Q&A with Jason Tostevin, Director of “Born Again”

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Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
I’m writing a script about Friday the 13th’s Jason’s origins, so I’m really in that headspace right now. Here’s a disfigured child of a mentally-ill single mother who can’t hold a job, and so they are foundationless, nomadic. She loves him desperately in a way that warps him. To her, and so to him, every single thing around him is a threat. Other people, other places, the systems that run the world are all deadly, and so he must stay with her forever. He’s getting radioactive doses of Munchausen and Stockholm syndromes every second of his life. He only knows one person’s view of the world, and that person is a monster. That to me is a sympathetic character.

You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
Born Again is a great example of the irony of filmmaking. We think the craft is about being able to do two opposite things with absolutely ruthlessness: first, implement every change that makes your story stronger, whether it was your idea or not; and second, once you get on set, being undistractable from the tone and story you’ve decided to make. I wrote the original draft with a very different ending, and Randall had an idea that changed the entire thing, and made it so much better. I don’t know that my idea was bad, but it wasn’t as good as it could be, by far. You get past bad ideas when you are open to new, better ones.

Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
Absolutely I do. And I take that membership seriously, because I believe it comes with expectations – to include people who haven’t traditionally been included, to hear different voices, and to spread a culture where getting better is celebrated. It’s a big part of why Chris (Hamel, president, Gateway Film Center) and I started Nightmares Film Festival. We believe horror and the creators who make it matter.

When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
It’s about going through layers of inspiration, for us. First, Randall (Greenland, screenwriter) and I inspire each other because we have complementary strengths, and we’re both focused on making something that works. Then, we shape characters that we think are intriguing, or funny, or have a genuine problem that would be compelling on-screen. We build the world that would have created that character, from their inside out. I believe behind all of that, we’re being pushed and inspired by both the pool of stories we know, and the most interesting current filmmaking we’ve seen.

What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Get religion. Fast.

Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
This sounds like a terrible idea for humanity, but I’d promote Freddy, Samara/Sadako, the Thing and the Body Snatchers. You wouldn’t be able to sleep. You couldn’t trust anyone. And it’d be over in seven days. A nice week’s work!

Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Jason – I’m a mark for his back story. King, who I have grown up with. Practical, though getting your movie made is the most important consideration. And I’ll go apocalypse – the most interesting stuff happens in the change.

How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I think props only work when the world works, and the world only works when the characters do. So that’s the order of operations, though it may seem backward, because people will say “if the prop looks dopey, how can you believe the world?” And they’re right. I just think the story will cover for a prop far more than a prop can cover for a story. In Born Again, we have store-bought masks that have only been lightly altered; I think they are effective because we get the tone pretty quickly. On the other hand, the book at the heart of the story needed to feel substantial and unique, and had to play for the camera in wide shots and from different angles. So Grace Cole, who’s a terrific designer and artist, created it for us with a leather-bound cover in a eye-catching red over a crucifix inlay that gave the whole thing depth and texture.

What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
I think it’s hopelessness that scares me the most, and it’s also my strongest inspiration. I think all the stories I’m interested in telling are about what people will do when they feel hopeless and powerless in the face of something unbearable to them. The universe is cold and unfeeling and ultimately takes everything from us. We are infinitesimal in both time and space. Yet we still feel and have hopes and dreams; we want to live and have comfort and love. Scary stories to me are about the reckoning between those two things.

And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Return of the Living Dead. Today, anyway.