When you look back at some of the young and upcoming directors of the very early 1990’s, you’ll see names like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Guillermo del Toro, just to name a few. However there is one more name to add to the list: Adam Marcus. He was born on July 24th of 1968, in Westport Connecticut, and was actually quite young when he began his career.
He attended school at Staples High School in Westport, and at the age of fifteen he c0-created the Westport TheatreWorks Theatrical Company. Adam directed and produced 50 shows in 7 years! He won best picture award at the Student Academy Awards in 1990 for his film ..SO, YOU LIKE THIS GIRL.
Adam later studied at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts. It would be in 1991 that Adam received a phone call from iconic horror director, Sean S. Cunningham (famous for the FRIDAY the 13th franchise), asking him to come out to Los Angeles to work with him on a film. The rest, as they say, is film history.
Although Adam has done such films as, LET IT SNOW, CONSPIRACY, MOMENTUM, and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3D, he is best know for directing the FRIDAY the 13th film, JASON GOES TO HELL: The Final Friday, which is the 9th installment in this franchise.
Currently Adam has a new film entitled, SECRET SANTA. This horror-comedy surrounds the doings of a family who get together for their yearly holiday gathering at Christmas, or as they prefer to call it, their “Secret Santa Dinner”. The excitement begins when someone from this very dysfunctional family spikes the punch, with an untested new drug from the father of the family’s pharmaceutical company. Horror and comedy abound, and you are drawn in. This film is pure fun, and full of comedy, gore,, and has what I call, a gross-out storyline. For those of you who love campy, and cult classic type horror films, then this is the one! Nearly every family gets together around the holidays, and there are family members you may even relate to in this film, but I’ll bet money that YOUR Christmas gatherings will never end up like this!
SECRET SANTA is not for the faint of heart, but as I say, if you want some campy-horror holiday fun , then this film is for you! Adam poured his heart and soul into this project, and it shows! You may want to add this film to your next holiday movies to watch list, it truly is that fun. I wouldn’t recommend this film for younger viewers, unless of course they are already horror fans, then they will love it right along with you. This fun holiday themed movie can be found on DVD, and very conveniently available at Amazon.
Now, I’d like to introduce you to…Director ADAM MARCUS
Anthony Northrup – Adam, your career began at a very young age, can you tell us what inspired you, as well as what it was like growing up in Westport CT, and when your interest in film began? Were there certain films, and filmmakers who have been inspirations then, and throughout your career?
Adam Marcus – Westport CT was a remarkable place to grow up. You were among this group of artists who had all chosen it as their way of escaping New York and Hollywood. It really was an artistic enclave. It was the rare place where the High School was built AROUND an existing theatre. In fact, the High School’s theatre company was so consistently successful that it paid for many of the sports programs. There were theatre courses that you could take every semester. Each one building on the last. There were seven, count ‘em, SEVEN choirs. Three Orchestras, and a Jazz band. Every kind of artistic discipline in every medium you could dream up. And wait for it… it was a public school! This was the school everyone attended at no cost! Yeah, Westport rocked! As far as film was concerned, my whole family was in the business. My Uncle, Ned Eisenberg is a brilliant actor who has had an amazing career that spans over thirty years. He’s a “that guy” and he even has a place in the Horror pantheon, as he was one of the leads in the film “The Burning”. My other Uncle is Joe Ellison, who wrote and directed the infamous exploitation classic, Don’t Go into the House. My brother Kipp is an actor and writer ,who was one of the leads in, Jason Goes to Hell. In fact, most of my family is, or has been in the entertainment business.
Like many people of my generation, the opening shot of Star Wars, when Princess Leia’s Tantive IV is being chased by the Imperial Star Destroyer, flew over my 9 year old head, I was hooked for life. I turned to my dad and said, “I wanna do that”! From that point on I watched EVERYTHING! From Clockwork Orange, to Gallipoli. From Rear Window, to Blow Out. I wanted to know everything there was to know about cinema. I had a strange affinity for Foreign Films, thanks to my dad who immersed me in them, and a strange connection to horror, due to the fact that my mother was on a steady diet of horror novels while pregnant with me (Rosemary’s Baby, Harvest Home), as the familial legend has it.
