Whilst mainstream horror obstinately retreads familiar territory in this current storm of remakes and rehashes the indie scene provides a good measure of relief by going against the Hollywood grain. In an attempt to aid the indie cause Canadian organisation CineCoup runs a Film Accelerator competition offering indie filmmakers the chance to win a one million dollar budget and a guarantee their film will release in select Cineplex theatres around Canada. This year’s outright winning film goes by the name of WolfCop, written and directed by Lowell Dean (13 Eerie) and has taken the whole world by storm with social media going wolf crazy.
Tipped as a perfect blend of horror and humour, WolfCop finds alcoholic cop Lou Garou struggling to cope with a strange turn of events in his life. When crime scenes start to smell all too familiar and Lou’s senses become heightened he soon realises he has been cursed into a rage-fueled werewolf. Given all the buzz surrounding the fuzz we took time out to speak to Lowell to find out exactly what to expect when the WolfCop comes on duty…
So WolfCop is heading to cinemas in Canada next month. You must be over the full moon about that.
Yes. It’s been a long time coming so it’s great to finally see the ending line on the horizon.
Before digging our teeth into WolfCop, I know you cut your teeth in the industry directing short films and some television. How did your first feature directing gig for 13 Eerie come about? I believe you were actually busy working on your own classic zombie script but left that to work on 13 Eerie.
Well it’s a funny story actually. Basically Mind’s Eye is a local film company and they had optioned my zombie script but I was having a hard time getting it made because I hadn’t done a feature at that time. So what Mind’s Eye suggested was that they were doing another movie with Roger Christian, who had worked on Star Wars and Battlefield Earth, and they wanted to put me forward to be his assistant. That way I could study under him and then use that as leverage to get my own zombie film made. So I got on board and did a lot of the storyboarding and a lot of preparation and Roger really involved me in everything. Then, literally just a few weeks before production, we found out that Roger couldn’t direct as he was not a Canadian citizen and we needed a Canadian director for the project. Roger agreed that, as I knew the movie inside out and had done all the storyboarding, I should direct it. That was a huge jump for me.
You have described yourself as a “director-for-hire” for that project on various occasions. Now with WolfCop you are directing your own script so this is your baby. How different has this experience been compared to tackling someone else’s script?
Oh it’s a very big jump. For 13 Eerie I was just happy to be invited to the party. Then I was trying to make a movie based on the script and it was Roger’s baby until just weeks before production so I didn’t want to come in and throw in all my new ideas. I knew I had to be respectful of his vision. 13 Eerie wasn’t my baby but WolfCop, just as you are saying, is 100% my baby. It was my idea, my script and it grew organically in me so it felt way more personal. That said, I don’t want to take anything away from 13 Eerie. I learned so much from that film and I don’t know if I would have survived WolfCop had I not gone through the adventure of 13 Eerie.
The WolfCop movie came to life first in the form of a concept trailer which won the CineCoup Accelerator Competition. When you shot the trailer did you already have the whole script prepared and is it true you were writing a cop script and a werewolf script at the same time and decided to merge the two?
I had the script pretty much written – the first draft at least – and I partnered with a local production company called Echolands Creative. We were aware that the most known person on board was me after directing 13 Eerie but that still didn’t say much so we needed some kind of proof that we were the right team to make this movie. This is how the trailer came to be and we shot it before we had even heard of CineCoup. The trailer was going to be a bargaining tool to try and raise money. I mean, WolfCop is such a silly name that we were worried people would think it was just pure stupidity so I said we had to make something cool and show everyone that WolfCop is a bit of a badass.
It’s surprising you say you were concerned about the silly name when we have names ranging from Sharknado to Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives.
I guess we got very lucky. It feels like the perfect storm right now. WolfCop came at just the right time and people looked past the title or even embraced it because of the title.
Obviously the biggest outcome of the CineCoup competition is to get an indie genre movie in cinemas. That aside though, what aspect of the film required the largest portion of the million dollar budget prize money to get it just right?
