Back in May Bloody-Disgusting was invited to the first-ever screening of director Jack Heller’s independently-produced mystery/thriller Enter Nowhere, about three strangers who find themselves stranded at a remote cabin in the middle of the woods and must learn who or what has brought them together and for what purpose.
The film, which is akin to mind-bending genre fare like Lost and The Twilight Zone, was penned by writing team Shawn Christensen and Jason Dolan and stars Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son!), Katherine Waterston and Sara Paxton (The Last House on the Left). Though the film is currently still in search of distribution at this time, I recently chatted with Heller – already a successful Hollywood producer and manager who made his directorial debut with the project – to pick his brain on how the production came together, what factors motivated him to bite the bullet and direct, and what we can expect for the film going forward.
You can check out the full interview inside.
Jack Heller: Myself and Dallas Sonnier, who’s my business partner at Caliber Media…Caliber has produced a bunch of movies, but we also have this very strong management business that actually started our business. And there were these two writers, one Shawn Christensen and the other Jason Dolan, and they’d both written this script four or five years ago as one of their first writing projects together. Shawn’s gone off and [written] ‘Abduction’, which is a big Taylor Lautner movie that’s coming out in September.
And this is one of those scripts that we had all just loved. And after going out there and not being able to set it up at a studio, it was really over Christmas I was sitting around being like, ‘Ok, we can just go make this. Let’s just go do it.’ And I called up the writers, I said I had a few ideas on how we could solidify the third act and make it a little more grounded, and they were like ‘Great, that’s awesome. Why don’t you direct the movie?’ And so the film student inside me going to USC was like, ‘Absolutely, I’m just gonna go do this.’
BD: Had you always wanted to try directing at some point?
JH: I mean, when I was in college at USC I was in their…directing and producing program. I always wanted to direct, but as time went on I had actually set up a deal with a production company based at Warner Bros. while I was in college, for some scripts that I had found. I became a producer when I was in college, and that was like, ‘oh my god!’…
I always in the back of my mind wanted to find that thing to direct, and then it just sort of took that kick in the pants of ‘Here’s the script, here’s how we can do it, and let’s just go make it happen.’ So it wasn’t like I had been looking for something specifically, it sort of came up and I just grabbed the opportunity.
BD: Talk about making this independently. How did you raise financing for this? I’m assuming the casting was key, particularly the attachment of Sara Paxton, who’s fairly well-known now.
JH: Well, are you aware what our budget was? Have you heard any of that, or no?
BD: I am not aware, and it’s something I normally don’t ask because most filmmakers don’t like to disclose that.
JH: I’m actually proud of what our budget was, and I don’t want to disclose it in terms of specific numbers because we’re in the process of a sale and everything, but it’s very, very low…on the record, it was a nice six figure number. But yeah, we made it for a shoestring budget that we basically just kind of…we actually raised the money before we even cast the film. Just sort of went out and got some private investors…twenty grand, ten grand here, and you start to add it up, you got a movie.
BD: It’s mostly a single location, so I’m assuming that helped a lot in keeping the cost down.
JH: Absolutely. I mean, we ended up…we’ve been making [what look like] $30 million [Steve Austin] movies for like $3 or $4 million bucks for the last two years. So I kind of took that [experience]…into ‘Enter Nowhere’, and obviously the fact that it took place in one location was a big part of us actually saying ‘let’s go make this.’ And we found this Girl Scout camp on Long Island, and we shot the whole movie except for two scenes there.
BD: I was going to say, for the purposes of the plot the location has to kind of feel like it could be anywhere. Was that something you looked at when you were looking at locations?
JH: Yeah, I mean, there was numerous spots in that Girl Scout camp that we could’ve picked. This one I really specifically liked because…if you look sort of up at the trees [on] one end, you kind of just saw the sky, and if you looked up to the trees on the other end you just kind of saw more trees and sky. It had this sort of feeling of claustrophobia, which is what we wanted the characters to be experiencing, [which was] no matter how far out into the woods they go they end back in this one confined space.
It was just perfect. I mean it was really just this open area surrounded by trees. We really wanted them to feel like they were in another place and time and stuff like that and not have any sense of bearing of time and space. My favorite thing is that literally 25 feet away from this cabin is the beach, and no one would ever know that from watching the movie.
BD: I didn’t initially realize that Katherine Waterston [one of the three main actors] was Sam Waterston’s daughter, and obviously you have Scott Eastwood, who is Clint Eastwood’s son. It’s a really interesting cast, because you have these two offspring of these two legendary performers -
JH: I mean…yeah. That was truly not by design, if you can believe it. I wish I had this story of ‘They were my friends, and that’s how we got [them in the movie]‘. But credit to both their agents for making us aware of them.
BD: Katherine is really, really good in the movie. I’ve never seen her in anything before, but she really sold that role. It’s interesting because in real life she’s quite tall, but she plays this meek, unassuming woman in the film. Was there a conscious effort to downplay her height in any way, given the dynamic between she and Sara Paxton’s character, who is more the dominant one in the relationship?
JH: [FIRST COUPLE OF SENTENCES DELETED FOR SPOILERS] Definitely, with the stuff in the very beginning of the movie, it was important for me that Scott actually was kind of taller than her and a little more foreboding, but in terms of her portrayal, it was the kind of thing where…we really sort of focused on what would it feel like to be a [CENSORED FOR SPOILER]. If you could incorporate that answer without giving anything away, I think that would be good.
BD: Absolutely. It’s a fantastic twist so I don’t want to give anything away.
