After I saw Mark Redfield’s superb version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at Manchester in 2002 I knew that I had to find out more about this film and the people behind it. Mark kindly obliged with this phone interview in January 2003 and subsequently asked me to write some insert notes for the DVD release of the film, which I was delighted to do, incorporating some of the quotes from this chat.
"Basically I decided to stop messing around with the theatre here on the East Coast and get down to the serious business of trying to make some movies. So I found some space in Baltimore where I have an edit suite and a scene shop and a place to store costumes and that kind of thing. I have some stage space; I found a warehouse. And I decided to concentrate on that. I started Redfield Arts about four years ago and got the space about three years ago. It took about a year to a year and a half and that’s when we started to bear down on Jekyll and Hyde.
“Now we’re selling Jekyll and Hyde, we’re in post-production with a drama called Cold Harbor about four brothers coming to grips with the suicide of their father, and a kids’ fantasy film called The Sorcerer of Stonehenge School. That’s in post-production, and hopefully that will be finished in May or June. We’re doing effects and editing, and we’re developing the next couple of projects for 2003 now that we’re in the new year."
Why did you start with Jekyll and Hyde?
"I’m not really sure, in some ways. We did it as a play about ten or eleven years ago. My producer and writing partner, Stuart Voytilla, he’s based in San Diego; when he was here in Baltimore and we were working together, we were doing a number of things. I had a couple of theatre companies, one of which was called New Century Theatre. We did a gamut of things: we did Clifford Onett’s Golden Boy, we did some Ionesco, we did some Shakespeare, we did The Tempest, The Front Page. We did a typical American rep kind of thing where you just do a little bit of everything-in-the-world theatre. It was sort of an actor-manager company, much like Redfield Arts is now: I’m out there raising the money and spending the money and I’m also the actor-director, so some things in some ways haven’t really changed.
“So I said: you know, it would be kind of fun to do something where I could show off, something I could sink my teeth into. We thought about it and said: no-one’s done a Jekyll and Hyde for a while. People would want to come and see it because people are going to ask, ‘How are they going to do that?’ It’s like Ben Hur. If you do Ben Hur, you’d better have a chariot race on stage and people are going to ask, ‘How are they going to do that?’ In some stage productions they’ll cast two actors - which is always kind of a cheat. So I thought: let’s do this because we could have a lot of fun with it.
“We wrote this play, we adapted it, and created a lot of new stuff on our own. I sort of stole some ideas from what I had read about an Orson Welles production, where the set was primarily black velvet - so you didn’t have to have a lot of scenery. You let the audience’s imagination work and that way we can more very cinematically through a number of scenes. We can be in alleys, we can be in the hospital, we can be in Jekyll’s house. So the initial adaptation of the play was in some ways cinematic. Then when we got around to turning it into a movie, we threw the play out in a lot of ways because it wasn’t working. We invented new material but kept the spirit of the thing and kept the thrust of Stevenson and the play - then it became this whole new animal.
“There was all kinds of new invention that we put into it because we could. I felt we could have some fun with Jekyll and Hyde and I wanted to keep doing fantasy pictures; maybe that was the other reason to do the film. I looked around and said, ‘Even though there’s a hundred Jekyll and Hydes, including The Nutty Professor, there really isn’t one right now on video or television.’ This is no scientific polling, but I would turn on the cable stations here and you would always get the ‘32 Fredric March or the ‘41 Spencer Tracy. I would go to the local blockbuster and you would have all the recent Draculas and Frankensteins. There really isn’t a Jekyll and Hyde out there so maybe we could take a cheeky attempt to get one out on the shelves and have people see it.
“Then there was the other thing that we had experienced. People in the beginning, when we were raising the money: ‘Why do you want to do Jekyll and Hyde? It’s been done.’ Then I would ask them: ‘Do you know the story?’ and people would say, ‘Well... he turns into this bad guy, doesn’t he?’ So they really didn’t know it. Of course the fans did, but by and large people really didn’t know it. So I said let’s take the risk, on such a low budget, and let’s try to do something. So that’s how Jekyll and Hyde came about."
What impressed me was that, apart from the last half-hour, your script is the first version to be filmed like the book.
