The 13th Floor

We Chat With David J. Stieve About Expanding The BEHIND THE MASK Universe & Directing WAIT FOR IT

One way or another, Leslie Vernon is plotting his return. I mean, its inevitable, right? It’s the rules when it comes to a horror icon in the making. Let’s face it, these days… ya gotta have a sequel! But, it’s been a tough, long hard road for the indie killer to firmly establish his cult following and get back out there.

Currently, there are two cool related projects that YOU can help with. The first being the official comic book adaptation for the sequel script BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON, which will be printed as a 6 issue limited series. You can help make it a reality via their Indie GoGo campaign here. Also, writer David J. Stieve is making his directorial debut with the horror short film WAIT FOR IT, which promises to also tie into the BEHIND THE MASK universe, although how is yet to be determined! (And would probably be a spoiler.) That campaign is running now right here.

Fresh off the 10th anniversary screening, we had a conversation with Stieve to discuss his transition into directing with WAIT FOR IT, why putting the sequel BEFORE THE MASK out into the world in comic book form is actually a benefit, his proposed 3rd movie idea in the BEHIND THE MASK trilogy, and how Leslie Vernon will also return in a new 10th anniversary release. BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON celebrated its 10th anniversary with a reunion screening at SXSW! What was that like for you to see it again on the big screen and with a packed audience?

David J. Stieve: The whole thing was, what is the word? It was a cross between nostalgic and surreal. It was cool to get to see it on the big screen again. I haven’t sat and watched the movie from start to finish in years. To do it in a theater with audience members laughing, and to see the first time reactions again was a reminder why we even do this in the first place. On top of that, just to be able to spend time with everyone again. Nathan Baesel and I have remained friends. Scott Glosserman and I have stayed in touch. Bridget Newton was there, and of course Robert Englund. To get everyone back together in that dynamic; to get the family back together, that’s the nostalgic part. It was reinvigorating for all of us. That’s when Scott announced the Indie GoGo for the comic book for the sequel, so it was cool to get our creative minds around that again. And frankly, anytime you’re sitting listening to Robert Englund, you almost need to have someone taking notes! The man is a walking encyclopedia of film, and of actors and actresses, and the history of it all. He never runs out of stories!

DS: He’s so great, and he was so accommodating to the fans that showed up, because let’s be honest, they were there to see him. He’s always been so gracious with everything related to LESLIE VERNON. It was very rewarding and I was so glad I went. It seems like now with the sequel comic book, and this new short film you’re working on, WAIT FOR IT, you guys are working on expanding the BEHIND THE MASK universe. It’s always lent itself to that, just from the way the first one presents movie monsters such as Freddy and Jason and Michael Myers as real life killers in that world. Where’d the comic book idea come from? Let’s start with that first. They’re using your script for the sequel as the basis of the comic?

DS: Correct. It’s an idea that Scott has had for a while. Part of the frustration has been that because BEHIND THE MASK is a horror/comedy, and it didn’t do well in its theatrical release, it’s sort of viewed as toxic in the mainstream Hollywood machinery. They don’t want to touch horror/comedy, they’d rather it be one or the other. It’s tough to market it. The fact that BEHIND THE MASK didn’t set an impressive track record at the box office (editor’s note: in its defense, it only opened in a select few theaters with zero advertising) is evidence of that. But it’s taken 10 years for it to grow to this level of cult status, which seems to increase. That doesn’t translate to a monetary value for Hollywood, though. I think Scott got very frustrated with trying to convince people we have this whole universe in place with Leslie as this iconic killer. Why doesn’t anyone want to jump on it? There was also the thought of “well, what are we waiting for?” The idea of doing it as a comic book provided him with the opportunity to work with Nathan Thomas Milliner, who is an amazing, brilliant artist, and a huge horror fan. He’d done some fan posters for us before, so he was a natural fit for the comic. The idea is we can parse this out to the fanbase who clearly have an appetite for more Leslie Vernon stuff. It essentially works as a lookbook or a rough material source to say “look, this can work as a feature film.” We were originally concerned about the idea of “do we want to put the sequel out there, and ruin the surprise for everyone?” And Scott realized recently that model is wrong. Why keep it a secret? Source material is out there all the time. Books are adapted. Graphic novels are adapted. Video Games are adapted. Everybody knows what the story is going to be and it can still be successful. Yeah, I mean, there’s GAME OF THRONES or THE WALKING DEAD…

DS: Exactly, and it doesn’t seem to hurt the eventual release of the feature film having that stuff out there. The HARRY POTTER books are out there! But I still wanted to see the movies as they came out. You know what I mean? We got to the point where we thought, why are we keeping this a secret? Combining all those factors, we felt the comic book seemed like a really novel, good approach. And something that can be done. We feel great about the story, and there’s room for an adaptation. If it does get to a feature film, that’s fine, because Nathan Thomas Milliner is going to interpret things differently. It’s part of this universe that we built and we figured why don’t we just start putting Leslie Vernon stories out there? Maybe that’s the way to reverse engineer this. Can you tell us a bit about the sequel, BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON? What other stories within that universe have you guys thought of? A potential third part?

