Meet the Filmmaker: John McSween, “The Lost Boy”

Q: Why did you become a filmmaker?
JM: When I was 12 years old, I watched the Siskel and Ebert review of Reservoir Dogs. They gave it 2 thumbs down. Both thought it was pointless exercise in style that was full of boring dialogue. But, from the few clips they showed and the movie’s summary, I had to see it. I convinced my mom to rent the R rated VHS at blockbuster and late that night I watched it twice in a row (with the only break the 5 minutes it took to rewind the tape). That was my coming to God moment. To my parents’ chagrin, watching movies became my primary pursuit and watching hours on end of video tapes became my favorite hobby. Up until that point I had wanted to be a painter. It took years before I gave my art supplies away. But, every time I sat in a crowded theater or sat in a crowded living room huddled around a 20 inch television to watch a new release, I became convinced that film had become the culmination of mankind’s artistic pursuits. All the great artists and all the great writers, had they been living in the 1990s, they would have been independent filmmakers.

Q: What are we going to see at the EFP? Has it screened elsewhere and what are your plans for it?
JM: The Lost Boy was created in 2014 with a grant from Stanley Film Festival and financial (and spiritual) help from Colorado Film School during my last year there. It was one of two CFS entries into the now defunct Stanley Film Festival. I wrote the screenplay with the incredible Benjamin Dunn under a tight schedule of about 3 weeks in order to apply for the grant. Benjamin and I worked as a writing team because we both focused our stories on friendships and familial relationships. When we started The Lost Boy, we had been already been talking about writing a script about a father and a son in which the father ends up being the villain even though he sees himself as the victim. 2014 was also the beginning of the current trend of all films being based on pre-existing intellectual property. Ben and I wanted to tap into that Zeitgeist and we wanted to tell a story about the family and relationship dynamics that turn good kids bad. Our solution was to create a modern day retelling of the Peter Pan origin story in the horror genre with a focus on the family dynamic that would lead Peter down a dark path.

We went into production about 6 weeks after the screenplay won the Stanley grant in order to finish the movie in time for the festival and in order to work with the marvelous Emeli Emanuelson, whose schedule was booked. Emeli was not only an amazing actor, but she ended up doing as much as anyone for this short to come into being. Ben and I started working with DP Luke Askelson at an early point in the creative process. We decided before the script was complete that the movie would be shot in black and white, which was great for the short’s aesthetic but became a non-starter for using the short as a concept trailer for a feature length film. Production designer Cameron Styles and Art Director Darren McCoy took the heavy lifting of creating costumes, props, and set decorations in just over a month on a very limited budget.

Our original shooting location fell through at the last minute, which almost ended up killing the project. Luckily, in the 11th hour, a family friend agreed to let the cast and crew of 40 people crash at his ranch for a weekend. The new location threw numerous wrenches and surprises at us for the whole shoot, but producer Alex Rhodes-Wilmer was able to make it work. Primary production lasted 3 days and 2 nights. Most of the movie was shot at night in the winter at 8,500 feet outside of Woodland Park. It was cold. The kids were up past their bedtimes and their costumes exposed their bare skin to below freezing temperatures. Many of the scenes needed to be re-thought out and re-orchestrated outside on set 2 AM while it was 20 degrees in order to accomodate the new location.

Editor Ellen Feldman, Darren McCoy, Alex, and I sat in the editing booth for weeks trying to sculpt all that raw footage into a movie, which we did lust in time for the festival. The movie had a short festival run premiering at The Stanley Film Festival and playing at a few smaller genre festivals including the Mile High Horror Fest and the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival. Benjamin and I worked on several different versions of the feature length version of the The Lost Boy. Unfortunately, we never found the money to take it to the next level. The Lost Boy ended up being the last narrative film I directed.

Q: What else are you working on?
JM: I work as an independent videographer / editor.

Q: Tell us one weird thing about you and/or your movies?
JM: There’s a Starbucks cup in every scene.

Q: Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?
JM: I own the domain www.johnmcsween.com, which will one day have information about me and my work. Until then, leave messages for me at the front desk of the Bug Theatre.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say about The Emerging Filmmakers Project?
JM: I showed my first movie at the EFP back in 2008. Patrick Sheridan made fun of me for the whole night. I thought that meant that we had become friends, he had different ideas. Over the years, I screened about a half dozen shorts at the EFP and Patrick made fun of me every time. Patrick became a friend, mentor, and co-creator. I sent him every script I ever wrote and he gave me honest notes. The greatest compliment I ever got from him was actually for the script of The Lost Boy. He told me that “It’s actually not that bad.” I asked him for actors for every movie I ever directed and he never failed to send me actors who were completely different than I had envisioned, but who ended up being perfect for the part. I even cast him a couple of times. I remember my last time working with him – me as director, Patrick as actor – at the Bug Theatre, during a shoot for a short film called The Fame Machine. I asked him to play a scene a certain way. He said that he would be happy to play it that way or that we could just cut to the chase and he could do it the right way. That way, he said, I wouldn’t have to look at so much footage during post. I let him do it his way, and he was right. He got film. He got acting. He will be missed.

The Lost Boy will screen during The Emerging Filmmakers Project on Thursday, October 17th at The Bug Theatre.