Most horror fans have heard of the highly anticipated film Sin-Jin Smyth. Sin-Jin follows two corrupt federal marshals as they "transport a prisoner with no past and no identity." What they don't know is that the prisoner is the Devil himself. Sin-Jin Smyth stars Roddy Piper, Richard Tyson, and Jonathan Davis.
Director Ethan Dettenmaier was kind enough to talk to me about the film.
BC: Tell us a little about your background — where are you from, and when did you decide that you wanted to become a filmmaker?
ETHAN: Ahhh… I don't think my background would impress anybody. I'm a small-time guy from Los Angeles… but I always liked filmmaking [Note: Ethan made his first film in junior high school about the Russians storming the Berlin Wall and the tank crew, made up of multi-national UN survivors, who try to stop them] I had a real life first… traveled… worked. I didn't get into this business until I took a messenger job at 28.
BC: Tell us about Sin-Jin Smyth starring Roddy Piper, Richard Tyson, and Jonathan Davis.
ETHAN: Sin-Jin Smyth is set a few of years in the future with the United States under martial law and on the brink of the Apocalypse [NOTE: And there are rumors of a Sin-Jin Smyth 2 taking place during a 'nuclear winter' with the United States in a Civil War!) It follows two federal marshals who have a midnight prisoner transfer – over Halloween weekend – of a man who turns out to be the Devil!
BC: What inspired you to write Sin-Jin Smyth?
ETHAN: Poverty was the biggest modivation. Not measuring up to much on behalf of my family forced me to get in the trenches and pull the trigger on something that could improve our living conditions.
I was working through several ideas looking for an opportuntiy to move up through the ranks to directing [Note: Ethan was working as a script doctor and in addition to optioning his own work, he has written for the producers of the Blade films, Steven Seagal and several other production outfits] and I thought this script was logistically simple — while still being effective from a story standpoint — and for me, as a new director, with a lot to learn and work through, it seemed to be a solid choice.
BC: Along with writing and directing, you also produced Sin-Jin. Was it tough to wear so many hats?
ETHAN: Well, I have a pretty significant partner, Lota Hadley, who was instrumental in making things happen, but, we took on the producing responsibilites because it was the only way to move the film forward. I mean, nobody in this town was asking us to become filmmakers so we had to 'gear-up' with our own project and charge it! And it (producing) had its bad moments but as tough as film work can get, it's always better than the 'day-shift' at some of the shit jobs I use to work.
BC: What do you think makes a scary movie scary?
ETHAN: That depends on the psychology of the audience.
BC: From your experience, what is the most important thing for a director to bring to the set?
ETHAN: Good hiring decisions. Overall success on this film – or any film – is due much more to the cast and crew than to the director. But it's also important to bring the right personality to maintain morale and extract the right 'involvement', in terms of ideas from the production partners and transmit the script to the screen. That requires patience, understanding and the ability to say 'I'm sorry' (Laughs)… I mastered that phrase!
BC: Do you consider yourself an actor’s director, or do you tend towards the technical side?
ETHAN: From a technical side, I still have a lot to learn; it's interesting but I'm very new at it. I also like to develop ideas with the cast members, work through the (script) pages and take the story through another evolution. I mean filmmaking, as stressful and dramatic as some people like to make it, it really should be and can be fun to do!
BC: Any future projects in the works? Can you give us the scoop?
ETHAN: I'm on a 'super '70s cop satire' titled Knightfever. A film with a back story in Vietnam where renegade GIs smuggle opium in the bodies of dead GIs back to the States and the special police force assembled from SWAT, vice and the bomb squad who have to stop it.
There's also a film about 'grave robbing' set on the edge of the New Orleans Bayou called Respect the Dead. A film about CIA advisors in the Middle East, something on the French Foreign Legion which I think could be pretty interesting… and a World War Two piece about the German Afrika Korps in their last days of World War Two… and some other things including more HORROR and a film on the SAS and a series of documentaries. So I plan to balance work with the charity work I like to do.
BC: What is the biggest problem with Hollywood today?
ETHAN: Where do I start with that! (laughs) The fact that it IS a business can make it difficult — that it's based on money and attracts some people who may be less creative and more interested in their bank account can be a problem. I think it's important to remember that this is still a business about art and where real artists, if you can find them, can be allowed to operate the money will follow. I think we need to move away from the marketing schemes and the mathmatics and back to the creative aspects of what this business is about.
