Tuesday, March 8, 2022


A salute to everyone reading this interview. Today's interviewee unwittingly after having written movies such as HERCULES (Starred by "The Rock"), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Starred by Emma Watson) and a few more broke in as a director with his latest movie THE UNHOLY, which was starred by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cricket Brown, William Sadler and Carry Elwes among other more. I am talking about EVAN SPILIOTOPOULOS. The movie is an adaptation from the novel SHRINE by  James Herbert, but revolves around a hearing-impaired girl who after being "touched" by the holy spirit of Virgin Marie gets able to hear, as the  supposed myracle is spreading more and more, the girl gains congregation who flock to observe the miracles, but behind that miracle something evil is hiding. And I highlight the word "Unwittingly" because that's how things happened, as Evan told us and you will be about to read, He took the director baton out to direct this movie at last minute after seeing that his dream to see one of his favorite novel in a feature film adaption by him could fly away, he said, "ok, I'll direct the movie then". A not minor fact is that the movie was produced by SAM RAIMI.

The movie was released last year on April 2 theatrically, Digital formats on May 25 and through DVD and BLURAY on June 25, by Scream Gems and Sony Pictures, major leagues, ah. I truly appreciate when directors, cinematographer or any person allow me to take some of their free time out to answer my questions, that's why I will be for ever grateful with Evan, I can only imagine how tight can be his schedule and letting me talk to him and share his words with the newbie indie filmmakers that read this blog, figuratively is pure gold.

As always we talk about the background of the movie, how he got involved, his major setbacks, how he overcome them, his sensations during the making of this movie, his thoughts, advice in overall. So, you newbie, indie filmmaker, come on! Scroll down and read this blow mind interview. 

EFF: Evan, let me thank you for letting me chat with you, really. Please, tell us where are you from and what motivated you to pursue a career in the film industry?

ES: I’m originally from Greece. I moved to the US when I was 17 for college. As a kid, I loved to write and to watch movies so becoming a writer for movies seemed like the natural choice. 

EFF: Evan you are a prolific writer, I mean you have a name inside the film industry, you have written movies such as Charlie Angels' remake, beauty and the beast and Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins just to mention a few of them. Evan, could you tell us a bit about your beginnings in the industry? How did you get into this industry?

ES: I studied Film Theory as an undergraduate which was very useful as it introduced me to a lot of older great films as well as foreign movies. Then I got a Masters Degree in Screenwriting which honestly nobody needs. Just read as many scripts as you can and you will learn the basics of film writing. I moved to Los Angeles in 1995 and got a job as an errand boy on TV movies. Slowly I met people who had connections to film companies, I got my scripts read and eventually I was hired to write for low budget companies. That was my start. 

EFF: Wow, Errand boy to standing writer in Hollywood, uncanny! You have made your debut as a director this year with the movie "THE UNHOLY". First, tell us why have you decided to immerse yourself into director work now?

ES: I didn’t really want to. But I was in love with James Herbert’s novel SHRINE and since nobody else was stepping up to make it I figured I better do it myself. 
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EFF: The love for the novel pushed you up to the director role. The movie is based on the book "SHRINE" by James Herbert and written by you. Tell us how the project came about? I mean, you read the book and decided to make it a feature film or somebody called you and entrusted you with this adaptation? Please tell us.

ES: I read SHRINE when it first was published. I was 13 and already deeply into movies. I felt the book was a marriage between The Exorcist and Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole — a great combination of scares and a view at media corruption and the hypocrisy of organized religion. As I ascended in the film business I asked companies to buy the book for me. Finally Screen Gems agreed. 

EFF: Let's talk about the writing process. As the prolific writer you are, tell us what techniques or tips you apply when writing a script, what is your methodology?

ES: When I adapt, I read the book and every scene that sticks in my mind forms the skeleton of the adaptation. I also focus the script around a protagonist so any scenes in the book where the protagonist is absent are not included in the adaptation. SHRINE was 360 pages, the script was 105 so a great deal of editing needed to be done. 

EFF: Would you tell us if you had any mind blocking while crafting this script?

ES: The biggest shift from the novel was creating a third act. In the book Alice is evil. I changed that as I wanted the audience to fear for her not be afraid of her and in the book she is assassinated by a psychotic fan — echoes of John Lennon’s shooting from the period when the book was written. I needed an ending that kept our heroes proactive instead of passive. 
The Unholy

EFF: Every movie, low budget, or big ones have their own setbacks that must be solved in order to get the best final product possible for the audience. Tell us what were those setbacks during the shooting phase  you faced off during the making of this movie and how did you selv them out? Maybe location, logistics, I don't know.

ES: Well….. the pandemic was by far the biggest setback. We shit down after four weeks of shooting, everyone went home for six months during the lockdown and we were fortunate enough to revive the film and return to our location for the remaining four weeks of filming. 

EFF: What was the hardest scene to shoot and why?

