Interview: Filmmaker John Fallon Talks Getting Personal and Showing A Story With His Feature Debut “The Shelter”
No matter what creative entertainment endeavor he takes on, at the end of the day John Fallon is a guy who truly loves movies. Be it his groundbreaking start as the famed critic “Arrow” of the popular horror film site Arrow in the Head, his myriad of acting roles over the years (check out his notable work in both Eric Red’s 100 Feet and David Cholewa’s Dead Shadows!) or his slew of scripts made into feature films (see American Muscle and Trance with Dominique Swain!), Fallon has been immersed in all things cinema for a very long time. But being a student of the technical aspects of filmmaking as well, Fallon has added one more moniker to his impressive array of talents – director. His feature film debut is a suspenseful little Polanski inspired indie he both wrote and directed entitled The Shelter (opening in theaters and digital Nov. 4 from Uncork’d Entertainment) and stars Streets of Fire and Eddie and the Cruisers alum Michael Paré as a down and out homeless man who happens upon a seemingly inviting empty house that proves to be anything but.
Like all good first films, Fallon bravely digs deep to present a flick that has plenty of real raw emotion (Paré gives a powerhouse performance!) and captivating character conflict (the film feels like an end of life examination in personal purgatory!) and as such makes for a memorable outing much more than just a mere genre movie. (Not to mention that Fallon’s David Lynch like visuals are equally arresting!) We wanted to get a little more detail into Fallon’s flick and uncover the skinny on the bold brewing beneath the surface of The Shelter, so we sought the director out for more insight. From strange stories of writing the script to the picture perfect casting of Paré, we attempted to unmask the mysteries trapped within – welcome filmmaker…
While the premise of The Shelter sees a man trapped inside an initially inviting house, there’s much more bubbling beneath the surface – what was the story genesis when you were writing the film?
John Fallon: The inspiration for the story came from when I was coming back from a hockey game and there was this homeless man sitting on the ground freezing asking for money. So I gave him some money and as I was walking back home three questions popped into my head. The first was who was that man? Then how did he get there? And finally where is he going? When I got home I wrote those three questions down and that was basically the seed that started my mind rolling in terms of the storyline. And as that progressed my own demons and my own Catholic upbringing seeped into it and to some degree is largely responsible for the end result.
How long did it take to write?
JF: Writing the script was a very long process – it took me three years to finish it. I had the opening, I had the final frames, but I didn’t have everything else in between and it was a first for me. Every script I’ve ever written, usually either by commission or spec, takes me about three months. But with The Shelter I just couldn’t crack it. How I did crack it is an interesting story. I was living downtown on the fourth floor and I had a pipe break in my apartment and I had a flood. I was ankle deep in water with turds floating around and it was awful. So I told my landlord to send a plumber and the next day as I was sitting at my computer researching The Shelter and researching sites that had to do with Christianity, this gentleman, a little Asian guy, shows up at my house dressed like a plumber and he says, ‘I’m here to fix the pipes.’ So he went to fix them and he came back out and I felt him looming behind me and I turn around and there he is. He looks at my computer screen and he asks, ‘Are you a Christian?’ I’m like, “I was raised Catholic – this is research for a film.’ So he took a pen and he wrote down three websites, like three underground off the grid websites and he says, ‘Go read these.’ And he left. And I went to those and I did find the idea that made me complete the script. The next day I wake up to water again. So I’m angry and I go to my landlord and I say, ‘Your plumber did an awful job.’ And the landlord was like, ‘We never sent a plumber – he’s coming tomorrow.’ He even called the plumbing company and they said they hadn’t sent anybody – he was coming the next day. That freaked me out a little bit and to this day I don’t have any explanation as to who he was, but thank you – he should get a writing credit. (Laughs)
What made you ultimately decide to then make it your feature directing debut?
JF: Once the script was done and I shopped it around a little bit, it made it obvious to me that it was, not to sound pretentious, an auteur type project. It was not something mainstream or commercial that you could just give to anybody to direct. I realized that I’d be the only person that could direct it – it’s too weird and too personal to have someone from the outside do it. So I jumped at it.
Having both written about films as the head of Arrow in the Head and also having acted in a slew of films yourself did both help in terms of making your own film with The Shelter?