As far as filmmakers, my inspirations were everyone from Spielberg to Pasolini, to Argento to Raimi, to Fosse! Brian DePalma was a god to me, and I got to work with him while I was doing SFX work at R/Greenberg in New York, in my last year of college. Wes Craven was the kindest, but most dangerous filmmaker I’d ever met, and Sean Cunningham provided me with the practical know-how to never be intimidated by the industry.
AN – At 15 years old, you won a Young Artist Award for your work producing and directing 50 shows in 7 years, at Westport TheatreWorks Theatrical Company, a company you created, tell us what those 7 years were like, and any struggles you might have gone through during that time?
AM – Well, when I was 15, I created my own theatrical company, Westport TheatreWorks. That all happened because of one man… Al Pia. He was a remarkable theatre director who had been trained on the stages of London and Broadway, and he was my childhood mentor. I started working with Al when I was very young, maybe about 8 years old. At eleven he went, line by line, through all of Stanislavski’s text regarding acting and actors with me, until I understood all of it. I acted in anything I could get a part in, and from the ages of 11 to 18, I did an enormous amount of theatre. I worked primarily out of 4 different playhouses. By 13, I was doing stagecraft as well. I even got to work on the construction of sets for a couple of musicals that ended up on Broadway. By 15, I decided that I wanted to start producing my own plays, and that was when I created Westport TheatreWorks. I always had about 3 plays going at any given time. My focus was directing and choreography. I had been a dancer since I was 9, and I started staging choreography at 15. I loved dancing. The music, the athleticism. I did all kinds of stuff, drama, comedy, thrillers ,and most of all, musicals. Anything that turned me on creatively. It was an amazing time, and it was surprisingly lucrative. It helped support my college education at NYU, and was a large part of how I was able to produce my films at NYU, that kick-started my career as a filmmaker.
The struggles I had were being taken seriously as a fifteen-year-old kid running a company. But I never saw myself as fifteen. I didn’t care about any of that, I just wanted to make things. My mom used to call me her “silk worm”. Cute, but in it’s own way, kinda accurate. I have an insatiable need to create. All the time. I work on my birthday, New Years Day, Christmas. I can’t help myself. I’ve always been that way. I need to be productive. I need to create. So, for me, a day not creating is a day lost.
AN – In 1991, after much success in New York, and in plays and independent films, you got a call from director Sean S. Cunningham (creator of the 1980 horror classic, FRIDAY THE 13th), and 2 years later, you directed JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY, the ninth installment of the franchise. What was that first meeting like with Sean, and what was your reaction when you found out you would be directing the sequel?
AM- So when I was a kid, Noel Cunningham, the son of Sean S. Cunningham was my best friend. I was always with the Cunninghams’ especially during the time when they were making Friday the 13th, Spring Break, House, and a bunch of the other things they had done. I did a lot of readings, with Sean and Wes Craven when I was a teenager. I actually used to do a lot of readings for the scripts they were developing. I was always somehow involved. Then, Sean became incredibly instrumental in helping fund Westport TheatreWorks. When I headed off to NYU, I made a film that won best picture the year I graduated. After that, Sean Cunningham called and told me I should come to LA, be his slave for a year, and he would give me my shot to direct something.
While I was in LA, I set up my first feature as a producer, a little movie called Johnny Zombie, which ended up becoming, My Boyfriend’s Back. Disney made the film from my college buddy, Dean Lorey’s script. I was supposed to direct that film but I wasn’t crazy about the direction the movie was taking, so I asked Sean to assign me to something else. He told me that New Line was acquiring the rights to the Friday franchise. He then told me if I could figure a way to get the hockey mask out of the film, he would let me write and direct the movie. Two days later I had written a treatment that ended up as the basis for what would become Jason Goes to Hell. I was twenty-one when I got the job. I was twenty three when we shot the film, and yes, the whole thing was freakin’ surreal.
AN – You were only 23 years at the time, did that make a difference with the cast and crew?
AM – Hell yeah, it did! When I hired everyone for the film it was winter, so I had grown a beard so no one really knew how old I was. When we shot the film, it was summer and I shaved it off. Oh man, first day of production my Cinematographer, the brilliant Bill Dill said, “DUDE! How freakin’ old are you”? It was not hilarious. Funny now though. I was so young and so willing to do anything, that I think that became infectious and everyone seemed to get on board. I was just nuts enough to get people excited for my vision of the movie, and my cast and crew ended up joining me in my madness. It was awesome!
