibalistic bent. Featuring appearances by “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” alumni Marilyn Burns and Ed Guinn, “Sacrament” has already distinguished itself from other low-budget horror films. Ewert means business, and he is clearly pulling no punches in giving horror fans exactly what they want to see, buckets of gore, some iconic, familiar faces, and a good story. As word-of-mouth slowly spreads about this exciting project, Mr. Ewert was gracious enough to sit down with me and tell us a little bit about himself and his film.
JS: Shawn Ewert, thank you for sitting down with us and telling us about your movie. Just to get the ball rolling, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself. Introduce yourself to our DarkMedia readers, if you will.
SE: I grew up in the 80s, and fell in love with horror when my aunt showed me the original Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about 5 years old. I’ve been writing for most of my life. I thought for a long time I might like to write novels, but film is infinitely more fun for me. I love getting things out of my head, and putting them on the screen for other people to see.
JS: What are some of your favorite horror films?
SE: I am a huge fan of 80s slasher films. Give me a man in a hockey mask in the woods, and I am usually a pretty happy man, but as much as I love slashers, I really love the intensely creepy slow build of the films from the old masters. A few of my more recent favorites, though are Sinister (which was creepy as hell), Insidious (and chapter 2) and The Conjuring.
JS: Who is your favorite Master of Horror and why?
SE: I think if I have to nail it down to just one, it would have to be Clive Barker. Not only does the man have a lyrical way of melding sexuality with horror, he has written some of the most iconic characters in horror. He has been a huge influence on my writing, but I also love the style he brings to his directing. That, and he’s a super sweet man.
JS: Tell us about “Sacrament.” What was your inspiration? What is the film about? What can we expect from the experience?
SE: Sacrament came out of a dream. I keep a pen and paper next to the bed along with a voice recorder. I really enjoy most of my nightmares, and this was one of them. It was a little different in the dream, which was set in Sweden for some weird reason, but I woke up at about three in the morning and started writing it down before I could forget it.
JS: What was your biggest challenge making this film?
SE: I think money is the hardest thing for independent filmmakers. You know what you want to do, and after watching films your whole life you want to live up to certain expectations. As an independent though, you have to realize that the money is what makes a lot of that happen. We were blessed with a great cast and crew. Everyone really believed in what we were doing, so that was never a problem for us. We spent two years trying to round up the money we thought we needed. You always need more. Beyond that, we had a few hiccups during filming – we lost an actor, and a couple of locations with VERY short notice – but ultimately everything worked out for the best.
JS: I understand you secured appearances by Marilyn Burns and Ed Guinn for “Sacrament.” What was it like working with such iconic performers?
SE: Ed and Marilyn were positively wonderful to work with. I was going back through some of their footage the other day, and as soon as I called cut I could hear myself giggling like a little kid after watching them. Being such a huge fan of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, it was really a dream come true to bring these two together again after 40 years. They are some of the sweetest people I have ever met, and really did their best to make these characters come to life. I absolutely could not have asked for more.
JS: Do you have any other personal favorite horror icons? Who’s your favorite Scream Queen?
SE: My favorite character of all time is Jason Voorhees. I love that big dumb lug. I have a tattoo sleeve of horror portraits on my leg, and Jason was the first one we did. I made the decision to fill my leg with icons that I had actually met, and he was at the top of my list. I think characters in more recent years have really lost the “icon” status. Looking at the films of the 70s and 80s, the characters really resonated with audiences, and we always wanted more. There are not many series in the past 20 years or so that have that draw.
As far as the ladies go, the genuine scream queens are definitely my favorites. I love Marilyn Burns of course, but Jamie Lee Curtis has always held a special place in my heart. While he may not be on too many people’s scream queen list, I have to add Mark Patton from Nightmare on Elm Street 2 to mine. That boy has a set of lungs on him.
JS: When can we expect to see “Sacrament” on the big screen?
SE: We are actually working right now to hammer out the details of our premiere. I do know that we will be pushing into 2014 due to the things we still have to finish for post-production, but we are going to get the film out to everyone as soon as possible. We will definitely be plastering it all over our Facebook and Twitter as soon as we have the date locked.
