We would like to thank Director Richard Schenkman for accepting our interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m from New York, but since about 2000 I’ve lived in Los Angeles full time. I’ve wanted to make movies my whole life and while it was a long and circuitous road to get there, for the last fifteen or twenty years that’s mostly what I’ve been doing. I’ve got a daughter and a cat, both of whom I love very much, and I live in a cool apartment in the heart of Hollywood. So… I can’t really complain!
Can you tell us about how you got started in entertainment industry?
While at University, I was working on my college radio station, making films, writing for the school paper, even publishing a fanzine about James Bond. A few months after graduation, I got a call from a school friend who’d landed a job at CBS records. He told me about a new cable channel that was going to play music 24 hours a day, and the combination of music and television seemed a perfect one for me. I wrangled an interview, and got a job to be one of the very first people to work at what ended up being MTV: Music Television. And the funny part was that it wasn’t the short films or the radio experience that got me hired – it was the James Bond fanzine.
What was your inspiration for ‘Mischief Night’?
Well, “Mischief Night” was actually the inspiration of my friends Eric Wilkinson and Jesse Baget. Eric grew up in New Jersey, where they “celebrate” Mischief Night with real vigour. Anyway, he and Jesse are both lifelong fans of horror movies, and they had the idea and pitched it to Mark Ward at Image Entertainment. He loved it, and gave them a production deal for the movie. Jesse started writing the script with the intention of directing it, but he got busy with other projects and this one had a tight deadline because everyone wanted it ready for Halloween.
They asked me if I’d step in to finish the script and direct the movie, and since I loved what they had done so far, it was my pleasure. The whole project came together very quickly and has been enormous fun to work on.
Tell us a bit more about ‘Mischief Night’.
It’s the story of seventeen year-old Emily Walton, who survived the car crash that took her mother’s life eight years ago, but left her with Conversion Disorder. Emily’s primary symptoms of that disorder are asthma and psychosomatic blindness. Emily and her dad have been living for a few months in a house which last year was the site of a terrible Mischief Night attack, and now it’s October 30th once more. David (the dad) is going out on his first date since his wife’s death, and Emily is therefore alone to be the victim of a frightening Intruder’s Mischief Night “pranks,” which unfortunately get scarier and more deadly as the evening wears on.
It’s a very old-school dark house thriller, and I hope people are both terrified and entertained by the picture.
In your opinion, does character come from plot, or plot from character?
That is a classic question, isn’t it? I know the more PC answer is to say that plot comes from character, but I think that without a compelling story, you don’t have anything. The way I personally write, however, is very much a combination of the two – that is, I’m conceiving them simultaneously, because the moment the beginnings of a plot occur to me, I’m wondering who it is that is at the center of this plot. What kind of person would be involved in this situation? So I guess I’m kind of splitting my answer. Sorry!
Which is your favourite horror movie?
If I go super old-school and say “The Exorcist” that would be a pretty safe answer, right? I really do think it’s a very hard movie to top, however. Terrifying, intelligent, heart-felt, with something to say on top of all the scares and spectacular effects. Having said that, I also loved the original “Omen”, and of course “The Shining”. Is “Alien” a horror movie? It sure plays like one. More recently, I thought “The Others” was scary as hell and I did not see the twist coming.
What in your opinion defines a good movie plot?
Very simply, a story which keeps you glued to the screen, needing to know what’s going to happen next. You need to be invested in the characters, however, otherwise the most complex, brilliant and original plot in the world won’t mean anything to anybody. But having said all that, I think it’s essential that movies have something to say. I don’t mean a “message” per se, but they need to be about something more than just the story they’re telling.
Which writers and/or producers do you admire most and why?
Funny that you ask about writers/producers, and not directors! Filmmaking is generally thought to be a director’s medium.
Still, my favourite filmmakers have always been people who can move from genre to genre; directors like Norman Jewison, Robert Wise, Sidney Lumet and Steven Spielberg. I admire that enormously and I strive to be one of those filmmakers. I know that there are certain filmmakers who become a genre unto themselves – the greatest example probably being Alfred Hitchcock, and god knows I love him – but I see a special talent in being able to disappear into the material, and let the story drive the style, rather than be a director who imposes a style upon the material. Among writers, of course I love William Goldman, Billy Wilder, Francis Ford Coppola and Preston Sturges, among a million others (Ben Hecht, Christopher Nolan, Woody Allen….). It’s probably not an accident that most of those were also directors. To me it’s all one thing as well; I think that may be why so many of the best screenwriters ultimately direct – Billy Ray just being one recent example.
