After BJ McDonnell's punk rock career ended, he moved from the Deep South of Pensacola, Florida, to Los Angeles. He then pursued a career in the film industry and graduated from Los Angeles City College with an associates degree in cinema. His grandfather, actor Leif Erickson, influenced him to become involved in film making.
In my "Hatchet III"
review, I mention some of the other works BJ McDonnell has done. Some of you may not be very familiar with him, but that's only because he's doing phenomenal camera work behind the scenes. He's done work on some big motion pictures including Rob Zombie's "Halloween"
. BJ is a veteran at doing camera work, he does the steadicam and dolly grip most of the time. Surely, you've all seen his work, even if you don't know it. And now that he's finally taken the director's chair, and impressed us all with the latest Hatchet
film, I figured it'd be a good time to pick his brain and get to know about the man behind the camera.
How did it come about that you became Director of "Hatchet III", instead of Adam Green?
I worked in the first two Hatchet
movies as the camera operator. Adam knew I was going to start pursuing directing, so he approached me and asked me if I wanted to direct Hatchet 3. Since I knew the story and the cast, it seemed to be the logical decision. Plus, I know my way around a film set from working on many other films. So it's not like I didn't know how to get things done.
Even though you've worked on the previous Hatchet films, this is your directorial debut. Was it overwhelming at all to be directing such a highly anticipated film?
I never felt overwhelmed about directing this one. Was I nervous sometimes? Yes. For me, it was more stress about trying to keep horror fans happy with the third installment. It's also tough when there are already people out there who hate the Hatchet films. So by directing a Hatchet film, you're already in the cross hairs. I tried to get it so maybe I could get people to like the Hatchet story again.
Being the man behind the camera, what were some things you've done to put your touch on the series?
I wanted to make this movie look much bigger than it is. People don't realize that budgets for sequels tend to go down. This was the lowest budget one out of the three. So, I tried to make this look way bigger in scope and put the money on screen. That is also why I insisted on shooting this on location in a real swamp. I also tried to make the movement of the camera tell the story along with the dialog. I tried to pick interesting angles for the look.
A lot of directors often say that once their movie is completed and they watch the final cut, there's always something they wish they'd done better. Without giving away spoilers, is there anything you'd redo now that you've seen the movie completed?
This is totally true. There are many things I watch and say to myself I wish I would have done this or that. The one thing that I wish I had insisted upon was having some scenes with the boats driving in. Or the police on the boats on the way to Honey Island Swamp. I didn't get to shoot that because we couldn't afford a boat driver (laughs). So we always pan the camera over with a boat noise and then we see people getting off of the boats. That's how money sometimes gets tight. Some people think it's more important to get a sag card out of a budget than it is to pay to get a boat to drive in on screen. That's one of the things, out of a few, that I would have done different.
I'm dying to know, how much blood was used in the making of this film?
I don't have a real number for you. We used a ton of it. And some doesn't really read on camera at all. The forest the police stumble upon with all the body parts, was supposed to be way bigger and nastier. We couldn't afford a set dresser, so we basically took all the makeup FX prosthetics and threw them all over the place and then sprayed the whole forest with fake blood. Plus, we had no time to shoot, so our "forest of gore" should have been way bigger and more gruesome. But the first night we used 24 gallons of fake blood in the forest alone. And that was night one, so add that number to sixteen nights of shooting and it will add up.
Is there anything that you couldn't do on film, regardless of budgets or studio issues, that you wanted to do with the movie?
I wanted to make the action scene much more intense. Kane was wearing fifty pounds of silicone and makeup and a contact lens, so it was hard for him to move quickly in the Crowley makeup. Crowley was supposed to run very fast through the police, taking them out one by one. But we had to condense it down to a quick scene where Crowley takes the most out very quick and combined. I always wanted Crowley to move very fast in this, but I think Kane did a killer job and it still works.
Kane Hodder is such a legend in the industry, yet he remains so humble and kind. How is it to work with him as Victor Crowley? Even though you know the man under the makeup, do you find him intimidating when he's playing Victor Crowley?
I, personally, don't find Kane intimidating at all. I love the guy. He's a really fantastic person and a lot of fun to work with on films. I've done other movies even before the first Hatchet was made and so I knew Kane then. He's a fun guy to work with and a true pro.
When making a film, there's always last minute changes and things can get hectic. What were some challenges you made while making the movie?
I had everything planned out as best I could. So the planning part wasn't an issue. The challenges I had were the conditions of shooting in a swamp. Rain shut us down a few times, mosquitoes were hardcore, mud, gators, and people not getting along on set were more the challenge of it all.
