Q&A: Jon Schnepp on “ABCs OF DEATH,” Part One
The ABC’s of Death (now available on DVD and Blu-ray) is an alphabetized mind fuck through 36 gonzo, gory, and grim horror vignettes, each directed by a noted genre name. The “W” installment, WTF, was handled by Jon Schnepp, known for his work on METALOCALYPSE for which he’s produced, directed and developed the character design. ABC’s is his first foray into being a horror filmmaker, which seems to be where it’s at for this lifelong fan. The style in WTF, inspired by his great admiration for EVIL DEAD II, is definitely “splatstick” and “kitchen sink,” but there is more than one type of horror in Schnepp’s black metal heart. He adores body horror and would love to terrify in the tradition of both Cronenberg and Carpenter (e.g. THE THING). Schnepp was stoked to share his love and enthusiasm of all things geek with Fango.
FANGORIA: You’ve made your first step forward into the genre with ABCs of Death…
JON SCHNEPP: Yes, and I’m very, very excited about it. I’m very happy with the response I’ve gotten from people after seeing reviews for WTF, my segment. You know, because it’s comedy horror, I knew some people would be hating, but people really got into it and dug it, so I was very happy.
FANG: How did this project come to you?
SCHNEPP: I made it come to me. I contacted Ant Timpson. I’d heard about the project, and I was looking around. I didn’t have a manager, I didn’t have an agent, I’d been doing METALOCALYPSE for like seven years, and I was like, I come from doing live action, I directed UPRIGHT CITIZEN’S BRIGADE, and I used to make my own weird short films when I lived in Chicago, and I just got into animation, and dug it and just went full board into it.
Knowing always that I wanted to get back into doing live action, and working with actors, and being on sets and making stuff that way, because that’s just really exciting to me, but also getting into genres, like science fiction and horror, as opposed to staying in comedy, so just expanding and having fun with different types of storytelling.
So I was looking around and I saw that this ABCs OF DEATH had just gone into production. I found who the producer was, this guy in New Zealand, and by basically just finding his contact info, you know, a generic email and I just cold-emailed him.
Instead of cold-calling someone, I cold-emailed him. So, I was like, “Hey, I’m Jon, I direct the METALOCALYPSE show, I do a bunch of these other things, I’m really into the idea that you’re doing with ABCs OF DEATH, where you have different directors doing different segments, and they’re from all around the world, and a lot of the directors you’ve already got, I’m a fan of. So I was just really kind of excited about it.” He emailed back, and basically told me, “I’m sorry, we’re all full. We have every single director and all the letters of the alphabet are filled up.” But he knew of me, and he’d seen METALOCALYPSE, and liked my work, and he said “You know, if something else comes up, you’re on my list now, you’re at the top of the list.”
So I was like, “alright, cool, thanks for emailing me back” and then cut to about five months later, I got a call, and it was Ant, and he was like, “are you still down for doing this?” And I said, “Yeah!” because he said one of the directors dropped out, and you were the first person on my list, so, do you want to do this? Rock on, the letter is ‘W’. So he basically said I had to come up with something for W.
FANG: Did you have something in mind?
SCHNEPP: No I didn’t, at first I was like, “alright, so I got the letter W.” He told me the budget, which was very, very low. I was like, “I don’t care. I want in,” which is true, I wanted to make something with this incredible roster of talents. It’s a great place to try and experiment. So I started writing out an outline, W was for Wake, and it was going to be this young girl’s first wake, her dead grandma, and she’s having all of these nightmares thinking about her grandma, with her eyes opening, and then finally getting to the wake, and she’s actually really dead.
It was going to be more about the actual tension of seeing a dead body for the first time. I was writing it, and I just couldn’t get one hundred percent behind it. I mean, I liked the idea, it wasn’t freakish or frightening enough for me. I felt like I was forcing it. So then I wrote W is for War, and it was basically about these two guys having a mundane conversation about television shows, like after a couple of explosions have gone off, and they’re walking the streets, and there are just all of these injured people, tons of dead bodies and blood all over the streets, but injured people with missing legs, screaming and crawling, and these guys are just talking about their favorite comedy TV show and just popping these people in the head as they walk by, just shooting these people dead.
So that was basically going to be my short, and then another explosion, and then they’re blown up, and as they’re dying, exploded and missing limbs and stuff, they’re still kind of joking about this stupid television show. After that idea, I was like, I don’t know, I’m not sold on it yet for myself, so I wrote W is for What the Fuck, which was basically.. alright, I’m going to write a jokey one, about myself and my indecisions on what I was going to make, so I started writing down as many W’s as I could, w’s for worm, w’s for witch, w’s for word, w’s for walrus, just as many and as dumb too, w is for whisk, w is for window, what’s the angle, it’s not the house that’s haunted, it’s the window.
I wrote all of these stupid ones down, and then just started having fun with the idea of doing a flip on it, so it was about me having these indecisions and all of these ideas for this one letter. And then at the same time, this mind control chemtrail sprays coming across it and making everyone’s thoughts come to life. So, basically, that’s what happens, while I’m talking to the person who is pretend-producing it with me, all of a sudden, “You have to come up to the conference room!” and we go up and we see that there’s a news report and there are chemtrails everywhere, and people are going crazy and insane, there’s madness in the streets, and that’s when everything just kind of flips out. The news reporter starts basically talking totally insane, freakish, possessed—like a ninety-nine percent freakout.
And it just becomes a whirlwind of madness. All of the things that the character was talking about, all of these different ideas start merging into reality until there is basically a swirl-out. So I wrote that, and I sent that to Ant. Ant was like, ‘That’s the one.” So I was like, “alright, that’s going to be really fucking hard to make.” I kind of cut out the totally insane stuff, because I had an experience a year before where I was making something and I went too far in certain way. Basically, Ant was like, “Hey, how come you didn’t film some of the other shit that you wrote down?” Because I sent in a rough cut. And I just felt that it was too weird, and he was like, “Fucking do that, do the weird shit.” So I just went hogwild, overboard.
FANG: Is it all live action?
SCHNEPP: Well, I thought it would be fun to start out with an animated sequence, because people know me as the director of METALOCALYPSE. So, it starts out with a nude woman chained to a table, while this creepy-crony witch is laughing over her. Then, a knight busts in, he’s like, “I’ll save you!” Then, he gets fucked up by a warlock, and then the animation just stops. Then it pulls out into live action. And then you realize that they were talking about it, “What do you mean, you did animation, we don’t have the money to do animation,” and I was like, “Yeah, I have to finish this thing,” so then it busts into a narrative about making the film, and W is for “What is it going to be?”
TO BE CONTINUED