The Beast Comes at Midnight is an upcoming family-friendly werewolf film from Tampa, Fla. The film follows the antics of five teenagers in a small town, who come in contact with a hairy intruder, similar to IT or Stranger Things.
iHorror got a chance to sit down with the director and co-writer of the film, Christopher Jackson, to talk werewolves and filming independent features. Jackson is also one of the directors for the iHorror-produced web series Terror Tales, which Jackson also talks the future of in the conversation.
Bri Spieldenner: What was your favorite part of making your new film, The Beast Comes at Midnight?
Christopher Jackson: Well, it was nice to finally get out of the short film genres with a feature film, we’ve (Cineview Studios) been building up our reputation as a film production company for the last six years. And then this was a real good opportunity for us to get into the feature film world. I think that probably my favorite part of it was getting the opportunity to finally stretch our legs on a feature film for the first time.
But outside of that, working with the five lead actors was great. They’re all young kids, they were all super eager to be on set, they all got along really well. And we put a lot of time and effort into building the chemistry of the cast together so that they felt really good. They took direction very well. And so that was another thing is just seeing them on set and getting the places where they were having a good time, and working hard at the same time. That was pretty cool, too.
BS: Where did you find these actors?
CJ: The movie was already mostly cast, the only role that I specifically cast was the lead actress, Madelyn Chimento as Mary. So that was interesting, too, because, since I didn’t have a real hand in the casting process, because of the timeline that we were under, I wanted to make sure that the kids had a lot of a lot of time together before the film started. I didn’t want to throw strangers on the set together, because it’s very much an ensemble piece. And so I wanted to build that camaraderie à la Stranger Things, where the kids, they got together.
So I would say, a week before we actually went camera up, we spent about a week in rehearsals together. And it was just me and the five kids for about a week. And we would play games. The other interesting thing is a lot of these kids, this was their first time on screen. And I had worked with Madelyn Chimento on a short film maybe four or five weeks before I got brought onto the project. And so she and I already had a really good working relationship. Rehearsals for that was a lot of fun, because it was a lot of theater games, preparing for the comedy that was ahead of us. We wanted to break the shells and kind of get to know each other. And so that’s what we did.
BS: Awesome. Yeah, it’s really cool that you did have time to build those relationships with the actors.
CJ: There was no scenario in which they would not be rehearsing. And at one point, we were only going to have one day of rehearsal. And to me it just wasn’t acceptable. So we built it into our format, into our pre-production to have a full week of rehearsal before getting in there.
And they were long days, they worked really hard. Because they were going to be acting across from veterans like Eric Roberts, and Michael Paré and Joe Castro, these are film veterans. And on our timeline, because the timeline was insane for the production itself. We had no time to get on the set and be like, well, what are we going to do? We knew going in what the scenes were, how we were going to accomplish them creatively from an acting standpoint, because we’d already rehearsed it for a week.
BS: How would you best describe The Beast Comes at Midnight?
CJ: I would say it’s about a group of teenagers who discover that a werewolf is in their small Florida town. It’s a comedy with horror elements, because the film itself when I got the original script, and I dove into the rewrites of it, I wanted a horror film that families could watch together, I wanted kids and teenagers and adults to all be able to enjoy this film. And so I would say it’s a comedy with some horror elements in it.
BS: And was The Beast Comes at Midnight your first feature film as director?
CJ: No, I had one feature film about 12 years ago that will never see the light of day. And it was like a baptism by fire filmmaking. So, I was fresh off my first major role as an actor. And I said, I want to make movies instead of be in the movie. And so I was like, I’m just gonna jump right in and make a feature film. Huge mistake. I can’t encourage people enough not to do that, start with a short film, start with a 10 minute or a 30 minute and don’t jump right into the feature film. So after that, I wanted to keep honing my craft as a director. And over the last 12 years, I’ve made a bunch of short films. As a director and writer, I’ve directed a ton of commercials. It was just time I felt comfortable enough in my skill set to take this on as both the writer and the director.
BS: You wrote The Beast Comes at Midnight as well?
CJ: Ed McKeever, one of the executive producers, was the original creator of the story. He sent me a script. After talking with Ed and Todd Oifer, who’s the other executive producer, I convinced them to let me take the best parts of Ed’s original concept and create a story that I knew we could film in three weeks, because that’s all we had, three weeks, and it was insane, I could talk for hours about how insane the film process was, because I guarantee it was like Robert Rodriguez, you know, rebel without a crew-style, it was an insane rush. So I built the script in a way that I knew I wanted to direct because I’m not so much a horror director. Even though I’ve done a lot of horror films. I like to make people laugh and I like to make people think and so this was a good opportunity to do that, make people laugh. I crafted a comedic horror script alongside Jason Henne, he was my co-writer. I wrote the version of the script that is now shot.
It was really cool. Because it’s not often they just let up on the reins and kind of let me go, it’s so rare to do that. And to find that especially in the independent film world, I find it more difficult to kind of have an opportunity to just be the artist and get to go create, and that’s what Todd and Ed gave to me, so it was really exciting.
BS: Yeah, that is really cool. I’m glad that you were able to really make The Beast Comes at Midnight your own film. Do you think that you’ll do more horror then?