AN – The plot of JASON GOES TO HELL, was quite different than the other sequels. The “jumping from body to body”, scenario was unexpected by critics and die hard fans. What made you decide to go in that direction with the franchise, and how did you handle the mixed reactions from the fan base?
AM – Well again, my boss, Sean S. Cunningham, hated the hockey mask. He just hated it, and he wanted it out of the film. So the body hopping came from the necessity of getting rid of the mask. But I wanted to keep Jason in the film as the killer. I felt that we could tell a lot more backstory and make Jason a more insidious presence, by hiding him with the body hopping idea, ala, The Thing. My big problem with the films up to that point is that NO ONE had explained how this kid, who drowned in the 50s, suddenly erupts from the lake, still as a child, and then within a few weeks grows to the size of a full grown adult, and then a couple months later is the size of a giant wrestler. Come on, that has to have an explanation. So I went looking for an explanation. That’s how the idea for having the Book of the Dead, from Evil Dead, came into the movie. The idea was that Jason’s mother, Pamela, had made a pact with the darkness. That allowed her darling son to come back to her, but as one of the living dead. Not a zombie, but as something far more evil, one of the Evil Dead. That’s why the Necronomicon, and the Dagger are in the film. This made him Hell’s Assassin. That’s why the body jumping.
As far as fan or critic reaction goes, I see it this way… “If you want a movie with a guy in a hockey mask being a professional wrestler there are six films for you prior to Jason Goes to Hell; 2 with Jason, 1 with an ambulance driver PRETENDING to be Jason, 3 with zombie Jason. Mind you, the only real connection between all the Jason’s is the hockey mask. So the fact that my film still has Jason, the character, wearing a different mask, should make the film a richer ride. Is the mask all anyone really wants? Do the fans really only want characters stacked up so Jason can knock them down? Do the fans never want any answers to the question of WTF is Jason after all?
I’ve always been a fan of the films, and as a fan, I wanted more. So I set out to give the fans more. I wanted them to be treated to a film that gives them more answers, and challenges them with something new. Richer character backstories. A real explanation for Jason’s abilities and core of evil. I wanted to give them everything I had been waiting for. Every movie is going to be greeted with love and with hate, and that’s okay. Actually, it’s great. It makes what we do an art form. Art always has critics. What I would ask my critics is to look at the movie again, now that the anger of not having a hockey mask in every scene has dissipated. Look at the movie we made. See if it hasn’t aged better than you remember, and if you still don’t dig it, well that’s cool, too.
AN – Since your film, JASON GOES TO HELL: The Final Friday, just celebrated its 25th anniversary, is there more respect and love for the sequel than its first release? What are your thoughts on the film now that it is 25 years old?
AM – I love it! Seriously! I mean, how many low-budget films are remembered twenty-five years after their release. You know how many incredible films that have been all but forgotten in that time? Beautiful, amazing movies that don’t get remembered more than a year or two after their initial release. It’s crazy. But because JGTH is part of the Friday franchise, and in some part, because it is so polarizing, it gets remembered and discussed this far from it’s opening. That’s the power of the fans of this series. Die hard maniacs who love the legend of this sad little kid who drowned more than a half-century ago, and the mother who wouldn’t let his death go unpunished. All that and the hockey mask, too!
AN – In 1998, you directed a comedy called LET IT SNOW, with famed actress, Bernadette Peters. The film did very well and won many awards. How were you able to get Peters out of an 8 year retirement from films to do your film? What was it like working with the iconic actress?
AM – Thank you, the film was a great way to get the cinematic world to realize I was not a one trick pony. It did very well and opened my options up to working in other genres and forms, including television. As far as working with Bernadette was concerned, it was truly one of the best experiences of my life. The way we got her to come out of retirement was that my brother wrote a dynamite screenplay, and we stalked her for months. I kid you not. We ended up getting her fax number from a mutual friend and we faxed her the entire script. She had a thermal fax, so it ended up being one long scroll of 116 pages across her penthouse apartment, which she came home to after a weekend away. She sat on the floor and read our film, and less then 24 hours later she committed to do it. In her final scene in the film, she was so brilliant our entire production staff was sobbing, and they gave her a standing ovation. Then she cried, which made me cry, and we were all a bit of a blubbering mess. As I said, one the best moments of my life.
