Indie Zone: Talking with Nicole Jones-Dion

 

Profile picture of Nicole Jones-DionNicole Jones-Dion is an LA-based writer/director who specializes in genre films. She is currently in pre-production on a YA fantasy that begins shooting this spring. Her first feature film, a YA sci-fi called STASIS, was from one of the executive producers of CLOUD ATLAS. Her writing credits include THEY FOUND HELL for the SyFy Channel; DRACULA: THE DARK PRINCE starring Academy Award-winner Jon Voight, which was distributed by Lionsgate; and TEKKEN 2, based on the best-selling series of video games. She also has several projects in development with her mentor, Sean Cunningham (creator of FRIDAY THE 13TH).

I met Nicole during Women in Horror Month, at the official WiHM website. Timing didn’t allow for an interview to take place during that month, but we decided not to let that get in the way. Nicole’s graciously agreed to answer a few questions about working in the film industry, her CV, etc.

 


Talking with Nicole Jones-Dion

 

S&S: How old were you when you realized that working with film is what you wanted to do?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I’ve always been a storyteller. When I was a kid, I used to write and perform little neighborhood plays and puppet shows, and when I growing up in Germany, I was part of a travelling performance group that went around to different military bases entertaining the troops. I quickly realized I wasn’t the world’s best singer or actor so I focused on my strengths working behind the scenes instead.

Even making the transition to film took a while… I moved to LA to work in video games and I’d written a few spec video game scripts that a friend told me would be better as movies. I’d say I was probably 26-27 when that happened. The person who I really credit with getting me into screenwriting is Iris Yamashita (who was later nominated for an Oscar for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA).  We were both working for a software company at the time and we would meet up every day at lunch to work on our scripts.

 

S&S: Now that you’ve got several credits under your belt, is there anything about working in the industry that you never expected?

Nicole Jones-Dion: There is a certain mystique about the film industry but at the end of the day, it’s a job. For the most part, the industry is full of normal people living normal lives – paying bills, getting their oil changed, shopping for groceries — doing all the things the rest of the world does. They just happen to have a really, cool, fun creative job that they love.

I think most newbie screenwriters envision producers as these Scrooge McDuck type-caricatures sitting in their giant money vaults but that’s not the case at all (at least not with the producers I’ve worked with. If you know any of those money-vault guys, send them my way!). Producers are some of the hardest-working people I know, busy juggling multiple projects in multiple stages of development at any given time. They’re always hustling, always working a deal. Love them or hate them, producers are the gears that keep this town moving.

 

S&S: Is writing for films just a stepping stone to eventual pure directing or producing for you? Or is writing where you’re happy?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I’ve actually doing a lot of soul-searching about this lately… writing is my first love. I live and breathe it. But unless you’re a novelist, a screenplay is not the end product – the film is. I know so many writers who are sitting on a great big pile of unproduced scripts that will never see the light of day, and that can be really disheartening. Or if you are fortunate enough to sell a script… only to have it completely rewritten by the producer and director it goes into production, so the finished film is just a pale specter of what you had envisioned. How do you change this? You decide to make these films yourself.

Making that transition from writer to writer-director and writer-producer has been eye-opening. Now those scripts that I used to think were “good enough” are total crap. You look at each scene differently —  it has to earn the right to be in the finished film. Is there tension, is there drama, is it moving the story forward? If not, it’s gone. Same thing with all those characters – do we really need all these speaking roles? Can some lines be cut or can certain background characters be combined to save costs? Locations and set pieces go through this same process. Looking at a script through the director’s or producer’s perspective instead of the writer’s definitely changes things.

So far, I enjoy directing. It’s an extension of storytelling, but using moving pictures instead of words. It’s like learning a new language, but I like the challenge. I still have a way to go before I’m as comfortable directing as I am writing but that’s OK, it’s part of the journey. Producing feels more like “work,” but if you want ultimate control over the end result, producing is the way to go.

