“What if the most chilling novel of all time was actually based on a true account of a horrific experiment gone awry? When he is suspended from his university job for his outlandish ideas, Professor John Venkenheim leads a documentary film crew to the rim of the Arctic Circle in a desperate effort to vindicate his academic reputation. The object of his ridicule? His obscure theory that Shelley’s literary classic is, in fact, a work of non-fiction disguised as fantasy. In the vast, frozen wilderness, Venkenheim and his team search for the legendary monster, a creature nearly three hundred years old and still cloaked in mystery. What they find is an unspeakable truth more terrifying than any fiction…”
Andrew Weiner, director of THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY was nice enough to answer a few questions regarding the film, his future projects, and his thoughts on the scariest non-horror moments in film. Check it out!
What inspired the creation of THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY?
First and foremost, credit has to go to Mary Shelley and her novel. 195 years after it’s initial publication, it’s still being discussed, dissected and reinvented. It’s an astounding piece of literature, made all the more so, when you take into account that Shelley was still a teenager when she wrote it. Beyond the novel, Vlady Pildysh, my writing partner on the project, dreamed up the high concept for the movie. Together we outlined the story and then wrote the screenplay. I was introduced to Vlady though Ben Sitzer an L.A.-based producer, who’s a close friend I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with from time to time. Ben has a great eye for talent, so when he told me I should get to know Vlady, I made sure that I did.
Were you a fan of the previous takes on the famous story?
I love Boris Karloff’s version of the creature. Though on the surface, it’s completely different than the character in the novel, Karloff beautifully captures the tragic humanity that resides within the creature. Some critics feel that any remake or film that involves Frankenstein needs to adhere dogmatically to the novel, while others would prefer to see the movie version most closely associated with Karloff. In the case of Shelley’s novel, I think creative license is acceptable, chiefly because, Mary Shelley indicated that she would be okay with that. Based on my extensive research of Shelley, as an artist, she seemed quite generous in that she released the novel to the world and allowed others to put forth their own interpretation of her work. In her own time, the novel was widely successful and spawned many stage plays of the novel. Many of these plays invariably differed dramatically from the novel, but from what evidence I could gather, she was very supportive of these other re-imaginations of her work.
All that said, The Frankenstein Theory is not an adaptation of the novel. We’re operating under the assumption that the novel is loosely based on true events – though presumably some details, like the description of the creature or the characters were altered or embellished. With the creature that being investigated in THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY I felt that given that the creature is now 200 years old and has lived a life of isolation he would be dramatically, perhaps unrecognizably, different than the creature from the novel.
The film itself is pretty gorgeous, was keeping it visually appealing just as important as the storytelling aspect of the film?
Filming in the wilds of Alaska on a shoestring budget was extremely challenging, but I wouldn’t have done it, unless it was necessary to the storytelling of the film. Beyond it fitting with the plot of the film that Vlady and I created (that the creature remained in the Arctic following the events of the novel), it was necessary to convey some of the thematic elements of the film and novel. I wanted the sense of isolation and loneliness that resides within the creature and our protagonist, Jonathan Venkenheim, to be mirrored by their surroundings. The film is also an odyssey, we start in sunny Los Angeles, but travel into the extreme North. I wanted the environment to get more and more inhospitable to help play into the characters’ psychological unravelling as things steadily deteriorate.
Finally I did want a look for the film that was cinematic and beautiful – something that was a little out of the norm for your typical found-footage movie. It wasn’t easy to get, but I thought it was well worth it. I would like to take a moment to single out J.R. Foster, who was the 1st A.D. up in Alaska. There are so many people that are involved in the making of a movie (even a low-budget one like mine), that don’t get the credit they deserve. J.R., like a lot of the folks on the shoot, wore a lot of different hats. He was instrumental in keeping us on schedule and on budget (as was our line producer Dawn Wiercinski). J.R. knows Alaska, he knows filmmaking, he’s smart, resourceful and put his heart and soul into the movie. Without him and the rest of the crew, I’d still be stranded up in Alaska trying to figure out how to get home.
Are you fan of the horror genre, and if so, have there been any recent films within the genre that has stood out to you?
I am very much a fan of the genre. Among recent films, I really enjoyed THE LAST EXORCISM. This shouldn’t be too surprising as I enlisted Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko, the writers/executive producers of that film to help me make THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY. What I enjoyed about THE LAST EXORCISM is that it took its time introducing us to a fascinating world with some great characters, it delivered scares towards the end of the movie, but it didn’t rush into it. Instead, the filmmakers had the confidence that the film would hold audience’s attention based on the merit of good storytelling and acting – I for one was completely riveted by the film. Oddly, I sometimes find non-horror films to be scarier than horror films. I found some of the sections of LIFE OF PI (which I loved) to be absolutely terrifying. The first battle scene in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is another non-horror film scene that had my heart pounding. That just might be the most tense action sequence I’ve ever seen.
Okay since you’ve been asking me questions, I’d love to turn the tables for a second and ask you what you would pick as the scariest non-horror film scene is and tensest action sequence.
Wow, I don’t get asked that much. That question is actually one that my friends and I go through a lot. There are plenty of non-horror films that terrify me. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is one of them. Daniel Day Lewis scares the hell out of me in that one, same with Simon Rumley’s RED WHITE & BLUE. Rumley’s film is extremely unsettling, in the best way. For a specific scene, I’d probably also go with RED WHITE & BLUE‘s ending, when Noah Taylor’s character decides to not only get back at Marc Senter’s character, but pretty much skin the guy. It’s shocking as hell.
THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY could be categorized as a found-footage film, what drew you to make the film using that technique/angle?
Not once did I think of using a different style for this film. From the get go, the fake-documentary style was in the DNA of the story (not to mention the budget!). This was the second fake doc I made (the first was a dark comedy I produced called MAIL ORDER WIFE), I’ve also spent a little bit of time in the documentary world, so it’s something I understand quite well. What I find funny, is that some people who consider themselves purists of the found footage genre are very upset that I used a score in the film. To me, it makes perfect sense. Even if the original filmmaker that was making the movie died, somebody obviously came along and finished the film in post. Documentaries, just like feature films, rely heavily on score, color-correction and other post-production elements – so why not use them? An actual real life found footage film is GRIZZLY MAN which Werner Herzog directed following the death of Timothy Treadwell. Werner went several steps beyond merely editing or scoring the film, he inserted himself into the movie. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it – tragic, fascinating – totally engrossing. With THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY, I actually wrote Mozart’s Requiem into the screenplay with the idea that I would use it as part of the score. I then collaborated with super-talented composer, James Sale, who wrote some fantastic music for the film and was lucky enough to get Marina V to record the song over the end credits, which still gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I hear it.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just been hired to write and direct a series of short horror films. I start shooting in about two weeks. As soon as I’m done, I’d love to share them with you. After that, I’ll turn towards my next feature film, which is a stripped-down thriller. After trudging through two feet of snow on THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY, this one conveniently takes place during the summer.
There ya have it Fright Fiends! Be sure to check out THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY on Dvd/Bluray now via IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT.