IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Legendary Director John Carpenter talks 'The Ward'

Wednesday, 08 June 2011 18:38 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Legendary Director John Carpenter talks 'The Ward'

Legendary film director John Carpenter truly has an amazing body of work. His resume reads like a laundry list of some of the most thrilling and exciting films of the last thirty years including Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Christine, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live. Now after several years spent producing and directing TV, Carpenter returns behind the camera once again and revisits the genre he practically helped create with the new horror film called The Ward, which is available on VOD starting today.

The movie is a psychological thriller that revolves around a young girl named Kristen (Amber Heard from Drive Angry) who is admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1966 where she begins to believe that a mysterious and deadly ghost is haunting her. As the specter gets closer and closer to her, she starts to realize that the true threat to her life … might actually be herself. Besides Heard the film boasts a great cast including Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick Ass), Danielle Panabaker (Sky High), Mamie Gummer (Taking Woodstock), and newcomer Laura Leigh, as well as exceptional character actor Jared Harris (Mad Men, Fringe) as the creepy Dr. Stringer.

I recently had the true honor of sitting down and spending several minutes chatting with the legendary John Carpenter about his latest movie, The Ward. The chain-smoking director, who smoked one cigarette after another while I was in the room, spoke candidly about the new film, his cast, the subject matter, and his unique and distinguished career. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, when you first read this script, what was it that struck you about this material that made you say to yourself, this is a John Carpenter movie?

John Carpenter: It was very strong, conflicted characters trapped in a small space. Marginalized people trapped with evil around them. That’s always been attractive to me, that theme. I’ve written a couple like that, and this was a challenge because I’d never done a female ensemble before and that was something I wanted to do. But the biggest reason wasn’t that big, it was small. I wanted to have a good time. I could make a shadowy corridor, which is something I want to do.

Did you find that making a smaller picture was different than other experiences you’ve had making movies?

Carpenter: Let me say … they’re all difficult. Everyone has its challenges. Every single one has something that makes you go, “Ah, why didn’t I think of that?”  And having a bigger budget doesn’t make it easier, and a lower budget doesn’t make it easier. 

Were you stressed for time making this film?

Carpenter: Always, even when you have all the money. I’ve never heard a director say, “Damn, I have too many days. I’ve got to give some of these back to you.” They always want to take them away from you.

Can you talk about how the process of filmmaking has changed since you first started making movies?

Carpenter: The literal, on-the-set process is the same since it was perfected in the thirties. It has not changed. You have a camera, or cameras, cameramen, lights, crew and you have actors and make-up come in. Let’s stage a scene. Let’s make a movie here. Then you start working it. It doesn’t matter what scene it is. It could be a car chase but you plan it out. It’s a combined effort, and you photograph it. It’s always been that way. The geniuses behind the studio system perfected the way to make them. A lot else has changed around that. Technically, there has been a lot of innovation, some for the better, some not so good. The people who own the studios are different now. The way they choose what movies to make, and how to sell them, is different. There are so many levels of competition for attention. Televisions, phones, the computer, all of those things, and then of course the culture keeps changing … all of the time. But movies continue to be a mirror of the culture, and we just keep riding along.

Do you think it’s harder today for new filmmakers to get started?

Carpenter: In some ways, it is. But it depends on the director. There’s no blanket statement. If you’re a shooter these days, it’s ready for you. Because what your job is really finite and you’re not worried about certain things, and you can please everybody. They love it, when you please them. They don’t like it when you’re prickly. But I was classically trained, so it was a different approach.

Finally, you mentioned wanting to direct a female ensemble but I thought actor Jared Harris from Mad Men was fantastic as Dr. Stringer.

Carpenter: He’s a great actor, boy!

Can you talk about the process of casting The Ward?

Carpenter: Well, it started with Amber. She was somebody that the producers recommended. I caught up on all of her work and thought, “Aha! There’s something really interesting here.” You know, she’s beautiful, but that’s beside the point. She loves to play conflicted characters, loves to be strong, and is a strong human being as she is a natural talent. She can be very emotional and she’s incredibly smart. So I had my lead. Then it’s finding the best actors around, so I did. I just love my cast, and they’re playing a specific look. There’s the baby, and there’s the tease, you know? There’s the artist, with the glasses. There’s a loony. Different actresses with different looks and what they brought to it. They’re all so talented! I love the girls.

The Ward is available on VOD starting today!

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