Interview - Jonathan Scott Higgins

Leo Francis' Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Scott Higgins (Truth or Dare)

If you've been following the site, than you've definitely heard me talk about one of the best indie-horror films I have seen in years, Truth or Dare. After the screening at the Shockfest Film Festival of Hollywood several weeks ago, I got a chance to meet a lot of the wonderful people that worked on the film. I can't say enough about what a friendly and ridiculously talented group of film makers they are, and I was honored that they were interested in doing a series of exclusive interviews with me. Among the amazing people I got a chance to speak with were actress Devanny Pinn, actor Ryan Kiser, the woman who literally does it all, Jessica Cameron (writing/directing/acting/producing), and finally co-writer and producer Jonathan Scott Higgins. The film will be screening at a few more festivals in the upcoming months, meanwhile both Jonny and Jessica start shooting their new film collaboration, Utero. I cannot wait. In the meantime, please enjoy part four of my four part Truth or Dare Interviews with Jonathan Scott Higgins. 

Leo Francis: First, congratulations on the film. I absolutely loved it. I want to give you a compliment: I am a hardcore genre fan, and have seen some pretty graphic and brutal onscreen violence in my time, but very few films even cause me to flinch. And even fewer films make me squirm uncomfortably in my seat for the entire length. Yours was one of those films. I actually had to walk out and splash water on my face after the 'bottle scene'. I have to ask, as you co-wrote the script, whose idea was that scene? 

Jonathan Higgins: Ahhh. The much talked about bottle scene. Good times. That idea started with Jessica and the scene that immediately followed (which have caused many audience members to leave) is something that I thought of with Jessica. We both wanted to up the gore immediately after the bottle scene and I was thinking of how to do it while we were driving to an event. I actually prefaced it with “what I am about to tell you regarding the bottle scene; promise me you won’t think of me differently, okay?” Of course Jessica responded with: “Well now we of course have to do it! Tell me!” So that is how it was hashed out.

LF: On you IMDB page you list your favorite movies as mostly sci-fi and comedy. How is it that the first thing you wrote is such a hardcore horror movie? Have you always been interested in the genre and if so what was the first film that got your attention?

JH: I like all genres of film. The day the IMDB page was being updated, I just thought of my “comfort food” films, i.e. movies I find myself watching over and over again. If you asked me at this very moment, I would add The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Lost in Translation, Martyrs, and Eyes Wide Shut. These are also the films that I watched at a pivotal and/or impressionable time in my life and I consider part of my DNA. For the genre (that being the torture porn sub-genre), the first film I was blown away by was James Wan’s Saw. Even though his film is not really torture porn, the sequels definitely are and I watched every one in theaters, opening weekend. I was hooked. The other film was Eli Roth’s Hostel. That movie functioned as a great study of the human psyche and at the same time was a violent, vicious torture film. I thought Roth balanced the two perfectly and then topped himself with the sequel.

LF: I sometimes think I prefer indie-horror to major studio releases solely based on the fact that filmmakers who are working on a limited budget are forced to be more creative. Do you feel working on a limited budget forced you to think creatively?

JH: Working on a limited budget is the gateway to creativity. Simply put, most studio films solve problems by throwing money at them and when you don’t have the luxury of cash, you are forced to deal with the problem from another angle. There is one moment in the film (that I cannot speak of since it is definitely spoiler-riffic) where we were on a time crunch and had to cut the fat out of the day’s schedule. The solution we came upon actually made the film better in my honest opinion. It was not only better for the movie, but it made more sense for the character and the pacing as well.

LF: Were you on set when this was being filmed? There is a lot of pretty brutal onscreen violence, did it affect you at all watching it being filmed and does it affect you at all when you see it onscreen?

JH: I was on set nearly every second of filming. Being a producer can mean a lot of different things but I prefer being on set, in the thick of it, rather than stuck in an office. I love watching the director address their actors. I love watching actors find their motivation. I love watching all of the moving parts of the machine that makes movies. In fact, I handled all of the behind the scenes photography since I love stills and took photography classes when I was younger.

The post bottle scene that I referenced earlier was such an intense scene that when it was being filmed, I started to dry-heave at video village. So did other cast and crew members. I filmed the whole experience! You can watch it here.