JF: As far as Arrow in the Head, I guess maybe in some type of unconscious way. I spent fifteen years deconstructing movies, seeing what I like and what I don’t like, but with Arrow in the Head I never considered myself a critic. Look, just because I look under the hood of a car doesn’t make me a mechanic. My opinion is worth as much as anybody else – I’ve always felt that way. I was just a guy who watched a lot of movies and wrote about them. But I’ve been lucky enough to be on many sets and I’ve seen very experienced directors at work, so when I’m on a set I’m always taking in everything. In terms of the actors, I understand the process and the fact that I come from an acting background was an asset. So I understood for example that when Michael Paré had to break down and cry to have the set go quiet, for everybody to keep it down, to give Mike his space and for him to take the time he needs to prepare. It’s funny because I’ve been on many shoots and everybody’s willing to wait for everything…except the actor. Need lights – we wait for lights. Need to clean the lens – we’re gonna wait to clean the lens. But the actor needs time to prep and often enough as I’ve seen it’s a problem. No, no, hurry up – we need to shoot now! But the actor needs the time that he needs, so I feel I was able to bring that to the production. From a directing standpoint I felt very much at home, very much in my element and I was very prepared. I also had a great DP in Bobby Holbrook and a great team, so I was well backed.
Michael Paré is a fantastic choice for the lead – had you written the part with him in mind and how did you approach him about being in the film?
JF: Yeah – I did. Usually when I write a script I always pick people because I need to know what the character looks like in my head. And Michael and I had met before, but I really got to know him on the set of 100 Feet in Budapest. So when I wrote The Shelter it was Mike Paré in my head, but I didn’t think we’d get him. When it came down to casting, I kept telling my producer Donny Broussard let’s get a guy who looks like Mike Paré. And he said, ‘But you KNOW Mike Paré. Why don’t you send him the script – you have nothing to lose.’ So I sent Mike the script and he loved it and we had lunch and talked about it and he came on board.
What is Michael’s process as an actor and how much of it did he bring to the character vs. what was on the page?
JF: The day before we were supposed to shoot we couldn’t get Michael down because of a snowstorm and we had to scramble to find him a flight because I didn’t have the money to push the shoot. It was a very stressful time, but eventually we got Mike down and the first scene that he shot was the scene where he finds the little teddy bear and cries. He said to bring him the teddy bear, so when we picked him up from the airport we brought him the teddy bear. And I don’t know what actor method thing he did on the ride to the set, but when we got on set he got into makeup and changed and it was ‘Alright – I’m ready’. First take – he just bawled and blew us all away. He set the stage right there for the production in terms of this guy is bringing his A+ game, so let us bring our A+ game as well. He inspired everybody – myself included. And what Mike brought that wasn’t on the page was likeability. On the page the character is not a good person – he’s a philanderer, he’s an alcoholic, he beats up random people, he’s a thief and he has no desire to atone for what he’s done. It doesn’t look like he’s seeking redemption; he’s seeking more self destruction. And so Mike brought likeability and even though the character is an ass@ole you feel sorry for the guy – you empathize with him.
Your visuals are a huge part of the draw of The Shelter – what was your inspiration behind the more lush looking sequences?
JF: My intent was not to tell a story, but to show one. My DP and I talked a lot about the look inside the house vs. the look outside and the whole thing is somewhat dream like. The material begs for it to be heightened stylistically, so I went in there wanting to make a good looking movie. And a stylish movie; the use of flashbacks and sound design was huge as well. But it was all ideal being that it was my first feature and I got to show what I’m able to do.
There’s strong almost biblical themes running throughout the film that make it way more than a simple genre flick – what did you ultimately want to say with The Shelter?
JF: I don’t know if I want to say it to be honest. I keep going back to Lynch because there was one thing David Lynch said that inspired me when it came to The Shelter and that has to do with one of my favorite films called Lost Highway. I went to see it nine times in the theater because I wanted to understand it and I finally came to a conclusion for myself. But when people ask Lynch about Lost Highway he would say, ‘I know what it means to me, but it’ll mean what it means to you.’ And to some degree I would say the same thing with The Shelter. I’ve found it fascinating so far seeing through the reviews and the people that have talked to me about the film that have seen it what it means to them and what they think it’s about. I don’t want to give away what it means to me, but with that said the commentary on the DVD which comes out on Jan. 3, 2017, I do connect a couple of dots, give a few hints here and there and guide the viewer a little bit if people want that. That’s the best way you’re gonna figure it out what it means to me – either that or you can buy me a couple of beers one day.
What’s next for you?
JF: I have so many now – that’s the name of the game is develop a bunch and whichever one crosses the finish line wins. I have four features in development. Two of them are big budget and one is a moderate three hundred thousand dollar budget, which I feel will get done sooner rather than later just because the production model is very popular. It’s called Eva and it’s a female vigilante film. It’s very different for me writing a female character that’s strong and layered and I’m very happy with the script so far. And I’m also developing a short just because I need to shoot right away and features take time to get off the ground. So the short film got approved by a production company in Spain and we’re in the process of getting the money now – it has to do with Templar Knights.
THE SHELTER OPENS IN THEATERS AND DIGITAL ON NOV. 4 FROM UNCORK’D ENTERTAINMENT.