Jean-Baptiste Andrea

Jean-Baptiste Andrea was involved in the theatre before his move into film making with his debut film Dead End. Though he received no formal training in cinema (he graduated in economics and political science), he funded his passion for writing and directing by translating books. He co-wrote and directed his first movie, Dead End, with Fabrice Canepa. Darren Rea spoke to him as Dead End was due to be released on
DVD and video...

Darren Rea: Can you tell us how the script for Dead End came about and why you and Fabrice Canepa decided to write a horror movie over other genres?

Jean-Baptiste Andrea: We knew that we wouldn't have much money, because we had failed financing a lot of other projects in the past six years. We love horror movies and I think that it is a genre that allows you to express a lot of spectacular and emotional things with very little money. The idea was to make a very effective movie - something that would work and something where we would have the audience physically react. And how could we do that with a small budget? We decided to try our hand at horror. It's so much fun. We love that genre. It also allowed us to play with the conventions. How could we prove that we could write and direct, and have a finished project that worked, with almost no money?

DR: Just about every cliché has been used in the horror genre. When you started writing how did you go about ensuring that Dead End stood out from other movies?

JBA: The paradox is that we just used all of those clichés in Dead End and then tried to bring something else through humour. We didn't try to do a spoof movie, or to make those clichés look ridiculous.

For example, if you take the baby carriage scene, the cliché is that the guy gets swallowed by the baby carriage, which he finds on the road, and he dies. That's the traditional cliché. So, when the guy gets swallowed and there is a monster roar, everyone jumps in their seats and you think he's dead. But, he's not. He's playing with the cliché.

And that's what we tried to do everywhere in the movie - bringing humour when you least expected it. When we began writing the movie we just asked ourselves "What's the point of writing just another horror movie? What will make the difference?"

DR: How difficult was it getting the dynamics of the casting right? If the actors didn't come across as a believable family the whole movie would have failed.

JBA: I guess we've been lucky. Alexandra Holden - we loved her immediately, so she was easy to find.

The son, Mick Cain, at first we saw his picture and we thought that he was much too old. He's 25 and we were looking for a teenager. But he was a friend of someone who was probably going to work on the movie, so we were talked into seeing him. He came dressed like the part and just nailed it.

We didn't have a father for the movie up until two weeks before we started shooting. We couldn't find anybody who could be reassuring, like a father figure, and yet creepy at the same time. The casting director got desperate and said: "Who the Hell do you want?" And we said: "Somebody like Ray Wise." So she said: "Okay, let's send him the script."

We sent him the script and he read it over night and he called on the next morning and said: "I want to do it. I was looking for something like this." That was amazing.

With Lin Shaye, it was basically the same process. We had an actress that dropped us at the last moment and Lin came in and said she loved the script and wanted to be in it. And you've seen the end result. She's very funny and interesting and she isn't afraid of playing with her image. She came in and as soon as we put all those people together, they began to look like a family. They behaved like a family off camera. That was amazing.

DR: Did you originally have Marilyn Manson in mind for the part of The Man in Black? I only ask because Steve Valentine, who played that part, has the same hair style and looks a little like Manson without his make-up...

JBA: That's funny. No one has ever asked about that. No, we didn't try to make him look like Marilyn Manson, or to get Marilyn Manson to play that part... which would have been a great idea, actually. Now that I think of it... sh*t! That would have worked really well.

The Marilyn Manson thing was just a joke at the beginning because I really like the guy. I think he is intelligent. He's in America and he is doing what he does against the system - against the culture. If you heard him talking in Bowling For Columbine then you can see that he is not a dumb guy. And so we placed a reference to him in the movie because I like him. But it is funny, you're right Steve Valentine does look a lot like him.

DR: For you, what is the most enjoyable process of movie making? Is it the writing, the directing, or seeing the whole thing put together?

JBA: For me it is the directing. I started doing theatre and stage work and directed some crazy things when I was 15. I have to write because I want to direct. I would love it if someone could give me an original, fantastic script so that I would only have to direct a movie. At the same time though, writing is like giving birth - not that I know what giving birth is really like - but it is painful. The whole process is a pain in the ass, but you are very happy with the results.

DR: Do you share the same view as a lot of British directors, that it is a shame that you have to go to America to get the funding to make your movies instead of being able to raise the capital in your own country?

JBA: Yes, absolutely. In France if you don't write about suicide or unemployment - if you don't do Ken Loach movies then you won't get your work financed. It has changed a bit though in recent times. Now you have to do comedies, stupid comedies - the more stupid the better [laughs].

