Quantcast Ethan Dettenmaier interview

Writer/Director
Ethan Dettenmaier!!!
Filmmaker Ethan Dettenmaier is on a mission... To make a KICK-ASS horror film for YOU! As a fellow fan of the genre, his upcoming SIN-JIN SMYTH promises to deliver. Already boasting a cast which includes actors Jason Hildebrandt & Richard Tyson, along with rockers Jonathan Davis (KORN) & Billy Duffy (The Cult), SIN-JIN SMYTH seems like a project worth waiting for. Read on for the full FRIGHT exclusive scoop!!! - by Robg. 9/05

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What was the first movie you remember really having an impact on you or scaring you?


I saw ALIEN in the theater when I was seven and needless to say I wasn't going to be an astronaut after that. Then about two years later I saw THE THING and that did even more damage. (Laughs) So you can blame Scott and Carpenter! But I also loved THE TWILIGHT ZONE, the work of LON CHANEY and the Monster Machine out of Universal.

At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue filmmaking? Didn't you initially start out as a screenwriter?

No, (Opens a beer) I slugged it out as a Studio messenger. I had written a book but, didn't scratch together a screenplay until about 2002 when I wrote this piece about RENEGADE GI's in Vietnam, working with Kumar Rouge, to traffic narcotics---in the bodies and body bags of dead GIs---and the Military Police Agents who have to put a stop to it. That was the script that got me out of the Studio Messenger Service and served as a work sample for other Production Companies, allowing me to write full time. (Laughs) Thank God!

Now, where did the idea for 'Sin-Jin Smyth' truly originate?

I had been kicking around the idea of a midnight prisoner transfer for sometime... I had also optioned a script about the Devil living in a little boys attic that was dismantled into a fairy tale so, disappointed in the way that turned out, I dusted this story off, wrote a very, very rough draft over a weekend and started to develop the script with a dark, mean element to it. Welcome to SIN-JIN SMYTH!


I had read that you wrote the script and you were unhappy with the various changes that studios and director's wanted to make -


That's right --

And this prompted you to direct it yourself. How difficult is it for an independent filmmaker to really get their vision from script to the screen? And could you take us through this process?

It's NOT impossible! And even though you may see the film frame-by-frame in your head you still have to bridge the art with a business plan in order to acquire the resources you need. With SIN-JIN SMYTH---Once we decided to remain independent---we built the film out into an investment and retained a Securities Attorney out of New York to draw up a Production LLC. At the same time I had to develop the film by re-structuring the script, obtaining letters of commitment from the cast and working out the "look" with a Storyboard Artist... Then, I hired the best production staff available knowing that if anyone was going to be the weak link in this production chain---IT WAS GONNA BE ME!!! So we brought in a qualified UPM (Production Manager) to design a budget and an AD (Assistant Director) to put together an effective schedule (Jonathan Zimmerman off of TOOL BOX MURDERS, MORTUARY). Then pulled together a Production Designer (Rob Howeth off of Tobe Hooper's Mortuary) to get to work on the landscape and sets and a DP (Denis Maloney, of the Academy Award winning film, The Contender), to help map out the shooting style as well as: An Editor, a Sound Designer (Wade Wilson off of Shrek) to invent a MEAN SOUND PACKAGE, a Costume Designer, Make-up FX, FX, Production Sound, Stunt Coordinator (Chris Doyle, who worked for Sam Raimi) Weapons Professionals, everything and put them to work developing every aspect of the film. Then I grabbed a camera and took about two weeks to scout and walk the locations and designed an A, B and C shot list with a clear cut plan of which shots could be omitted once time started to work against me on the set.

Once I had the list mapped out, I circulated those lists to all the department heads so I could get their opinion on it and this way there were no surprises... After that, we---with Producer Lota Hadley---retained a marketing expert to plan a strategy that would explain to any investors just how the film would be sold to the public so they could get their money back! At the same time, we sourced out Product Placement opportunities, worked out the soundtrack, and ran after a Lit Deal that would feature three pieces of literature---providing this stunt worked---the publication of the screenplay, the novelization of the screenplay and production journal in print for the off chance someone would actually find any of this interesting!

Then I hired a local kid to create the comic book, looked into the video game, built a web site and stuffed all the facts and figures into a book with the script, boards and synopsis and everything else and ran down every distributor in town hoping to build interest in a possible partnership... After that, we took any meeting we could with any possible investors and sold the film off block-by-block. Welcome to independent filmmaking! (Laughs) Now... it's time to take this development and step out onto the set and see what we can do! You're synopsis for 'Sin-Jin Smyth' is that on Halloween night at midnight, the devil simultaneously appears in two spots; the highlands of India and a cemetery in Kansas.

Why Kansas? Any personal significance?

Because Kansas is a quiet section of the Bible belt! No one is safe from the Devil!

There's a series of some pretty cool conceptual art & storyboard art on the movie's official website. How much preparation is going into the look of the film?

Just about everything is geared towards the look of the film, the Production Design, Cinematography, Costumes, Weather Effects, all of it is designed to texture each shot and add to the atmosphere.


You're also making a lot of the storyboards readily available on the site. I get the feeling you're really trying to show horror fans what you have in mind for your film. Is the website a way to make the production a bit more interactive with the fans?