JS: Do you have any future projects in mind, or are you still firmly focused on “Sacrament?”
SE: While Sacrament is definitely my first priority, I am actually already working on a couple of new scripts. One of them is definitely more basic in terms of scale. Where Sacrament had scenes with over 50 extras, this one will be very simple and scary with the focus being on just a couple of characters.
Another one on the top of my list is going to be written with one of the actors from Sacrament. It’s more of a horror-comedy. It’s set in locations that will ring true to a lot of people, and it is something I have never seen before. I think they are both going to be a lot of fun.
JS: If you were given the opportunity to direct a sequel to one of horrordom’s most legendary franchises, which one would it be and what would you bring to the mythology?
SE: That really is a tough one. I think if I had to pick one, I would have to go with Pumpkinhead. I am such a huge fan of the original. Lance Henriksen is my favorite actor of all time. That man has made me feel every emotion possible while watching him over the years. I would love to take Pumpkinhead back to more of an origin story. Being from Texas, southern folklore has always held a special spell over me. I think seeing the creation of the monster, and that first release of vengeance would be amazing.
JS: What scene in “Sacrament” was the most satisfying for you as a filmmaker?
SE: Being a fan, the gore was always fun. Getting to see our fx folks really getting into killing our cast made me smile every time. That being said, there are a couple of really intense scenes toward the end of the film that our actors really got to go a little wild with the roles. Sometimes I got so wrapped up in what they were doing, I would forget to call cut.
JS: Considering the intensity of the subject matter in your film, did you have reservations about any particular scene?
SE: I was very careful about how I presented things in the film. One of the biggest things that I had to remind people on set was that I intentionally left the words God, Jesus, etc out of the script. The film is a bit of an indictment of religious extremism. I did not want that to be tied to one specific religion. There are some pretty intense scenes, and some of those are not because of the gore. They are intense because of some of the things the actors are saying. I brought out some characters and dialogue that, as a gay man, are really hard for me to hear. I think it really fits the film, but I really found myself hating some of the characters as we went along.
JS: Did realizing a scene in front of the camera make it more personal for you and therefore more emotionally taxing than when you’d written the screenplay?
SE: There is a scene at the end that was incredibly hard for me to watch. Before we started filming, the actors and I rehearsed the scene a lot. Every time we did it, the actors got more into it, and it just became more and more real. On set, I found myself crying during the last take. It was really difficult because the actors were so into it. That day really took a lot out of all of us.
JS: They say that no plan survives first contact, what where some of the unexpected changes, if any, you had to make during filming?
SE: Ha! Things changed quite a bit from the original ideas. On set, you have to be able to switch gears in a second when something doesn’t go right. We lost a couple of locations with literally two days’ notice. We scrambled to find new locations, and I think it worked out even better. We also had to replace one of our lead actors only a couple of days before they were needed on set again. Luckily, we had someone come in to fill the role that took it to a whole new level. There were also a few things here and there that, when we saw them on camera, really just had to be changed. They didn’t make sense when you saw them onscreen, so we did have to do a little bit of improvising.
JS: In real life, what scares you the most?
SE: Honestly, one of the things that really freaks me out is home invasions. Films like The Strangers, Funny Games, and Ils (French film “Them”) really make me uncomfortable. The idea of being violated like that, emotionally and physically, really sends shivers down my spine. I triple-check the locks on my doors after watching films like that. God help me if I am seeing it in a theatre. I look over my shoulder all the way back to my car, and then lock the doors as soon as I am inside.
JS: Thank you so much for taking time to chat with us.
I want to thank Shawn Ewert again for being so gracious. He’s a very nice and surprisingly candid guy, I very much enjoyed hearing what he had to say. I can’t wait to see “Sacrament,” it looks intense. Be sure to check out the official website and Facebook page for updates.
Official Website: http://www.rightleftturnproductions.com/projects/projects.html
Youtube Trailer Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP2rtrudKro