BJ McDonnell is a courageous guy. It’s never an easy task for someone to come into a horror series that is held pretty high by fans, and attempt to give said series their spin, without facing a barrage of fanboy rants. With that being said though, if anybody has the qualifications to take over the HATCHET series, BJ’s definitely the guy. McDonnell has been a part of HATCHET‘s charm since the first film, being the steadicam operator on the first, main camera operator on the second, and now with HATCHET III, the director. Our review of the film will be up soon, but here’s a preview: IT KILLS.
We were able to catch up with BJ for a little bit, where he discussed taking over the series for III, and what’s in store for viewers when HATCHET III hits VOD and limited theaters on June 14th. Read on!
BJ: Hey, how are you doing buddy?
Icons: Not too bad at all.
So, you’ve been a part of the HATCHET family since the beginning, with being the camera operator on the first two, how did it feel when Adam (Green) asked you to take over the director’s chair for HATCHET III?
It was awesome. I never really expected that to happen, to tell you the truth, because I never really asked to direct HATCHET III. Adam basically picked me out of the group of people that he had in mind because of the fact that I was a part of the team from day one, I knew the story, I knew the characters and I knew the monster. I also have a lot of experience of getting things done as a camera operator, because I’m usually setting up the shots and dealing with the cast and crew and everything, so it just kind of the choice to go with. He knew I really wanted to direct, so what better way to do it than with a stepping stone like this?
HATCHET has a pretty big fanbase, were you nervous at all taking the reins and doing your own thing?
You’re always nervous doing anything like that, especially trying to just put yourself out there, and doing something that the fans with end up either really loving or really hating. So, yeah, there’s always been nervousness about the whole situation, you want to make sure you make the best movie that you possibly can, while also following along with the rules of the movie that have already been established, and make the fans happy. My goal was to make it the best that it could be, or better than the other two, look-wise and action-wise. I wanted to all around, make it bigger. I was definitely nervous directing the first night, but it’s a comfortable place for me to be, on-set.
You’ve made a name for yourself as one of the go-to guys when it comes to camera operators, working on some of the biggest movies around, was it an easy transition to go from that to directing? Did you ever just feel like grabbing the camera and showing the crew what you wanted during HATCHET III?
There were definitely times where I did that, it’s hard to explain, other than to just show someone. I knew what I wanted for certain shots, so I would say “well let’s do this”. The funny thing is, that I have the Artemis Director’s Viewfinder on my phone, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that for the iPhone, but it’s the most accurate director’s viewfinder that you can get, so it was kind of easy to just pull my phone out and show the shot to the D.P., the camera operator and the crew, to show them what’s going on. We couldn’t afford a steadicam operator so I did all of the steadicam work on the film, and I did a couple of the other shots, but I left the rest to my friend Brian and my other buddy Eric Leach. Eric was the “b” camera operator and was also the second unit D.P. and second unit director, he’s a good buddy of mine.
Right on. The differences between to first two HATCHET films and HATCHET III are huge. It feels similar to the tonal leap between ALIEN and ALIENS, it’s bigger, and your film is much more stylized, and it has some pretty huge action pieces going on, was that your intention with HATCHET III?
I didn’t want to shoot this one like the other ones, look wise. There other ones were in 1.85:1 and I didn’t want that, I wanted to fight for the 2.40:1 aspect ratio to make it look a big movie. Luckily, I won that battle and it was great. The whole style of it, I wanted to make it look more cinematic, more like a movie, using dollies, not just steadicams or sticks. From the beginning, my whole intention was to make it look bigger, even thought it had the smallest budget of them all.
Really? It looks bigger than the first two put together. Was all of the big action pieces in Adam’s script, or were all of those choices things that you wanted?
It was something that I wanted to do. Adam and I, and Robert Pendergraft, the effects artist, all got together and would talk about the script. Adam told me what he wanted, I told him what I wanted, and Robert would tell us if we could do the effects or not, and if so, how we could accomplish them. There’s a big action sequence in the middle of the film that I wrote and gave to Adam, and he was super cool about it, and put it in the script, as well as some other ideas that I had. Even the ending, what happens at the end, is something I really wanted to do. The dialogue is all Adam’s dialogue, I didn’t write any of the dialogue or anything like that, he had the whole concept of it, so that’s all his.
Aside from the crazy as hell kills, and some really funny dialogue, the HATCHET films have been pretty steady with having genre favorites in them. Your film has Caroline Williams (TCM 2), Zach Galligan(GREMLINS), and some other “guests” in it as well, did you have them in mind, or did you just go through the normal casting process to get those roles filled?
Zach Galligan was someone that I put on my list of people I wanted to cast, which was great and Adam agreed that he’d be great to have. I was trying to not go with just the people that you see all of the time. Adam cast Caroline because she’s friends with Adam’s wife, and they had met at a convention. She expressed her desire of really wanting to be in a HATCHET film, and I had worked with her on Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2, she was really sweet, so I said “hey, let’s go ahead and cast her” and it was a great choice. She was really fun to work with, and a blast, same with Zach. Great people to work with.
The film kind of has a finality to it, do you see yourself or anyone else for that matter making another HATCHET down the road, or have we seen the last of Victor Crowley?
For me, my days with Victor Crowley are done, this is the last one. You never know with horror films, they probably could go on and on with these, I’m sure they could make a fourth HATCHET at some point, but I wouldn’t do it. It was hard enough making HATCHET III, and I’m happy with what I did, but I definitely want to move on do something that’s just mine.
Right on. Well BJ, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. HATCHET III, in my opinion, is by far the best in the series, you did a great job.
Dude, thank you so much, that means so much to me, I tried my hardest.
HATCHET III hits VOD and limited theaters on June 14th via Dark Sky Films.