AN – In 1993, you filmed JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY, and the iconic, ‘Jason Voorhees’, but in 2013, you took on another iconic character and franchise; ‘Leatherface’ and the film, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (the sequel to the famous, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE franchise). What approach and filming style did you take with this franchise that was different than with the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise? Als0, as horror fan, who were you more excited to film: Jason or Leatherface?
AM – With Jason Goes to Hell, Sean and New Line didn’t want to follow the previous Friday film (Jason Takes Manhattan), they wanted to start fresh. For Texas Chainsaw, the studio wanted a direct sequel to the original film, so my life-long writing partner, Debra Sullivan and I started from that idea. We wanted to adhere more to the first movie. I love the first movie. Tobe Hooper loved our script, (which was one of the most exciting moments of our career), so there was a certain reverence to what came before. I also loved the Jason character and the hockey mask, but there was no real mythology for Leatherface, and we wanted to create a mythology. With Leatherface, there was a really broken psychology there, like Frankenstein’s monster. For Debra and I, we wanted to tell the story of Leatherface’s imprisonment and his reverence for family. Shooting in 3-D added another challenge, in that the killings could be more ‘in your face.’ It was more figuring out all the mechanics before we wrote the kills.
The best things about working on Chainsaw was we got to work with some amazing people over at Lionsgate, who we just loved. Lionsgate really has become the gold-standard when it comes to genre films. Really incredible. Although we enjoyed the end product, we wrote a $20 million movie, but they shot it for less than half that budget. There are a lot of cool sequences they couldn’t afford to shoot. Our draft took place in the early ‘90s, but the finished film took place now, which makes no sense. The original film was in the ‘70’s, and the main character is in her 20’s, which is why the script took place in the 90’s. It didn’t make any logical sense and it’s frustrating. I was also trying to make the date in the script coincide it with the release of Jason Goes to Hell.
AN – You have many titles under your belt: writer, producer, director, and occasionally acting. Which of these is the most challenging? You have also worked with your wife, Debra Sullivan on many films, tell us how you both met, and what it is like having her as your filmmaking partner?
AM – They are completely different processes. I’m lucky and cursed in that I wear different hats. On my latest film, I’m also a producer and editor. I love the entire process. I enjoy every part of it, even though they are very different. You actually see the movie happen. You get to actually craft the entire film. My first love will always be working with actors on set, seeing them work the material, and seeing where they take the material. Steven Williams’s performance as Creighton Duke in Jason Goes to Hell, is a perfect example. What he and I created on set was totally different than what was written on the page. A performer working material you’ve written into something more expressive and complicated is so great because it can be better than how you envisioned it to begin with. I love all of it because of the challenges. It’s only rewarding if it’s hard, and it’s all hard. I’ve been a performer my whole life so I guess that’s the easiest for me. I just don’t stress over a performance. But for me the most rewarding part is post. I love constructing a film in the edit room. That’s the most puzzle like, and if I’ve done my job as a writer and director, that makes the job of the edit that much more satisfying.
As far as having Debra as a writing and producing partner, it’s the best thing to ever happen to me. Pretty plain and simple. She is the other half of my voice. She is where everything good happens. I’m blessed to work so well with someone I love so much. Debra and I have written over fifty scripts together, all the while maintaining a very happy marriage. If you want to keep that happy marriage, you have to find ways to compromise while still challenging each other to do better every day. It’s a bit of a high wire act, but we make it work, and with each script it changes. Some I’ll take the lead, others she will. I will say that on Secret Santa, Deb let me do a lot of the heavy lifting because she knew this one lived inside my head. We wrote the script in twenty-one days. That’s from first day of concept to finished draft. We’re fast, but we’re rarely that fast. It poured out of me, and Deb let that happen. She was busy re-writing and generating notes to challenge my logic and character relationships. The give and take was amazing. That’s why it went so fast, and it had to. We had picked a shoot date that was only two months from the first week of writing so we had no choice.