JH: With the cabin, we definitely chose shots…we did a lot of stuff in the film…it was very important for me to get shots from above or sort of downward angles. And we didn’t have a crane, we didn’t have any of that stuff. Everything is either on a ladder or…actually, [for] all the overhead shots we found a deck of a house that looked down into the forest. We just put a dolly track down and sort of rolled along…you know, we just wanted to continue the sense of these people feeling trapped and small…
BD: Speaking of the twist, how hard was it to strike the balance between not giving away too much while also dangling subtle clues – in essence playing fair with the audience so if they went back and watched it again they would see the clues and wouldn’t feel like they weren’t given any chances to figure it out on their own?
JH: You know, I think the one thing that people will notice when they come back to it and they’re like, ‘ah, that’s why he said that!’ or ‘ah, that’s why she said that!’, I think a lot of it is in the performances. And in terms of…they’re really portraying people from their very specific area…so they are very much costume-designed in a way that was pretty simple…the same thing with their makeup.
But in terms of dialogue and stuff like that, that I think when you go back and you sort of see their mannerisms or their speech pattern or what they’re talking about, that’s what I think…when you watch the film a second time you’re like, ‘oh, that’s the filmmakers giving up the clues!’
BD: Exactly. Because there’s always the risk of people viewing the film again and going, ‘well, how was I ever supposed to figure that out?’
JH: Yeah, yeah. And there’s tons of that. Every time I watch the movie again now, I even pick out all the stuff again. I’m like ‘wow, I was pretty obvious about this in some ways.’ But no one knows…I have yet to have anyone in a screening tell me that they figured it out prior to [the twist being revealed].
BD: One of the other tensions in the movie is keeping the audience on edge about what genre the film is working within, because it could go a lot of very different directions. That’s very similar to ‘Lost’. Were you influenced by ‘Lost’ at all, or maybe even any old ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes?
JH: Actually, there’s two things that I was really influenced by. I mean, ‘Lost’ was definitely an influence…but there’s a great ‘Twilight Zone’ episode where…basically you have these four or five characters, and they’re in this dark…room, and they’re all like ‘what are you doing here?’ And there’s a clown, and all these other people, and you have no concept through the entire episode where they’re at.
And at the very end of the episode, the roof…comes up, and you realize they’re all toys in a toy box. I just always loved that episode, and I made everyone watch it because it was what I wanted to achieve with the forest, which is you don’t know where you are, you don’t know how you are, and not until the very end [is it revealed].
BD: As a director, who are your horror influences and what are some of your favorite horror films?
JH: I’m obsessed with David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’. There’s just something about that movie, beyond the gore of the ending, but there’s a scene where Geena Davis at the very end…where Jeff Goldblum comes out of [the pod] and he’s got like half the machine in his back, and there’s such a sweet moment where Geena Davis is gonna shoot him but she doesn’t. That to me is brilliance in the horror genre, because you have someone who’s in love with the monster and at the end of the day still has to take him out.
As a kid growing up, horror was one of my favorite genres, and to this day I’m still obsessed with it, to the point that my next movie will probably be a horror film. But in terms of influences, I mean, Hitchcock – I took a class at USC, I’ve seen every film, even the ones that no one knows about. His ability…is just brilliant. And you know, there’s definitely the classic guys, like early Wes Craven, and John Carpenter…all these guys are great. Even ‘Evil Dead’ is one of my favorite movies.
The one thing with this film I didn’t want to do is I specifically stayed away from all my favorite films that are about forests or about [being] stuck in a cabin. I really wanted to like go after the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ kind of stuff. Polanski, by the way, is probably my favorite director…I wanted to approach it in a totally different way than saying, ‘this is gonna be a thriller’, or ‘this is gonna be scary’…I think the best way to approach a horror movie is to just go out and make a story, and the horror moments then will feel so much stronger.
BD: What are your plans for the film going forward? Are you taking it the festival route?
JH: You were at the first actual screening…[it was] the first time a real audience besides my friends and family had seen it. So we’re past a lot of deadlines of many festivals, and I think that we’re confident enough that we’re going the sales route. We currently have a great sales company that’s showing it at Cannes right now, screening it in the market at Cannes. And then we’ll figure out our domestic buyer. We got a lot of really great feedback from the screening, and I think we’re gonna find our buyer and be able to announce it very soon.
BD: It must have been very nerve-wracking to screen it for the cast and crew for the first time.
JH: Yeah. That was great for me to have them…see it. Sara is such a highlight in the movie because she is so much that person, so lively and so bubbly, and you get scared sometimes as a director that someone’s gonna be too big or too small or whatever, but with this movie we kind of let everyone do their own thing, and everyone go for it.
I had people actually…Katherine, on set, [was] like ‘she’s doing this way too much, it’s obvious who she is.’ And I’m like ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s gonna work. We’re gonna cut this and we’re gonna make it work and it’s gonna be amazing.’ And Katherine’s performance I think is just so on-the-nose and so perfect because she just let herself go and became the character.
BD: Well, they both reveal different aspects to their characters later in the movie, and it really shines through in their performances. They were both so excellent.
JH: Thank you.
BD: Do you have any other directing projects in the works?
JH: I have two projects right now that we are sort of [going] through the process of mapping out what [the] production…would look like. And I have one project that’s more the horror genre that I’ve written that we’re gonna be taking out to the studios and whatnot, and I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll have something in production by September.
BD: Can you give any more insight into the horror project or what sub-genre it fits into?
JH: In terms of sub-genre, I would say that…oh man, it’s so hard to do that. But I would say that it has to do with ancient humans and modern greed, is probably the best way to put it.