WOODSTOCK – In less than two years, Woodstock native Chris McGowan went from a screenwriting contest winner to full-fledged Hollywood director; he recently wrapped his first official full-length feature, “Chasing Nightmares.”
With hopes of a spring release, “Chasing Nightmares” boasts a cast of actors that includes Anne Heche, Graham McTavish and Michelle Randolph. Filming wrapped in December in Los Angeles, and McGowan already is looking to his next projects, not losing any momentum in his dream career.
The Northwest Herald sat down with the up-and-coming writer and director to discuss life on the set, lessons learned and what’s coming next.
Weber: You went through several ups and downs when it came to casting: hard passes, acceptances that ended up turning into passes, no response at all, etc. How long did it take for you to lock down your cast?
McGowan: This was a very arduous process. The producers and I were very conscious of not only making a quality movie, but making it profitable. As you can imagine, [big] names can provide a more stable outcome. So we were particular with who we sent offers to. This took approximately 12 months to find the right combination.
Weber: Your original producer, Richard Clark Jr., ended up taking you for a ride. You hear about deals gone bad in Hollywood, but this one may be a movie in itself. What’s the status of Clark Jr., and how was working with his replacement, David Brown?
McGowan: The previous producer, Richard Clark Jr., scammed me. I took him to small claims court and won. He currently has a public judgment against him that, unfortunately, will never result in getting my money back. But I look at it this way: If it wasn’t for that learning experience, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
David Brown has been a blessing. He’s the reason this movie got made. Prior to him, I was learning as I went. I vividly remember my first conversation with him. That call ended with a huge smile across my face because I knew I finally found a partner that not only believed in me but had the knowledge and resources to make my dream a reality.
Weber: What has been the hardest part of this process, as well as the most rewarding?
McGowan: The hardest part was learning the ins and outs of the business. I wasn’t just the writer or just the director; I was the writer, director and producer. Not only that, but I was a nobody. Chris who? I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. This business isn’t for the faint of heart.
With wearing several different hats throughout development, I feel like I made five films in the process. There were hundreds of moments where I felt like giving up. I got knocked down so many times. I was told several times that this “will never get made,” that the script was “the worst script ever written.” I was scammed by my producer. You name it, I went through it. But I kept telling myself if I never give up, there’s no question of “if,” but rather “when.” So I just kept pushing, and here we are.
Weber: Did the film become the vision you had hoped for?
McGowan: Very much so! With an independent film, as compared to a studio film, the filmmakers have lots of flexibility. This means that I didn’t have to get approval from 15 different executives to create my vision.
Weber: How many rewrites did the script go through since getting picked up?
McGowan: Just when I thought the script was locked, another rewrite was in order. If there is one lesson I can provide writers, it is to never stop rewriting. It can always be better. If I had to put a number on it, though, I would say 37 rewrites. Oh, not only that, but during production, we went through several dialogue tweaks on the spot, so make that 47.
Weber: How did Randolph do capturing your lead character, Laura?
McGowan: This was a big question mark going into production. Could Randolph deliver? She’s the lead, and if she wasn’t strong enough, then what?
Fortunately, Randolph is a superstar. She is a true professional. She has the leading-actor look and brings unparalleled talent. She blew me away. Before long, she will be one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents.
Weber: Any funny stories from the set?
McGowan: Of course! Our first day on location, the production trailer broke down, blocking the entire parking lot. Not a great way to start the shoot. Luckily, we had a workaround and everything worked out.
Another day, we were shooting an exterior scene with Jay Huguley, who co-stars as John, and during one take, we all heard a horrific scream from the interior of the home.
Everyone paused with bated breath until someone said, “Don’t worry, that’s just Aubrey Cleland providing voiceover.” She plays Whitney in the film.
Then, on our last day on set, Spencer Daniels – who plays Matthew – was providing some hysterical improv for a scene, and I couldn’t stop laughing out loud from it. Oops!
Weber: Are you planning a local premiere?
McGowan: We shall see. It really depends on our domestic distributor. The good news is that it will see the light of day.
Weber: What’s next for you?
McGowan: I currently have one project in pre-production and three in development, one of which is “Chasing Nightmares 2.” “Chasing Nightmares” provided me the opportunity to creak the door a bit; the next step is to knock it wide open.