AN – Adam, lets talk about your latest film, SECRET SANTA. Tell our readers a little about the film, what it was like working with the cast, and where it was filmed?
AM – Secret Santa is the first film from Skeleton Crew, my wife and I wrote it, and I directed it, with our brilliant producing partner Bryan Sexton, taking the production reigns. It’s my return to horror, and like Jason Goes to Hell, there will be a stress on my comedic sensibility as well as the movie is super gory! I mean, it’s really gory and kind of out of its mind. It’s what would happen if you came for Christmas dinner with your family, and like most families, there’s a bunch of people who don’t like each other, they really grin and bear the holidays. Except tonight is different. Tonight, for some unknown reason, everyone decides to say what they think about each other. What they really think. All the ugly truths they’ve been hiding for years start splattering the table, like spoiled gravy. It isn’t long before saying what you want to say, becomes doing what you want to do. Always wanted to kill your uncle for his racist remarks? Go ahead, do it! Make your little brother eat his words, or his own tongue? You outweigh him, go for it. Wanted to dismember mom or dad for questioning your life choices, when they made the exact same choices? Just let them try and stop you. Secret Santa lays bare all the false veneers we hide behind, and shows who we really are beneath our social graces… vicious, murderous, twisted. In short, it’s August: Osage County… with teeth.
I’ve never been so excited about a film I’ve made, and I got some amazing, talented friends to work on the film with me. Bob Kurtzman and Creature Corps came out from Ohio and did this movie with me, just for the love of movie making. Not only did he do all the effects on the film, he also shot second camera for me. and acted as Executive Producer. My buddy Jason Honeycutt, who is a brilliant filmmaker who works for FX, shot the film. One of my best friends of the last twenty-five years, Tim Eilers, whose day job is making large scale props for movies like Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Fast and Furious 8, but has always been a frustrated musical genius, composed our soundtrack, which will be released in a double album set from Skeleton Crew records! Alongside of making movies all these years, I’ve been teaching screen acting, writing and direction for over two decades here in LA, and I’ve got over 60 acting students that I work with every week. They’re some of the best actors in Los Angeles. They’re unbelievably talented. A lot of them you would know the minute you saw their faces, but they’re people who do a lot of guest spots on television, or do small parts in movies. They don’t get to break into those huge roles that their talent is deserving of. One of the things that we do, is when we bring a director into the micro budget side of Skeleton Crew, the first things I say is “you’ve got 65 actors at your disposal. Take a look, this is the troupe.” Not unlike Christopher Guest. I’ve got this amazing group of people who range from fourteen to seventy-five. You’ve got this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural group of brilliant performers who can do pretty much anything. What it does then, is it gives them their first shot at having the kinds of roles they’ve deserved their whole lives. It’s really about giving people the chance, the opportunity to take flight in film. That being said, my cast comes from rich careers that are stocked with film and television roles. Guys like Michael Rady, who has been a top of show lead for shows like Unreal and Melrose Place, and Drew Lynch is a world renowned stand up comedian, who captured the hearts of America with his Golden Buzzer Performance, on Season 10 of America’s Got Talent. These guys are so good at what they do, and they both shine in the film. My wife Debra, gives a performance that is among the best pieces of character work I’ve ever seen. But my whole cast, from Ryan Seaton as Penny, the unloved child, to Pat Destro as Carol, the catty, passive aggressive harpie, to Curtis Fortier as Carter, the uncle who makes you cringe every time he opens his mouth, to Nathan Hedrick as Jackson, the brother who always holds you a little too tightly, to A Leslie Kies as April, the good girl with a history of stabbing those closest to her in the back, to Michelle Allaire as Jaqueline, the sex-kitten who has a secret I wouldn’t dream of giving away, to John Gilbert as Leonard, the patriarch who’s smile hides an insidious evil. Not to mention Freddy James, Petra Areskoug, and Eddie Jordan III, as the catering staff who has to fend off these maniacs. Even the next door neighbors, Will Dixon and Tracy Drolet, give remarkable performances in this film.
AN – Were there any challenges or obstacles you and the crew had to overcome working in the snowy mountains of California?
