Vincent D’Onofrio: Directing A Slasher-Musical


Vincent D’Onofrio is primarily known and highly regarded for his acting.  His performance as Private Pyle in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is legendary, and more recently he has become known for his work on the dramatic series, Law and Order: Criminal Intent.  Of course he also has an outstanding reputation as a character actor in long list of films.  Recently he added the role of director to his resume.  He came by the SiriusXM studios to talk with about his directorial debut film “Don’t Go Into the Woods.”

: The film Don’t Go In The Woods is being called like a musical horror film because there’s tons of music in it. Vincent, how are you? Good to see you back.

Vincent D’Onofrio: It’s good to be here. Yeah, I mean I called it a slasher musical. Everybody sings and everybody dies.

: And the amazing thing is the music’s really good. It’s incredibly current. Is this even a real band? Are they guys that play in a band?

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yeah, I mean it’s not their music. It’s Sam Bisbee’s music. Sam Bisbee is a friend of mine. He’s a singer-songwriter and composer. Sam wrote all the music for this. These guys, Soomin, Matt, Nick, three of the guys that are in the band, were in a band called “The Dirty Dirty”. But they’re not together anymore. But they’re still friends obviously.

Ron Bennington: Now how did you hook up with them? Because nobody has done any acting before, right?

Vincent D’Onofrio: No. Nobody did any acting. They were just friends of my nephew’s. We had them over to the house to sing some of Sam’s songs and I thought they were so great. Nick was the lead singer of The Dirty Dirty, but I liked Matt better for the lead because he had a better look for that part, because Nick looks like too much of a nice guy. Matt has a very kind of, he has a sensitive face. He’s got these big eyes that were really good for the character in the film. So I switched the lead singers of their band and we turned them into our guys in the film.

Ron Bennington: Well they all have like those archetypes of guys from the band too. There’s always somebody who’s going to be the leader who’s like “Dude, we’ve gotta play”. The other guys are like “This isn’t why we got into this.” And the music is so good and it does sound like what you would hear if you went into Brooklyn today. Sam’s a terrific songwriter. And the way that these kids do it, that part of it really feels really improvised. It really does feel like you’re out in the woods with these guys.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Well you know, it was important to have mostly non-actors. I mean only two of the girls had ever acted before in a movie. Cassandra and Kira. Everybody else were non-actors. And Kira and Cassandra never really did anything professional either until this movie. I wanted their performances to be like these flat tones. More like an early Linkletter and Smith film. That slacker feel. And contrast that with this great pop music. This great rock ‘n’ roll pop. They were great. The kids were great. They were all so good and knew exactly what we were doing was absurd because it’s an absurd movie. And you have to take a huge leap of faith with the movie, but they knew that it was a slasher genre and that people expect anything and they expect to take a leap with a slasher genre film. And they were incredibly respectful and incredibly responsible kids. And yeah, they’re really singing and they’re really playing and it’s just them. It’s all them.

Ron Bennington: Yeah because there were different times in the movie, I’m like well we didn’t even need to make this a slasher film. And there’s long periods of time that you forget that you’re watching a slasher film.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Right. Ours is different because you’re there to sing and then be murdered. (laughs)

Ron Bennington: Was the initial idea to do the musical or the initial idea was to do the slasher film?

Vincent D’Onofrio: No, the initial idea was all at the same time. I was talking to my wife. I wanted to do something easy that we could do right away for no money. And I swear to you, I said the words why don’t I make..it’s in our woods upstate. I didn’t have to get permits because we shot the whole thing in my yard. So I said why don’t we just make a slasher musical with all non-actors where everybody sings and everybody dies. And two months later, we shot it.

Ron Bennington: But it is one thing to shoot it and then it’s another thing to get it released. I mean a lot of people shoot films for the type of budget but you’re On Demand right away so it’s available all over the country.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yeah, 40, 50 million homes.

Ron Bennington: Which is insane now.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Well, I think it’s the new format for small films.

Ron Bennington: Yeah, it definitely is the new format for small films.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Small films that are made for the price of mine and the amount of time, I mean we shot our film in twelve days. All in. Everything post. Everything done that we needed to be able to deliver to a company, it cost about a 100 grand. The shooting of it cost practically nothing, but it’s everything else after that ends up costing. But twelve days we shot it in. It was completely insulated. No permits. No nothing. Nobody even knew that we were doing it. You suddenly have this thing that you’re able to, it’s a product now. Will people be interested in buying it and getting out there? You never know. You never know what’s going to happen. But we had a pretty good shot. Number one is because I’m directing it. It’s me. So at least people will watch it because of that. It doesn’t mean they have to like it. But they’ll watch it because I directed it. So I knew that going in. We knew we had a good shot. Slasher movies. You take the leap. And the music is awesome. Sam Bisbee’s music is awesome in it.

Ron Bennington:  It’s expensive to make films– but it’s even more expensive to release films and market films. I just had Edward Burns in here the other day, and he’s done almost the exact type of thing.  