Definitely the effects. I mean one million dollars is still a very low budget, as you know, so we knew that we weren’t going to be able to do all these crazy massive stunts or digital effects, not that we would anyway. So we decided to go practical, do as much as we could and basically embrace the aesthetic of the ’80s practical effects films. We knew some things might look a little silly but this isn’t going to be a movie about two people in a coffee shop just talking. We are going to blow stuff up, run around and people are going to get their limbs ripped off and we’re just doing everything we can within our budget.
Talking of practical effects, you brought Emersen Ziffle on board again. Most recently he worked on Curse of Chucky but he also worked with you on a short film, Juice Pigs, and 13 Eerie. Given how gruesome 13 Eerie gets please tell me WolfCop is just as gory, if not more so.
It certainly will be gruesome. Any kind of violence is mostly practical effects and whilst the movie isn’t wall-to-wall action, everything that happens is very gross and violent.
You often talk of a lull in audiences’ interest for werewolf movies. Obviously we have had things like the Twilight saga but in terms of darker comedy/horror movies about werewolves that worked really well with audiences the most recent ones that come to mind would be say Ginger Snaps or Dog Soldiers. What would you say is the reason behind this lull and why is now the best time to bring WolfCop on duty?
I honestly don’t know why there is a lull and that is kind of part of the reason we did this. It was like knowing there was a really great character that people are ignoring. It’s like if you found out no one had the rights to Batman and he was just sitting there waiting for someone to make a movie about him. I think of things like you said, Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps and also things like A Werewolf in London and Teenwolf. I think of all these great practical, ridiculous and chaotic movies that seem to be missing in the world right now. I’m not just talking about the old ’80s vibe either. The werewolf character is always relegated to being a henchman or being in the background. I would way rather see a werewolf than a vampire personally so I’m like “Bring it on!”
With audiences well aware of films like A Werewolf in London and Teenwolf did you find you kept second guessing yourself so as to avoid repeating things we’ve all seen before?
Oh definitely. There are certain things that people who are fans of previous werewolf films will see that we snuck in as homage but by and large we did try and not just repeat things. Without giving any spoilers away, for our transformation Emersen and I sat down and said “OK. There have been a lot of werewolf transformations in movies so how is ours going to be different?” We both instantly agreed that we wanted it to be violent, really bizarre and there are some really weird things about it but I don’t want to give it away. Basically we decided it had to be practical and we were going to make it really, really painful.
Judging by the trailer it looks to be quite heavily steeped in comedy. One common stumbling block in many horror/comedy films is when a writer overdoses on the comedy side of things only to end up undermining the horror and scares. The Scream franchise tackled this well and I believe you were heavily influenced by that. How did you confront this aspect?
Comedy is certainly a very big part of our film. I think it is a very funny movie but when there are moments of horror it is so visceral and graphic that it is upsetting and hard to watch. This aspect is very personal though. Some people will be covering their eyes whilst others will be laughing their ass off. It’s like Raimi’s last movie, Drag Me To Hell. I went to see that with a friend and I was laughing at that throughout the whole movie and not once scared whilst the rest were covering their eyes. I guess I just saw this as a really interesting trick having to try and find just that right balance.
I’d like to ask you about Leo Fafard who you cast not only as Lou Garou but also as WolfCop. Was it always your plan to have the same actor for both roles and did that make casting him much harder?
Not at all harder actually. I wanted Leo before we even started filming. He was a local actor and had been a werewolf for me previously in a music video. He has got such a great look and even when he just looks at you he doesn’t have to say a word and he has an intensity to him so I just knew he would be great as both characters. Even though it made our lives a bit harder schedule-wise I really wanted the same actor playing both characters. I think that when he is WolfCop Leo comes through with his eyes and his motion. I wanted people to see WolfCop is the same guy and doesn’t do a switch on you.
The actual look of WolfCop has gone through various transformations itself too. Having said that, all versions definitely keep a very human element to them.
