Filmmaker and novelist Owen Egerton is one of the busiest and most inspiring creatives in Hollywood. From writing to directing, to penning critically acclaimed novels, his creativity knows no bounds. He’s written for Ryan Murphy Productions, Blumhouse, Fox, Warner Bros. and Disney, and is the author of four novels including “The Book of Harold,” “The Illegitimate Son of God,” which Warner Bros. optioned, and most recently “Hollow,” named one of the best books of 2018 by NPR. In addition, he is also one of the talents behind the Alamo Drafthouse long-running comedy show, “Master Pancake.” At the heart of it all, Owen Egerton is a storyteller and his story is shaping up to be one of the best ever told.
In the late-summer of 2018, Egerton is bringing the latest chapter of career to the masses. This time around he has his sights set on capturing the hearts of film fans from coast to coast with an all-new dark comedy set in the world of the horror genre. His sophomore directorial effort, “Blood Fest,” centers around die-hard genre fans flocking to a festival celebrating the most iconic horror movies, only to discover that the charismatic showman behind the event has a diabolical agenda. As attendees start dying off, three teenagers with more horror-film wits than real-world knowledge must band together and battle through every madman, monstrosity, and terrifying scenario if they have any hope of surviving. The film boasts an all-star cast featuring Tate Donovan (The Untouchables, The Only Boy Living in New York, The O.C.), Robbie Kay (Once Upon a Time), Seychelle Gabriel (The Last Airbender, Falling Skies, Sleepy Hollow), Jacob Batalon (Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War, Every Day, and The True Don Quixote), along with Barbara Dunkelman (RWBY), Nick Rutherford, Chris Doubek, Rebecca Wagner and Zachary Levi.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Owen Egerton to discuss his unique career path and the challenges he has faced along the way, In addition, Egerton offers an inside look at the making of “Blood Fest” and what the future might hold for him.
How did you get involved with the arts early on in life?
My parents were both doctors and when they weren’t seeing patients, my dad was always typing away at thriller novels and my mom was writing articles and stuff. So, I’ve always loved the idea of writing and I couldn’t think of anything more exciting to do with my life than to write and tell stories! Pretty early on, basically right out of college, I quit the only job I’ve had and moved into a VW camper. I spent my days in coffee shops abusing the free refills on coffee and my evenings doing comedy gigs to pay for the coffee! It was basically comedy at night and writing my first novel during the day. Things just sort of went from there!
You’ve certainly had an interesting career path. What are some of the lessons you learn early on that had a big impact on you?
That’s a great question! I think part of the early lessons that I learned was that no one needs me to do this! [laughs] No one is going to beg me to write or to make movies. It’s not necessarily going to make me a lot of money but if I feel that I’m called to do it, I should go ahead and do it anyway! I’ve always sort of approached the whole thing as a vocation like in the old sense of you have a calling to do something. For me, writing and filmmaking have fallen into that! That has really, really helped because sometimes you’re like, “I’ll write because I’m talented!” But, what you quickly realize is, when you are writing every other day you don’t feel talented at all! You feel like a joke or like you can’t get through page! [laughs] It’s a great thing to remember that you’re not doing this because you’re the most talented person or because it’s some road to glory or that you’re needed to do it. You do it because it’s somehow how you’re going to work out who you are in the world!
I’m sure you experienced your fair share of ups and downs through the years. Where do you look for inspiration?
When I run dry there are a number of different places I look to fuel my creative fire. One of my favorite things to do is to simply have my kids tell me a story. My kids are 10 and 13 years old and they have a constant supply of stories in their head. They’re still at that age where play comes naturally. When we grow up, we have to work a little harder to remember to play. For them, storytelling is fun, it’s play and it’s a blast, which it always should be! Even when it’s a struggle it should be fun and exciting! They do that so naturally, so that is a real key place. As far as other places I go, I start reading the work or watching the films of people that I love. I try to listen to a Charles Mingus album and that always lights a couple of flames underneath me! Those are just a few of the places ago!
What do you consider your biggest influences in terms of the artist we see today?
A number of things came my way and rocked my world in terms of how I approach art overall. One of them was my first Kurt Vonnegut book. I remember I was working at a children’s daycare watching kids. For some reason, completely inappropriately, someone had put a copy of “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” on the shelf next to the “Goosebumps” and Judy Blume books. I was like, “What is this book?” I picked it up and started reading it. I remember thinking, “Oh my God! I didn’t know you were allowed to write like this! It thrilled me because it was so funny, subversive and brilliant but the language was simple. It really thrilled me! Another thing that had a big impact was when I started doing improv comedy pretty early on in my 20s. Matter of fact, that’s where I met my wife. We were part of the same improv troupe here in Austin, Texas. There was something there about getting up on stage, playing again and building something out of nothing. That had a huge impact on me.