DS: Yes, Robert Englund has discussed BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON in detail, how it’s going to be a movie within a movie, to allow us to deconstruct the sequel/prequel/remake conventions. I will tell you here that there has always been a third movie in Leslie’s anthology, entitled BEHOLD THE MASK: THE REIGN OF LESLIE VERNON. Because the rules dictate that there must be: every slasher-killer has three stages of their existence: a spectacular debut, a triumphant return, and a final chapter. Of course that third one is a moving goal post that can be dragged out for years, but in the end we all know what’s got to happen to Leslie. His fate, like all iconic killers, was set in stone with his first kill. So, it’s not important any more to “surprise” fans with the reveal, we owe it to them to be up front about it. What we can keep under wraps is how that will unfold, and what the characters will say/do as it happens. If it’s done right, people will care about their fates, inside the expectations that are dictated by the genre. And there’s also a spinoff storyline based on Taylor’s very difficult path through her own life in the aftermath of Leslie. It’s an entire other platform that branches out exponentially, with returning characters and new characters and a whole narrative structure of its own. I’ve been dying to tell Taylor’s story since Angela (Goethals) brought her to life. You’re also directing your first short film WAIT FOR IT. What’s that story about?

DS: WAIT FOR IT is a 12 minute, loving deconstruction of the slasher genre, seen from the perspective of a “Survivor Girl” living in the aftermath of her own encounter with a psycho-slasher killer. We follow her as she travels home after a night out with friends, always remaining wary of the inevitable return of her tormentor. As a writer, did you always feel the need to jump behind the camera and take a stab at directing? (Pun totally intended.) What gave you the confidence to make that move?

DS: It was always in the back of my head. I think every screenwriter, whether they’ll admit it or not, ultimately wants to direct, because you get to control your own story. So, it’s always been a thought, but it’s easy to make excuses not to. I didn’t go to film school. I feel like I didn’t pay my dues to say I want to be a director. I feared the cliché of that. But honestly, that’s just limiting yourself. When I met with Ryan Turek over at Blumhouse Productions, I had the idea for this short kicking around, and during our conversation I mentioned it, and he immediately was emphatic about it and said, “you absolutely should.” He explained the business side of it. As a writer, you need to have that tool in your toolbox. That you understand what it takes to adapt, and make the words on the page actually happen. It’s easy to type “cosmonaut takes a space walk through a battle-damaged cruiser.” It’s a very easy introductory line for me to write into a script. To be able to back up and say, wait a minute. That equals 3 weeks of work and a couple hundred thousand dollars. This was just a throwaway line I wrote to get into a scene! Having now gone through the pre-production process, and really understanding what it takes to go from script to scene has been incredibly helpful, and has already made me a better writer. It was something I really needed to confront. I decided I had to do it myself. I had a great story. I feel WAIT FOR IT is going to be a fun, compelling 12-15 minute journey for horror fans to enjoy. Lastly, I realized I could tie this into the Leslie Vernon universe. That gave me a reason to do it. Now there’s a home for it. It has a place on the 10th Anniversary release for BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON. So, wait… is there a 10th Anniversary release of BEHIND THE MASK coming? Like, a new DVD or Blu-Ray release?

DS: Yeah, I know it’s going to happen this Fall. Scott recorded a Director’s commentary that’ll be included. There’s going to be remastering on the film itself. I’m not sure how much new material. But there might be some fun unseen stuff on there. That’s great! I still held onto my DVD for all the special features, because the current Anchor Bay Blu-Ray didn’t cart any of them over, nor did it use an HD transfer.

DS: That’s my understanding. I believe that, yes, the idea behind the 10 year Blu-Ray is to repackage and do it right. When I told Scott about WAIT FOR IT, he was supportive right away. Nathan Baesel himself is involved in it, creatively. We shot 2 days. We need one or two days more. That’s the whole point of the Indie GoGo. It’s looking really great, and we’ve spent a lot of time and resources on it. We’ve got incredibly great people working on it who were willing to give their valuable time. But I’m tapped out on what I can do, and I don’t want to short change the project. I don’t want this to be something that looks great for the first half and then falls apart, or that never gets edited or whatever. I want to do proper sound design, and finish it the right way. I want to pay people what they’re worth, and prove we didn’t cut corners. I read your great script for THE HILLS ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU, which is kind of a comedic look at a cannibalistic clan from THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and much like BEHIND THE MASK, completely breaks down that sub-genre of horror in a fun, creative way. That seems to be a common thread in your work, looking at horror and analyzing what it is in a very realistic way. Why is it you focus on writing these great dissection stories from horror movie clichés, often making older films come off as far more brilliant than they actually are?

DS: I think that Stieve deconstruction style is just how I’ve always been wired. It’s not just horror, by the way, but that’s where the focus has been, at least with my successes. I’m like that all the time. I like to look at something, especially if it’s cliché, and just tweak it by 45 degrees and say, you all know this, you know these rules, but why? That keeps it fresh to me, looking at it from a different perspective. When you crack that veneer we’re all used to seeing, and you suddenly look behind the curtain a bit, it’s surprising to me that I keep finding whole new narratives there. There are new ways to tell these stories. It’s not deconstruction like revealing how a magician does his tricks. It’s just shifting a little bit and asking, what if the reason behind this narrative isn’t the cliché we all know it is, but something else? To me, it’s a way to find something new and fresh in the things we already love.

If you want more in the BEHIND THE MASK universe, support the short film WAIT FOR IT, as well as the sequel comic book BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON!


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