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Interview: Joe Begos (The Mind’s Eye)

Writer/Director Joe Begos began gathering notice with his first film, a short called Bad Moon Rising (2011). After that he began work on his first full length feature, 2013’s Almost Human, which was a hit on the festival circuit, and very popular on home video. He’s now promoting his latest film, The Mind’s Eye, which is about a couple who have the ability to move things with their minds, and the power to blow your head clear off of your body if you get on their bad side! Starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos and Larry Fessenden, The Mind’s Eye has already proven to be a big hit on the festival circuit, and is now available on VOD for you to enjoy in the comfort of your living room. He’s definitely a talent to be reckoned with, and we managed to get him to sit down for a few minutes to talk about the genesis of his latest film, his influences, his cast, and some hellaciously cold weather in Rhode Island!

John Speredakos as Dr. Michael Slovak in the horror film
John Speredakos as Dr. Michael Slovak in the horror film “THE MIND’S EYE”an RLJ Entertainment release. Photo credit Joe Begos.

GruesomeMagazine: So I assume it’s safe to say that you’re a big fan of Scanners (1981)?

Joe Begos: Yes I am! I’m also a big fan of Scanners II: The New Order (1981).

GM: [Laughing] Aha! So you’re the one person who liked that film! I’ve heard you were out there somewhere, but I thought it was just a rumor.

JB: The whole convenience store scene where the guy gets his head blown off is awesome! I guess I just have a soft spot for that film.

Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film
Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film “THE MIND’S EYE” an RLJ Entertainment release. Photo credit Joe Begos.

GM: All of us have that one film that we just dig more than everyone else does. What was it about Scanners that made you want to pay homage to with your latest film, The Mind’s Eye?

JB: Well I didn’t really want to direct a homage as much as I just wanted to make a really violent, brutal telekinesis movie. One that was completely reliant on practical effects, and filmed on practical locations. I wanted to film it in a very cinematic style, and I think there have been so few of these kinds of movies over the years. You have Scanners & its two sequels, then there’s The Fury (1978), and maybe Firestarter (1984) to a degree. It’s kind of an organic thing where I’m such a cinephile, and a lot of my influences come from movies that I enjoyed. And there are just so few of these movies that have been made over the years. Additionally, Scanners was the first thing that came up when I was trying to conceptualize what I wanted The Mind’s Eye to be. The thing that I don’t like about the Scanners films is that I feel like there’s a wasted opportunity where you have these people who have the ability to move things around, or blow people to bits, yet there’s so little of that kind of action in the films. So I wanted to make a movie that was sort of like Aliens (1986), in that its predecessor, Alien (1979) set up the premise, and its sequel took the concept and just amped it up to insane levels. So I guess you could say my film is what I would’ve liked Scanners II (1991) to look like, a action packed, fast paced, violent as hell, genre movie.

GM: That’s interesting, I never realized that till you brought it up. Scanners has that one great scene in the beginning where someone’s head gets blown up, and then you basically have to wait until the finale to see any more of that kind of action.

JB: Exactly! You have to wait until the end to see the awesome duel between Revok and Cameron. There’s this awesome duel with all of the fire, and the practical effects work on their faces with their veins exploding, and their eyes bursting, and then all of a sudden the credits roll! I was like “Damn! You should’ve done this scene at the beginning of the third act!“.

GM: Those are two great and iconic scenes for sure. How old were you when you first watched Scanners? Were you even born when it was first released?

JB: No, I wasn’t around when Scanners was first released. I’m 28 right now.

Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film
Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film “THE MIND’S EYE” an RLJ Entertainment release. Photo credit Joe Begos.

GM: It’s interesting that you mentioned The Fury earlier. The fate of your villain is straight out of that film, so you really wanted to pay tribute to both Scanners and DePalma’s entry in the telekinesis sweepstakes.

JB: Yeah, I love The Fury! I actually think that both The Fury and Scanners have some awesome stuff, and some not so awesome stuff in them. So I think that a combination of the awesome stuff from both of those movies would make for a incredible telekinesis film! [Laughing]

GM: Where was The Mind’s Eye filmed?

JB: We filmed it in Rhode Island.

GM: It snows that much in Rhode Island? There are scenes where your cast is running through snow that’s knee deep!

JB: That was actually the most snow that they’d seen since 1977. There was just a crazy freak storm when we were there.

GM: That’s crazy! There’s also a handful of scenes where your characters aren’t really wearing much in the way of winter gear while they’re out there fighting to run through all of that snow. What was the temperature like while you were there?

JB: It was cold! There were some nights where the temperature got down to -17 degrees or so, and we were shooting outside! It took us two nights to shoot the scene where there’s a shotgun battle at the shack, and on the first night it was -18, It dropped to -20 on the second night. And we were at least a mile away from anything resembling civilization on those nights. It was just a shack in the middle of nowhere.

Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film
Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film “THE MIND’S EYE” an RLJ Entertainment release. Photo credit Joe Begos.

GM: Which leads me to another question. Obviously it was cold, although I had no idea exactly how cold till just now. But while watching, I noticed that I never saw anyone’s breath while they were outdoors. Was that just me, or did you guys just digitally remove that?