That’s right. The advantage of doing the concept trailer and taking WolfCop to all the Expos and such was that it was almost like we were a bigger movie and we had the time to do all these tests. Emersen and I would make Leo up and we’d take him out and we could actually critique the look and get him on camera and decide what things needed tweaking. He does actually change a bit throughout the movie which you’ll see. We have different contact lenses and other things depending on what’s happening.
In pretty much every werewolf movie the protagonist is struggling with their demons trying to come to terms with their new predicament. You describe WolfCop as a superhero so does this mean we’ll see Lou come to terms with his new “powers” to use them for the greater good?
Lou will always definitely be struggling because he’s certainly not the quickest on the draw in terms of how he deals with his problems. Having said that, when we were developing it, and even when I wrote the script, I didn’t realise until afterwards just how much my love of comic books had seeped in. Then when we started storyboarding and putting it together we realised it was actually a really fucked up superhero origin story. It’s still very primal of course and he’s not running around saying. “You have the right to remain silent,” but there’s crime and he’s going after that crime.
The idea of a hairy Incredible Hulk sprang to mind when you described him.
That’s a really good comparison. I was raised on The Hulk too and I guess it’s that whole Jekyll and Hyde thing. This is another thing I think will make WolfCop stand out. Usually we just see this mindless creature that wakes up thinking “What did I just do?” We certainly still have that in our movie but when he’s out doing things he’s not just randomly attacking people, he’s still fighting crime.
Just like any good superhero there is an action figure Emersen designed which you set up an Indiegogo fundraiser for. You easily reached the target and decided to keep it open and use any extra money to fund a WolfCop graphic novel. What are your plans with the novel and does this mean you have various ideas that could be used as a sequel movie or movies?
Well we are developing a trilogy of WolfCop graphic novels and if it goes well I’m hoping we can do more. In terms of a sequel I can tell you a funny story. When I first had the idea for WolfCop I jumped straight in and first started writing WolfCop 2 because I didn’t want to have to deal with how Lou became a werewolf. I don’t know why but I just wanted him to already be a werewolf and already fighting crime. I got to about 30 pages and thought “No. I need to go back and do the origins story first.” So yes we do have an outline for a sequel but I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t want to start writing until I know people are interested. It’s certainly the kind of character where there’s a lot of places you could take it but I don’t want to focus on it until I know that it’s what people want.
Sequels are always very tricky territory. RoboCop comes to mind as that was such a great origins story that was let down by two much weaker sequels.
Definitely. I think it’s that ‘put your money where your mouth is’ type problem. I think one of the reasons a lot of sequels don’t work is because they bring in different people, creatively. People who don’t understand the character or who have different mandates such as best-selling toys. For WolfCop I hope it’s me involved, should a sequel get made, as I would want to grow the mythology and the world. I see it like Indiana Jones where you can have all these separate adventures.
[Note: A few days after this interview we were delighted to hear that CineCoup had given the green light for WolfCop 2 which Dean will also direct.]
In terms of feature films, you’ve got two under your belt and both are genre movies. Do you see yourself sticking to horror and, if so, does it concern you that critics and audiences may label you as a genre filmmaker?
That doesn’t bother me really. I would just be happy to keep making films frankly. It is so hard in reality to get movies made that I’ll take a label for now. I’d much rather fight to get rid of a label than not get to make movies. I love genre and WolfCop is such a great experience. It was so much fun and so rewarding and I actually feel that this is the tone of movies I’d like to make. If it does well then I’ve got three or four scripts lined up and waiting to go. I have a variety of scripts including the WolfCop 2 idea I mentioned as well as that old zombie script that I never got to make which I think is a very unique take on the zombie genre.
We’d like to thank Lowell for taking the time to speak with us and wish him the best of luck with WolfCop (and the sequel). Lou Garou will be howling into cinemas around Canada on the 6th of June and we hope to be able to report a UK release date some time soon. In the meantime we’ll leave you with this featurette providing some insight into the process of designing and bringing Wolfcop to life…