In the 1970s – one of the most creative decades in the history of production – they didn't formulate a marketing plan first, before the script; they allowed the filmmakers to pursue their vision. Prego didn't buy time for product placement on The Godfather and turn in their script notes — Coppola made the film the best way he could and it did some damage — make the film great to begin with and it will sell itself!
BC: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
ETHAN: Yeah — get out there and do it! Just pull the trigger and make the best film you can, on any format available, in any climate — do whatever it takes — within reason of course — to make your film happen! For some people, it's convienent to make excuses, it's convienent not to live up to one's potential; it's easier just to live in your parents garage and play on the Internet like a modern day Lamont Sanford (from Sanford And Son) — you need to cut that shit out and get to work! Make your film!
In this day and age, it seems that everyone is out to make a name for themselves — they want to be somebody big! And they're willing to cut everyone down in an effort to achieve it. They sabotage their co-workers, talk behind their backs in a passive-aggressive manner, mouth off on the Internet thinking they can do better while they never get up to even try! With me, that kind of behavior is always somebody else's problem! I don't work like that! I put a full-throttle effort in the best job I can, find the best people and try to break new ground!
Now I don't always succeed but the effort is always sincere. New filmmakers need to believe in themselves. On Sin-Jin Smyth we did what some people would consider as impossible — once we passed on opportunity to sell it (there were four high-profile offers on the table to buy the script) we were told it would never see the light of day. We were told "It's a great story but if you don't make it more commercial it will never work!" "You need our money and our distribution muscle to make a hit and that means you do it our way!" But (smiles) doesn't that kind of talk make you just want to train for the Octagon… Thunderdome, film combat! I hear that kind of talk and want to invite the execs who said it into the street! It just makes me work harder! So I would advise new filmmakers out there to never be shackled by what someone else thinks is possible, it will only make you a gutless failure — like them! I think you should go out there and leave all you got – everything – on the battlefield. Fail only after they've kicked the shit out of you! That way you can lift your head knowing you did your very best.
Now, some people thrive on watching others fail. But me — I hope you get it done! I hope somebody out there, working out of their quiet little suburb in the mid-west delivers the next innovative hit that inspires the whole industry. That's the person I want to meet!
BC: When all is said and done, what three things would you like for people to remember about you?
ETHAN: That the most important thing is not filmmaking but what you do for other people in an effort to make the word a better place. This fuckin' show is not about what you can get for yourself — it's about what you can do for the world around you. It's not about tearing down, it's about building up.
I would like people not so much to remember me but benefit from the positive things I tried to do. The charity work, the environmental work, the byproducts of a genuine effort towards improving things.
Do I still need to come up with another two things?
BC: Here's where we give you a word or phrase and you give us the first thoughts that pop into your mind.
ETHAN: Hell's Circus!!!
Toxic Shock TV:
ETHAN: (smiles) Quality work run by quality individuals!
ETHAN: Kurosawa, James Whale, John Ford, Orson Wells, M. Curtiz, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Disney, Rod Serling, Sidney Pollack, Sam Peckinpah, Coppola.
ETHAN: Not following through with my education (Ethan never went to college). And maybe not doing the best I could with life in the early years.
The funniest thing that has ever happened to you on a set:
ETHAN: Fu… a movie set is non-stop comedy man! Where do I start with that… (thinks) Ya know, a lot of the things I did – as a beginner – were kind of funny! I didn't know my way around the movie set (laughs).
Your biggest "breakthrough" moment:
ETHAN: When I decided that 'this is what I'm going to do, that 'this' (filmmaking) is what I was going to make happen…period!' The decision to make it happen was the breakthrough moment and that was followed by running down any and every opportuntiy that helped lead me to make a living in this business.
You can only watch three movies for the rest of your life, which three?
ETHAN: Casablanca, The Wild Bunch and Sanjuro.
But the runners up would be Breaker Morant, Star Wars, Jaws, Carpenter's The Thing, The Bishop's Wife, The Scarlett Claw, Treasure Island, Downfall, The Wild Geese, A Bridge Too Far, Three Days Of The Condor, Out Of Africa, The Jungle Book, The Godfather, Victory, The French Connection, MASH, Butch Cassidy,The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Quiet Man, The Seven Samurai, Rocky.
You can only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, which three?
ETHAN: AC/DC's Highway To Hell. The Best of Sinatra Vol One. The Rolling Stones 40 Licks! But it would be nice to have some Mozart! Iron Maiden. Traffic, U2, E. Morricone, Henry Mancini, Beatles, Zepp…
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.