JB: There is some breath to be seen, especially in the shack. But since the cast was literally waiting outdoors for hours at a time, their bodies began to acclimate to the temperature, and their breath couldn’t be seen at that point. There are times where you can see the actors breath on one end of an exchange, but when we cut to the other end of it, there’s no breath at all. That’s because the scenes were filmed hours apart in some instances. I definitely wish we could’ve gotten big clouds of foggy breath for the entire movie.

GM: Did you have a cast in mind beforehand, or did you have open auditions?

JB: I had written a couple of the roles with certain actors in mind, but I didn’t have a casting director, so there were no auditions. I cast the film with people I’ve worked with before, actors that I’d fallen in love with while on the festival circuit, or just actors that I’d seen in movies that my friends had made. So I cast the film myself, and I think we ended up with a really phenomenal cast.

GM: Lauren Ashley Carter is really outstanding in the film…

JB: She’s amazing!

Lauren Ashley Carter as Rachel Meadows in the horror film
Lauren Ashley Carter as Rachel Meadows in the horror film “THE MIND’S EYE”an RLJ Entertainment release. Photo credit Joe Begos.

GM: Yes! I’d seen her in a film called Jug Face (2013) a few years back, and she really made an impression on me back then. Larry Fessenden is in your film as well, and he just happened to co-star with Carter in Jug Face as well.

JB: I just cast the best people I could, but they were both actors I’d wanted to work with for awhile. They both come out of New York, so they have that Glass Eye Productions (Fessenden’s production company) connection as well. But I cast Larry a few weeks after I cast Lauren, and they were both really excited to be working with each other again. John Speredakos, who plays the villain in my film also knows them both pretty well, so we all got along really nicely. I hope we can make lots more movies together in the future.

GM: How long did it take to complete the film from beginning to end?

JB: We had six weeks of pre production, and then we shot for 37 days over the course of about 6 1/2 weeks. We edited the movie really fast, because we wanted to make it to Toronto, where we premiered it. We started pre production in January 2015, and we premiered it the first week of September 2015, so it took a little under nine months – which is ridiculously fast. I think we benefitted from the fact that there was no CG in the film, save for wire removal in the scenes where the characters levitate. So once the movie was cut and locked, we took a couple of days for the wire removal, and then it went right into scoring. There wasn’t a lot of overlap there, and there would’ve been if we had used a lot of CG. So we had a really quick turnaround.

Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film
Graham Skipper as Zack Connors in the horror film “THE MIND’S EYE” an RLJ Entertainment release. Photo credit Joe Begos.

GM: The score (by Steve Moore) was very reminiscent of scores I’ve heard from films of the 80’s, it has lots of echoes of John Carpenter’s film scores. Was this done on purpose?

JB: I’m a big fan of Steve Moore, he also scored a film called The Guest (2014), which I loved. The music here is kind of influenced by the music from The Terminator (1984), because there aren’t a lot of movies that have that authentic synth score, a score for a really fast paced, action movie like The Terminator was. So we used Brad Fiedel’s score from that film as a sort of guideline for our score. We definitely had some Carpenter in there as well though.

GM: So with this film, and your last film Almost Human (2013), it’s sort of evident that you have a real jones for films of the 80’s. Is that a vein you want to continue in, or do you have something new in mind for your next film?

JB: I think the setting of my next film will depend on the project. I like setting movies in alternate timelines because I feel like it helps the films feel more timeless. I think if you use super contemporary actors in super contemporary roles with super contemporary technology it dates the film – a lot. I look at films like Pet Sematary (1989), that film feels so blue collar, so authentic, it just doesn’t feel dated. There’s just something about that kind of quality that I try to bring to my movies. I’m gonna try to continue to make movies that don’t feel dated, at least not to me. I wrote a script that takes place in 1996, and I’ve also written a script that takes place now, but it’s in an alternate reality where technology as we know it doesn’t exist. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

The Mind’s Eye is now available on VOD.

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The Black Saint
Santos Ellin Jr (AKA The Black Saint) has been watching films of dubious quality since time began, he has also watched a few horror films along the way as well. He has been writing for Horrornews.net for the last four years and was promoted to the position of Lead Theatrical Reviewer/Interviewer/PR last year. He makes so much money doing this that he needs do nothing else with his life but he was also asked to be a co-host of the Horror News Radio podcast last year as well. It’s been said (by a family member) that he is indeed the glue that holds the podcast together although his co-hosts might not agree. He thinks they are all jealous of him anyway.
The Black Saint
Santos Ellin Jr (AKA The Black Saint) has been watching films of dubious quality since time began, he has also watched a few horror films along the way as well. He has been writing for Horrornews.net for the last four years and was promoted to the position of Lead Theatrical Reviewer/Interviewer/PR last year. He makes so much money doing this that he needs do nothing else with his life but he was also asked to be a co-host of the Horror News Radio podcast last year as well. It’s been said (by a family member) that he is indeed the glue that holds the podcast together although his co-hosts might not agree. He thinks they are all jealous of him anyway.