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Toby Wilkins (Director) - Splinter
Toby Wilkins was born on 27 May 1972 in London, England. In 1996 he relocated to Los Angeles in order to pursue a career in the film industry, working primarily in visual effects and title sequence design for feature films until turning his hand to directing. His movie Staring at the Sun brought Wilkins's work to the attention of director Sam Raimi and his horror production company Ghost House Pictures. Raimi then chose Wilkins to direct and produce Tales From The Grudge, a series of short horror films to promote the film The Grudge 2. Darren Rea caught up with Wilkins as his latest movie Splinter was released on Blu-ray and DVD...
Darren Rea: Where did the original idea for Splinter come from?
Toby Wilkins: It was a combination of a couple of things really. I was handed a script by Ian Shorr, it was originally titled “Tooth & Nail”, and it reminded me of the best horror movies from when I was as a child, movies like Dawn of the Dead, and The Thing. It was just so contained and claustrophobic, and allowed you to get to know the characters.
Then I sort of reinvented it by bringing a creature concept that a friend and I had been playing with for years. A creature that takes over the body of its victims, alive or dead, and puppeteers them from the inside while devouring them. We were really interested in what that creature might look like, how it would move, how it would kill. The two pieces of the puzzle just clicked.
DR: Horror is one of those genres where the hardcore fan base have just about seen it all before. Do you think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to bring something new to the table as a filmmaker?
TW: I don’t think the core of what people want from horror movies has changed at all. Some of us just want to be scared, some want to be grossed out, but fundamentally we all want escapism and entertainment. We want to believe in the story we are being told.
It’s not just about the latest tricks, or the most bizarre deaths - though those are cool to watch - I think that getting away from the whiz-bang toys, and returning to what’s key to a story is where the focus should be.
Interesting characters and genuine performances give the audience a reason to care. Once you’re engrossed in the story you’ll be along for the ride. Then add gore and blood and you hopefully end up with a fun and entertaining horror film with characters the audience cares about.
DR: Did your background in visual effect help or hinder your move to writing and directing?
TW: I think more than any specific job (I have done a lot of different things on a lot of different films) it just helps to have been around the process for a while. Being exposed to all types of projects, and all kinds of filmmakers has been an amazingly educational and inspirational experience.
I was directing the whole time as well mind you, I started making short films in about ’99, and bouncing back from my mistakes, and working on other people’s films was the best way to learn I think. And specifically visual effects makes you look at problems in a specific way that I think helps a lot with planning and preparation.
Once you have jumped through enough flaming hoops, problem solving becomes second nature, and really that’s all directing is.
DR: Do you think that horror directors, and writers for that matter, make better horror films when they are tackling subjects that personally scare them?
TW: I can really only speak for myself, but yes that’s probably true.
I know that bringing the Splinter creature to life was something that came from my own personal fears, the idea of infection and disease, of being unable to stop something killing you from the inside, and I think it made some choices clearer.
You have to act on instinct as a director, you really have to trust your gut, and when something scares you, you have to assume other people will be scared by it too.
DR: The DVD of Splinter is released in the UK in March, have you recorded an audio commentary or any other features for the release? And if so what can fans expect to see?
TW: We have been really busy putting as much stuff together as we can. I did two audio commentary tracks, one with some of the cast, and another with cinematographer Nelson Cragg and editor David Michael Maurer, those were a lot of fun to do and I hope they both make it to the UK disks.
We didn’t actually have any deleted scenes on this film, but there’s some behind the scenes stuff, some interviews, and a bunch of creature concept art. I’m very happy with it all.
DR: Is there one scene in a horror film that you wish you’d been the one to create?
TW: No, I don’t really think like that. There are plenty of films, and scenes that have really stuck with me, but they are what they are because of who directed them.
Alien directed by anyone other than Ridley Scott would not be the same film, 28 Days Later would not be the same without Danny Boyle.
But if you’re asking what horror films have had the biggest impression on me as a filmmaker... I would say those, and The Shining, The Thing, Dawn of the Dead, there are really too many to list.
DR: If you weren't working in the entertainment industry what would your ideal job be?
TW: I actually started out in graphic design so maybe that. But I could also be happy as a photographer, or maybe a chef. But I would probably have ended up as a set photographer, or a on-set chef. I think it’s in my blood.
DR: What’s next for you?
TW: I have been working with Ghost House Pictures a lot over the past few years, doing short-form horror projects like Tales of the Grudge and Devil’s Trade and next up is a feature collaboration with them, The Grudge 3 which will be coming to the UK in May I think. We shot that pretty much back to back with Splinter. Working with Sam Raimi and the team at Ghost House has been brilliant.
DR: Thank you for your time.
Splinter is released to buy on Blu-ray and DVD from Icon Home Entertainment from 30 March 2009.
Check out Toby Wilkins's blog at: splinter.tumblr.com