S&S: You’ve got 5 credits as director, 6 as producer, and 12 as a writer.  There’s a lot of overlap, especially in your shorts, so I was wondering if you could answer a basic question for us: What is the difference between directing and producing, in your experience?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I think in general, the director comes up with the creative vision for the film and the producer acquires the resources to make that happen. So while the director gets to do stuff like building outlook books and watching movies and TV shows for visual references, the producer is responsible for raising money, hiring the crew, negotiating contracts, and getting insurance. They are vastly different jobs. Some producers do get involved in the creative process as well, but usually in the development stage. Once production starts, they are busy putting out fires so the director can stay focused on making the day.

 

S&S: When serving solely as a writer (as you did on Dracula: The Dark Prince), how much interaction do you have with the movie as a whole? When does your job on the movie officially end?

Nicole Jones-Dion: Dracula was interesting because it was shot in Romania but because the budget couldn’t afford me to fly out there, I was still in LA. We would have meetings at midnight my time where the producer would give me script changes that would need to be ready for the next day’s shooting schedule. So I was essentially working on Romanian time. Even after the film was shot, I was brought on to write new lines of dialogue for ADR. So even though I wasn’t physically present, I was involved all the way through post-production.

 

S&S: You have a preference for thrillers, and a lot of those thrillers have a technological bent to them. What draws you towards delving into the ways that technology can be used against us?

Nicole Jones-Dion:  My preference leans toward what I call “hidden realities.” These can be expressed in a number of ways, from ghosts and demons to secret societies and government conspiracies. I like to draw back the curtain, so to speak, to expose a little piece of the many possible worlds that overlap our own. Technology does it in a more seductive way… by hiding in plain sight. The Netflix show BLACK MIRROR does a fantastic job of shining the light on the myriad of dangers that our dependence on technology creates. It’s such an excellent show, so disturbing but incredibly thought-provoking. One of my new favorites, for sure.

 

S&S: On average, how long does it take you to see one of your shorts through to release?

Nicole Jones-Dion: People underestimate how much time it takes to make a short. I guess if I was just shooting something on my iPhone, cutting it together myself and using stock music, I could whip something up in a week or so (heck, as the 48-Hour Film Challenge has proven you can make a short in 2 days). But since I never went to film school, my goal with my shorts was to gain as much experience of what a “real” film production is like as possible. So I wanted to go through each step of the process and glean as much from it as possible. From fundraising (2-4 weeks), pre-production (another 2-4 weeks), filming (1-3 days), editing (4-8 weeks), sound, color correction, music, VFX… it all adds up. Especially when you’re calling in favors and people are helping on the side. I think for our 15 minute shorts, they each took about 6-9 months. DEATHDATE is unfortunately taking a bit longer because I shot my feature STASIS in the middle of it, but we’re hoping to wrap it up soon.

 

S&S: On several of the movies you’ve worked as a writer on, the main character has been male. Is it hard writing characters of the opposite sex? Have you ever had anyone check you about something that didn’t seem quite right?

Nicole Jones-Dion: No, and that’s an interesting question because I see the reverse happen all the time (male writers totally misrepresenting female characters). I think it might be easier for women to write men because all our lives, we’ve been inundated with male-dominated stories. We know those characters because we’ve seen them a million times.  I can’t tell you how many times a reader has read one of my scripts then went back to check the title page because they didn’t believe it was written by a woman. I take it as a complement, but it’s also sad that the general consensus is that women can’t write horror or sci-fi and should stick with more traditionally “female” genres like character dramas and rom-coms.

 

S&S: Alright, now for an obvious question: Do you feel like being a woman has helped or hampered you in any way during the course of your career?

Nicole Jones-Dion:  Ask me again in a few years, LOL. As a writer, I feel that the words on the page are gender-neutral – either you can write or you can’t. As a director, it’s a bit different because you’re not only judged on the end result of the film but also by also your cast and crew while you’re on set. You have to manage a team of people and make decisions in real-time, often under incredible pressure and impossible deadlines. I think working in management in corporate America helped prepare me in that capacity, but there is still an undercurrent of gender bias in the film industry. Luckily more attention is being paid to the problem now and there are programs in place to try to correct the imbalance, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ll see how it all works out in the long run.