AM – One incredible thing that happened on this movie is that when we went up to Big Bear Lake to shoot the film, it snowed a record-breaking FIVE FEET of snow as we drove up for production. We were totally snowed in. We had a day to dress the set but we had NO electricity! We dressed the set and did all prep work to the light of our cell phones. No joke! Then for the next eleven days we were snowbound. This bonded the cast and crew for life, I think. It was like the best camping trip ever!
AN – How long did the whole filming process take? What was your main goal you wanted to achieve about this film, and what is your greatest moment so far with the success of SECRET SANTA?
AM – 11 nights and a day. That’s it. We wrote the film in 21 days, shot it in 12, and that’s only because I got to shoot this film with MY TEAM. That’s what Skeleton Crew is all about. That’s what Bryan, Debra and I had in mind when we created the company. Consequently, I got to make the film exclusively with people I love.
Every second was the best moment I’ve ever had on a set. But I will say, my two personal favorite moments were when after we had finished night 6 of the film, and we were all heading to bed as the sun came up, Bob Kurtzman, the genius make-up legend and one of my closest friends for the last 25 years, came up to me and said to me, “Thank you”. I was shocked and I responded, “No, dude, thank you”. He then went on to say that the reason he was thanking me was because he felt that the work we were doing was making him remember why he loved making movies, “It’s the best experience I’ve had in the last ten years”. Then he hugged me. Coolest moment I’ve ever had on set.
The second moment was Bob (who also shot B-Camera on the film), and I were right next to each other when on the eighth night of shooting, we were doing this scene where three family members confront one person, who has done a really bad thing, and the scene is about 7 pages of dialogue. It’s all very intense emotionally and the actors were all in tears. We shot the scene in complete runs so the actors could really dive into the emotions of the text. It was simply amazing. Bob turned to me after one particularly amazing take and whispered, “Man, you don’t see stuff like this in horror movies”. Yeah, that’s my proudest moment.
From a “success” point of view, 22 international festivals, and winning Best Picture at the Silicon Beach Film Festival in Los Angeles. Yeah, that’s good stuff. But for me the happiest moments are when I’m behind an audience, watching them watch the movie. When they laugh, then scream, then laugh again… Yeah, that’s always been my drug of choice.
AN – Where can film goers see SECRET SANTA, and will it be on the Independent film fest circuit? Also, what’s next for Adam Marcus?
AM – Anyone who wants to catch Secret Santa can grab a copy on Blu-Ray or DVD at SecretSantaTheMovie.com/merch or go to Amazon. Also in October, it will be available VOD at Amazon, and several other locations.
As far as what’s next for myself and Skeleton Crew, we have some truly incredible things on the horizon. Up next, we’re writing, and I’m directing a film called “Hell’s Bells”. It’s a project inspired by my relationship with Steven Williams (the genius who played Creighton Duke), while making Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. I’ve wanted to work with Steven since then and this is a way to take what we created back then, and take it to the next level! We also have Dread, which is a high power thriller, about three women trapped in a hotel run by a human trafficking ring. Another we’re doing is, The Harvest, which is a thriller about a young woman trying to go to college, only to find her mother, who left her as a child, has stolen her identity, and destroyed her chances at a better life. She goes on a journey to find her mother, and falls down a rabbit hole of evil she never expected to find. We are also producing a film called, Fat Camp Massacre. It brings me back to my Friday the 13th days. It tackles the issues of body shaming, and body dysmorphia. It’s very empowering. “Fat Camp Massacre” ,will be for people of size, what “Get Out” ,was for the African-American community. We love telling stories about strong women ,and I’m committed to making those kinds of movies. To that end, we have a web-series we’re producing called NerdGirls ,which is about a group of comic book creators who happen to be women. But they are never taken seriously so they decide to take matters into their own hands and create the careers they deserve. And in more horror news, there’s “7 x 7″, which is an anthology film we’re doing with some truly gifted directors and writers. Also of course, we have the Jason Goes to Hell Documentary, “The Dark Heart of Jason Voorhees: The Making of the Final Friday”, which I am heavily involved with to make sure that it doesn’t end up being a puff piece. The fans and critics are entitled to see a warts and all account of what went down to make that film. But between Skeleton Crew and Nick Hunt, I think we’ll get an honest movie about how we went to hell and back on that one. There is so much coming down the road from Skeleton Crew. Can’t wait to share it all with the world!