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Exclusive interview with Vincent D’Onofrio, writer/director of “Don’t Go in the Woods”

Posted on 13 January 2012 by Paul

Don’t go in the woods is sound advice, especially when there’s a killer on the loose. However, a young band heads into the woods in hopes of writing new songs that will land them their big break. With no phone, no lights, no motor cars, not a single luxury, unlike Robinson Crusoe, it’s as murderous as can be.

Vincent D’Onofrio is known for his lead role as Detective Robert Goren on the NBC TV series “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” which lasted 10 seasons. He has also had starring roles in movies such as in “JFK” (1991), “Malcolm X” (1992), “Men in Black” (1997), and “The Break-Up” (2006).

The first-time director explores love, greed, and ruthlessness in the musical/horror starring various unknown actors hand-picked by D’Onofrio. The movie was shot for 13 days in the woods behind D’Onofrios home near Kingston, New York with a budget of $100,000.

“Don’t Go in the Woods” was released nationally December 26, 2011 on demand via cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon Watch Instantly, and Vudu. A limited theatrical release in select cities began in January 2012 from Tribeca films.

We would like to thank Vincent D’Onofrio and all who made our 1:1 interview possible for their time and the wonderful interview.

Before the Trailer (BTT): What inspired you and your friends to create the movie and what was the motivation going forward?
Vincent D’Onofrio (VD’O): It was just an idea that I had, to do something absurd and make a slasher musical where everybody sings and everybody dies, to see if it would work. I pitched it to two friends, Sam Bisbee, a really good singer-songwriter, and Joe Vinciguerra, who is a writer and a professor at NYU. We interviewed, discussed it, and they loved the idea. Sam started writing some music, we used some of the songs he had already, and he wrote some additional songs for the film. The idea was to make a B-horror film structure and put this kind of pop music on it and see if it would work. Two months later, we were shooting.

BTT: From watching the trailer, it seems that there is a 70's/80's vibe similar to the original Friday the 13th.  Was that intentional?

VD’O: Yes, it’s totally totally structured in that slasher format where you, like most horror slasher films, know going in that there is going to be killing, and you don’t have to think much about it. It’s just you are waiting to see what’s going to happen next.
BTT: You are a first-time director. What was this experience like?
VD’O: It was good. It was fun. I was working with a lot of friends so we all knew each other for a very long time. I had done a short film, “Five Minutes, Mr. Welles,” you can watch it on YouTube. Once it was made, it traveled around for two years. It was very successful. That was just an idea that I had, and with a friend, I wrote the script. It’s basically the same thing, and I knew going in that we going to make pure entertainment and have fun doing it.
BTT: Is this a direction that you would like to continue pursuing in your career or is something you did more for fun?

VD’O: There is another idea that I thought of, which, right at the moment is called “Johnny and Me.” It could turn into another film that I could make.
BTT: What were some of the road blocks or challenges you faced in the making of this film?

VD’O: Time is the issue. You’re in a bubble. When we make movies, my friends and I, there are no outside people bothering you so you’re just in this bubble. Time is always the issue, it’s not money. You know you are not going to spend a lot of money. To get it all done in 12 days was the goal, laying down all the music before we started shooting, and having it there for us to play back when we were shooting in the woods. It was much easier because we didn’t need permits. When I say being in a bubble, everybody there was in control. There were no outside sources.

BTT: It is a horror musical. You also sing a song in character on the radio as country singer George Geronimo Gerkie. How important was the incorporation of music in the film to you at a time when musical programs such as “Glee” have lost nearly a quarter of its audience?
VD’O: Yeah, there’s this song on the radio, a country western singer that I play in the movie. It’s on the radio in the van when the kids are going into the woods. This film was completed two years ago. I was just driving it around taking it to universities. They were just loving it. Then Tribeca got involved in it and wanted to distribute it. It was right around the time when shows like “Glee” were getting really successful. This is very different, it’s a horror musical. They are serious shows. Our film is not serious, our film is exertive.
BTT: You shot the movie in a short period of time with a limited budget and it is hitting theaters with a limited release. Any tips for aspiring film makers?

VD’O: Just shoot, keep your budget low, and write it so it doesn’t cost anything. I am fortunate that I have been in the film business for a long time so I know what things cost. When we wrote our script, we made sure that it was on my property, that the only thing that was going to cost money was the time. We scheduled it as short as possible with a lot of work to do in that amount of time. I think that what young filmmakers should do is write a story that costs very little and just make it.
BTT: When the project began, what was the original plan for distribution?
VD’O: You make a movie so people will see it, you hope. Was there a plan, no. I had no idea how I was going to get anybody to watch this movie. I knew that if I made a film, people would see it, that people would be interested in at least seeing if they wanted to distribute it. The way the film came out,I had very little hopes for anybody to get it as well as for kids to get it. It’s a difficult situation to be in. You make a movie that’s geared towards a certain age but yet everybody in charge of putting the film out is my age. You can only hope that there is going to be some clever people out there that see the entertainment value in it and are going to want to distribute it. Luckily there was.

BTT: You hand-picked various unknown actors. What criteria in your mind did they have to meet? 
VD’O: They had to be able to sing. They had to be tonally perfect and truly play their instruments as good as they seem to play them in the movie. The main thing was I wanted to cast non-actors that could sing, truly sing, not just sing in the shower sing, but carry a movie sing. We were very lucky to find some extraordinary girls and guys.
BTT: Do you have any plans for a sequel or prequel? If so, what would you like to explore?
VD’O: There might be a sequel called “I Said Don’t go in the Woods.” If somebody wants to give us some money to make it, we’ll make it. We have the ideas for the music and the story already. It would be fun to make another one. They are not difficult to make as long as you have everything together before you go and shoot. We are pretty good at that. Now, I know what more I could get away with and what I can’t. In “Don’t Go in the Woods,” it’s a difficult task to make a musical and keep tension through all 5 reels. Every time you sing a song, it releases the tension. That was the trick to maintaining tension. In the first and second reel, there’s very little tension, in the third reel there is a little more, the fourth reel a little less, and the fifth reel is all full out tension and everybody gets obliterated. What I learned from this experience was that in the second one, if we do ever make it, I know how to hold tension more with songs because we can actually get away with scenes with kids being stalked and stuff like that while they are singing. Now I see so many more different scenes which would be tools to maintain tension throughout more reels.

BTT: Knowing what you know now, if you could go back, would you change anything?
VD’O: I think this works the way it should. It was important that we did this one this way because it was a new thing. Nobody made a slasher movie before this horror and opera. This is the first attempted slasher film. I think it was important to see how it works and what you can add to it is a whole other movie, you could make a different movie of the same slasher genre but a different style where you have slaking and killing, not just surprise kills.

BTT: What is your favorite part of the film?
VD’O: The music. I love the music. Sam Bisbee is a very talented singer-songwriter. Every time I hear the music, I still tap my foot. I was there in the making, involved in a little bit of the writing of it, and there for the whole film.
BTT: You are about to film the pilot “Blue Tilt” for NBC. What can you say about this project?

VD’O: We are not finished with the script yet. It’s Ethan Hawke and myself. It’s about how two detectives have their jobs affect their family lives and friends. It’s pretty much all I can tell you right now. The script is coming out really good. When it’s done, we have to see when NBC wants to shoot it. It’s a tricky business, the television business. The kind of shows on television right now are so different. There’s very few cop shows on television, they are all very fantasy or reality type shows that are very successful. It will be real, it will be intense, and it won’t be nonsense. So we’ll see if there’s an audience for that.


Check out the official trailer for “Don't Go in the Woods”.

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