Interview

Interview

Producer Peter Block on 'Frozen', 'The Ward' & More

One look at Peter Block's resume and any horror fans' eyes would light up with horrific glee: Saw, The Descent, May, High Tension, House of 1000 Corpses, Cabin Fever. He's the man responsible for bringing these films to us, and with his new company A Bigger Boat (don't get the reference? You don't belong here) he's produced one of the most anticipated genre films of the year, Adam Green's (Hatchet) Frozen. Peter took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk producing and coping with frigid temps on the set of Frozen with a warm bowl of soup. Hit the jump for our interview, and catch Frozen in theaters Feb 5th 2010.

FEARnet: How did you get involved in producing and acquiring horror films?

Peter Block: That's a long story! (laughs) When I was a kid I was the kid reading the Stephen King books and in the 6th grade I was building monster kits. That was just what I loved and I never thought that would lead anywhere but I ended up working in the motion picture business.

An opportunity came to us at Lionsgate where nobody was really doing R-Rated horror stuff, I was doing a lot of it on video picking up things like Cronos from Guillermo Del Toro and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson and great little films like May. But there was nobody really doing it theatrical.

Truly it was an opportunity with House of 1000 Corpses where we had the chance to pick up a theatrical film which had built in publicity for it, two studios had turned it down saying it was too violent [and] too scary for them, which we just looked at as great publicity. I was able to convince Lionsgate that this was our opportunity to market something like an art house film that really isn't an art house film. We did that one and then we went right into Cabin Fever where we basically said for a minimal amount of advertising to get us out on a national level, could we do a wide release kind of business and we were able to do that and we were off and running at that point.

So for me, it's always been what I was doing. When you look back on some of my favorite films on the video side and even the TV side, small limited theatrical side, it all kinda fits into special little things that other people wouldn't do like The Descent, Fido and Hard Candy. Things that for me, they appeal because they touched a nerve personally and it made sense for the company as a result.

How did your involvement with FEARnet originate?

It was a natural progression. When Lionsgate was looking to do something with Comcast and start FEARnet it was really my cup of tea, it was something I championed internally because I thought it was a great opportunity. It was one of those things where there was this fellow at Lionsgate years ago, John Hegeman and we used to sit around and talk about the idea of a portal for horror fans and he left the company but the idea stuck with me for a long time and when we got the opportunity to do it with Comcast and Sony. It made great sense to expand on the brand that Lionsgate had started and truthfully Sony was the #2 player in that game and the stuff that Clint Culpepper has been doing over at Screen Gems has been phenomenal over the last decade. I kinda feel between the two of us and Dimension, we were really cornering the market on the best in the horror world.

What sold you on producing Frozen?

It was a hard decision to make because it would have been the first production for my new company A Bigger Boat. I wanted to do something where two things could be accomplished. #1, I could provide something to the horror community which had been so supportive of me and #2, I could do something on a budget whereby we could sell it to foreign distributors whereby everyone would be happy with the results they got.

So, a low budget film, was obviously one of the things we were looking for and I wanted a filmmaker who could deliver that. Not just one who said he could but one who had shown in the past. Adam Green came through my office, we had talked about a number of projects in the past, and then Patrick Melton, one of the writers of the Saw franchise said, 'Hey have you read Adam's new script? It's called Frozen', and I hadn't and he slipped it to me and literally within a week, I was committing to Adam that we were going to make it.

This was back, October of '08 and we started shooting in Feb of '09.  We cast the first woman we saw, Emma Bell, she was fantastic. She lights up the screen, steals the movie, she's absolutely wonderful. And then we were really blessed when Kevin Zegers came in and said he was interested in doing the movie and would we take a look at his best friend Sean Ashmore for the other role, and we switched the roles on them, to get them to play a bit against type, and it worked out great. They have such chemistry between them being best friends and for us it was an opportunity to kind of cut down on the amount of rehearsal time.

You make it sound so easy.

(laughs) It certainly wasn't an easy shoot, one of the hardest shoots we ever had, it was 24 days on a mountain, at night in sub zero temps, and it only happens when you have a director and a cast that are troopers, and everyone rallied around Adam. He brought his core group with him and we were able to shorthand it. When you have 8 degrees and blizzard conditions you don't have a lot of room for lackadaisical approaches to things. And when we were shooting every bit of cold you see is real.

This type of support and dedication sounds pretty atypical to the Hollywood that everyone thinks they know.