Vincent D’Onofrio: Oh yeah. Ed did exactly the same thing. It’s the same company, it’s Tribeca that’s helping us get these films out there to Comcast, Time Warner, to iTunes. This is it. This is the way to do it. I mean, Ed’s film was probably, all in, cost about the same amount as mine. The next one that I make, I’ll make for even cheaper than this last one.

Ron Bennington: Because you learned so much how to do it?

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yeah and it’s also thing are just even better now. The camera that Ed used on his film wasn’t available when I made my film.

Ron Bennington: That quickly it changes.

Vincent D’Onofrio: I’ll use that camera. You can get them for $2500 at B&H. And you can shoot a feature film with that camera. The next film I make will be half the cost of “Don’t Go In The Woods”. And it will be a completely different film, but this is the way you do it these days. This is the way you can do it these days if you want.

Ron Bennington: A lot of the slasher films go immediately into franchise mode. So you really could find a new band and do this again.

Vincent D’Onofrio: No, we already figured out, Tribeca has talked to me about it and we’ll see if that actually happens. But I know we’ll call it “I Said Don’t Go Into The Woods”.  And it’ll be an all girl band next time.

Ron Bennington: For you directing, after being an actor for so many years. You worked with some many great directors. And now you’re bringing in kids who have zero acting experience, what did you call on for that? Did you give that part of it a lot of thought?

Vincent D’Onofrio: I just asked for their trust. I wanted to make sure that they all were making the same movie as I did. Which was this absurd thing that we were going to try and do. Almost as an experiment. Let’s approach it as an experiment. And I made sure that they understood what I meant by no acting. I explained it to them. We did a couple of read throughs. And in those read throughs, I would read the lyrics to some of the songs. So that I wasn’t reading their parts. I would read lyrics to the songs. And I would give them a performance of those lyrics in a very flat tone. In a very real tone. With no, very little inflection and no acting. Just a very honest, words coming out of your mouth approach to it. And I said to them, that’s the tone of the film. I don’t expect anything more than that. You don’t have to act at all ever. In fact, if I catch you acting, I’m going ask you to stop it. And they all loved that idea.  And by the end of the reading, they’re completely wrapped up into their character. Without even trying.

Ron Bennington: It just happens.

Vincent D’Onofrio: So that’s the way to approach it. So I approached the read throughs like that and I would approach every day like that. Like when we would start a scene, before I would say “Action”, I would remind them. Everybody stay calm. Everybody talk in their own voices and go.

Ron Bennington: Which takes us back to “Slacker” and “Clerks” and all that from the early nineties which was such a great period for film. And then it felt like the corporations came in, bought up those little companies and now maybe this is another wave.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Oh no, definitely, I mean this will be ruined too eventually, but right now, now is the time if you have a good script and you have a crew, make your movie right now. You’ll get a distributor. If it’s a decent story, you’ll get a distributor. And people will see your movie On Demand.

Ron Bennington: It’s really tough when you get off away from urban areas. And there’s a market. It isn’t necessarily because that they live there that they’re not interested in these films.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Oh absolutely. No, they absolutely are. I mean they need to see them to be interested. They need to see the poster. Read a bit what it’s about. They need to. If you think about it when our film, when “Don’t Go In Woods” got released a week and a half ago on VOD, on video on demand, with these companies, Comcast, Time Warner, iTunes, it went instantly went into 40 to 50 million homes that day. That’s distribution.

Ron Bennington: So this something you’re going to stay with as well as keep your acting career quite open.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Of course, I’m an actor.

Ron Bennington: First and foremost.

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yeah of course. I’m just doing these projects. It’s hard. You know we were talking about Scorsese before. I have never worked for Scorsese, but I have worked for some of the best directors that America will ever put out. And so it’s difficult to think of myself as a director because I’ve worked with those guys who are truly, the men and women that I’ve worked with are truly directors. And so it’s difficult for me, but I look at it like if I have an idea I think of it as a project. I’ll make it into a movie. It’ll be seen. It won’t be seen. In the end, I’m still just going through with my idea. And that’s how I’m looking at it right now. And so, I have another idea that I’m gonna do. As soon as the script is ready and I read it, it feels like a film. We’ll make it. We’ll make it for half the budget we made Don’t Go In The Woods. And I think, already, it will turn out great. And we haven’t even shot a scene in it yet. So that’s just the way I feel about things. And yeah, I’m going to continue doing it.

Ron Bennington: Congratulations on it. I think it’s just an amazing thing. And the last time I talked to you, you had shot it, but hopefully going to get it out, but now the fact that it’s happened, it’s already a success for you, right? It already feels like it.

Vincent D’Onofrio: That’s all. That’s all. It has an audience. You don’t do these things without expecting people to go see it. You want people to see it. So now people are seeing it.

Ron Bennington: And Bisbee’s music, you guys gonna put this out too?

Vincent D’Onofrio: We’ll see. We’ll see how the film does. When you get into the music business and stuff then things get a bit more complicated.

Ron Bennington: “Don’t Go In The Woods” is available On Demand. Thanks so much. Nice to see you again.

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