 

S&S: As a director: Practical effects or CGI? We know a lot of that depends on budget, but what’s your natural instinct?

Nicole Jones-Dion: My first choice is always practical. In the low-budget space, I think nothing takes you out of a film faster than bad CGI. There are certain things you just can’t accomplish without it, but I try to keep it to a minimum. I would rather err on the side of subtlety than shoot for the moon and end up looking cheesy.

S&S: What is one of the most frustrating things about working on a film for you? (IN general, or pick a specific capacity.)

Nicole Jones-Dion: Film is a collaborative medium. When you surround yourself with great people and everyone is on the same page working toward the same goal, it’s like a glorious symphony. But on every production, it seems like there’s always that one person who is out of tune with everyone else. When you’re an introvert (like me) dealing with people issues is the most annoying part. I’ve had other directors tell me that when they’re on set, they actually spend very little time directing and most of their time babysitting. It’s crazy-making.

S&S: Tell us a bit about Stasis, your upcoming movie, if you can? IMDB is not very helpful at the moment!

Nicole Jones-Dion: The producers are being pretty secretive, but I found this synopsis elsewhere online so I think it’s safe to share: “After a night out of partying and left behind by her friends, Ava wakes up and sneaks back home only to find that she’s already safe in bed. But that’s not Ava… it’s someone who looks just like her. A time-traveling fugitive has stolen Ava’s body, her identity, and her life. What’s more — she’s not alone. There are others, hiding in the past, secretly living among us, plotting to alter the future. Without her body, Ava is a virtual ghost, silent and invisible to the world. And, as far as she knows, she’s the only one who can stop them and put the timeline back on course.”

As for the film itself, it’s been picked up for US distribution by XLrator Media. I don’t have any release info yet, though, sorry…

S&S: They Found Hell, your 2015 adventure/fantasy/horror movie, was made for TV. What’s the difference made-for-tv and a regular film? Are there any considerations apart from budget?

Nicole Jones-Dion: Huge. The structure is completely different. Instead of 3 Acts, there are 8 to allow for commercial breaks. Each Act has to end on a cliffhanger to entice the viewer to come back after the break. There’s hardly any time for character development up-front, you have to grab the audience by the throat in the opening scene and never let go. But the biggest difference is also turnaround time. For THEY FOUND HELL, I only had 2 weeks to write the first draft of the script. It was tough but a fun challenge.

 

S&S: What piece of work are you most proud of so far? Why that one particularly?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I will always have a soft spot for DEBRIS because it was my first solo project as a writer/director. And I just love the visuals and the subject matter (It’s about a cursed samurai sword that washes ashore a California beach in the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami). Hopefully someday I’ll be able to work on the feature version of that story. STASIS will also be special because it was my first feature. I’ve learned something new from each of my films so hopefully my best work is still yet to come.

 

S&S: How do you sell your script?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I wish I knew the answer to that but I haven’t actually sold one yet! All of my produced credits were all written on assignment. This is the reality of working as a professional screenwriter – 90% of the jobs out there involve writing (or rewriting) someone else’s ideas. If you don’t like the sound of that, then it’s time to put your producer hat on and make your own films.

That’s not to say a spec script is completely useless. Having a killer spec is your calling card. You will need a strong writing sample to get your foot in the door with producers, to win contests, to give you credibility – in short, to prove you can actually write. If you’re lucky, your spec might even get produced but think of that as the secondary goal, not the primary one.

An Interview with Dagen Merrill, Director of Atomica

Banner for Interview with Dagen Merill

Atomica, a sci-fi thriller starring Tom Sizemore, Dominic Monaghan, and Sarah Habel, was released in theaters on March 17th. It comes to VOD March 21st. I was lucky enough to screen a copy of Atomica for review (look for that review tomorrow), and interview the director of the film, Dagen Merrill.  He was gracious enough to give some in depth, great answers to my questions, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Dagen Merrill is a director and producer, known for Beneath (2007), Broken Hill (2009) and Murder in the Dark (2013). – IMDB

Keep Reading!