Very cool! You mentioned doubting yourself at points. When do you feel you really came into your own or got into the groove as an artist?
Oh, man! I don’t know! The doubt continues, and the finding of the groove continues! You know, sometimes you think you’ve found your groove, but I think another way to do it is to make your groove. I mean, that’s what a groove is right? It’s a line in the dirt. When a farmer plants his seeds, he has to make the groove before he puts the seeds in. That’s just work. That’s being in front of the laptop for too many hours or thinking through ideas and sketching them out and constantly changing things. The grove I had in my 20s and the groove I have now are different because I’m creating it all the time. I’m forming it and shaping it by doing the work. Along with that comes a lot of doubt. That’s a constant companion in the creative life. Try to kick it out and you’re going to find your house is lacking a roommate. I don’t know if there was ever time I ever thought, “Oh, I’ve got this now!” It’s always been a process of creating and discovering along the way.
Your latest project is a new film called “Blood Fest.” How did the idea initially come about and made it a story you wanted to bring to the screen?
Through the years, I worked off and on I’ve worked off and on with events at the Alamo Drafthouse. I’ve done a lot of comedy events for them and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the Alamo family for years. The Alamo Drafthouse shows movies and has food and drinks, but they also have these events where they let the movie bleed off the screen. For example, they might show “JAWS”, but they will show it in a pool. They will have people watching it, sitting in inner tubes and the Alamo will hire scuba divers to swim underwater and, at the exact appropriate moment, pull someone’s leg! [laughs] it’s those type of moments! You’re watching the movie but you’re also getting this little extra experience and that’s something that’s always kind of thrilled me. I’ve always thought it so much fun! I started coming up with some type of festival or event like that that I would want to go to. It would be an event where I could walk around in all the horror locales that I love. I really wanted to walk around those worlds that I’d seen on screen and get creeped out while there! That’s how the initial idea came about. That’s a place I want to go to! I really don’t really have the skills to build the whole place, so I decided to make a movie about it! [laughs]
Tell us a little about how you plot the course for the story you are bringing to the screen.
It always starts with a script. I go through the process of “What is my world and what are my beats?” — A classic three act structure. Once you’ve got that, you just keep revising and focusing on how to make it better and more entertaining. Then you ask, “How do I work within the confines of what I’ve got and how do I take advantage of the things that are coming your way in terms of particular cast members or cool sets and locations?” It’s a constant thing where you have a plan of action, even as you go in to filming on that day, but you’d be a fool to marry yourself to one particular path when you get there because different things become available. Different ideas may strike you from camera angles, a cool thing you might do with the plot or even a brilliant idea from someone else. Someone might say, “have you ever thought about doing it this way?” All of those things kind of come together, so it’s a really cool relationship between planning, planning, planning and also being willing to throw all those plans away! [laughs]
“Blood Fest” is your second feature film. How did the experience compare to your previous outing?
I was working with a much bigger group of people this time around, both in front of and behind the camera. My first film, “Follow,” was a very small cast, a very limited crew and that had its own beautiful intimacy. We were really tight! In this case, we had a much bigger cast and I was working with the brilliant people at Rooster Teeth, which is such an amazing community of creatives. That was a real thrill. Whether it was hundreds of people filming for the bigger scenes or just working with their creative arts department, figures and effect folks, it was a super exciting! One of things I love most about filmmaking, more so even then scriptwriting or novel writing, is that you’re collaborating with a huge group of people. If there’s any one moment or shot in a film, you forget how many people put it in time, effort, thought and creativity into that one moment! It gets as deep as the color of the T-shirt someone is wearing in the background, to the music is playing to the way the light hits the character’s face, or the expression that character’s making. All of those things are a result of different people working together and putting their best foot forward. That’s an incredible experience!
The cast for this film was truly wonderful. It’s a great mix of familiar faces and fresh new talent. What did these actors bring to the material that might’ve surprised you?