To this day, the scene affects me when I watch it. I still cringe, which also makes me smile since it feels like I accomplished exactly what I set out to do with Jessica Cameron.

LF: Jessica's passion seems pretty infectious. How was it working with her? Whose initial idea was the story or where did the idea come from? Who pushed it in the extreme direction that the story takes? What films, if any, were an inspiration?

JH: Working with Jessica was a dream come true. Producing the film during pre-production, principal photography, and post was/is a daily learning experience. She is so incredibly business-savvy, more so than any producer I have ever met. And the fact that she is primarily an actress yet knows so much about the industry and the importance of marketing is extremely refreshing. Writing Truth or Dare with Jessica was a BLAST. She is so wonderfully twisted. I recall bouncing really sick ideas off her and she was never offended or disgusted. The gorier, the better, which was great considering we wrote a torture flick. We both wanted it to push the envelope and offend people from the very beginning.

LF: Does the film have distribution yet? Any idea on a release date?

JH: We are blessed to be receiving 1 to 3 distribution offers per week. We have not signed as of mid February 2014 since we are focusing on our festival run and also want to get the best deal for all involved. You can check out our upcoming festival screenings here. 

LF: What are you currently working on? Aside from promoting the hell out of Truth or Dare.

JH: Jessica and I are collaborating on our next movie, tentatively titled Utero by director/writer Bryan Coyne. Jessica will also be starring in the film. Here is the logline: An agoraphobic unwed mother finds her psyche unraveling as she becomes convinced that her unborn child is more monster than human. We start filming this week and we are completely stoked about it! I am also currently editing my novel, The Masquerade: Truth Lies Behind The Mask and it is a very personal work of mine. If I did my job correctly, you will laugh, cry, get angry, and be offended at some point. It is an autobiographical account of sorts that serves as a social commentary on the Craigslist culture and the desperate and spooky people that use it.  

LF: Name one movie you walked out of in the theater.

JH: I wish I walked out of Battlefield Earth but I weathered the storm and sat through that entire abortion. I should have known when John Travolta played an alien and Sisqo was in a supporting role. I usually can sit through any film. The last movie that I walked out of an actual theater was Osmosis Jones. A kids movie that was trying to be hip and clever for teens, while educating them I suppose. It just didn’t work.

LF: If you could punch one person in the face, who would it be?

JH: Ha ha ha. There are much too many people to list here. And I don’t want to name names because that might get them legitimate press for once in their lives. Off the top of my head? Someone I used to work for at a shady watch company. The man made Gordon Gekko of Wall Street look like a moral businessman. 

LF: Has anyone ever made you feel star struck?

JH: Only a few people. Those who know me know that I am a major fan of Tom Cruise (yeah I said it). I was lucky enough to see his latest film, The Edge of Tomorrow directed by Doug Liman back in August of 2013 (thanks to Jessica who had a hook up) almost a full year before it was released. I saw Tom as I was leaving the bathroom and was totally star struck. I kind of froze in place and didn’t know what to say. Same thing happened when I got to meet Keanu Reeves at the world premiere of Cloud Atlas but words actually came our of my mouth on that occasion.  

LF: Finally, what is your favorite horror movie and/or the scariest movie you've ever seen?

JH: That is quite the loaded question because I like different movies for various reasons and a lot of it is dependent on my mood. One horror film that I never tire of is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Sure it is an obvious choice but there is a reason the movie is continually brought up and referenced 34 years after its release; it is a masterpiece.

Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. It is one of those rare films that has haunted me ever since watched it (and I only watched it once). I was disturbed, yet enlightened by the movie and its final message. It changed how I look at life. It offers more questions than answers and I love it for it. I was actually physically uncomfortable when I watched it and had to throw on an episode of Family Guy to get out of my funk. Not pretentious in any sense of the word, it is a modern masterpiece of not only horror, but cinema.

Special thanks to Jonny for taking the time to speak to me. I sincerely appreciate it. And I can't say enough how highly I recommend this film. Please visit their website here where you can pre-order your copy of the film and follow all of the latest updates. Cheers. 

-Leo Francis