I think that we're a different kind of group. Myself and Tim Williams who was with me every step of the way, are very hands on producers. I stood next to Adam next to the camera for every shot as did Corey Neal and we said we're gonna get this in a couple of takes, we're gonna make our days, and we're gonna get everyone soup as soon as  possible. When the crew sees you standing out there in freezing weather and blizzard conditions, not complaining, and you're willing to ride the ski lift to show them that it's safe they kind of take their cues from you and nobody really complained. Everyone was fantastic on the shoot, I'd work with them all again in a heartbeat. Our worst day weather-wise was on tech scout one day when we got 33 inches in 4 hours and once that was set as out standard for, 'It can't get any worse than this', it made everything else go pretty easily.

Did you have any reservations at all during the shoot?

Yeah, every time I had to get on a snowmobile or Snow Cat! It's pretty funny I took one of the major spills out of the Snow Cat day 4 and you realize the hazards, but when you get to the point at the end of the day and you've shot all night and half of your crew whips out their snowboards and skis and slides down the hill and everyone kinda has that comradely that you hope for at the end of a shoot that you don't always get during every moment of the shoot you realize that you have something pretty special. And everyone kinda realized when we saw what the actors were bringing to it we had the chance for something special. I mean, those actors were up there all night on the ski lift, if they wanted to come down, we had to run them all the way around the lift. Which was about a 45-50 minute cycle. They couldn't come down, we could rope them up some soup and hand warmers and they were layered appropriately but when they're up there and the wind is howling and the cameras shaking you really don't have cause for complaining. You're really just admiring the work they are doing and I know it sounds too good to be true, but it was one of those awful, experiences that I hope never to repeat in some ways, but I hope to repeat every time.

What was the most amount of time they'd spend on the lift?

(laughs) Well, let's see, there were times when they were up there for the full 6 hours between when we'd start and by the time we'd get to lunch. It was in the middle of the night and they were really up there for that period. We rigged a camera harness to go on the chair in front of it and so we were able to shoot the chairs going up so we have their time on the lift filming them up, but then once we got them up we had everything filming on cranes and we were able to do everything by remote control on the ground. But they were sitting up there, literally 50 feet in the air for the entire time.

It sounds as if you tricked them into filming a documentary.

(laughs) As we were shooting the picture, people were coming forth with reports about people who actually got left on a ski lift. Everyone was sending in these articles they were finding on the internet which kinda made it feel more like a true story.

How are things going with John Carpenter's The Ward?

It's going great; John has been a very different kind of director to work with. He's just used to doing things his own way, so the best thing I can do as a producer is just be around to help and stay out of the way. But now that we've gotten into editing it's been a very collaborative process. I only have greater respect after working with him. It's incredible to get to say I'm working with John Carpenter, it's even more incredible that I can say it's been a good experience. Better than I could have imagined. We look to finish post in the next couple of months.

And you recently acquired The Disappearance of Alice Creed for Anchor 
Bay?

Yes that's my first foray back into acquisitions business. It was a film I saw in Toronto and I just kept thinking, 'If I worked at LGF I would absolutely buy this movie, it's just too good'. The fact that we were able to get it, it's just a blessing. It's a fantastic cat and mouse thriller. Gemma Arterton is incredible you're gonna see her in Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans and then you're gonna wanna see her in Alice Creed, she's just great. She carries that movie from start to finish. It's about a botched kidnapping, everyone becomes the victim and adversary. It's really terrific.

Is it going straight to DVD?

No, we're gonna go theatrical.

Are you interested in doing more acquisitions like this in addition to producing?

When the opportunity arises I will want to do that. I'm heading to Sundance looking for one or two more that might fill out the year. But I'm only gonna do it when a film moves me, it's gotta be something that fits. I'm really lucky that I've had the opportunity to be involved with some great films like Hard Candy, Irreversible, Open Water, The Descent and High Tension. I wanna launch new filmmakers, and find films that are hard to find that people will see and feel satisfied. And at the end of the day it's not about how much money we can make with these pictures it's about when we give people the DVD a year after it's released and we tell them we were involved and they say 'I heard about this, I've heard it's a great film', or 'I've seen it and I know it's a great film', that's when we know we have something special.

I think all genre fans thank you for using your powers for good.

(laughs) It's been good to me, and I'm lucky it's given me a soapbox to do some really exciting  work, I think my parents would like it if I did a few more Girl w The Pearl Earrings but as far as I'm concerned I've got 4 weeks until I start shooting Saw VII and I'm anxious as hell.

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