Q&A: Vincent D’Onofrio On How He Came to Direct a ‘Horror Musical’

Vincent D'Onofrio directing "Don't Go in the Woods" (Photo: Tribeca Films)

What’s Vincent D’Onofrio been up to since “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” ended its run last year?

Well, among other things, he directed a movie based on an idea he had while driving from a home he owns in the woods of upstate New York to Manhattan. What was the idea? A “horror-slasher-musical” featuring a group of kids on a camping retreat in — where else? — the woods.

And thus was born “Don’t Go in the Woods,” a small-budget movie (costing about $100,000, he estimates) filmed in 12 days with non-actors, including several cast members — young women — he recruited for the movie who worked at a coffee shop in his Manhattan neighborhood.

As he admits, the resulting work is purposely unsettling due to the odd, seemingly incompatible ingredients that went into making it: Amateur actors (some local New York City musicians, some not) singing original rock ballads composed by a friend (Sam Bisbee), and then, often right when they finish singing, well — not to give too much away — calamities befall at least some of them.

D’Onofrio, 52, talked to us about the movie the other day in a phone interview a few hours after we’d finished watching it. So we asked him to explain this thing to us. Here’s what he had to say:

XfinityTV: How’d this project come to be? It was just an idea that I had. My family – we have a house in the woods upstate and it was in between projects and I was driving back to the city from upstate and talking to my wife and saying, ‘What could I do right now? Like, if I wanted to make a movie, what kind of movie could I make?’ She said, ‘Well, you have a friend who’s a singer songwriter [Sam Bisbee]. You have a friend who’s a writer [Joe Vinciguerra]’ – Joe’s a screenwriting professor at NYU and a very good screenwriter – and literally the next thing that came out of my mouth was – and I swear I said this – ‘Why don’t I make a slasher musical using non-actors where everybody sings and everybody dies?’ So the next day, I pitched it to my buddies and two months later we were shooting. The idea was to [create] a kind of slasher b-film structure and put really good pop music on it and to shoot it for as few days as possible so we could keep the budget down. We ended up shooting it in 12 days.

Watch Vincent D’Onofrio talk about “Don’t Go in the Woods” right here:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/movies/Don-t-Go-in-the-Woods-/217082/2168681936/Don-t-Go-In-The-Woods-Extra/embed 580 476]

How else did you economize? The idea was to not use a casting director, that I would find the actors. Like, I used a couple of the girls that worked in the coffee shop around from my house and some of my nephew’s friends who were in a band called the Dirty Dirty. And we just invited people over and they would have to sing some of Sam’s songs. If they could sing really, really well, they would get the part. There was no acting required. These kids were extremely talented.

What do you think of the finished product? What’s your opinion of it? I think it’s exactly what we wanted it to be. I think it’s this kind of absurd thing where, like every slasher horror film, you have to take a leap of faith with it and it’s not meant to be deep, it’s meant for pure entertainment. It has a very strange tone because of all the flat acting in it and that’s contrasted with all this great music and so that the contrast of that creates a very odd tone. And on top of that, the lead in it, Matt [Sbeglia], is a very cerebral-type character and that creates an odd tone. So the movie has a very odd feeling and you’re not quite sure what you’re watching or why you’re even watching it, at times.

When you’re making a movie like this, who do you envision will be its audience? Well, I made it for young people because it’s their type of music. Before Tribeca Film [the entity that stages the annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York] got involved in it, I took it around and showed it at universities, so I was able to show it to 200, 300 or 400 students sometimes in one go and they would just go nuts over it, screaming at the screen and, in the Q&A’s afterward, saying, ‘God, I wish this person died sooner!’ I mean, that’s what it’s for, that’s exactly what it was made for!

When will we next see you on televison? Well, hopefully it will be in ‘Blue Tilt’, this project with Ethan Hawke [a proposed cop show in which the two would co-star]. Ethan and I have to finish the script, but when we finish, we’ll decide when we’re going to shoot the pilot.

Well, Vincent, here’s an opportunity to pitch “Don’t Go in the Woods” to America. Tell us why we should check out your film. I just think if you like the slasher genre and you like really good rock ‘n’ roll ballads, you’re gonna like this movie!

Watch the trailer for “Don’t Go in the Woods”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/movies/Don-t-Go-in-the-Woods-/217082/2168680763/Don-t-Go-In-The-Woods-Trailer/embed 580 476]
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