Excl. Interview: Toby Wilkins Grudge 2

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We had an opportunity to sit down with the very talented director of the Grudge 2 Webisodes Toby Wilkins. You may not have heard his name before but trust us when we say that this will not be the last time you hear it. Toby is just now getting his big shot to prove he is the cream of the crop with the Grudge 2 Webisodes which we posted here on this site for you earlier in the month. You can watch all 3 of his webisodes and the trailer right here : Grudge 2 Webisodes

From Columbia Pictures and Ghost House Pictures comes the much-anticipated sequel to the 2004 worldwide hit The Grudge. The terrifying thriller The Grudge 2 explores the dark secrets of the grudge as the terrifying supernatural curse is unleashed on a group of seemingly unrelated victims. One by one, they are infected by the grudge, which quickly moves from a burned-down house in Tokyo and spreads to everyone who crosses its path.  In this interview Toby gives us some great insights on his career, the Grudge 2 and other projects he is currently working on. So without further ado, here is the interview.

Well I guess I'll kick things off by asking how did you get involved with Ghost House Pictures?

In 2005 I made a short film called "Staring at the Sun" which premiered at Sundance that year and went on to play a bunch more festivals. It ended up winning ScreamFestLA (screamfestla.com) which is Stan Winston's horror festival. Ghost House Pictures are on the judging panel of that festival.

So what exactly were you approached to do for them?

After the ScreamFestLA win, they asked me to submit ideas for a series of 2 minute horror films they were working on for their new "mobile" division: Ghost House Mobile. I jumped at the chance of course, and ended up creating a fun little short called "Mousetrap" for the project.

What can you tell us about Mousetrap?

Mousetrap was a super low budget short that was really designed to embrace the "restrictions" of mobile media. The whole short is a single, locked off shot from inside a mouse hole. It’s pretty creepy, and has a hell of a kick at the end. The few people that have seen it seem to really enjoy it.

So after that I'm assuming is when you were brought the Grudge 2 project?

A while after, yes. I finished Mousetrap in December 2005. It wasn't until they finished principle photography on "The Grudge 2" that Ghost House contacted me about the shorts. When they knew they had something great on their hands, and figured it was time to do something unique to get the word out there.

Yea when you were first approached about them had you seen the first film and even earlier than that the original Ju-On films?

I had seen "The Grudge" yes, but not the original Ju-On at that time. I was a huge fan of the way Japanese horror was influencing US cinema at the time "The Grudge" and "The Ring" came out. It's a great time to be in the horror business I think.

Yea everything is really booming now.. So did you get the opportunity to meet with Takashi Shimizu?

Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to meet him yet. He was deep into the editing process on the feature by the time I came on to the shorts project. Shimizu was always available to give us notes, and to make sure we were on track with the characters and story concepts that he created in his films. To guide me through the world that he has created.

So I take it you were involved with writing the shorts as well?

Ben Ketai at Ghost House had already written the scripts by the time I was brought on. When I first heard about the project, the scripts were my biggest concern. But as soon as I read them I knew I was going to be involved in something real, something that had a lot of thought and care put into it.

You see a lot of "webisodes" and branded content where this ground work has not been done, I was delighted to see how rich the scripts were for how short they needed to be.

Yea when they first appeared it’s really the first time I had seen a studio make something outside the original movie that is still part of the story

In a lot of ways it's a similar idea to what DreamWorks did for "The Ring 2" with the short film "Rings", but on a more broadly accessible level, with the internet and cell phones as the intended platform, in addition to DVD. I was the 2nd unit director on that project, and did a lot of the visual effects work myself. But "Rings" was a very different project, with a very different intended use and audience.

Very cool.. I really wish they would have made that into a feature length the premise was fantastic.So have you always had an interest in the horror genre?

Absolutely. Horror, thriller, suspense... all are great movie genres. As an audience member I like to be transported and entertained, and I like nothing more than to be on the edge of my seat, with my heart pounding... there's nothing like it.

And as a filmmaker, if I make an audience jump... there's nothing like that feeling either. To sit at the back of a screening room at Sundance and see people literally jump out of their seats... that's quite a buzz.

But as a director I'm kind of all over the map. I have done dark comedy, thriller, horror... and some of my favorite films have nothing to do with any of that.

So it’s safe to assume that you will be directing plenty more horror features in the future?

I am keeping my fingers crossed, yes. Though to be fair, I haven't made one feature yet.

So let me go back in time a little ways... How did Case Sensitive come about?

