Producer Peter Block has been a fixture in the realm of modern horror for decades now, and his latest project, The Shed, arrives in limited theaters and on VOD today, courtesy of RLJE Films. Written and directed by Frank Sabatella, The Shed follows a struggling teenager named Stan (Jay Jay Warren) who already has enough problems on his plate, but then he ends up having to contend with a vampire, which forces him to begin to deal with his issues head-on.
Earlier this week, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Block about The Shed, and he discussed the collaborative process with Sabatella for the project, making a vampire film that harkened back to a different era in horror, and what excites him nowadays about the world of genre filmmaking.
So, I will admit that going into The Shed, I read the synopsis where it was like, "Okay, there's a kid and he's having problems with his grandfather," and I wasn’t expecting more than that. So, as soon as it was revealed that we're dealing with a vampire-type creature, I got excited because we don't get a lot of vampire stuff these days. And it was definitely different than I was expecting, which I always appreciate. So, I'm curious, from your perspective, can you talk about what was the initial appeal for you to come in and get involved with this project?
Peter Block: Well, I originally liked the concept when Frank pitched it to me a number of years ago, because basically, you start in Act III. The vampire is already trapped. How cool is that? He's got his vampire in the shed. Now what does he do? Especially if your protagonist can't go for help. So, that's usually the last 20 minutes left in the movie, where you end up, and we're just starting the movie there. I immediately had a sense that this is an interesting place to be. But it's interesting because the project took a different turn a number of years later, when I went back to Frank, because I wanted to really develop the anti-bullying sentiment.
Stan is dealing with a very traditional horror trope. He's got a vampire, and he's got to do battle with that. And at the same time, his friend Dommer is dealing with a very real world, a similar parallel issue, but with a real-life bully. And each one has an effect. Stan's a disinterested kid, who doesn't like order and all of a sudden he's got this vampire and now he's got to preserve the order around him to make sure that all hell doesn't break loose. Dommer has this situation where he's just being bullied and has to depend on Stan for help.
So, we wanted it to be these parallel kids that, if you push them too far, what would happen? So, once I started working on that aspect of it and collided it with Frank's initial love letter to Fright Night, I think we both came to a place that we were really excited about where the film could not only showcase our love of classic ’80s horror movies in a fun way, but also have something to say. I think we also were tired of movies that were so dark and dreary and dread-ridden. Not that there's anything wrong with it, because I'm a guy who's done very well in that space. But we also missed the fun of the reason why we got into movies in the first place, where you could actually have humor and not be designated a comedy.
But also, we never used the word "vampire." Basically, we wanted to take a shortcut, and working with Frank on the script to get it to where we got it was fantastic. We just had a great time doing it. Then by the end, we realized, "Oh, we were able to make the movie we wanted it to be. It's fun, it's engaging, it's suspenseful enough and it's fun enough, too."
What stood out to me about this film is the fact that we don't get a lot of daylight horror. I was wondering if there is an inherent challenge that comes with trying to heighten the tension and building suspense, and things like that, when you are working in broad daylight?
Peter Block: Oh, yeah. It is nice of you to point that out. We realized that as we were going along that if we had made it all about the vampire, then this film was going to have to be a lot of night stuff, and we really wanted it to be about the kids. So, we knew we had to do days and then we thought, "Well, how do we add some drama to that, if vampires can’t come out in the daylight?" Then we decided, "Well, if we're going to be in days, let's make it look as much like a Western as possible." So, we went for a lot of long lenses. And if you notice the shots, I think it's a beautiful film to watch.
But I think that you can use sunlight well in horror. Midsommar did it; It Follows, too. You just have to be mindful. It was one of those things that as we wrote this, we realized we were either running ourselves into a corner or we were writing ourselves into an opportunity to be a little different. And I think hopefully we're a little different.
I know you said you worked with Frank on the script, but once you guys got into production, were you still hands-on with him? Or did you step back and let him do his thing once everything was underway?
Peter Block: He did a great job directing, but we were shoulder-to-shoulder the whole time. I think he'd tell you the same thing. It was a very collaborative team. We'd worked together for a while. We got this up and running pretty quickly. I trusted him, and he trusted me. We rode to set together. We rode home from set together. We mapped out stuff. I think the two of us and our DP [Matthias Schubert] and our first AD [James Thomas] were all a very well-bonded unit. It was very free flowing; it was one of those things where somebody had a good idea, we would throw it in wherever it came from, or we would make changes on the go.
That's the way I like to work. If you have a small enough set, you can do it that way. If you build up enough rapport with the director, you can do it that way. It worked that way for me and Adam Green on Frozen, and it worked with Frank on this one that way. It doesn't always work. There are directors who don't always want your opinion or want you there no matter how much you've worked with them, so you have to find your way. But with Frank it was very easy. I can only tell you that we would both work with each other again and that doesn't always happen.
I know we're getting close on time, but I wanted to ask you about where your interests are at these days. Looking at your list of credits and seeing all the different things that you've been involved with over the years, you've basically helped shape the face of the landscape of modern horror. So, what is it that you look for these days? What excites you as a producer, but also as a fan of the horror genre?
Peter Block: I'm always looking for things that are different. When I was trying to fill the R-rated void, when studios were going PG-13, that's when I had the greatest latitude. I was bringing in foreign films and doing things that were pushing the envelope even on the English language stuff. I had a mantra: it was like, "It has to be wrong." If I could find the scene that was just wrong, whether it was the guy taking the head out of his lap in High Tension or whether it was pretty much the thing you don't want to talk about in Hard Candy, or anything from a Rob Zombie film. There were always just these moments that you're like, "Okay, that's what I'm picking up on." Or even in smaller films like May, you find those moments and you're like, "God, what is it about this film?"
So, that's where it was then, but now everybody's trying to go for shock value. So things that really appeal to me now is more of a minimalist approach. I'm really interested in shot selection, using camera angles and sound. You take a film like Sinister. The story itself is essentially a story that's been told a hundred times. It's just done better than any of the others. Scott Derrickson knew exactly how to do the same tropes that everybody had been doing, just do them so much better. And when I see something like that, it just makes me happy.
I'm also not a guy who loves a lot of CG. So, when I see a film like Mama, I'm more excited about the shot where one half of the screen is one darkened room and the other one's a long hallway, than I am by anything that's done in the third act of that movie. I look for things like that. And also, fresh voices. I'm still a guy who loves to go to the film festivals, watch the midnight shows, and find that movie. For me, in the horror genre, I'm always looking for people who are finding their own voice. That's pretty exciting to me still. It always was and always will be.