A grandma and grandpa look to conduct a "reverse exorcism" to bring their grandson back from the grave in Anything for Jackson, and with the new horror movie now on VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray from RLJE Films (following its release on Shudder), we caught up with director Justin G. Dyck in a new Q&A feature to discuss collaborating with writer Keith Cooper, the eight-year journey to making a horror film, and working with a talented cast headlined by Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Justin, and congratulations on Anything for Jackson! You’ve collaborated with writer Keith Cooper on previous films. Did you two already have a creative shorthand coming into Anything for Jackson?
Justin G. Dyck: Yes. Keith and I have been good friends for almost 10 years and our first family film actually came from the two of us trying to make a horror movie.
How long had you and Keith been looking to work in the horror genre, and what was the pitch process like when you were building Anything for Jackson from the ground up?
Justin G. Dyck: Since we met. We quickly realized that we both wanted to make a horror film and we had very complementary skill sets. Keith was a writer, visual effects supervisor, and animator and I was a director, cinematographer, and editor. We spent several years trying to get one made, but we kept getting jobs making family and Christmas movies instead.
We didn’t have a clue how to pitch an independent film. Keith wrote multiple spec scripts, we made pitch decks for each one, we showed them to producers, we even traveled to the American Film Market (AFM) with no success. Finally we found Vortex, and they just happened to connect with Anything for Jackson.
Where did filming take place, and how many days were in your shooting schedule?
Justin G. Dyck: We filmed in our hometown of Barrie, Ontario. Mostly in Keith’s house, a day in my house, and we built one set at the old movie theatre I used to attend when I was a kid. The theatre was getting torn down, so making a movie where I fell in love with movies was a great way to say goodbye.
You worked with an amazing cast on this film, including Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings. Did you have any rehearsal time with the cast before cameras rolled?
Justin G. Dyck: We didn’t have any official rehearsal time, but did get together a few times during pre-production and had a table read. Julian and Sheila are just that good. I couldn’t believe how many wonderful actors helped us make this film.
How important was it for you and Keith to balance out the horror, drama, and comedy in Anything for Jackson? That can be a difficult line to walk, but this film has been well-received on all cylinders.
Justin G. Dyck: The balance was definitely something we talked about often. For me to enjoy a horror movie, it needs drama. Violence and gore can be a lot of fun and is stimulating, but I want to get invested in the story and characters. As for the comedy, it was important there weren’t any "jokes" in the movie. We didn’t want a setup and a punchline, just the humour that comes from realistic characters thrown into extreme situations.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Justin G. Dyck: The snowblower scene was a lot of fun. Keith and I had been throwing things into my snowblower right up until a couple days before shooting to see what would spray out the best. When it came to crunch time, Yannick fully committed to diving into that snowblower, and our fake blood slurry blasted right over the shed. We were thrilled.
While making Anything for Jackson, were you inspired by any other movies, TV shows, books, comics, or video games?
Justin G. Dyck: Subconsciously I’m sure I was influenced by every movie I’ve ever seen, but in preparation I like to watch a lot of movies. Audrey and Henry’s love for one another always reminded me of What Dreams May Come, I watched a lot of short films for scary inspiration, and I watched a lot of James Wan’s films to see how he edits together a scare.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from Anything for Jackson?
Justin G. Dyck: I hope that they enjoy the film of course, but the challenge we set for ourselves was can we get the audience to empathize with two people who kidnap a pregnant woman in order to steal her baby? You don’t have to (and definitely shouldn’t) agree with what they did, but if you can at least see where they’re coming from, maybe you can cut somebody some slack in your next Twitter war.
In addition to horror, I’m genuinely a huge fan of Christmas romances, so I find your filmography to be truly eclectic and fascinating. What has it been like for you to work in diverse genres as a director?
Justin G. Dyck: Family and romance films seem to be in unlimited demand, so the fact that I’ve been able to direct so many of them in such a short period of time, has made me a significantly better filmmaker. Obviously, directing a scene that is pretty and romantic is different from directing a scene that is scary, but filmmaking basics are still the same. When the basics become second nature, you can put all of your energy into what makes the scene unique.
What has it been like to team up with RLJE Films to give Anything for Jackson an even wider release following its streaming release on Shudder?
Justin G. Dyck: Fantastic! Because I don’t really have to do anything. It took me eight years to get a horror movie made, I wouldn’t even know where to start the marketing of one. I love the cover art, and I’m a bit of a physical media nerd, so I can’t wait to get my hands on one.
With Anything for Jackson now on VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray, what other projects (horror, romance, or otherwise) do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers go online to keep up to date on your work?
Justin G. Dyck: I have some very exciting projects coming up, but I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about them yet. I try to put updates on Twitter, so people can follow me @JustinGDyck and I’ll let them know as soon as I can!