With a mysterious title like Sin-Jin Smyth, and a talented cast that includes Roddy Piper and Jeff Conaway, this is one horror film high on my must-see list. Here's the synopsis:
Sin-Jin Smyth takes place over Halloween weekend. Two Federal Marshals receive orders to cross the state border to the small town of Shin Bone, Kansas in order to transfer a prisoner during a tornado warning. Nothing is known about the prisoner except his name: Sin-Jin Smyth. The film is based, in part, on an old legend that tells of the Devil appearing simultaneously in the high plains of India and a quiet cemetery in Kansas at midnight on Halloween.
It's the film's tagline that hooked me: "Every Halloween at midnight, the Devil simultaneously appears in two places… the high plains of India, and a quiet cemetery in Kansas."
I wanted to find out more about the creative force behind this upcoming horror film slated for October release — writer and director Ethan Dettenmaeir, and here is the interview we recently had. You can also check out Sin-Jin Smyth in-depth at Wikipedia.
ZC: Reading your Wikipedia entry, it is mentioned that you "worked as a writer for producers such as Jon Divens, Idiom Films, Rock A Way Pictures and BMT Films Canada". Can you elaborate on that experience, both the positive and negative aspects (if any), and how it helped shape your current approach to directing?
Ethan: Any day you get a paycheck in this business is a good day. Certainly a better day than the day shift on one of the many 'shit' jobs I've worked in my life so, I'm not in a position to complain. Some of the work as a script doctor is less creative than I would like, but I understand what my job in that capacity is… to give the producers, or star, what they want… better dialogue, better action, a different third act… whatever they want. So you can get creative but only in an existing framework — i.e. a pre-existing script. It's not like creating something from a blank page where you can do damage however you see fit!
ZC: In your role as a script doctor, have you noticed common 'illnesses' in the scripts you've doctored, and if so, would you please tell us about them?
Ethan: I wouldn't say common, every script is its own animal with its own set of instructions on what the producer would like to achieve. And I start there. I read and re-read the material, and then take the meeting which will push the work through the next creative evolution. But if I find something good, I try not to touch it. I try to push it through production as is.
ZC: You are dyslexic. What was it like growing up with dyslexia, and how does it affect your daily work now?
Ethan: [Dismisses it] Ahhhh! It wasn't the toughest thing to be cursed with. It made me a little slow in some ways but it's far from the toughest handicap one might have to work through.
ZC: Which directors, horror or otherwise, influenced your approach to directing and why?
Ethan: Ford (The Searchers). Kurosawa. Have you ever seen Sanjuro? You need to see it. Also Curtiz (Casablanca, Captain Blood); Roy William Neill (The Scarlet Claw) who was a master of setting up the right environment; Whale (Frankenstein); Wells (A Touch Of Evil); Walt Disney, who took innovation to a new level and delivered things and went beyond the imagination; Leone (A Fist Full Of Dollars); Walter Hill (Southern Comfort); Coppola (The Godfather); Pollack (Three Days Of The Condor being one of my favorites); Peter Weir (Master And Commander) who has a remarkable eye for detail; and the written work of Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island); Washington Irving (Sleepy Hollow); Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone); Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes).
But I'm also inspired by the work of Ennio Morricone (the composer of The Mission, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly); Denis Maloney (Director of Photography on The Contender with Gary Oldman); John Toll (The Thin Red Line); Walter Murch (The Conversation); Ben Burtt (Sound Designer of Star Wars). All excellent at what they do.
Remember this when you make a film: get the best people/crew you possibly can. On Sin-jin Smyth I went after the best technicians I could get. I wanted to be the 'weak link in the chain' as far as the set was concerned. If I was the smartest guy there, we were in trouble! — because to deliver a film in a way that makes an impact on an audience requires a platoon of operatives who zero in on a certain area of expertise — sound, cinematography, FX, stunt work, and punch it! If we are fortunate to have earned the respect of the audience with this film, credit is due to them, the cast and crew, much more than to me! And they will forever have my respect.
ZC: Being the director and writer on Sin-Jin Smyth, has the director part of you had to dramatically tweak the 'filmed' story to accommodate the requirements of budget and location? If so, what type of impact did it have on your originally written storyline?
Ethan: The impact on the actual storyline was minimal. It was still a story (without any good guys) about actions and consequence, about the repercussions of violence in a United States under martial law! The script follows a philosophy: 'What happens today will have an effect on the world around you ten years from now!' That was what the characters lived with and fought through… in an environment that is closing in on the Apocalypse! (There is a sequel to Sin-Jin Smyth that takes place during a Nuclear Winter with the United States in a Civil War).
But from a visual/action stand point I had to re-gear my approach. I had to economize — Roddy plays a character, a Staff Sergeant, just back from a tour of duty in The Middle East, who is a suspected war Criminal (Tyson plays his partner on the mission – the prisoner transfer – who works as an instructor at Federal School Of Interrogation) — we had to leave a lot of his (Roddy's) actions up to the imagination of the audience because I couldn't drop a napalm strike on the set in Los Angeles [laughs].
ZC: What makes Sin-Jin Smyth unique? What makes this film a must-see for horror fans?
Ethan: That it isn't a sequel or a remake [ZC note: I love this answer!].
ZC: What projects of yours can we look forward to in the future?
Ethan: I start KNIGHTFEVER in March (a story about renegade GIs who traffic opium back to the United States in the bodies of dead GIs and the special police force made up of SWAT, Vice and the Bomb Squad who have to stop it). Then I'm off to Africa to shoot a film about the French Foreign Legion. But my production outfit – which is always looking for new material – SNAPKICK PROD. INC. will be producing several horror projects here in the States, including JOB (with Bill Mosley, Michael Pare), RESPECT THE DEAD (written by Dettenmaier) about a New Orleans 'grave-robbing' racket operating on the edge of the Bayou and BATTLEFLAG (about the ghosts of Samurai Warriors who terrify the countryside during a Japanese civil war). Other projects in the works over at SNAPKICK INC. include SOLDIERS OF DESTRUCTION, about the German Afrika Korps in their last days of World War Two, THE HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE about a renegade special forces platoon who start a revolution…and NEW WORLD POLICE, a film about a one-world government and a mysterious 'space-hijacking!'
The company also plans to move into publishing next fall with the SIN-JIN SMYTH novel and other properties recently optioned by independent writers world-wide. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Thank you very much.
ZC: Wow! That's quite a list of work in the pipeline. Thanks for taking time to talk to Blogcritics and Zombos Closet readers.
To keep up-to-date with Ethan Dettenmaier's non-stop output, go to Snap Kick Productions.