WE ARE FANS! The more we can interact with other fans, the better for us! And the MIDNIGHT PRISONER TRANSFER SEQUENCE was carefully selected as an example of what we are trying to transmit to the audience in terms of mood... without giving too much of the film away!

Let's talk casting. Already set for the leads are actor's Jason Hildebrandt & Richard Tyson. How'd these two come about being cast as the leads for 'Sin-Jin Smyth'? I know we're BOTH openly big fans of 80's classic, '3 O'Clock High'.

Tyson is just classic in that! You know Barry Sonnenfeld was the DP on that shoot?

Wow. I had NO idea. That's awesome. (laughs)

I was familiar with the casts work. I had just seen Black Hawk Down and I think both actors---combined---hold the world's record for getting shot at on a movie set (laughs) But in addition to them being solid players, I knew them both personally and was well aware of what they were made of and when you make a movie like this, at night, in the elements, with a tornado closing in, you better know who your people are!

You've also got some guys heavily involved in music taking part in the film. First up, why Jonathan Davis from Korn? How'd you convince him to make the leap from music to acting?

As we worked through the casting process Davis became an option, suggested by my partner Lota Hadley so we forwarded him the synopsis--- just the synopsis---because the primary content of the script was under wraps (The script is circulating with dummy pages in it) and he jumped on the idea. We took a meeting and talked the film out over lunch and he was all about doing the best job possible. He allowed me to get my ideas across and he listened to how we planned to execute the piece and from a character stand point, he was solid. He is the right guy for the part.

Second, can you elaborate on the rumored involvement of The Cult's Billy Duffy at this point?

Duffy is one of the smartest people I've met! Very impressive person! You may know that MIDNIGHT SYNDICATE is composing the orchestration of the score and we were talking about the opportunity to revolutionize the "sound" that they had become known for so we---as a fans of the Leone Westerns where each gunfighter seemed to operate with a certain theme--discussed the possibility of adding a guitar player to get loud and put some power behind it. They (Midnight Syndicate) don't do guitar work so I said if we're gonna get a guitar player let me go out and try to get one of the best, ya' know---let one of the best say no to us first---But Duffy liked the idea and even hit me with some great ideas of his own... We discussed the soundtrack work of Ry Cooder (Southern Comfort, The Long Riders) we talked about what Neil Young did with Dead Man, he was just loaded with inventive ideas and I need all the help I can get on this thing (laughs)! But he grasped the impression we wanted to make! We are in the process of working out a contract now.

What's your connection to make-up effects company 'Make-up & Monsters'? What convinced you that these were the right guys to tackle 'Sin-Jin Smyth'?

Their design work is the connection. We tried to develop a project a year or two back so I knew they could invent! They---like just about everybody else---were sick of seeing shit at the theatre!

You mentioned before, the music & score for 'Sin-Jin Smyth' will be provided by 'Midnight Syndicate'. What's your connection to them and how'd they hook up on your project?

The connection was made over this film. I had heard their music and made an inquiry. At first Edward (Of Syndicate) did not want any part of a soundtrack, he had been hit with offers before but didn't want to step away from what his fans expected from him. So I asked him to take a few minutes out to hear some ideas and look at some of the material and once he saw it, he got me on the phone and said "Damn! This could be great!" so we talked more about the possibilities and they signed up!

I read that you film is going to be one of the first movies in 7.1 surround sound. Explain what your intentions are, how this is possible, and how your going to pull that off?!

I want to hit the audience with a 7.1 sound package. What it takes on a technical front to achieve that is a little too much to get into here but, the plan is to deliver one of the best sound packages ever!

With the horror genre constantly in flux, what are your thoughts of the current state of horror movies? We're starting to see a slow shift back to rated R horror material. Was that always your intent with 'Sin-Jin Smyth'?

The current state of horror movies is pretty sad. There are some people who can still step out and execute but, for the most part, the budgets jump through the roof and the scripts---most of which are developed by committee---are weak re-treads from the past! Most Directors don't have any creative authority within the studio system, they're job now is to take notes and implement the demands of the execs---most of which lack imagination! It's sad because the audience deserves better, they're smart and they don't need to put up with this shit! And SIN-JIN SMYTH, this material is R. We had talks with different potential partners about making the film PG-13 in an effort to suck more money out of a teenage audience but, this was the type of movie I thought thirteen year olds should stay away from!!! And I don't want to compromise content in the hope that we may be able to steal from a young audience! I leave that to the concession stand!

If a 13 year old really wants to see it, he'll sneak in like I did at that age! Have there been any recent films that as a fan have really impressed you or gotten you excited about horror again?

I haven't seen too much lately and it's rare, these days, that I pay to see anything 'cause I'm almost guaranteed to ask for it (the money) back when the film is over. But the excitement for good horror never dies! The classic films by all these masters who have givin' us all this great work is enough to get me excited!

You need to take a peak at the up and coming guys from the East Coast! Being an independent release, I assume you'll be accumulating a lot of cool behind the scenes stuff for the eventual DVD release?

I more we can give back the better! I mean, WE WORK FOR THE FANS and want to give the audience as much as possible and that goes for the DVD as well. Hopefully someone finds it interesting!

We're all excited for this film and wish ya the best, Ethan!

Thank you for taking the time, Robert. Good to talk to you.


Special thanks to Ethan Dettenmaier for his time.

Visit: www.SIN-JINSMYTH.com.



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