Interview: Severin Films co-founder and DEVOLVED writer/director John Cregan
It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Severin Films. If they aren't releasing incredible catalog films like HARDWARE, THE SINFUL DWARF and the upcoming BLOODY BIRTHDAY on DVD, they are bringing the phenomenon that is BIRDEMIC to a city near you (and soon to DVD and Blu-ray, too). To their bag of tricks you can add feature film production. We reported earlier on the anthology horror film THE THEATRE BIZARRE being co-produced by the company, but coming to you first is DEVOLVED, written and directed by Severin co-founder John Cregan.
DEVOLVED is a teen comedy about two groups of high school seniors (the popular and the not-so-popular) forced to survive together when shipwrecked on a deserted island. I was given the opportunity to ask John Cregan some questions about the history of Severin and DEVOLVED. Read the hilarious interview in its entirety after the break and be sure to check out the special video message to Severin fans from John Cregan about DEVOLVED at the very end!
You were working at Blue Underground before Severin was formed. What were you doing there?
I was a part-time editor working my way through film school at USC. At BU, I was primarily editing David's special features for Blue Underground US and for him and Carl at Blue Underground UK. I also did all the sound editing on THE MANSON FAMILY which was more like an archeological expedition than an editorial job.
What is Severin's origin story? Who came up with the idea and when was the company officially formed?
One night, Bill Lustig appeared to David, Carl, and I in a dream atop a flaming pie and said "Good gentlemen, it is time Ye go forth and go form your own f&#ing label. And it will be called Severin for all f*#ing time."
Actually, it was sort of an idea formed over time that was really a product of events taking their natural course. Bill was ramping down production at BU a bit, and we were getting anxious to strike out on our own. Back then (2006), there was an available niche in cult DVD that had gone largely unexplored - namely, classic Skinemax films from the late 70s and early 80s. So we decided to build on that.
It was a logical transition, probably the most logical thing we've done.
What was Severin's first release? How did that go?
Our maiden release was GWENDOLINE, known in some circles as GWENDOLINE IN THE LOST LAND OF THE YIK YAK. For the uninitiated, it's a classic softcore Indiana Jones S&M romp from the mid-80s starring the pneumatic Tawny Kitaen. It still ranks as one of our most successful releases, and was a perfect way to begin the new venture, especially with Severin starting as more of a Skinemax tribute label.
Obviously, we've moved beyond that initial brand and have branched out with bigger and (and some would say) better films, but many of those early releases are near and dear to my heart.
What is a typical day like running a genre film home video releasing powerhouse?
Well, it's a home video releasing powerhouse that is run on two continents from a house, a condominium, an apartment, and a cubicle, with the occasional coffee shop thrown in between. So it usually starts with a large dose of Skype.
Lately, we've been inordinately busy, since we switched distributors (to MPI/Dark Sky) and had to go dark for a few months last year as a result. So now we're making up for lost time with our biggest and most packed slate to date, sometimes releasing four films in a single month. Then there's the matter of now making and releasing our own co-productions and productions, which is altogether new phase for us.
I realized last week I've had one day off since Thanksgiving. For instance, I spent eight hours on Christmas day QCing our Blu-Ray of SANTA SANGRE... which my in-laws were sad to find out had little to do with Christmas.
DEVOLVED is your first feature film and the first feature film co-produced by Severin. Where did the idea come from? What is the film about?
I've always focused on high school-related comedies. I was trying to think of something that could just be shot in one or two locations, because I knew that if I got to direct a film, it was going to have to be a very low-budget affair.
Lost was riding high at the time and I thought a comedy set on an island, that was sort of serving as a temporary version of high school, would be a smart move. When you shoot on a beach, it's sort of a budgetary equalizer - a beach looks like a beach whether it's a SAG Ultra-Low film or TRANSFORMERS 2. Of course, money enables you to shoot the beach in different ways - like from a helicopter, or maybe even with a tripod (DEVOLVED is 99% handheld).