Lake Placid: The Reason I like Bad Movies Summed Up in One Film

Editor’s Note: This is the culmination of several excitable dialogues on Twitter about the gloriousness of bad movies. She’s a solid writer, suitably geeky for me to consider a person I want to spend time knowing, and she loves bad movies. So, read and enjoy.


Lake Placid.

Or the Reason I Like Bad Movies, Summed up in One Particular Film

By J.B. Rockwell

I have a confession to make: I like bad movies.

There. I’ve said it.

To be clear, I don’t mean any old bad movie—if you ask me, just about every RomCom is a bad movie—I’m talking about that special class of speculative fiction gem, be it sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or any combination thereof, that is so bad, it’s actually good. Well, entertaining, at least.

Confused? Good! I mean, bad. I mean…let me explain.

‘Bad’ movies—as I view them—generally fall into one of three broad categories, which I’ve presented below.

Keep Reading!

Blogger Talk: Orphan by Melanie Noell Bernard

bloggertalk-1Sci-Fi & Scary is giving the floor to other bloggers once again! This month we’re going to bringing you a selection of awesome bloggers who are going to talk about their favorite horror movies or favorite horror movie characters. For this 2nd entry, you’re going to be hearing from Melanie Noell Bernard from https://mnbernardbooks.wordpress.com/ 


Orphan – My Favorite Horror Movie

by Melanie Noell Bernard

Some people like horror movies and some people don’t. I’ve never been that person who likes horror movies because I don’t see the entertainment in shock factor, which is what most horror movies are nowadays. Either that or they go for as gory as possible. While I don’t mind gore, I like a reason for it. It needs to enhance the plot and I don’t always see the plot in horror movies. Perhaps that’s why I’m not a big fan. With that being said, though, there is one horror movie that I found really enjoyable and would consider to be my favorite. That movie is ‘Orphan’.orphan

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Orphan it’s about a little girl who is adopted by a young family after they lose a child of their own. With the addition of the new child, Esther, the family is now complete at five. However, Esther isn’t your typical, cheery, innocent child and not because she’s an orphan. Rather there is something very strange in the way she behaves, very unchildlike, and this is sprinkled throughout the movie. These hints act more like a mystery than a horror, but the ending of the movie squarely sits this movie in the realm of horror.

The reason why I like this movie is likely because it isn’t a stereotypical horror movie. It leans more on plot than thrill factor and gore. As such, it draws the viewer in by using intrigue. The entire movie is spent wondering who the little girl is, what she’s doing, and why she acts so strange. Of course, when her dark nature comes out, more questions start to arise: Is she human? Who is she? What child could do this?

By the end of the movie, we find out that {{SPOILER: Highlight the blank area to reveal the text if you don’t mind seeing plot details revealed:  Esther is not a child, but a middle-aged woman. She’s not an orphan, but an escaped asylum resident. Not just that, but she has an affinity towards the man of the house, her adoptive father, which is why she tries to kill the other children and drives a wedge between the mother and father. }} Quite strategically, I might add. But what this whole movie comes down to is giving into the ID side of the brain. Esther {{SPOILER:  wants the man in the house}}. So she removes her competition. Simple as that.

Don’t get me wrong. This movie is twisted. It’s all kinds of screwed up, which is definitely why it can fit in the realm of horror. I think the plot is what sets it apart from other horror movies for me. As I’ve stated before, I like the movie because it engages my brain. I’m not just waiting for the person to jump out. I’m trying to understand their motives and figure out who they are before we even get to the part where the person jumps out with a knife and a crazy gleam. Maybe I just expect more out of movies that just the thrill factor. Maybe I need to be more engaged so as not to lose interest. Whatever the case, I have to say ‘Orphan’ is my favorite horror movie.

And I want to thank Lilyn for asking me to guest post on her blog! I’m very excited to help out, especially when it has to do with Halloween! ^.^

 Check out the trailer for Orphan, if you haven’t already seen it.

