Director Dan Gildark on Lovecraft

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How familiar were you, before doing this project, with Lovecraft’s work?

I wasn’t that familiar until about 3 years ago. My partner in the film and I were hanging out together. I was going to film school down in Portland and he had come to stay with me and the second Gulf War had started. Things were really bleak. He had just broken up with his girlfriend and I had asked him to write me a script for a film. So we were down in Portland. He actually, he was sleeping on my floor for a couple months, and I asked him to pen me a script so we would have a project to work on together. And, uh, really get his mind off of what he had gone through. He’s been a writer for a long time. He’s a poet and a political activist. His name is Grant Cogswell. He was immediately drawn to Lovecraft because he has just- he actually discovered Lovecraft when he was on a bus with the Black Lock, the anarchists- like after WTO. And he was traveling with them to another WTO demonstration- anyway, when he was on the bus everyone was reading Lovecraft and he picked it up and it really spoke then, and it speaks now, to the kind of dire world situation- and just the feeling that- I think Lovecraft really taps into the feeling that there are powers that are operating outside of our perception and our control and that’s all around us. I think Lovecraft is really really good at tapping into that. So, we were drawn to it for that reason and the fact that things were so bleak and the world situation was so bleak. And another story that we were attracted to in particular was the Shadow Over Innsmouth story. The whole idea of- for Lovecraft the whole idea that heredity is the most terrifying thing that there is because he had- mental illness ran in his family and that’s the one thing that you can’t escape. So it was really that idea of heredity in Shadow Over Innsmouth that spoke to us in regards to our friends that we had known here in Seattle that had lived in Small Town America, or that had been gay and had to leave small town America- they kind of got forced out- and then for whatever reason they had to go back. Because there was a death in the family, or illness, or something- they have to go back to their small town and deal with who they are.

You saw your friends going through the same situation as the character in the story?

Yes, in a different way. We saw the Lovecraft story as a radical metaphor for what we were seeing here in Seattle with friends that are artists- both artists and gay are just disenfranchised with main-stream America. They had grown up in small towns and had come here and had dealt with that alienation in their small town and then had come here and then discovered themselves and at some point had to go back to the place that they had started from and deal with things. That was the big force that drove us to Shadow Over Innsmouth and Lovecraft specifically was the coming home again story and again the powers that Lovecraft eludes to that operate outside of our control and with the world situation with the government. The war and everything else- we felt that Lovecraft in this particular time is becoming more and more a powerful voice in kind of describing these things that operate outside of our periphery.

Did Grant bring the story to you?

He did. He had discovered Lovecraft and then turned me on to it. And then I read Lovecraft while he was developing the story. And then he did a first draft and then we spent two years working together on the story. Almost every day- with the screenplay.

You told me before that the movie is sort of a modern day adaptation.

Right. It’s a very modernized version of the story and of Lovecraft. We’ve already had a lot of animosity towards our project and what we’re doing because it’s not an exact literal translation of Lovecraft and there’s a lot of fans out there that want, like, period pieces done, like, word for word what Lovecraft would do. It’s just funny because we’re encountering this dogma that you would in any religion. It’s just as bad as Catholicism or any hard core religion. There’s like these very dogmatic ideas that the fans have of exactly what a Lovecraft thing should be.

So, you’ve actually gotten feedback from people that are sort of purists..?

The purists are really angry at us. In our defense, I feel like we’re really trying to be true to Lovecraft’s voice and to his vision. We really respect the work and hold it in high esteem and really want to do it justice. So, it really hurts that people are angry that haven’t even seen it yet. Like, just reacting to our trailer or interview that we’ve given. It’s disturbing, but I hope that the people that see what we’re doing and respect what we’re doing…

Have you been receiving emails?

There was a lot of traffic on blog sites and we were accepting comments on our website but we had to shut it down because we were getting so much negative feedback. My first instinct was to respond to it and let them know what we are doing and that we are coming at it in a smart way- and really trying to do Lovecraft justice, but I felt like it was a lot of angry teenagers that had nothing but time. There was no- it’s like arguing with a priest or someone who had a lot of time- it was like banging your head against the wall. We eventually reached a point where we were just like, we’re going to do this the best we can and we can’t listen to the people that are upset. We’re just going to kind of keep our heads down and try to do a good job.

How would you say that your project compares with the story?

The biggest comparison between the film and literature- the horror films that speak to me are the films that- the scariest thing absolutely is your own imagination. The films that are scariest to me are the ones that leave the most to the imagination- that don’t show specific graphic things- that really leave it to the viewer to fill in the blanks. And I feel that what’s so scary about Lovecraft’s prose is that he did it with his prose in leaving gaps. By saying something that was unspeakable and that it was beyond description was in effect leaving it to your own imagination of how horrible something could be. So, you take it as far as you can with your imagination and that’s, I think, one of the reasons why his literature works so well. And, again, that’s what works well in truly scary films. So, what I’ve done as a director is try to bump up against what to show and what not to show and leave it to the viewer’s imagination- so it’s not graphic at all and hopefully we’re kind of keeping it in the vein of the smarter thriller horror films where it really is up to the viewer to fill in the blanks. So, in that sense I think it’s very- filmically it’s very similar to Lovecraft’s literature. And, that we’re trying to do that. So, that’s one comparison. Other than that I guess I’m saying that we’re trying to be true to his vision- is just really trying to hopefully lay out the scale of powers that are operating beyond our control and laying that- what’s happening in the modern world on top of how he set that up in his literature.

Have you incorporated any stories outside of Shadow?

It was kind of a launching point for the film- was the Shadow Over Innsmouth. At this point we’re saying it’s loosely based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft because really we are taking from his mythos. That particular story was the seed, but I feel it’s the overarching range of his mythos and what he was trying to do with creating that- like I said- the worlds that operate outside of our perceptions and our world- so it really is the entire mythos that the film is banked on.

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About Author

Tonjia Atomic is an award-winning filmmaker, actress, musician, jeweler, and freelance writer. Her films include Plain Devil, Walking to Linas, Claudia Qui, and the Raw Meat series. Her writing has been featured in several online and print magazines. She's in the bands Duet To-It, Huh-Uh, and Filthy Issue. Tonjia is also a martial artist. She has spent several years training in Jeet Kune Do with Taky and Andy Kimura at the the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute of Seattle.

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