"We really think it’s in the spirit of Stevenson. It may not exactly be the letter of the law. There are no women in Stevenson, there’s a lot of other invention woven through - and of course we made everybody younger which typically you do anyway. But that struck me as true too. There are recent adaptations - that I don’t want to help publicise! - in the last couple of years. There’s one with one of the Baldwin brothers that is a modern retelling where he and his wife go to Hong Kong and she is somehow murdered. This is all based on a synopsis I read somewhere. He goes to this old Chinese gentleman and gets this mystery drug and somehow he starts to take it, I don’t know what happens in this thing. And it’s called Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde! So there are a lot of versions. And as much as I love Cushing and Lee, I, Monster doesn’t quite do it in some ways.
“So we really tried to stay with the spirit of Stevenson, using Utterson as the detective, and that fed into some other things. People say ‘I know the story’; well, they know a lot of stories. They know James Bond’s going to win. It’s always the ‘how’ - how are you going to get there? If the themes that you can withdraw from something still excite you, then it’s worth hearing it again. So hopefully we have done something that is entertaining. And what seems to be sometimes so obvious is to look at the original source material and there are things that people are missing. You hear this about Frankenstein! There are wonderful things in the Kenneth Branagh Frankenstein - and then there’s wonderful things that are still missing. I’m finding that out: we’re researching now a project now - I don’t want to get into too much detail - a project about Captain Nemo. And there are marvellous things in Jules Verne! Great as the Disney 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is, and there are wonderful things in the Harryhausen Mysterious Island - but they’re miles away from who Nemo really is."
Apart from anything else, he’s Indian.
"Absolutely, which is a fascinating thing. I’ve just discovered that there is a French television version from the 1970s with Omar Shariff, very hard to find. But anyway it’s one of many projects that we’re very far from, we’re not anywhere near production. But I am definitely staying in fantasy. Two out of the three projects that we’re talking about tend to be fantasy/horror orientated. Not so much science fiction, I don’t know why, but they tend to be towards horror or fantasy. Maybe I find more leeway there to talk about people and find stories that I like. You tend to do things that you liked as a kid. You tend to come around to that.
“The reality is, I think, and this is kind of self-conscious in some ways too, is that I’m really in love with the Hammer pictures. And that I think was a very, very obvious conscious influence. Hammer, because of their budgets, are very compact. They’re very rich and they’re dense in their design. The Universal pictures had height! I think the screen was squarer. From Frankenstein to even the lesser-budgeted ones, they had height to the sets. Whereas what you get in the Hammers - or the Corman Poe pictures maybe - is you get a bit of density. That art direction - maybe those were heavy influences."
Given that your background was theatre, how did you assemble film-making people?
"For me, the eye has always been on movies, from the beginning of time that I can remember. I fell in love with movies, I wanted to make movies. I’m old enough just to remember having super-8 film, playing with animation and stop-motion as a teenager. like a lot of people I knew that I wanted to do that, even from childhood when I was playing and my first acting classes that I had when I was a kid. But the theatre was accessible. You could walk in the door, in the town that you lived in - here in Baltimore for instance. You could get involved and then, my God, you’ve got everything. You just go crazy.
“So very early I was acting, very early I was into design, very early into directing. But all along it was ‘but I want to be making films.’ And there have been some false starts over the years: projects that I think are still good scripts that I tried to raise money for. It’s difficult, just incredibly difficult to raise private money when you haven’t done anything. You have some good theatre credits behind you but people look at you and they somehow can’t make the imaginative leap. It takes a little bit of time. So in some ways the film-maker in me was always there. It’s just that I also love the theatre. It was easier and cheaper to get into. By the time I got round to producing my own plays it was certainly a lot less expensive than producing anything on any kind of film. So it took me a little while and there were a couple of false starts along the way."
Where did you find the investment for Jekyll and Hyde?
"It’s still what I’m doing in some ways, although I am talking now, pitching some much larger budgeted scripts - as a matter of fact just a couple of days ago - to producers who are attached to larger, familiar Hollywood companies. I had some meetings in New York. So it has slowly cracked the door open, to be able to talk to some people. But basically I just went to rich people, I kept knocking on doors until somebody sat down long enough to say, ‘I think you’ve got something and I’ll take a risk with you. I’ll get involved.’ In some ways, maybe compared to some other film-makers, we were a little luckier there because it really didn’t take so long.
“We had the original Jekyll and Hyde investor pull out a month before shooting began. And this was devastating because when you’re working on such a tight budget, we planned it, like my theatre background, I just planned everything. The company had a little bit of money and the first stuff that was shot was the stuff in the Carew house. I had a little bit of money and I said: ‘If we delay we’re going to lose the momentum. We’re going to lose the actors that we’ve put together here at this stage, and we’ve booked the locations.’ We shot some of it in a museum and I said, ‘We’re going to lose this.’