CJ: You know, I’m not opposed to it. I’m never going to be the guy that makes a slasher film like a Halloween or like a Freddy Krueger kind of thing. Unless there’s something that appeals to me about it. Like I said, I like to make people laugh. And I like to make people think, those are my two favorite kinds of genres to work in. And so I think you’ll see that after wrapping this with Joe Castro, who did all the special effects and played our werewolf, he started kicking around this really great comedic horror idea that I really loved. We’re kind of working on that. But it’s not set in stone. So I wouldn’t say that I’m never not going to do horror again. Dominic Smith and I are planning to bring back Terror Tales, which is a pure horror genre.
BS: Gotcha. And Terror Tales is a web series, right?
CJ: Right. So Terror Tales was done with myself and Dominic Smith. And iHorror actually sponsored the first season. And so our hope is to, because we’ve had two episodes of the second season shot already, they’re done. But the pandemic hit. And so that put everything on hold. We’re just now getting back to the time where like, okay, let’s finish the second season and just see what happens. Because the first season really did well. So, it’d be interesting to see what the second season does now that we’ve changed the format a little bit.
BS: That’s awesome. That’s good to hear that you’re getting back into that. So what are the horror influences on The Beast Comes at Midnight?
CJ: When it comes to the actual horror influences, I watched every werewolf movie I could get my hands on, I spent just days and days watching werewolf movies, just to kind of find a pattern that I liked. But I think that what influenced me the most for this film in particular was not horror movies. What influenced me the most with this film, were things like The Goonies or Stranger Things or even as far as Teen Wolf, that comedic aspect, Teen Wolf is not a scary movie, it has a couple of little scary moments throughout it. And I was like, this is kind of where I want to live.
And so my focus was not on the werewolf as much as it was on building the world that these kids are living in together, this ensemble feeling that they had together. And I think that’s what makes it so funny is that the kids are interacting with each other the entire time. And the werewolf is always there. But he’s not our main focus, you know?
BS: On that subject, how was your experience shooting a creature feature film? Was it something that you found difficult working with? The werewolf itself?
CJ: Yeah, I would say this was particularly challenging, only because the werewolf was already created and designed by the time I got on board. And as a matter of fact, I remember when I got on board, they had only designed the hands and the head of the werewolf. There was not going to be a body at all. And so I was like, no, no, we have to have a body. So we created the body. But it was interesting working with the werewolf, because when you don’t have a real creative input onto the creature, before you’re brought on board, you kind of have to go, okay, well, how can we use this creature to the best of my ability as a director. And so I think that’s what we did.
We were lucky enough to actually have Joe Castro fly in from California to be on set to be our werewolf. Because he was not slated to be the werewolf. I begged him on the phone one day, I was like, Joe, I want you to be our werewolf in this movie. And Joe goes, I don’t know, I might have to just not do it. Because I want to be able to see the effects that are happening and all this stuff. And I said, Joe, I will get you anybody you want to watch the screen while you’re acting. I want you to be my werewolf, you’d be perfect for it. And he said yes. Which is super lucky for us to have him there.
But I would say that working with this werewolf, I had to find a way that fit my style of filmmaking. And so I think that we did that, I think we pay a really good homage to horror creature horror films circa 1980, where it’s fun to see the creature because it’s a creature, like it’s okay, we get it. We’re all in on this together. And that’s what we did. I mean, those kinds of creatures if you’re an older person who loved horror films, creature films. If you go back and watch those films today, you’re in on the joke. It’s no longer scary to you because we’ve advanced so much technologically with creature features, right? Like we’re able to make real looking werewolves. This is not that, this is a very scary looking werewolf but we’re all in on the fact that this is a creature, which is a lot of fun for the audience.
BS: Yeah, for sure. So what would you say is your favorite werewolf movie? Outside of The Beast Comes at Midnight of course.
CJ: You know, we had this debate on what the best werewolf movie is, and everybody had their own take, a lot of people said Silver Bullet. A lot of people said The Howling, I would have to say, out of all of my research, I really enjoyed An American Werewolf in London. And the reason I loved it so much is specifically for that transformation scene that happens in the apartment. I mean, what an incredible transformation, and it was awesome. It was gory and gross and ahead of its time, in my opinion. So if I had to, gun to the head, probably An American Werewolf in London.
BS: Yeah, that’s a good answer. I’d probably agree with you. I love that transformation.
CJ: Another cool thing about my film is that 95% of this film was shot in Tampa, Florida. And that was on purpose. We found the most incredible location at the Showmen’s Museum in Gibsonton. We utilized that location top to bottom. It was incredible. And I think that, as someone who touts themselves as the Florida filmmaker, to be able to showcase how awesome of a place we have to be able to shoot 95% of it here in Tampa, in Hillsborough County, specifically. It was just a really good feeling being born and raised here. It was awesome to be able to highlight a lot of locations that most people overlook.
BS: Do you think that Florida is a good place for horror?
CJ: I think Florida is a great place for literally any genre. I have shot almost every single major place in Florida, I have trekked into the Everglades to do a shoot, I have gone to the biggest cities here in Florida to do a shoot. I traveled the railroads doing shoots. And it’s amazing what you find in Florida that most people don’t know about. And I pride myself on knowing those locations and to be able to do that. My next feature film will be here in Florida. This is where we want to be.
BS: Awesome. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview with me today. I think that it was awesome. Does the film have a release date?
CJ: I think the summer of 2022 is definitely when it’ll be done.
Check out the trailer for The Beast Comes at Midnight below.