Melanie Noell Bernard | Twitter: @noellbernard | Blog: https://mnbernardbooks.wordpress.com/

Blogger Talk: Near Dark by Laurie @ Bark’s Book Nonsense

bloggertalk-1 near darkSci-Fi & Scary is giving the floor to other bloggers once again! This month we’re going to bringing you a selection of awesome bloggers who are going to talk about their favorite horror movies or favorite horror movie characters. For this 1st entry, you’re going to be hearing from Laurie from Bark’s Book Nonsense about Near Dark. 


 

Near Dark – My Favorite Horror Movie

by Laurie 

When Scifi and Scary mentioned she was looking for book bloggers to share a bit about their favorite horror movie, I knew instantly what I was going to write about because only one movie has stuck with me from my childhood. I grew up in a time of some amazing and amazingly terrible horror films. We spent our summers haunting our local video rental store for every horror flick we could find and they were easy to find back then. We grabbed everything from The Exorcist, Halloween, Pumpkinhead, Puppetmaster, Pet Semetary, The Stuff, The Hitcher, to Last House on the Left and Bloodsucking Freaks (anyone remember that one?!). It was a beautiful time to be a horror fan and though we were possibly too young for most of it, we watched it anyway.

But then I found Near Dark andnear dark that was it. I had found my film. I was in love. This movie was a unique mix of brutality, familial ties, insane road trip and, of course, a story of sweet romantic love. My young, messed up heart could barely take it all in. Now, many moons later, its allure hasn’t faded for me. This film is something special.

It starts when a farm boy named Caleb, played by a very young Adrian Pasdar, sets out for a night of fun with his buddies. They spy a sweet faced beauty just hanging out, licking an ice cream cone and Caleb is the only one brave enough to walk up to her and ask if he can have a lick of her cone and tells her how she’s just about the prettiest girl he ever did see. He’s not exactly smooth with the words but he’s cute and this awkward seduction surprisingly works. Before you know it, Mae is in his truck and talking about how enraptured she is by the night but he’s more interested in her lips to really take in her words. He gets his steamy kiss and a little more in the form of a love nip that leaves him bloody and a little stunned. She then runs off into the night she so adores.

As Caleb is walking home (his truck has broken down), dawn arrives and he starts to feel extremely sick. His dad and little sister start heading towards him to help him out but a strange RV speeds by and swoops him up. This is how he meets Mae’s “family” which consists of Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein as the leaders/parents/what-have-you, a wild-eyed and wicked Bill Paxton and a boy named Homer who is possibly the most chilling member of the group. Caleb soon learns that he must kill in order to become an official member of their little family.

Damn. All he wanted  in Near Dark was a little kiss.

This movie is violent, sexy, ruthless, sweet, gory, scary and romantic and it gets all of the beats right. Some people complain about the end but I’m a romantic, I suppose, and it made me happy. The pace is steady, it has an emotional heart and the entire film feels grimy which perfectly fits a murderous life on the road.  If you’ve never seen it, you need to get going on that.

-Laurie | @barksbknonsense | http://barksbooknonsense.blogspot.com/

Watch the Near Dark trailer.

Horror Movie Parties on Twitter

I don’t consider myself a social person. The idea of being around people I don’t know, no matter how fun they might be, makes me twitch. Often, people’s first reactions after meeting my daughter and myself is to look from her to me with this expression on their face that plainly says “How did you make  her?”  People that have known me for a while will tell you that I actually am sociable enough, but only with people I both like and know. And that list of people is extremely small. But… then there comes social media. On social media, I have no problems being sociable. I think because it removes the ‘closeness’ part of the equation. On social media, you can be surrounded by thousands of people, but because you’re sitting alone in your house, you don’t feel it. The feel that every expression you make, the clothes you wear, etc, is all gone. It’s so much more comfortable.

One of the best things about social media is that it enables us to engage in our love (or hatred) of certain things with people that we’d normally never meet. People can come together to support causes that are near and dear to them, to rage about corrupt wanna-be politicians with poisonous caterpillars for hair, or to do something fun. Something like live tweet horror movie parties. Keep Reading!