In your opinion, when a writer has an idea for a movie, what questions should they be asking themselves before writing?
That’s a good question. Since these days more often than not I expect I’ll be directing anything I write, I ask myself questions like:
– Will I be able to get this funded?
– Will this be fun to work on, or will it be a miserable experience?
– What do I hope to achieve with this piece of work?
– What am I trying to say with this story?
– Has this been done before? Okay, sure it’s been done before because everything has been done before. But can I bring anything original to this arena?
Anything else you would like to say?
I’m feeling very lucky these days, and being very productive. I’ve been fortunate enough to make movies in very different genres lately, and it looks like my next picture will be a Western – which is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. After that, who knows? Maybe a monster movie, maybe a supernatural thriller. I’m still hoping for a musical, and of course I’d love to get back to comedy. I feel very blessed that I’m getting to make movies, getting them out into the world, and having people actually see them.
Richard Schenkman is a prolific writer, director & producer. His first feature film was The Pompatus of Love, which he wrote with Jon Cryer & Adam Oliensis. Rapturously reviewed, it enjoyed a successful theatrical release in 1995. He then directed the action/drama October 22 for Nu Image/Millennium Films, and followed that with Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God… Be Back by Five, another collaboration with Jon Cryer. It won numerous awards on the festival circuit and was theatrically released. Later, he and Cryer set up the sitcom pilot “Us and Them” at 20th Century Fox TV, and a romantic comedy dance musical at VH1. Schenkman wrote VH1’s pilot for an original animated Elvis series, and crafted commercials & promos, most notably two award winning Mill Valley Film Festival trailers. He also directed episodes of Dick Wolf’s Arrest and Trial and wrote dialogue for EA’s “007 Racing” Playstation game.
Next he wrote and directed VH1’s original movie A Diva’s Christmas Carol, which was a holiday ratings blockbuster and continues to air annually. When his daughter was born, he decided to take a multi-year break from filmmaking to concentrate on raising her. He did, however, teach a Master Class for the Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival, on whose advisory board he serves, and guest lectured at both USC and Cal Arts. He also created “Drama Queen”, an NBC sitcom for Vanessa Williams, and completed several new spec screenplays with Jon Cryer. One of these, “Cosmodrome”, will soon be a graphic novel from Oni Press.
2007 saw the release of two new feature films: And Then Came Love, a romantic-comedy starring Vanessa Williams and Eartha Kitt, and the cult phenomenon Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth, based on the final screenplay by the legendary science-fiction author, which has won many awards and is ranked on IMDB as one of the top sci-fi films of all time. He has also served as a guest faculty member of the LA Film School, teaching comedy directing, and taught commercial production at Columbia College Hollywood. In 2011/12 he wrote several popular IOS platform games for TinyCo, and in 2012 directed three movies for The Asylum, most notably the historical/horror mashup Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. His most recent film is the Halloween-themed home invasion thriller, “Mischief Night.”
In 2010 he published his first novel for children, “The Girl From Atlantis.” 2014 will bring two new children’s books: “BelleRose” and “The Empress’s New Shoes.”
Prior to his feature film career, Schenkman spent more than a decade in the corporate media world. He was one of the original staffers at MTV: Music Television, creating distinctive, influential and award-winning promos, network ID’s, show wraps, news segments, marketing videos and documentary programs.
After five years there, he established his own successful production company, producing and directing music videos, fashion videos, commercials and on-air promos for many clients including Swatch Watch, MTV, Honda Scooters, Pepsi Cola, Showtime, Lifetime, and perhaps most notably his Clio-winning national commercials for the children’s cable TV network, Nickelodeon.
During this period he also worked as a segment producer/director on Don Ohlmeyer’s NBC news magazine Fast Copy; produced and directed the multi-camera SPIN New Music Concert; and created openings and segments for such other series and specials as Fashion America, Showtime’s Funniest Person in America, The MTV Video Music Awards, and The Rolling Stone Reader’s Poll Awards.
In 1990 he was brought to Los Angeles by Playboy Enterprises to revamp the total on-air look of their cable network, from ten-second ID’s to hour-long series. He ultimately served as VP of Production, overseeing dozens of projects. Additionally, he personally created over thirty hours of original programming for cable, home video, and international syndication, including The Club, an original comedy series he co-wrote, produced, and directed, as well as many other short- and long-form comedic and dramatic programs, several documentaries, two pilots, and Late Night, an extremely successful magazine-format lifestyle series that was rated #1 in Italy and Germany.
Categorised in: Interviews
This post was written by Nadia Vella