Director Justin Dyck and writer Keith Cooper have been working together as a collaborative duo since the 2014 family film Monkey in the Middle. Seven years later and several Christmas and family films later, the two are tackling the literal polar opposite covering a reverse exorcism within the horror genre in Shudder and RLJE Film's Anything for Jackson. The film features a grieving elderly couple played by Sheila McCarthy (The Umbrella Academy) and Julian Richings (Chaos Walking), who is mourning the loss of their grandchild and kidnap a pregnant woman (Konstantina Mantelos) in hopes to perform a dark ritual on her womb. I spoke with Dyck and Cooper about how the film came together, casting, planning, and how their work on family projects helped make this film.
On Pitching Anything for Jackson
"The whole movie really started from a lie," Cooper said. "We got to pitch this other movie, and while they liked it, but unfortunately, they had something similar in the space. So they just hoped we had something a little bit more in the supernatural. Justin and I were like, 'We have tons of those. We just didn't bring them.' I think it took within an hour and a half drive on the way home to come up with Anything for Jackson. So we just started spitballing. I think one of us came up with a reverse exorcism. Why wouldn't you leave the house, movies about grief and things like that snowballed from there."
When it came to principle casting, it was an easy sell for McCarthy and Richings. "I think it works so well just because both of them are incredibly talented actors," Dyck said. "They both brought a lot of personal elements to it. I know that we spoke to them before, even before they were even cast. They were both very interested in just how authentic this was going to be. We don't want to make just a bunch of scares and a lot of blood flying around. I think they love those movies; Julian especially loves the good, crazy, gory horror films. The two were really looking to dive into the characters and really demonstrate a married couple who's been together for a long time and are dealing with some pretty tragic circumstances. They just brought all that to it, and I know they work together a lot even before we got into production. When you have that level of talent, it's going to come out that way."
How Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings Were Perfect for Anything for Jackson
The duo found themselves fortunate when landing both leads. "We went at it really fast," Cooper said. "Luckily, Justin had an in with Sheila, a friend of a friend. He's like, 'She's really great. You should check her out in this small movie called Cardinals (2017). So we watched that. I was like, 'Wow, this is incredible!' So I wrote with Sheila in mind. Julian was somebody that I'd always wanted to work with. I knew we had somewhat access to just the friends of friends. So I wrote with those two in mind. Luckily, as Justin said, the studio had a small window, and we'd already had that two kinds of attached by that time. So it made it very easy. The rest, thankfully, Rebecca Lamarche, who also played Vanth in our movie for the trivia folks looking for something else. She did an amazing job with the casting and found a few other people. It really was very easy. We had so many great choices. So, yeah, it was a very easy process."
Dyck and Cooper admitted the creative process was more a shared process with both lending their ideas with the best ones winning out with occasional input from the actors. "It came together surprisingly quickly," Dyck explained. "We kept that up when we got the idea. Keith wrote a script very quickly, and we were able to get a bunch of the cast together. When we finally found the financing a few months later, it was kind of like they had a slot and enough money to go right away. We had six weeks of prep, so we had to get our entire cast together and our crew. That whole time, Keith is furiously rewriting. We're blocking scenes out. So it went very quickly. But yes, Keith said it's constantly morphing and changing as we were moving ahead."
The most difficult sequence to film was the finale. "There's always going to be scenes that take longer," Dyck said. "I remember we did have one day, and it was we had a lot of ghosts there that day. It was absolutely crazy. I remember the call sheet said it was about two pages that day. So we see two pages. Oftentimes a lot of the crew and cast will relax and just say, 'That's good. It's a nice light day.' That day we barely got it. There were just so many set shifts and so many elements to worry about. (Special Makeup Effects Artist) Karlee Morse and the FX team were incredible building ghosts and putting blood and goo on creatures and monsters all over the place. That was definitely; I think the hardest day was trying to get all that stuff to work at once."
Dyck mentioned how working within the horror genre was always a goal since working on their family-friendly films. "[Keith and I] became fast friends [after Monkey in the Middle]," he said. "We both had a love for horror films and said that we should make one. This is what we set out to do. Not this film specifically, but we wanted to make an indie horror film. We got handed a script about a kid who played soccer with a monkey. So we just sort of fell into that world, thankfully. So I certainly made myself a better director to do all those Christmases and kids and family projects such. So this horror was more than just a nice change of pace. It was everything we've been striving for. So to me, it's as different as if I was, you know, working in any other field. I was working at Taco Bell and got to make this movie would have been just as exciting as making the jump from Christmas film to horror." Anything for Jackson, which also stars Josh Cruddas, Yannick Bisson, and Lanette Ware, comes out on VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray on June 15.