Now, after making it, I would never, ever use the word "easier" again in reference to shooting on a beach. It's an unexpectedly hostile environment for movie making. It's hard to stage company moves. There's this stuff called "sand" that apparently kills electronic equipment. And even if you use 180 SPF sunscreen, spending two weeks on a beach with Irish genes isn't very good for your epidermal health.
If I had to do it over again, I would have set in in an apartment. An apartment near a beach.
It follows a group of high school seniors on a whale watching trip off the Baja coast who are forced together on an uncharted island after an accident at sea. There's a group of popular and unpopular kids. They soon split along party lines. The unpopular kids want to get off the island so they can escape high school and begin their adult lives, where they won't be subjected to the daily degradation of being unpopular. Meanwhile, the popular kids begin to see that their beloved way of life - ruling their high school with an iron fist - will end soon after they make it back to the mainland. So they end up wanting to stay and perpetuate the high school dynamic at all cost.
It's sort of about the dangers of peaking at 18. A lot of the idea came from a conversation I had with a guy on the football team on the night of our senior prom in beautiful Crystal City, VA (I grew up outside of Washington D.C.). He was a painfully nice guy who'd had a great time in high school (think "Pink" Floyd), but was nervous about what was going to become of his life now that high school was all over. His trepidation always stuck with me. Now, thanks to Facebook, I can see that things turned out fine for him, so that's good, but I wouldn't probably have stuck with DEVOLVED's script if it weren't for that unusually honest conversation.
So it's a teen-sex comedy, LORD OF THE FLIES style?
Well, it mines a lot of canonical island-based stories (Lost, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels) but yes, the situation eventually degenerates into a parody of Lord of the Flies. I certainly tried to put some clues in the first two acts to plant that it was headed that way. I still remember reading Lord of the Flies when I was 14 and seeing that lot of its themes could be applied to the modern high school experience. Except that if it were written today, it'd be a novella at most, because they'd all kill each other off by page 60, BATTLE ROYALE-style.
Even though it's a new film and a different genre than most Severin release, can audiences expect at least some of the sex and debauchery found in your catalog?
Devolved is, in essence and spirit, a teen sex comedy. There's a ton of drinking, drugs, and altogether naughty content. I mean, the whole plot hinges on the teens' transition from drinking to hallucinogens to cocaine. Which, now that I think about it, is sort of the transition I've seen a lot of people make over the years. These characters just do it in two weeks.
My basic plan was to write a satire, something with a point, then wrap it within a romping comedic style and tone so that it wouldn't seem so pedantic and preachy. To make it laugh-out-loud funny rather than wry and whimsical.
I think one problem with a lot of satirical teen films is that they're actually targeted towards adults. A lot of times, they use the kind of comedy that tends to be more festival-friendly...which is sort of quirkier by nature, rather than more balls to-the-wall apes(*t. Making a film in the style of DEVOLVED may cost us some hit points in the respectability category, but I think it will help the film get out to younger audiences. Don't get me wrong; I like wry and quirky too. I'm a big fan of knowingly grinning. I've made shorts in that style (one of which will be on the DEVOLVED DVD/Blu-Ray). But I do think that maybe sometimes some people need to be a more open toward indie comedies that use a more laugh-out-loud style.
Thankfully for Severin fans - and mankind, to be honest - we are putting out the Unrated version of the movie, which is the version with the nudity and rawer content. It's the best version of the movie. I'm so overwhelmingly glad we weren't forced to put out the neutered cut - which could have happened with another distributor.
Is it you goal to make more films after DEVOLVED?
Yes. Whether it becomes anyone else's goal remains to be seen.
Does Severin plan on getting into the business of producing more feature films?
We already are - we are in the middle of finishing THE THEATRE BIZARRE, a horror anthology film that is destined to be the CREEPSHOW of our time.
What are some of Severin's longterm goals?
I've always aspired towards the AIP model. Start by distributing genre films, start making genre films, then make LOVE AT FIRST BITE and sell the company.
You can find Severin Films on Twitter (@SeverinFilms) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/severinfilms).
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