After a successful festival run, Justin G. Dyck’s Anything for Jackson made its debut on Shudder earlier this month. Starring Julian Richings, Sheila McCarthy, and Konstantina Mantelos, the film is centered around a grieving pair of grandparents who kidnap a young woman in hopes of transferring the soul of their deceased grandson into her soon-to-be born child, and as expected, things don’t exactly go according to plan.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Dyck about his latest directorial effort, and he discussed his collaborative process with the film’s writer, Keith Cooper, bringing on his talented ensemble for Anything for Jackson, the inspiration behind the film’s collection of spooky spectres, and more.
Thanks for taking time to chat today, Justin, and great job on Anything for Jackson. There's just some really great character stuff that you guys worked into this story that balances out against all the genre elements, and I think it all works really well together.
Justin G. Dyck: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, even the idea came from that goal to make it something new and fresh. Keith, the writer, and I are both huge movie fans, like most filmmakers, I suppose, but he's diehard horror. If there's a horror movie out, that'll always be the first one he goes to. I like horror films, but it's one of many genres that I like to focus on. We wanted to figure out an idea and we said, "It's got to be fresh." So, the original seed was that we needed something in the supernatural space. What's a take on the exorcism sub-genre? We thought, “What's the complete opposite of that exorcism?” Well, you're going to want to put a spirit back into somebody.
Why would someone want to do that? And then, we got to bringing a child back. Then, the obvious thought is that a parent must want to do that. Steve and I are both parents, so a parent must want to bring their child back, but no, that's the obvious choice. What's next? So, we went to grandparents and really, every idea we had, we would always just reject the first one that came to mind because we knew it had to be different than what was expected.
You just touched on this a little bit, but with Keith's script, was that something that he just went and banged out and then you gave him input on afterward? I'm just curious what the collaborative process was like between you guys.
Justin G. Dyck: Well, we were pitching some other horror projects that we had and the person we pitched to said, "This is great. What do you have in the supernatural space?" We said, “Oh, we've got lots. We'll send them off to you as soon as we get home.” So, we got home and said, “All right, now we've got to come up with a bunch of supernatural ideas.” It's hard to tell which idea came from where, but we just banged out all sorts of ideas on the drive home. Like, “What if this happened? What if that happened?” And he's tons of fun to work with because I give him these little seeds, and then all of a sudden this theme pops into his head and he says, "Oh, this happens and they say this and they say that." And I often sit back and I say, "I don't know where that came from, but I'm glad it did."
So, I help him plot it out, and then he goes off and puts together a script. Then, I take it and I give him as much creative input and sometimes we butt heads over things, but usually we work really well together. So it's great hashing out ideas, even if there's something we disagree on, it's really fun to get to the root of it and find the best option. We're definitely both involved from start to finish, but I wouldn't take a writer's credit on this because it definitely came from his mind.
At the core of everything in this film is Henry and Audrey, who are the heart of this story. What I really appreciated about their characters is that they're very unconventional people. You don't exactly expect to look at this warm and friendly older couple and think that they're Satanists, and what really grounds them for me in this story is their humanity. Could you discuss working with Julian and Sheila on their performances? They’re both fantastic in this.
Justin G. Dyck: Absolutely, yeah. Again, going back to the original concept, the obvious way to tell their story is through the eyes of Becker, the victim. You have your protagonist, she's good, she's pure, she didn't do anything to deserve this, but that's easy. So, we wanted to say, “How do we challenge ourselves? What does this look like through Henry and Audrey's eyes?” And grief is such a relatable thing to put on a screen, so if you tell people that this is what they're doing, but this is why they're doing it, can you feel for a kidnapper who's doing such a horrible thing? And that was what we set out to do, and that ultimately is what attracted both Julian and Sheila to the project. Sheila came on first, and then Julian came on, partly because he wanted to work with Sheila because they'd known each other for quite some time. They just both really connected with the material, too.
I loved all the different ghosts in this that start popping up everywhere. I was chatting back and forth with some folks online who've seen it, and I think we've all agreed that the flossing ghost is the most traumatic thing we've seen in a movie in quite some time, but in a good way. I know they relate to certain elements of the story, but what was the thought process behind these ghosts and incorporating them here?
Justin G. Dyck: I think when Keith did his original draft, he went and did some research on dream analysis and what sort of nightmare do you have based on things going on in your life. So, Henry, our very logical, less emotional character, when he starts losing control of the plan which has been set in place here for over a year, a typical dream one might have involving loss of control is their teeth falling out, according to dream analysis. So, that's why he is haunted by the flossing ghost. Becker, of course, is trapped. So, feelings of being trapped and you dream that you're suffocating or you can't move. That's where our suffocating ghost came from and he just drags himself along the floor. So, each ghost was targeted towards the person they haunt. Ian’s ghost was the giggling ghost because Ian's biggest fear is being laughed at, and Audrey's is a little more personal, of course. She dreams of loss and all that she's lost in her life, so that's where her ghost comes from.
Then, in terms of building the creatures themselves, we worked with Carly Morse, our practical effects designer. And, of course, the actors we cast all brought so much to it as well. That's where they all came from, and we were really lucky to have such a strong team to work with, because each one turned out so great.
Before we go, I wanted to ask one last question. I'm a big believer in whenever you do something creative, obviously there's a part of you that you put into a project. But I also feel like there's a part of that project that lives with you once you've stepped away from it. And I'm just curious, what was your biggest takeaway from your experience working on Anything for Jackson then?
Justin G. Dyck: That's a good question. You know, you are actually one of the first people to not ask me about my list of IMDb credits and past experiences. I've directed a lot of films, but never one that I've created, so this was a very different animal. I really do feel like this is my first real film. All those other projects were great, and they're a good day job, but I'm really just creating a product for someone else. It's not a whole lot different than doing a corporate project for somebody. I'm just delivering what a client wants, where this one is a project from the heart, and it means a lot to me personally. We got to have fun with ghosts and scares, but it's also this story about grief and things that I think everyone creative on this project can relate with.
So, my takeaway is that it was just an incredible experience and I loved having that creative outlet, having the number of people come out of the project because they believed in it. We certainly punched above our weight, our budget did not allow us to get all the people on it that came out and helped us with it. It was just people believing in us and liking the project, and I am extremely grateful and excited to hopefully take this and move on to do something else for myself next.
In case you missed it, read Emily von Seele's Nightstream review of Anything for Jackson.