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An interview with writer/producer Joe Augustyn...

JOE AUGUSTYN: While studying producing at AFI (The American Film Institute's Center For Advanced Studies) I realized I would need a screenplay if I wanted to produce or direct, and since I couldn't afford even to option one, I started writing.  After a few years of "warm-up" writing I wrote a script called HALLOWEEN PARTY.  The response to it was overwhelming. 
In the space of six months I had offers from Atlantic Releasing, who were one of the biggest, most successful indie companies of that era; from producer David Giler (this is one of the offers I wish I had taken, in retrospect); from Propaganda Films (this one I actually wanted to take -- my agent talked me out of it because the deal was not as rich as others on the table); and it also got me a writing assignment at Tristar Pictures, Inc..  Atlantic Releasing wanted to buy me out of the picture.  I didn't like their intended choice of director, and was really turned off when I found out they wanted to tack on an "it was all just a dream" ending, exactly as they had on another of their releases at the time.  Giler had a deal to make movies in Spain, and wanted the script set in Transylvania (which I didn't like at the time, but realize in retrospect it could have worked).  Propaganda was a hip young company and it would have been a much more energetic production if they did it.  The original screenplay was laced with dark humor, much more cynical and East Coast.  Many critics hated the kids in the movie because they were somewhat unsympathetic characters -- they would have really hated the kids in the original draft.  I had gay characters and an interracial couple, both of which were snipped out by the more conservative Paragon Arts producers and director Kevin Tenney, who really likes his casts to be "whitebread".  I finally accepted the Paragon Arts deal because they were a young expanding company and they offered me contractual creative control.  Little did I realize that once you get into production on a low-budget (1.5 million) movie, you're at the mercy of every cast and crew person who decides to get "creative".  Using the budget as an excuse, the executive producers made me rewrite the script for "budgetary" purposes -- dumbing it down in the process.  I also suffered when I lost my original choice of director (John Lafia, who went on to direct CHILD'S PLAY 2 and MAN'S BEST FRIEND) and the execs at Paragon Arts talked me into using Kevin Tenney, who had directed WITCHBOARD for them.  There was a lot of power-tripping and unseemly politics from that moment on, and I fought an uphill battle to preserve what I could of the original HALLOWEEN PARTY screenplay elements.
E.S.: I heard that you were directing your latest screenplay.  Do you plan to direct more often in the future?
J.A.: I haven't directed anything since film school, and although I feel confident that I would do a great job, I am just as happy to work with talented directors, as long as their visions are in sync with my material and I know they aren't lazy.
E.S.:  Any plans for a NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 4?
J.A.: The rights are controlled by Blue Rider Pictures, an offshoot of Paragon Arts.  I hope they make another one, 'cause I get a bonus payment if they do -- but from a creative standpoint, I never get excited about anything those guys do.  They keep sending me Xmas cards and inviting me to their screenings, but unless they send me a long-overdue residual check I'd rather not be reminded they're still alive.
E.S.: What's your latest projects?
J.A.: I am currently trying to set up a handful of screenplays I've been working on over the past few years.  The one most likely to go is a virtual reality thriller which had been under option for three years and recently came back to me.  I don't want to go into detail and jinx it, but the script is the hottest one I've written since HALLOWEEN PARTY.  I also have a nifty little occult thriller which I'm tweaking, a comedic horror script set in the world of porn (sort of RE-ANIMATOR meets BOOGIE NIGHTS), and a mafia comedy co-written with James Penzi, who shared story credit on NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2.
E.S.: I noticed that you had also produced two of the films you'd written.  What extra duties did you have on those movies?
J.A.: On both movies I was totally a "hands-on" producer.  On the first NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, I was heavily involved in the casting, the costumes, the visual elements -- after seeing WITCHBOARD, I was worried about Kevin's sense of production design (drab).  The animated title sequence was also in the script -- at the time it was fairly revolutionary for a low-budget movie -- since then it has become a standard, because it's cost-effective and very visual, a little more than you'd expect from these types of films.  I had an uphill battle getting respect as producer on NIGHT OF THE DEMONS -- even though I had produced documentaries and film school projects, and had solid experience as production coordinator and location manager on features, the other producers resented me and spread the word that I was a writer who had no business producing, trying to undercut my authority on the set.  I was also made to play the heavy, like having to fire the original location manager, who had a file folder with six bad, inappropriate locations in it when we started pre-production, and had the same exact file four weeks later, not a single addition.  Apparently she was a friend of the Supervising Producer's and was secure in her position, content with trying to push one of those locations on us.  We replaced her with Ed Parmelee, who found our perfect Hull House and cut us an incredible deal on it -- $25,000 for a few months -- we had our production offices, dressing rooms as well as most of our locations on the property, which was centrally located in the Adams District of L.A..  In the end, the movie was a commercial success -- cementing Paragon Arts' relationship with Republic Pictures and providing them with a franchise which helped them survive for a decade.  As for its "artistic" merits, I have mixed feelings about it.  Parts of it I am disappointed in.  My fondest memories are of hanging on the set with the special EFX guys -- Steve Johnson and Eric Fiedler and the whole XFX crew were a blast, as well as being among the absolute best in the biz (as their subsequent work on THE ABYSS and the SPECIES movies, among others, attests).  The art department, with Sally Nicolau and the late great Ken Aichele, were also wonderful and talented people.  In fact, the cast and crew were pretty much universally excellent human beings, and very capable at their jobs.  NIGHT ANGEL was a whole different can of worms.  Unlike NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, which was written to be done low-budget, NIGHT ANGEL had 20-some locations to be shot on a 4-week schedule.  The director, Dominique Othenin-Girard, was incredibly hard-working and very demanding on the crew as far as their artistic input -- he always wanted to be presented with more alternatives, whether they were locations, costumes, whatever.  Unlike Kevin, who worked an 8-10 hour day in production, Dominique was more typical of low-budget directors in pushing the clock as long as he could, trying to pump every frame of production value from the budget.  I loved working with him, but the crew, many of whom were used to working with Kevin, were pissed off by the long hours and hard work.  God bless them, though, they delivered what was required and the film has a lot more production value than it would have been under a lesser director.  I would have preferred a different ending for that movie, as I'm not a fan of "blowed 'em up good" cinema, but the bigwigs at Paragon Arts controlled the purse strings and had the final say.  In fact, all three of the movies I did with those producers - NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 1 & 2 and NIGHT ANGEL, had significantly different endings than I had wanted.  Ironically, the one script I co-write that was directed and produced as it was written is something that I ghosted on, and I can't even mention its name.  All I can say is, it was a breath of fresh air and showed me that yes, you can get lucky as a writer, and maybe someday I'll see another of my screenplays translated as it should be to the silver screen, with every story beat intact.

Joe's IMDB filmography...

IMDB listing

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