From the "Hatchet III" cast and crew, who would you like to work with again on different projects?
I'd love to work again with basically anyone from the cast of Hatchet 3. I'm working with Jason Trost on a script right now. Jason played Hamilton in Hatchet 3, and he also directed with his brother a film called "The F.P.", which is hilarious. He has done a ton of very cool films.
I've heard before that there will be at least one more Hatchet film, can you confirm this?
I can't confirm there will be another Hatchet film. Part 3 was the conclusion to the Marybeth story. Films like Hatchet can always keep going, just like other slashers before it. This was my last Hatchet film. I enjoyed the ride and opportunity, but it's time I moved on to do more films that I want to do. I am thankful for the chance to direct Hatchet 3 though, and I hope I made people happy with this one.
What are some things that you'd like to do in your future as a film maker?
I want to direct more action films. I love action. But I also love horror and sci-fi. That's where I'm planning on going with the directing. I'm also still camera operating. I love being an operator too. It is seriously the best job in the world and has so far, and I've met so many great people.
You've done work on such films as the new Star Trek film and the Tom Cruise film "Jack Reacher", do you intend to stay versatile or do you plan to settle down as a horror director?
I want to be more versatile. I don't want to be pegged as just a horror director. You won't catch me doing a romantic comedy any time soon, but like I said in the last question, action, horror and sci-fi is where my heart is.
What is your proudest body of work that you've partaken in?
Jack Reacher is really one I'm proud of. I am glad to shoot a movie traditionally and not the average hand held run and gun style that everyone loves so much. I miss the films where the film has a certain pro look, and I felt we did that in Jack Reacher. Plus, it was great to be around the best in the biz and learn from them. Of course, I'm happy with Hatchet 3 as a director. It was a tough film to make, but it's a different type of proud. Reacher is an accomplishment as a camera operator, where Hatchet 3 was an accomplishment as a director.
You've done work in and out of horror for a while, what present day director do you think offers a big future to the horror genre?
I think that horror just hast to keep getting inventive. I love James Wan's horror films. He does a lot of very inventive things and I love watching his work. You need a good story and great visuals. Hatchet 3 is a slasher film, and has the formula that makes a 80's throwback work well. I think things have to stay fresh and or really fun. It's an amusement park ride. People want the thrills or scares.
You usually do camera work, but do you plan on being involved in writing a film at all in the future?
I am good at writing down ideas or story ideas. My dialog writing I'm working on (laughs). I am working with writers right now on scripts that I'm trying to get made. I'm currently working on two different films that two different buddies are writing with me. It's fun to have a collaborative writing team because ideas are great to throw around, and see what other people think. Sometimes, an idea you think is cool can be totally made cooler by someone else's suggestions. Or they just tell you our idea is lame and you do something else (laughs).
Since you're experienced with camera work, is putting your vision on screen as really hard as some make it seem?
It's always challenging to put your vision on screen. Especially when you do something so technical with no time to really do it. Some people who don't work in the film business don't know the process it takes just to get a simple shot set up. And time. You are always racing against time. But if you are prepped as best you can be, then you can accomplish a lot! Thank God, I did my own storyboards.
Next year, you've got "Townies" coming out, which you've done camera work on. What are some of your other future projects going to be?
I worked a bit on a film called "Lone Survivor", that is going to be pretty cool. Also, I'm starting a film called "The Kitchen Sink". It's about vampires, zombies and humans fighting an alien invasion. The script is rad and it should be very interesting.
What's your favorite horror film of the last ten years? And don't say "Hatchet III" (laugh).
I have to say "I saw the Devil", "The Strangers", and "Sinister".
I ask this question to all of my interviewees, so I have to ask you: Is horror dead? Please specify.
Horror is never dead. It's people wanting more and more. Horror is one of the biggest genres of films, and it's the most fun to make and watch. I think that horror will be around forever. I mean, just turn on the news and almost all the stories you see are "horror". And that's the scary part, that it's real.
To everybody reading, what would you say that your best attribute as a film maker is? What separates you from others?
I think my best attribute is my love of film making, my attitude and the experience I've gained over the last decades on film sets. I've become friends with some of the best in the biz, and I know on my next film I can bring a team that can pull off some insane stuff. Without the people around you, you are nobody. It's all about teamwork and friends, and just having fun!
Thanks a ton for taking the time to do this interview, BJ. I really look forward to seeing more from you in the future. After "Hatchet III", us horror fans all have our eyes on you.
Thank you so very much.