“So I had a little bit of money and I found the investor that came through within a matter of three weeks. So the first investor took the better part of a year to find, talking to many people - and it was one person, interestingly enough, too. Some movies you have many people putting money in. But I’ve been lucky in the pictures so far that we have found people to come on board. So we found a guy, Terry Woods, who’s the executive producer, who said, ‘I see something great here.’ We had shot for a week actually! Because I had just enough money to begin shooting that August. We were shooting the location stuff because in Baltimore here on the East Coast we have a heat situation where it can get kind of brutal, and I wanted to make sure that we got the location stuff done first before we moved into the sets in the studio. Then we were very lucky, because within three weeks of meeting with Terry he said, ‘I’m in with you’ - and then we were able to do it."
Did you shoot on DV?
"It is a digital picture. Most of everything that we have right now is digital. That helped us a great deal with the budget. Cold Harbor, the drama, was shot on film, so things are kind of a mix right now. What we’re planning for 2003, the horror pictures are primarily digital."
Where has Jekyll and Hyde been shown, apart from Manchester?
"We completed the picture - and this is fascinating - and we sent a rough to Gil. He responded relatively quickly - and I don’t know why that surprised, whether it was politeness or he liked it. From the moment the sound mix and the film was finally completed, it was a matter of weeks before the Manchester festival. So we got that finished just in time because he liked it and accepted it. So Manchester was first.
“Then a few weeks later - it seems that everything has been happening in four-week increments since then - it was shown in Los Angeles at another festival called Shriekfest where it also won. It won two awards there, including something they did for me called the Shriekfest Award for my hyphenate status as an actor/producer/director. They had also - and I didn’t know this until a week before Shriekfest - accepted another film that I played the lead in, a science fiction picture called Despiser which a fellow named Philip Cook made. That’ll be on video sometime in the Spring. There’s no date for that either. He went ahead and signed a contract for American and European distribution. I don’t know what else he’s got at this point but I know sometime in the Spring it’ll be out. There is no date yet for Jekyll.
“Then we did our premiere. We missed a deadline. There’s this new thing, the New York City Horror Festival, that some folks are doing. They started as film-makers. It’s funny, we missed the deadline but they e-mailed us on the day of the deadline to tell us we didn’t make the deadline, so I’m not sure what that was about. Then in November we had our Maryland premiere here in Baltimore. Everybody of course had been hearing about things and wanting to see it. Other than that, we have sneaked it at a couple of horror conventions on the East Coast and we’re continually being asked: would you show it? So we’re probably not going to do any more festivals at this point, we’re just going to wait and see what the release date on television and video will be - which will be sometime this year."
So have you got video distribution sorted out?
"We are now sorting that out. Actually just before Christmas we were presented with three offers so we’re seeing what happens now between now and February. There’s the AFM in February. Now that the holidays are over and people are getting back to business and can look at the film, we’re giving it some more time, seeing which might be the best company to go with. But how this thing works: there might be five different contracts for all the territories in the world as we work on this throughout the year."
I guess that Maryland is not a hotbed of film-making activity.
"It is and it isn’t. The internet and digital are the great levellers. Where, ten years ago, if you took a stick and threw it five miles you could hit another film-maker, well gosh, you could drop it outside your door now and there’s someone who is thinking about picking up a digital camera and doing something. There is so much going on everywhere. So there are more people working in Maryland right now - and I think that’s the same everywhere. There are friends of friends who are talking about things everywhere.
“And in distribution, in the film world, digital has become accepted. It’s because of Lucas pushing and the fact that Rodriguez on the higher-end Sony 24fps video did Spy Kids 2, technically on video. Distributors are coming round to it. I think the festivals were the ones who tipped that over because there was a time just recently when they didn’t want to project anything on video, you had to have a print. That’s all gone, that’s all changed. So I think once the cue starts to come from the distributors and the festivals, all of a sudden people are empowered and they’re saying: ‘I’m going to make a film.’ I’m just seeing a lot more people. I’m getting calls from film-makers, saying: ‘What advice can you give me? I’ve been reading about you. What’s going on?’
