A natural storyteller since a young age, Jackson Stewart has been working his way up the ladders of the television and film industries for years. After having worked on several projects, including a stint on CW’s Supernatural, Stewart has co-written and directed the critically acclaimed horror film, Beyond The Gates. Wanting to learn more about Stewart’s career and Beyond The Gates, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
To learn more about Stewart, follow him on Twitter at @BossJacko.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories that captured your imagination? Are there any that you still enjoy?
Jackson Stewart: There were quite a few. I was a voracious reader and movie watcher from basically as far back as I can remember. My earliest memories of using my imagination to fill in a story though came from an old Batman story vinyl centering around Man-Bat. I was probably three or four when I listened to it but the sound design of Man-Bat shrieking through the batcave and attacking Batman and Robin really got the neurons going. I kept picturing what this ‘Man-Bat’ looked like and I had no visual reference for him, it was a bit of a cross between the Neal Adams/Denny O’Neil Batman and a black furred creature not dissimilar from Lon Chaney’s Wolfman.
As far as the big movie influences on me in my childhood, they go as follows: Return Of The Jedi, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Superman: The Motion Picture, Batman, Raising Arizona, Marnie, Psycho, Back To The Future 1-3, Evil Dead 2, Phantasm, The Gate, Gremlins, Angels With Dirty Faces, Dirty Harry, Patton, The Naked Gun trilogy, The Money Pit, True Grit and about a thousand others. From the above list, I still love each and every one. As far as books go, some favorites were American Psycho, Martin Eden, Sleep ’Til Noon, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Women, Fletch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Dead Zone, Lord Of The Flies, Catcher In The Rye, and A Scanner Darkly.
Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to make a career out of film production? Was there a specific moment?
Stewart: I wanted to be a writer as far back as first grade. What that looked like exactly, I didn’t quite figure out until my mid-to-late twenties. With film production, the entire process was demystified by spending time on set in an assistant capacity and shadowing a director on the set of Supernatural back when I worked for that show. Everything was so clearly broken down from department to department, planned to a T with an excellent crew and things still went wrong. It taught me you have to go in with a plan and be able to adapt in extremely stressful circumstances when that plan doesn’t work out. My two biggest champions for getting into directing were Stuart Gordon and Paul Solet whom both remain very close friends of mine. Having them believe in me was enough to give me the impetus to dive in and make a feature.
Yanes: You were the director and co-writer for Beyond The Gates. In general, what are your feelings towards the differences between writing and directing? Is there one that you enjoy more?
Stewart: There’s a whole galaxy between the two — I know great writers who are not great directors and amazing directors who are not amazing writers. They don’t always go hand in hand. For me, I love writing at my desk and making real progress with a story. That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t say directing was vastly more rewarding.
Yanes: On the topic of Beyond The Gates, what was the inspiration for this film?
Stewart: My co-writer Steve Scarlata and I met for coffee after a disastrous meeting on another project we were both a part of that won’t be named. We seemed to both like 1970s Italian rip-off cinema and a lot of oddball obscurities — Steve started telling me about his ideas and said “I always wanted to do a movie about a VCR board game that leads to another dimension.” It was the coolest pitch I have ever heard and I was insistent we start writing it that day. Basically, Steve and I brought our own experiences into each of the brothers, Steve is a bit more like Gordon and I am a bit more like John — though the idea of the missing Father also hit home for me due to my Dad’s health problems at the time. We brought a lot of our experiences and specifically wanted to do a grown-up version of Phantasm, The Gate, and Monster Squad with some Italian influences and a lot of other random movies, video games, books and life experiences.
Yanes: Beyond The Gates is deeply inspired by the 1980s. What was it about this decade that appealed to you?
Stewart: Good question. For me, I had such a vague memory of my childhood from that era; I remember the 90s quite well but the 80s were this magical neon blur with Saturday Morning Cartoons, crappy cereal, Siskel and Ebert, and all these wonderful relics of the time. As far as the genre movies go, they weren’t afraid to be sincere back then even if the premise may have straddled the line of the absurd. I liked that a guy like Joseph Zito could make a great Friday the 13th movie and then get attached to the Cannon Pictures Spider-Man film shortly after. People took a lot more chances back then and things weren’t played so safe. There’s so much heart and style in a lot of 80s horror and it just seems to fit my taste and sensibilities.
Yanes: The 1980s was a decade that gave birth to dozens of horror movie classics. What do you think modern filmmakers can still learn from those films?
Stewart: Gosh, the really important thing to me is theme. A movie like Hellraiser is approached from a very unique place filled with rich, detailed characters and mythology. Clive Barker really drilled down into a deep story about cuckoldry, the lie this married couple is living and the daughter trapped between them living out her suburban nightmare. It had multiple layers to it and I feel like too many modern movies just try to hit a series of cool set pieces with little thought as to why they should be there.
Yanes: Conversely, what aspects of 1980s’ films would you like to forgotten?
Stewart: Haha, I am not sure about that. I could definitely do without ever having to see a movie like Author! Author! again. Also, I’d like for the ironic use of 1980’s songs to stop forever — it is a really tired gag.
Yanes: When developing the characters in Beyond The Gates, was there one who took on a life of their own?
Stewart: Well, yes, we did a test screening and got quite a bit of people asking for more Barbara and more Jesse. The character I identified with most during the writing and production was John though and it would be great to bring that character back in some capacity for a future movie.
Yanes: When people finish watching Beyond The Gates, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Stewart: Good question. I wrote the movie as a way to connect deeper with the movies that inspired me growing up and to try and take them into a slightly different direction narratively. If people like it or connect with the characters, I hope they continue to rewatch and enjoy throughout the years and find their own answers for the questions within the movie.
Yanes: Finally, what are you currently working on that people can look forward to?
Stewart: Oh boy, I have been working on a few things. Steve Scarlata and I came up with the story for a kind of post-modern slasher movie that I think is going to really surprise people and pushes deeply into the surreal. I’m also working with Brian Yuzna and John Penney on Beyond The Gates 2 which will be a period piece and change things up pretty significantly from the first movie. Working with Brian and John has been incredible and a real dream come true. Fortunately, Barbara Crampton and Jesse Merlin will both be back.
Remember, you can learn more about Stewart by following him on Twitter at @BossJacko.