ES: By far the third act tent climax. We had 400 extras, visual effects, makeup effects and stunts along with needing to hit the narrative beats. Fortunately we shot it at the very beginning of production. Had we tried after the pandemic we would be unable to finish the movie because of the medical restrictions. 

EFF: How was your feedback with your D.P, I ask you this because the movie had a fantastic photo, was it a mutual working relationship or did you stand firmly on the way of the look of the movie?

ES: Craig Wrobleski, our DP, is a lighting genius. Before we ever began filming we watched a bunch of films whose visual style I felt were appropriate and used them as inspiration for our look. Especially Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body and Black Sunday. 
Evan Spiliotopoulos - Sam Raimi (Prod) - Making of The unholy
 Making of The unholy

EFF: Didn’t catch that references, Terrific movies. You had a pretty awesome cast, how did you feel guiding out the actors during your first experience as a director, do you have any anecdotes in this aspect?

ES: It took some getting used to directing these super experienced actors. My favorite bit was working on the confessional scene with the great William Sadler. I asked him to imagine that the voice of the witch speaking to him was like a chainsaw cutting through the confessional wall and with every word she spoke, that chainsaw was getting closer to his face. 

EFF: That is good guideline to expect a reaction in your actor. What kind of director do you consider yourself? I mean, directing actors, cinematography, your crew, etc.

ES: More of an overall manager. I hire the cast and production team, discuss my vision, then supervise. If they make choices that deviate from the vision I set them back on track. 

EFF: How long did take you to shoot the movie and what dates?

ES: With the interruption?  It took six weeks prep, four weeks shoot, six months lockdown, four weeks shoot, eight weeks post. We started January 2020 and finished February 2021. 

EFF: Do you have any anecdotes from the shooting phase?

ES: My favorite story is that we shot in the genuinely haunted Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. The ghost is friendly, the innkeeper’s daughter from 1780. But people leave her notes and letters. We were given permission to look at those notes and to our shock found someone back in 1995 had made a drawing of the fictional tree we created for our movie. No such tree existed on the inn grounds.
Evan Spiliotopoulos

EFF: Spooky tell, I supposed the shock in your faces. You mentioned before two Mario Bava’s films as inspiration for the visual aspect, but could be other ones in the bag?

ES: Yes, John Money’s City of the Dead and Argento’s Suspiria. 

EFF: The movie used vfx, obviously for being a supernatural movie, how did you handle that aspect, were you in charge of the aspect of the entity?

ES: I designed Mary Elenor’s look with our costume designer Jennifer Tremblay and make up designer Adrien Morot. She was brought to life by actress Marina Mazepa. She is 65% practical 35% CGI. The CGI part was handled by our vfx team. 

EFF: How did you plan your day-to-day shooting? How did you prepare the scenes? In regards to managing actors, setting up the lights, I don't know. Do you make storyboards?

ES: Detailed storyboards of the scare scenes. Everything else was simply discussions with the team heads — cinematography, production design, effects. We knew each day’s blocking going in so we ran through with the actors, then shot. 

EFF: What camera did you use and why?

ES: We shot with the Sony Venice. It has high resolution for the VFX, a large sensor to help give the film a sense of scale and the Rialto attachment enables us to put the camera where otherwise not possible (ie inside the tree, etc)

EFF: What advice based on your experience in this movie would you give to newbie filmmakers out there hesitating about making their first movie because of lack of money, equipment, etc?

ES: The hard truth is that if you are not being offered an adequate budget to shoot your vision, don’t do it. There were time when I was asked to make Shrine for under 5 million. I refused because it wouldn’t do the story Justice. Be true to your vision. 

EFF: What are your inspiration; directors or films?

ES: David Lean, John Carpenter, Bertolucci, Spielberg, Hitchcock. I have a very broad taste. Everything from horror to epic to art house. 
James Herbert's Shrine novel

EFF: As a director what does horror offer you?

ES: Hope. Oddly enough. Supernatural horror means spirits survive, if the devil exists that means God exists, etc. So even scary ghost stories are basically stories of survival after death. 

EFF: What new projects are you working on now, anything you can anticipate us now?

ES: Three projects that are cooking quickly but none I can really speak of at the moment. 

EFF: Understandable. If a producer gives you a chance to direct a horror film remake, what would it be and why?

ES: I would avoid remaking any movie I love. I far prefer adapting some great book that has not yet been filmed. There is a wonderful author named Robert R McCammon who was a super bestselling horror author in the ‘80s. I would love to take a stab at his books 

EFF: Maybe, we can expect something related to that, haha. How have you lived this pandemic? Personally, Professionally...  

ES: Here’s the funny thing. As a screenwriter I work from home so my normal life is kinda what we went through in lockdown. Nothing changed in my routine. I think writers were uniquely suited to survive the emotional toll of the pandemic. 

EFF: Would you like to say anything else?

ES: Thank you for having me on your blog!

EFF: Thanks to you a thousand times, really.

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