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Exclusive Interview: William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman for "Stay Alive"

By Paul Fischer Tuesday March 21st 2006 12:15PM
William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman for "Stay Alive"

William Brent Bell, and Matthew Peterman had a dream to become horror filmmakers, and now with their first script and feature, Stay Alive, that dream has become a reality as Disney's relaunched Hollywood Pictures takes on the pair's Stay Alive, that revolves around a group of teens who play an online horror game, but when their characters in the game start to die, so do the players. The film's director and writer talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.

Question: So horror is such a, dare I say it, repetitive genre. So how do you come up with a horror script that is different from what we've seen before?

William: I think people say in films there's like eight stories......in a way, and there'll all just kind of versions of those. But, what we really tried to do was, use a videogame in a really unique way in this movie and we think that, with the advancement of videogames compared to movies that were made, 10-20 years ago with videogames, they've become so detailed and so layered, that they make for a great cinematic experience, and the line between the two, just like the story, they kind of blur. Making movies from videogames, in fact, the lines should probably blur between them more than they do, and hopefully this is a step in doing that more often.

Matt: And it seems like a lot of films recently, they're hanging their hat on like the gore factor and, they usually, revolve around a group of teens in a van who get stranded on the side of the road and then basically get molested by cannibals...So we just tried to do something a little different from that, you know what I mean.

Question: Do you research the videogame industry to see what kinds of games are around that perhaps the target audience for this - which presumably is young people - will be able to relate to in some way?

William: Well we didn't really do research per se, as in the fact that we play games all the time in our whole lives and, we wanted to do a horror film so we wanted the game in the movie to be as good or better than anything you could buy - a next generation horror survival game - so we took games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, those kind of high action horror games and then kind of blended it with a little more, sophisticated creepy called Fatal Frame, and we tried to kind of, make a game that kind of, straddled those two worlds of videogames. And, in the genre of horror those are really popular titles, but we didn't really base it on what was popular just what in the genre we thought was, really good and like what kind of visual we could make.

Question: Now has the gaming industry come on board belatedly to, to mirror what you guys have done in the movie or is Disney trying to forge a relationship with anybody in the gaming industry?

William: For the film we brought on a guy named Chrissie B, who is the lead designer over at Epic Games and, kind of as our videogame consultant. And so he kind of put his head together with ours so that we could create, a believable game that isn't just slapping something together because it's a movie first/game second, we wanted to give the game just as much respect and as much time as we gave the movie. And we made this film independently. Matt and I wrote it and then we went and collected a bunch of the money and then it kind of snowballed from there a little bit; and Disney, or Hollywood Pictures really, didn't come on until, a few months ago.

Question: How was the decision made as to who was going to direct the film, and is it very much a solo directorial effort or are you guys like the Coen brothers who pretty much do everything together but for practicality's sake one gets the director's credit?

William: it's kind of like that. I mean it's unique to all of those guys like the Wachowski brothers and the Coen brothers. There's a lot of different teams and I mean I came from a background of being an assistant director and stuff like that. So for that reason, among others, it was like I kind of tackled the directing and Matt tackled the producing, but at the end of the we're kind of a two-headed monster or kind of a team. We weren't really excited about the ideas of the kind of mixed messages of two directors, like telling the same actor conflicting directions - things like that. So it allowed us to kind of be in two places at once.

Question: Why do you think horror has become a more respectable genre now?

Brent: Well there's a few reasons I think. One - the horror genre overall is a genre where filmmakers can experiment and do unique things. it's also a genre that's not terribly cast contingent. So when you've got young actors or up and coming actors it gives them an opportunity to break out in a movie that normally they wouldn't have such a big part in if it weren't for being a horror film; and, and then maybe more important than that is, like, the movies have gotten so much better

Question: If... When you're writing a script like this, are you mindful of the fact that you need fleshed out characters that a young audience can relate to; otherwise the film may not work?

Matt: Well of course, that's just anything - when you write any kind of movie you want to create characters that people relate to. I mean so many times in some of these horror movies you've got such clichéd characters, and I think people have grown a little tired of that. It's like what Brent was speaking to about these movies becoming a little more sophisticated lately and the narrative just becoming a little more complex and just better. and that's the same with the characters. You've got to create characters that people want to watch, that people can relate to, otherwise they're just not going to want to sit through and watch a 2-hour movie - you know what I mean.

Matt: And we were... we were excited to, one, get away from the clichés - the jock with the leather jacket, the cheerleader - get away from all that crap, and, also to create a scenario where the characters kind of take the situation seriously the way we all would if we were in this situation, as unbelievable as it may be. And, um... and also the way they deal with death in the movie with real emotion. And, ah... all that kind of stuff seems to be a little bit different than, say, the ensemble horror films of the 80s, you know...

Question: How would you sum up the tone of this film as against the tone of a number of other horror films?

Matt: I think one of the things we tried to do with this movie is make it seem plausible, that it could really happen - and make it just seem like real life, like what's happening to those people could happen to you. And as kind of fantastical as the premise may sound, involving the videogame and things like that, we treated it with respect and a certain level of sophistication. And the tone, to us, I mean, it's one of the best things you can say about this movie is that it just feels real.

Question: Can you talk about where you guys are heading now that this movie is done and you hopefully will make a shitload of money and you'll be on the road to fame and glory. I mean what happens next?

William: Well we're headed to Barbados.

Question: Oh, okay. Good.

William: And we're never coming back.

William: What we're doing is, we're talking to a couple of people about, some horror projects or some projects kind of in the vein of what, we did that's good for us. And we're also just finishing a script and developing a project that, is hopefully going to be our next project that, we'll kind of put together in a similar way. It's once again something hopefully that's a little different from what we've been seeing in the vein of Flatliners, And that's, once again something a little different. Like you asked how we could keep the genre fresh, well, a story like that hasn't been done for quite a while.

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