“Hotbed, I don’t know - but there are more than I thought would have been in Maryland. And of course Blair Witch sort of comes out of Maryland. I think that also empowered a lot of people who maybe could put the equivalent of $5,000-$10,000 together. That might make a good demo but believe me, a lot of the films - and I’m sure you see a good number of them, and this is not trying to be cheeky because I do know where Jekyll lives on the scale - but I’m seeing a lot of terrible stuff. Because five or ten thousand dollars doesn’t really do anything. Everybody has such great ideas. Or they’re making a zombie picture which they think is manageable and it really isn’t!"
The crucial thing in any Jekyll and Hyde film is the make-up. Where did you get yours?
"I had tried to get a production off the ground called Conjuring Aurora which is in production. It’s a comedy about a guy, played by me, who’s a magician who dreams of the big time. He dreams of the Vegas thing, the television thing, the Lance Burton thing - but he’s doing children’s parties and he lives in his van. He’s at the lowest end of his tether and through a series of circumstances, helping a friend out, he runs into a woman who dumps an eleven-year-old girl on him, who claims to be his daughter. Well, this shocks him no end. And they spend the film trying to find Lucy, the mother, and are they really father and daughter?
“I had thought of this a few years ago. I had a little girl who played Tiny Tim to my Scrooge, and her mother was my attorney at that point! And this kid was fabulous, just charming. This brewed and I came up with a little story. She has since graduated from college. So I thought about it. I saw another little girl, watching a piece of theatre a few years ago, and that kind of reminded me of the story. Then along came The Sorcerer of Stonehenge School. To make a long story short, there is a sequence at the end of the script when my character is supposed to jump 40 years into the future. So I hunted around and I found Robert Yoho.
“Years ago we didn’t do Conjuring Aurora. We shot the bulk of the stuff with the little girl back in August, then when the leaves turn green again we’ll complete the picture - because I needed to get the stuff with her before she started to physically, bodily change too much. Pre-teenagers tend to suddenly shoot up! That’s when I first met Bob. I looked at his portfolio and I said, ‘I’m going to need to do a really successful age here. We’re going into Dick Smith territory here.’ This is a comedy drama where I want them to believe the characters.
“Well, when I originally set the film up of course we didn’t make it, but I had met Bob, and Bob stayed in the back of my mind. He was the first person I called and he said, ‘Of course I’m going to do it!’ On stage, I didn’t really do anything, I just changed the vocal and the physical and mussed my hair up. I had a dentist make a set of teeth and that also helped impede my speech to a degree. I played with a lot of rolling my Rs and melodramatic things with Hyde. So we got talking about him.
“The first thing that went out the window, the first thing we agreed on, Bob and myself, was to get away from the primitive primate idea. Remember that for a number of years you couldn’t see the Fredric March version. When we were growing up it was the big mystery: why did they take it off the market. But everybody saw the photographs in Famous Monsters of the ape-like make-up. That’s the first thing out the window - we just don’t even go there. Then I think in talking about him, the key for me in some ways - and it doesn’t come up too obviously - is not the idea that he drinks the potion. Like the Tweety and Sylvester, where Tweety drinks the potion and becomes this other Tweety. I think the idea is that Jekyll drinks the potion and drops his mask. That’s what’s underneath. So we said: why don’t we think of a satyr, think of the Devil, and think of the Joker? Think of the medieval image of a grinning devil. And there’s one idea of taking that to its conclusion that didn’t fully get realised. In hindsight, when you’ve lived with a picture, you say, ‘Oh, there are all these little things I would have liked to have done.’ One, for instance: in setting it in 1900 and pulling in some of the modern technology, I really, really wanted, in hindsight, to put a 1900 automobile in Jekyll’s laboratory.”
“Some of the sketches actually have these bony horn things that have broken through the skin. It looks like a big zit on his forehead. But if you look carefully that’s actually starting to happen; there’s this white breakthrough on the other side as the ridge begins to build up. So we pulled back and that’s as far as we got. Stage three. Because some of the sketches have this kind of horn coming out. Perhaps I was a little nervous about that. In such a rapid conclusion, in the dark, people might say: ‘What the hell is that? Is that a piece of banana stuck on his head?’ I was really worried that we wouldn’t know what it was without him suddenly getting cloven hooves or something. We pulled that back but that’s really the idea; it’s his psychological side, it’s dropping that mask and then fantasising that. Well, if it went to its extreme, he’d have horns. It’s very, very subtle. The prosthetics just help pull his face. Even when he’s grimacing I’m trying to do it while physically staying grinning, but the prosthetics help that.”
interview originally posted 4th June 2005