Dead End was written in English because I though that if we couldn't get the money in France then at least we could show it to other producers abroad. The financing of Dead End is French.

I don't want to work in France even if I can now. I want to work in England and America, they are very different than France. If you go to France everyone is doing nothing - just enjoying life. Which is good, but in this business you need energy from the people you work with. That's not what happens in France.

I used to say that French cinema was slowly dying and I don't know what is going to happen to it. We used to be, along with England, one of the biggest European movie producers. But now every time a movie comes from abroad, especially America, people say: "Oh my God! Another American movie. We are not going to see that!" We are heavily prejudice, except when it comes to the huge blockbusters, against English speaking movie.

DR: How has Dead End been received in France?

JBA: By the audience, fantastically. But, by the business... we are still having problems finding a distributor. We've sold this movie everywhere but France. But, at French festivals the movie is very well received, which is very rewarding.

I've talked to some French actors at festivals who have said: "Why didn't you shoot the movie in France, with French actors?" Now that the movie is completed everyone in France is questioning why we didn't do it in France.

DR: There's one stand out scene in the movie that everyone will talk about - the biting of the lip. The scene didn't go as planned and looks a lot more shocking than was originally scripted. At the time were you disappointed that it hadn't gone as planned? And looking at it now do you thing it was a happy accident that gives the scene more impact?

JBA: I'm okay with the scene, but we only had one take for it. I would have done it again if we had the time. The actress is supposed to bite the lip off, but she dropped the lip by mistake so that it was hanging, and she had the instinct to come back and tear it up completely.

I think it looks pretty good. But that was a very stressful day. The producers had chosen that day to come to the set, which was maybe not the best day because everyone was stressed that that shot wouldn't work. The actors were very stressed. But in the end I think it works.

DR: It seems more shocking, the fact that she goes back to chew up his lip...

JBA: Yeah, I think so too. But we didn't have that many angles and we had to edit that scene with the very few angles that we did have. But you're right, it works best when she comes back. I think we were lucky on that one.

DR: Apart from that scene there is very little gore. Was that down to financial constraints as you mentioned earlier, or had you originally planned to play with the audiences imagination because it is more scary if you let the audiences imagination fill in the blanks?

JBA: There was even less gore in the script and in the end we thought we'd better give something to the audience.

The only thing that was in the script, gore wise, was the rubbing of the brain. This is not only gore, it's a really funny scene - having an orgasm, masturbating her brain.

The idea for this came from a TV show I saw where a surgeon performed surgery on a woman who couldn't stand anaesthesia. She was only hypnotised and part of her skull was open and you could see the brain. The doctor stimulated the brain with the tip of a pen and he said: "Do you feel anything?" And she said: "My foot is itching". And I was like: "My God! That's horrible." That means that you can actually generate physical reactions by touching the brain.

But you're right. That was the idea from the beginning. The less you see, the more scary it is. We wanted to leave as much as we could to the imagination of the audience. The mind is a powerful thing. When we are watching things are imagination gears up and we begin to imagine all kinds of crazy things. That is much more efficient than showing something - which would limit your imagination.

DR: Did you pay homage to any other movies? There is a scene where the mysterious car drives past and in the back is the first victim, which reminded me of a similar scene in Jacob's Ladder...

JBA: That was not intentional. Jacob's Ladder is one of my favourite horror movies ever. It is very intelligent, there's no gore and it's very creepy.

The car comes from Phantasm - but I didn't realise that until I met Don Coscarelli [Phantasm's writer/director] at a festival in Brussels. I met him and I remembered that I had seen this movie fifteen years ago, and I remember being impressed by the black car and the tall man. And I think that subconsciously the black man and the car in Dead End come from Phantasm.

But that was completely unintentional and when we were writing Dead End we didn't mean to give any reference to existing films, although we didn't try to hide the baby carriage - which is a reference to Rosemary's Baby.

DR: If you weren't in this industry, what would you be doing?

JBA: That's interesting. I would be a music conductor... or pilot of a jet plane [laughs].

DR: What about future projects? Is there anything you are working on at the moment that you can talk about?

JBA: Fabrice and I have a number of different projects on the go at the moment - also we have a number of separate projects. Unfortunately, at this stage I can't say any more.

What comes next won't, I think, be a horror movie. It is too easy to get pigeonholed into doing horror movies. I want to get some experience in other genres and maybe come back to horror movies later.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Nina Criswick at DSA

Dead End is out to buy on DVD and rent on DVD & VHS from Pathé Distribution Ltd on 17 May 2004

Order your copy on DVD for £11.99 (RRP: £15.99) by clicking here

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