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Johnathon Schaech: From Hollywood to Horror Scribe

By, Vince A. Liaguno

Horror writers have from time to time crossed from the written page to celluloid. Stephen King has done it perhaps more than any of his dark genre contemporaries – doing cameos and bit parts in everything from feature film adaptations of his own works like Maximum Overdrive, Pet Semetary, and dual Creepshows to TV mini-series like Rose Red and Kingdom Hospital, even stepping outside the genre once to guest on an episode of TV’s Frasier. Clive Barker followed suit with appearances in the film Sleepwalkers (interestingly, an adaptation of a King work) and the TV movie Quicksilver Highway. He’s even branched out into voice work on video games (Undying) and animated shorts (Teddy Scares). Jack Ketchum is the latest dark scribe to “go Hollywood” with small roles in recent adapations of two of his books – Header and The Lost. Even Peter Straub couldn’t resist the acting bug when he guested on his favorite daytime soap opera One Live to Live last year.

Likewise, actors have occasionally transitioned successfully from the screen to the page. Steve Martin did it in the 80’s with The Man with Two Brains and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and more recently with an adaptation of his own novel Shopgirl. Actor Dan Futterman, perhaps best known to audiences for the TV series Judging Amy and the feature films The Birdcage and the more recent A Mighty Heart opposite Angelina Jolie, received an Oscar nomination for his first foray into screenwriting for 2005’s Capote. And Woody Allen has perhaps best personified the idea of an actor/screenwriter hybrid with five decades worth of writing, acting, and directing work that includes Take the Money and Run (’69), Annie Hall (’77), Hannah and Her Sisters (’86), Deconstructing Harry (’97), and Scoop (’06).

Washingtonians1.jpgJust call Johnathon Schaech the aspiring Woody Allen of horror then. Schaech, 38, has joined a versatile shortlist of working Hollywood actors who’ve successfully straddled the line between acting and screenwriting. Just don’t expect to see Schaech’s version of Annie Hall anytime soon for this is one thespian-turned-screenwriter who’s happily immersed himself in horror. The handsome actor, perhaps best known to genre audiences from his roles as an ambisexual drifter in Greg Araki’s 1995 apocalyptic road movie The Doom Generation and the 2001 desert vampire opus The Forsaken, has begun to forge a niche as a successful horror screenwriter with adapations of none other than two Stephen King books and a Bentley Little short story that was featured as part of the second season of Showtime’s The Masters of Horror series under his belt. The busy actor and writer recently sat down with Dark Scribe Magazine between two new genre film roles and the filming of another screenwriting endeavor, a thriller called The Poker Club, to discuss his work as Hollywood’s newest dark scribe.

Dark Scribe Magazine: How did you become interested in screenwriting?

Johnathon Schaech: By acting in movies. An actor is a storyteller and I wanted to be the best actor I could be. So I learned everything I could about the process of making movies.

Dark Scribe: Do you think your work as a Hollywood actor has opened doors for your screenplay work or limited you?

Johnathon Schaech: I think it did both. People would say I'm an actor and base my screenplays where my acting career was at the time...but I just had to work harder, write better, and learn more.

Dark Scribe: You adapted a Bentley Little short story called The Washingtonians with Richard Chizmar from Cemetery TheWashingtonians.jpgDance for Showtime’s Masters of Horror. What are the challenges of adapting a short story versus a novel-length work?

Johnathon Schaech: You have to fill in the blanks with a short story, whereas in a novel you have to reduce and tighten.

Dark Scribe: You also starred in The Washingtonians. Did having a behind-the-scenes involvement add or detract from your performance as an actor?

Johnathon Schaech: I got to learn. Watching a master like [ Changeling director] Peter Medak was such a gift.

Dark Scribe: You obviously have some love for the horror genre – with genre acting and screenwriting credits. What draws you to horror?

johnathon_schaech_hush_001.jpgJohnathon Schaech: I really got involved with horror because my business partner Richard Chizmar is a horror nut and always has been.

Dark Scribe: Who are some of your favorite horror writers?

Johnathon Schaech: Stephen King and Peter Straub.

Dark Scribe: While we’re on the subject of King...Black House, in particular, is a very involved and intricate novel. How did it translate into screenplay form? Were there any areas of the book that were excised in the name of keeping the screenplay length reasonable?

Johnathon Schaech: Yeah, we had to really tighten the book down. We followed strict rules from [ A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code screenwriter] Akiva Goldsman’s production company on how we should adapt. In the end, we received a great phone call from Akiva praising our struggles because it was really mind boggling stuff.

Dark Scribe: You’ve now completed screenplay work on two Stephen King adaptations – From a Buick 8 and the th12170432.jpgaforementioned Black House (which King co-authored with Peter Straub). Was there any added pressure working on two works by a master like Stephen King?

Johnathon Schaech: It pushed me and my partner to grow fast. Birth by fire.

Dark Scribe: Have you received any feedback from King on either of these screenplays? Does his approval or disapproval play any part in how you fashioned these works?

Johnathon Schaech: King is king. So far he has really liked our work.

Dark Scribe: When you’re adapting novels to screenplays, do you feel any pressure to remain true to the source material? Does this ever get in the way of the writing process?

Johnathon Schaech: Yeah, Chizmar and I have always tried to remain true to the authors. Otherwise, we might as well be writing an original screenplay.

Dark Scribe: What is one book or story out there that you’d most like to have a crack at adapting for the screen?

Johnathon Schaech: I have to say Bleachers by John Grisham. I read it and could immediately envision the movie - and it would be a great one!

Dark Scribe: Do you do any other types of writing?

Johnathon Schaech: I wrote several short stories - that suck - and my life moves way too fast to write a novel right now. One day.

Dark Scribe: Tell us something about your latest screenplay – The Poker Club.

Johnathon Schaech: After four long years, Poker Club finally went before the cameras. This project has had many births and many deaths; in other words, we thought we had a go on the film, then we watched it crash and burn. Now we’re hopeful that audiences will finally see it. So far so good.

Dark Scribe: Tell us something about your latest horror acting gigs – Living Hell and the Prom Night remake.

Johnathon Schaech: Living Hell reminded me of The Blob, only smarter. In the new Prom Night, I'm the obsessed schoolteacher stalking one of my young female students...I'm in love in it.

hougallery_lg02.jpgDark Scribe: You’re also an accomplished actor --- over 40 acting credits under your belt in just under 15 years now. Is acting something you’d like to continue – or will writing and directing and producing take center stage at some point in your career?

Johnathon Schaech: I want to be like Clint Eastwood and do it all!

Special thanks to Mr. Schaech's website moderator, the wonderful Wanda from down under, for her assistance with this interview. For more information on Johnathon Schaech, visit his home on the Web.

Posted on Saturday, September 29, 2007 at 11:12AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Awesome interview Vince
Thank you so much
Well worth the wait mate

October 1, 2007 | Registered CommenterWandaful

That was a great interview!!! I wrote down some books I would like to read now. Thanks!!!

October 2, 2007 | Registered CommenterGail
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