Case Sensitive Films is my production company. It's the framework that has enabled me to produce all of my films since about 2000. My long time collaborator, writer Paul Sopocy and I formed the company, and I think our first project was "I Lost 20lbs in Two Months, Ask Me How" in 2001. It's also the company I am building to develop feature film projects.

So do you have any features on the way that you can mention?

I'm in talks with a number of studios and independent production companies right now. It's a really exciting time for me. I have my own projects too of course, an incredible script that came my way from two very close friends Shiloh and Rider Strong.

It's a terrifying reinvention of the Bigfoot legend told inside the framework of a coming of age story with some very dark and rich characters. It's like "Stand By Me" meets "The Descent".

Ha-ha sounds great... I would say the Big Foot legend is about due for a great movie

It's had a lot of knocks over the years, but nobody has done the creature justice as a horror film.

Yea I have to agree a lot of straight to DVD projects mainly

The idea is that it's not the Bigfoot that we all know... that's a hoax, a prank. A creature that's far worse than anything man has invented to explain away the evil that lurks deep in the forest.

I like the sound of it so far

But as a filmmaker, what appeals to me most about this script is the characters. I love this group of guys, and I know that audiences will too... as they watch them get picked off in horrible and disturbing ways.

Heh yea horrible and disturbing ways is always a good thing in horror

We also have a number of other scripts in development; "Haven House" is more of a ghost story, similar in tone to "The Others" or "What Lies Beneath". Very moody.

And of course, the folks at Ghost House Pictures are very supportive and we're trying to find the right project for me there.

Sounds like you have a lot of different influences... what are some of the films that inspired you when coming up with these ideas?

I would say my touchstone films are the films I grew up with, the films that made me sit up and get excited about film in the first place.

Films like Alien, Blade Runner, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Ghost Busters etc. I get into this argument all the time, but Alien is one of my favorite "Horror" films.

Yea the isolation in that film is truly horrific

More recent films that continue to stay with me and influence me are the work of David Fincher, Panic Room, The Game, and other great pieces of cinema that create a real mood, an energy that is unique to them, like Fincher's films always do. Others include Bound, The Matrix, 2001 and more off the genre Run Lola Run, Punch Drunk Love, Hard Eight, Time Bandits.

The Bourne Supremacy is near the top of my list too.

So what is up next for you in the immediate future?

There is a dizzying array of options right now; it's been a wild couple of weeks. I have been working in the short film world for so long that it's tempting to say "I'm doing a feature next" but I'm open to all kinds of offers right now.

I am pitching a short form comedy series for the internet; I'm talking to Warner Brothers about doing something similar to "Tales from the Grudge" for a project of theirs...

And I have another short film "Kidney Thieves" which is about to hit the festivals next month. It's a really fun black comedy starring Ethan Embry, Paget Brewster and Paul F. Tompkins. So I'm going to be traveling a lot to support that film at festivals.

What else have you worked on in your past in the movie biz?

I have worked in the field for a long time like... I worked on the title sequence for Red Dragon, to name just one.

How was that experience?

It was great. I came to filmmaking through my career as a graphic designer, and I helped create a lot of great movie title sequences over the years. Working with directors like Brett Ratner is always a blast, and in a lot of ways, being around those guys is what continued to drive me to pursue filmmaking myself.

Yea I read on your site that you worked with Bryan Singer

Yes, I have known Bryan Singer for years, and just helped with the trailers for Supermen Returns. That's my day job at the moment, digital trailer finishing. And when you have directors like Singer and Soderbergh telling you to go out there and make films... it's easier to find the courage to take risks and make it happen.

Yea I have heard that from a lot of directors... Just get out there and do it

That does seem to be the key. You just have to find a way to make it happen, and it's getting easier and easier to just pick up a camera and make a movie.

I'm really interested in your Big Foot script... How did that get conceived?

Shiloh and Rider Strong are both actors, they came up with the script by themselves and gave it to me to read. I loved it and pounced on it as soon as I could. I think it's their background as actors that enabled them to create such deeply believable characters, and their experience with, and love of horror films that enabled them to do the same for the creature. The script is called "Shadow Canyon" by the way.

Rider Strong was great in Cabin Fever... It was nice departure from his Boy Meets World role

Rider is an incredible talent, we're going to see a lot more break out roles from him I think.

Yea... what about the other project you mentioned "Haven House" I believe can you comment on that any further?

"Haven House" is a more intellectual project, it contains some pretty complex themes that are going to be a hard sell for me as a "first time director" I think. So it's a project that I am holding on to until I'm in a position to make sure it gets the treatment it deserves.