I was thrilled with our cast! Each and every one of them had this ability to amplify something that was in the script. The lines are fine but when they’re read by someone, it makes it that much better! I remember when Barbara Dunkelman, who plays Ashley, was first reading the lines for the character. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have to write more lines! She’s so funny!” That really inspired me to give that character more life and more of a satisfying arc because Barbara brought so much to it! The same is true with Tate Donovan. He’s such a pleasure to film. He can do more with his eyebrows then I can do within my entire career! [laughs] He’s just brilliant! Then you have folks like Jacob Batalon. He’s got such charm on and off the camera. He’s an incredibly sweet human being that also brings this brilliant humor. It was a constant and I really loved that! With Robbie Kay, there’s a movie star swagger to him that I really adore. The first time I saw Seychelle Gabriel audition, I said, “I can’t wait to see her holding a chainsaw!” The day finally came, and it was the second to last day of filming. When she picked up that chainsaw, I was like, “YESSSSS! I’ve made it to where I wanted to be!” [laughs] It was just wild to watch these actors bring so much fun to the project. They also brought some of the best lines! Nicholas Rutherford, who plays Lenjamin Caine in the film, is a brilliant comic writer in his own. Having him adding lines and improv-ing was great. Once we got the right shot and had some extra time, we were able to have some fun! He came up with some stuff that still makes me laugh to this day!
As you said, this film was much larger than your directorial debut. That means there are a lot more moving parts. What do you consider the biggest challenges you had to face and overcome?
Some of the biggest challenges involved doing so much in such a small amount of time. I think that is constantly the case whether you’re working on a half a million-dollar film or an $80,000-dollar film. You always wish you had more time. It even comes down to the struggle of having enough sunlight for a particular shot or, in our case, enough night! So many times, we found ourselves saying, “We need another shot, but the sun is rising. We have to call it a day!” That was definitely a big challenge. We are also working in the middle of a Texas summer. We were dealing with temperatures into the triple digits while running around in zombie makeup and stuff like that. That was definitely a challenge! [laughs] I think the most memorable thing for many of us is as we were filming Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. We were in Austin, Texas so we didn’t get nearly the amount for horrific floods and weather that Houston and other cities got. However, it was happening during the midst of filming. We were filming some of the quieter moments. There was one night where we were in this giant yellow hanger. We were filming several scenes and have a discussion on if we were going to keep filming. We really needed to because we had to finish the film. As we were filming the wind kept battering the large sliding doors of this hangar. It was going to prevent us from filming and stop anything from happening. But then, everyone in the crew who wasn’t holding a camera or a light from interns to production assistants to producers to executive producers put their hands against that hangar wall and held it against the wind. That allowed us to silence it for the scene! The scene that happened was such a beautiful example of how many hands, people and spirits are behind making even one scene of the film!
You also play I rather villainous role in this film! What inspired your take on the character?
I think I was playing a combination of a couple different things. Probably the best example is the Willy Wonka of the horror world. I’ve seen a lot of people at festivals and the Alamo Drafthouse, who are programmers of film and introduce films, I’m thinking Tim League, Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson, who are so over the top excited about some obscure drive-in movie from 1961. Their enthusiasm and wild knowledge is a thrill to watch. It’s also really inspiring. I think I brought a lot of that into what I was trying to do there, and it was super fun! I have to say that being able to play that character was complete joy!
To bring everything full circle, I wanted to take a look back at everything you’ve accomplished. How do you feel you’ve most evolved along the way?
Wow! What a great question! I think, in some ways, there is a certain tendency that has served me well since I was double dipping coffee and living in a van. That tendency is to jump into places where I don’t know how to swim and learn to swim once I get there. Whether that’s writing the first novel, trying to sell a screenplay or directing a film, there’s something sort of brilliant about… or maybe stupid [laughs]… about trusting that you will learn as you go. I think that’s the way I approach filmmaking. That’s clear. [laughs] My critics will be like, “Yeah, we can see that you didn’t know what you’re doing!” [laughs] But I think it’s the way I approach subject matter as well. I love jumping into stories where the story has questions and I don’t have answers. I love writing a novel that centers around a subject that I don’t know exactly how I feel about it, as opposed to “I have something to say and here’s how I’m going to say it.” I find something thrilling about instead of moving forward with the answers, moving forward with questions and circling those. If I’ve evolved at all, I hope I’m a better question asker than I’ve never been.
I’m sure you have a lot of irons in the fire. Where do you see yourself headed in the near future?
Well, my latest book, “Hollow,” will be coming out in paperback in a couple of months. The hardback came out last year. I’m super excited about that. There has definitely been some conversation about what that might look like as a film. I do have some stuff in the entertainment world coming down the pipes that I’m really excited about that I cannot talk about right now, unfortunately, other than to say I’m very, very excited!
That’s terrific to hear! I can’t wait to see where the journey takes you!
Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate it!
Owen Egerton’s ‘BLOOD FEST’ hits theaters and On Demand on August 31, 2018! The film will expand to limited theaters on September 6th. Follow Owen’s continuing adventures at www.owenegerton.com. Connect with him on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.