The Exorcist Pilot Review (Possession Horror)

the-exorcist-pilot Title: The Exorcist
Synopsis: A mother seeks help from her local parish when she believes her eldest daughter is possessed.
Tagline: Every soul is a battlefield.
Premiere Date: September 23rd 2016
Trailer: The Exorcist


Keep Reading!

‘The Exorcist’ Producers Got Stonewalled… Surprise?

So, for you horror fans that were living under a rock, Fox is making a TV show based off everyone’s favorite possession movie – The Exorcist. It’ll go by the same name, stars Geena Davis (Wow, been a while since I saw her in anything!), Ben Daniels, and Kurt Egyiawan. (I honestly haven’t a clue who those other two are.)  The first episode is due to air September 23rd (IMDB)

Here’s the trailer:

 

Anyways…

‘The Exorcist’ Producers Stonewalled by the Catholic Church

So according to a recent post from The Hollywood Reporter, the producers of The Exorcist tv series got stonewalled when they tried to talk to the Catholic Church about exorcisms.

Color me not surprised? I’m honestly shocked that the producers thought that they would be able to get someone from The Catholic Church to talk to them. I can just imagine how that conversation would go.

“Uhm, yeah, so, we’d like to talk to someone about consulting for our show The Exorcist. You know, another step in dramatizing and serializing demonic possession for the masses!……..Hello? ……………………..Hello?……………………………?”

Now, you’ll have to read the article for yourself to find out more, but I can’t say anything in it particularly surprised me. Up to – and including – the (executive) producers learning that exorcisms still happened. Of course they still happen, but I won’t say more as this is neither the time or place for me to go on a soapbox diatriabe about religion.

Somewhat interesting bit of trivia aside, what do you think about this serialization of The Exorcist? Are you going to watch it?

[poll id=”3″]

 

The Neon Demon – Movie Trailer

After watching John Wick, I’ve pretty much decided I’ve officially got no desire to see any further  Keanu Reeves movies. The man might be an absolute sad sweetheart, but he just can’t act anymore. He needs to just become a goodwill ambassador or something. He seems like an awesome person and I’d totally cheer him on if he did something like that.

…..wow, I got off track. Anyways, I’ve never even heard of The Neon Demon, but was browsing Youtube and figured what the hey..

This a beautifully shot trailer! Especially that opening scene of the glitter traveling down the curve of the woman’s back. There’s a certain artistry to making trailers, I think, and it definitely shines through here.

 

Whatcha think? Got any desire to see this?

Elle Fanning Picture - Actress in The Neon Demon

Elle Fanning **credit to IMDB for the photo**

 

 

 

Side note: Elle Fanning has a very innocent beauty to her, and a career that’s quickly gaining ground. Let’s hope she doesn’t Lohan. I’m curious to see how far she can make it.

 

Hush Movie Trailer: Would you watch this movie?

I found this when I was browsing youtube for interesting movie trailers. Part of me thinks it could be interesting, but…

I don’t know. Blumhouse is known for its low-budget stuff and this Hush movie trailer looks like it’s going to be yet another one. Honestly I’m getting a bit tired of it. Also, there was a comment below it that cracked me up because it was so apt. It was something like “Tl;dw – She’s getting stalked, she lives alone in the woods with no guns.” I think the only thing I’m truly curious about is if they’ll actually stick to the “she can’t hear” thing, or if there will be instances where she responds to sounds that she can’t possibly hear.

I’ve certainly enjoyed the last few years because there’s been some decent horror movies that came out, but I wish there was a teensy bit of quality control for the low budget crap. Low budget can definitely be well done, but it requires a combination of factors that most of the low-budget flicks are definitely lacking any more. Y’know, things like acting talent and worthwhile script.

What about you? Based on this trailer, would you watch the movie??

Additionally, has there ever been a movie you’ve seen where the trailer sucked, but the movie was awesome?

  • I love Audible. Tons of books, fantastic narrators, good prices.