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Interview With Screenwriter Harry Shannon On His New Film Dead and Gone

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Harry Shannon is the author of several books, including Daemon, One of the Wicked, The Pressure of Darkness, Night of the Beast, and Dead and Gone. A musician, actor, and the former VP for music for Carolco Pictures, he also sang the title song, composed the music, and played the Sheriff in Dead and Gone in addition to writing the screenplay. I managed to have a few words with Shannon about his first novel-turned-movie via email. Dead and Gone will be released to DVD on July 1.

Has horror always been your bread and butter?

Passion, if not income. My first career was in entertainment, as a singer/songwriter/actor. I went out on the road in 1966 with The Kids Next Door, The Back Porch Majority, The Going Thing (Ford commercials) and other groups. Then I made my living as a songwriter and music publisher, left the business to write a novel and return to college to study Psychology. Eventually I was VP Music of Carolco Pictures, but left again in 1993 to build a private counseling practice and return to writing. All along the way, however, I've been a fan of dark fiction. I discovered Saki, Ambrose Bierce, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Poe, Lovecraft, and other authors at a very early age. When Stephen King brought horror back in the 1970s I was already primed for the ride. I have an enormous soft spot for EC Comics and cheesy 1980s horror films like Motel Hell. So even when it wasn't my 'bread and butter,' horror was always an interest.

When writing the script for Dead and Gone, did you have any certain actors in mind? If yes, what actors?

Quentin Jones was on my mind from the beginning, because we were friends. Originally, he was to play an English constable (fish out of water) working in the Nevada mountains, and the lead was a female trophy wife. One night I woke up at 3:00 in the morning obsessed with the idea of switching the lead to male, thus a trophy husband, and the constable to female. It shifted the center of the script. I wrote a whole draft that way and send it to Yossi Sasson,the director, and he loved it. We knew we had it. I also knew Kyle Gass, so the TV Reverend was his from the word go, and I was pretty sure rocker Ben Moody would like the part of Booger. A lot of friends stepped up to help us cast the supporting roles, including Kathryn Bates, who used to act with my wife on stage many years ago. She did an amazing turn as "Frankie."

Did you encounter any problems during the making of Dead and Gone? If yes, how did you handle it?

Oh, sure. Tons. It's like a military campaign, you plan your behind off but something always goes wrong anyway. There were really problems with one so-called producer, a bad experience with a DP who claimed expertise he didn't have. That created a need for re-shoots that made time delays and cost money. Yossi Sasson stepped on a nest of yellow jackets and got stung a gazillion times, then went on shooting. He had to endure all of that head on, not me, I heard about most of it second hand.

What inspired the story for Dead and Gone?

An image in Yossi's head of a person who was supposed to be in a coma, at the end of a long hallway moving around. I was trying to persuade him to write his own movie, but that image wouldn't leave my head. We were both fans of the "Evil Dead" franchise, so it seemed logical to start with a remote cabin and go from there. My mind just ran with it.

Is there a big difference between writing a screenplay and writing a novel?

Screenplays are tight, direct, lean and mean. Structure is everything. It's hard in a very different kind of way. In the novel form you can tap dance more, buy time, B.S. a bit, you know? But the length can feel back-breaking. Neither one is easy.

What is your favorite film? Why?

A tie between The Godfather and No Country for Old Men. They both adapt complex novels brilliantly. They have excellent performances. They are brutal and uncompromising in their view of the universe. As for my favorite horror film, probably the original black and white Night of the Living Dead Silence of the Lambs, Evil Dead and Motel Hell are all close seconds. Oh, and Alien. Heh.

About how long does it take to write a screenplay as opposed to writing a novel?

That varies from project to project obviously. For me, a novel takes longer, at least four to six months to get the first draft down. Once I know the story of the screenplay in detail (the hardest part) the work seems to go faster.

How did you and director Yossi Sasson get to know each other?

His wife introduced us several years ago, I've known Einat since the early 1990s. They are great people.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be patient. Listen to people who've been there. Develop a thick hide, because honest criticism is hard to come by and a real lifesaver for any author. Someone once said "You can die of hope in Hollywood." Study the craft, meaning story structure, character development. Read, read, read. Don't just watch films. Don't read only in one genre, even if it is your favorite.

Finally, can we have a little insight on what your next project will be?

I've completed the first draft of a new horror script called Pain, and Yossi and I are out looking for financing. It's another pitch black comedic film with tons of makeup FX and wild action. I also have scripts based on my earlier horror novels, but they would be a bit more expensive to produce. As you know, a lot depends on the financial and "buzz" success of our first movie Dead and Gone, so we hope everyone out there will rent it soon, rave about it online everywhere you can! Heck, buy a copy since it may become a cult classic. Get out there and help us spread the word!

Thank you for your time, Harry Shannon. Be sure to look for Dead and Gone when it hits the video stores Tuesday, July 1st. It's sure to be a cult hit.

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