Yea it’s a shame really for "intelligent" horror not to be able to reach an audience... It seems a lot of studios want to dumb down the film for a younger audience

Oh absolutely. It's a shame.

Of course there is always the festival circuit.

I think there is certainly a world in which the more cerebral horror films like "28 Days Later" get their due, and when they do get made, they seem to break out... but it's much harder to get them made.

Yea at least as a new filmmaker. I'm sure once you get some projects done studios will be more willing to take a gamble

I certainly hope so. But there are also a few opportunities, like "Tales from the Grudge", for filmmakers to prove themselves without a studio risking millions.

I heard you mention something about Ghost House Mobile... can you say

Anything else about that? Like when it will be available?

I think the goal is to launch later this year, you can sign up for updates at http://ghosthousemobile.com/. They are doing some cool stuff with the technology already though, like if you watch the "Tales from the Grudge" shorts at http://doyouhaveagrudge.com and enter your mobile phone number you will get a super creepy surprise call. And the "Tales from the Grudge" shorts are available on Sprint mobile phones right now.

Yea they have a big lineup on the horizon. 30 Days of Night, the Messengers, Rise

Yes, Ghost House is going to be a force to watch in the horror world. It's obviously been a passion of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert for years… going to be, they already are.

Heh yea good point

But their line-up looks great; I'm looking forward to all of these films.

Yea they are really on their way. Can you tell me what your experience was like working on "Rings"? I really enjoyed that short immensely and really wish it was a feature length

"Rings" was a hectic experience, it was one of those projects where everyone wore several hats and worked all night to get the job done. The post production schedule took us right through the holidays and New Year’s Eve, so it was a pretty wild time.

But we were all in line to support Jonathan's vision, and we all knew what he was creating was going to be great. So the all night schedules and the "all hands on deck" teamwork just seemed to part of the plan.

From the first time we watched dailies on set, we knew "Rings" was going to be something people would remember, and everyone stood back and was like "Wow, this isn't just some little short film, this is part of something much bigger." And that's how I felt about "Tales from the Grudge". I had this legacy of "The Grudge" behind me, encouraging me to try new things, and to honor the work that Shimizu had done. I only hope I was able to do the project justice.

Yea well I can tell you that a lot of the fans are digging the shorts. So you have definitely got a lot of people interested in the film.

That's great to hear. The whole point of the shorts was to do just that. To create something that would actually give something to the fans of the films, something more than the usual trailers and teasers.

Yea and I think in the case of both of the films there is always that idea that more people have to be influenced by the story. They are sort of like mini stories that are just branched off from the feature

Yeah, right. And the shorts are a way of showing that. And I think they also show that the second film isn't going to be a rehash of "The Grudge", but that these guys are doing something new. Something exciting that will make people sit up and pay attention.

The idea that there are more stories to be told around this core idea is something that may have been lost on the audience because they are used to seeing the same movie over and over... with franchise after cookie cutter franchise.

Like with "Rings", "Tales from the Grudge" clearly shows that there are a lot more sides to this story. People are going to be surprised by "The Grudge 2" and I think it will force studios to look more closely at how a story can be expanded, not simply retold.

Yea, I find it quite funny that you some how fell into both Asian remake projects. Were you a fan of Asian horror before taking on these two in particular?

I have always found it fascinating to see how one culture's story telling style can change another's. The influence is as interesting to me as the source.

Well than I'm sure you were pleased to get the Grudge 2 gig. The broken timeline within the movie is something I have always loved about the films

Sure, and I think you can see that influence coming from more sources than just Asia. When "Run, Lola, Run" hit the US people went crazy for it, because it used a style of story telling that was uniquely not American.

People want something fresh, they want to be challenged and there are no more challenging stories than those from a culture with such vastly different perspectives on story and the telling of stories.

I would be really interested to see the influence of Native American story telling style on cinema. Or Scandinavian, or Nordic cultures. There are so many influences in the world; we're just touching the surface.

Yea good luck with that and make sure to keep in touch with us about all your future projects. Sounds like you got allot on your plate... Before we wrap up the interview is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

I would encourage your readers to visit DoYouHaveAGrudge.com and check out all the great content there, games, a graphic novel, as well as the shorts. And of course, go and see "The Grudge 2" on October 13th.

We thank Toby for taking the time to chat with us, and encourage you all to go check out Grudge 2. But more importantly check out the 3 Grudge 2 webisodes that Toby created below. 
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