More Horror Exclusive: Interview with Indie Filmmaker Peter Dukes

Interviewed by Michael Juvinall,

Peter Dukes is an independent filmmaker on the rise. His company Dream Seekers Productions has produced 14 short, independent films to date, with more on the way. His films run the gamut of genres and include horror, fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, drama, and soon to be comedy. Peter is truly an exceptional artist with an eye for film that only a handful of indie filmmakers have today. Dream Seekers Productions pride themselves on bringing unique, challenging and innovative films to life when they might not have a life elsewhere. They hope to remind moviegoers how inspiring, thought-provoking and wonderful cinema can be.

His most recent short film, and my favorite of his, is a family driven horror tale called The Beast. It stars the award winning Bill Oberst Jr. as a father trying to help his son who has a terrible affliction. Another popular Peter Dukes short film is A Goblin’s Tale which stars Radio Disney star Tiffany Giardina. This dark fantasy tells the tale of a Goblin that comes out of a storybook and meets the young owner of the book. His films include all manner of creatures including goblins, werewolves, zombies, fairies, witches, ghosts and even some ordinary folk sprinkled in here and there.

Peter prides himself on making films that require the audience use their heads and think a little bit. He doesn’t believe in giving away all the answers because your own imagination is much scarier than anything which can be shown on screen. His films make you leave the theater thinking about what you just saw in the tradition of the greatest genre filmmakers such as Jacques Tourneur, Dario Argento, and John Carpenter. So far, Peter and his Dream Seekers Production team have only made short films but he is due to make his mark in the feature market in the near future. Read on as this incredibly versatile and creative writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, and director talks about why he does what he does, what influences him, and where he plans to go from here.

Michael Juvinall: I really loved your short film The Beast. I'm a huge werewolf fan and I've been a werewolf fan ever since I was a kid. I eat up anything that has to do with werewolves. I've watched your short film probably 7 or 8 times now and each time I watch it, I like it more and more. I'm also a big Bill Oberst Jr. fan; he's great in it too.

Peter Dukes: He's a super cool guy, I love Bill. I really wanted to make a film that was an ode to the horror films of yesterday. I wanted to make one that was a classic tale of subtle horror and more than in your face stuff. I was trying to think of what kind of monster I wanted to go for, I'm a big fan of horror and it's got this rich, long history. I love the werewolves too, and they're kind of like the unwanted stepchild, they've never gotten as much love or attention from the horror community itself. They get buried behind vampires and zombies so I figured why not, let's show them some love.

MJ: I completely agree. Stepping back a little bit here, you've been making films for almost 20 years now. What got you started making films and why?

PD: I'm like a lot of indie filmmakers. I've loved the idea of being able to craft your own story and get a reaction out of people. Ever since I was a kid, I've been making films of one sort or another. God knows what actually first got me into it. I can think back to the days, Raiders of the Lost Ark was something I saw when I was maybe five. A lot of those movies back then got me all excited about getting into the craft of storytelling. Things progressed from one thing to the next and I decided to go after a film degree in college, then after college I came out to Los Angeles, shortly after that we founded Dream Seekers.

MJ: Do you find yourself leaning more towards genre films or are you out there to make all types of films?

PD: We're definitely into all types of films. We have a certain taste in storytelling that tends to lean towards horror/fantasy/sci-fi; we have a soft spot for those and will continue to do them but we are up for trying all types of things. I'd love to do straight drama, a little bit of comedy and I'd love to do a western. As long as it's an interesting story and interesting concept and gives me the opportunity to try something different or take a new angle on a genre or sub-genre or even turn a genre on its head, I'm all for it. To be sure, we are always going to love the type of material that allows us creative flexibility and horror/sci-fi/fantasy will definitely give us the opportunity to do that and we take advantage of it.

MJ: In researching your background, I watched almost all of your short films that were available. I was pretty impressed with them.

PD: Thank you. You can see the progression through the years. Each film I do is a challenge, I always try to make films that help me highlight what my strengths and weaknesses are and we continue to work on that. Our films have progressively gotten better and better or at least more polished. You're a student of filmmaking until you die, I believe. We're still learning, growing and honing the craft, but we're proud of what we've done.

MJ: When you write your short films, where do you get your ideas from?

PD: I'm a big inspiration guy. At any given time I probably have six or eight scripts that are ready to go but more often than not I find that I'll be looking those scripts over and can't quite decide which one I can do realistically. I get inspired, crank out a script in a day or two and get the ball rolling really quickly. That happened with The Beast, A Goblin's Tale, and that happened with almost all my films. There are general themes of life, love, death, and time is a big one for me. Those things are always in my head that help fuel the creative fire.

MJ: Those are all pretty good themes and from what I've seen, they've lead to some great filmmaking from your part.

PD: Thank you, thank you. It's all in fun. We have fun doing it, we've gained a following, and we are starting to gain attention on a small scale. No doubt we've used it also as a stepping stone to build up a body of work that gains some attention and eventually helps us break through to the feature world. It would be great one day to get paid to do this and not have to do it on the side. In the meantime, the more work we put together, the higher quality we're able to shoot and we're able to get people like Bill Oberst Jr. and terrific DP's and other great cast members.

MJ: It's nice to have good people you trust behind you. It's nice that you have that.

PD: For sure, and most of the time, the people I've worked with are happy to come back. I'm about to go into production on a new film of ours. It's the first film that I've ever done that I was able to secure outside investors for. Hopefully that will be a new change for us. I've handled things out of pocket for years, it's quite a relief to have some other funds coming in, it gives us a little more breathing room and spreads things out a little bit, We can shoot for more than just a day or two. It all comes from putting together the 14 films we've done.

MJ: Are you a fan of horror films yourself?

PD: Absolutely. I'm a big fan of horror, we all have our own cup of tea, I guess. I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of torture porn, I can respect them, and they have an audience. I can certainly respect the value of them, but it's not for me. I tend to lean more towards the subtle, atmospheric films like Let the Right One In, that is more my taste in horror. Most of my horror inspiration comes from literature; I'm a book reading junkie. Guys like H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Henry James, I could go on and on, some of the masters of horror from back in the day. It blows your mind once you read some of this stuff; it absolutely is brimming with creativity.

MJ: All those authors you mentioned are some of my favorites as well. I feel that a lot of kids and young filmmakers these days haven't really touched on the classics yet. There's all this inspiration that's waiting to be read and most of them haven't done it yet.

PD: Even if today's filmmakers reach back to some of these older pieces of literature, they're putting today's trends into it and I don't think it works that well. I'd love to see The Haunting of Hill House done as it was written; I think it would be stupendous. Today's horror community has the films for today and that's fine but I would like to give them a little dose of something different that harkens back to where horror was born and what its capabilities really are.

MJ: Again, I agree with you completely.

PD: I'm not always about being extra subtle. I might not be into the torture porn thing but certain kinds of heightened reality or exaggerated gore sometimes works for me. I'm a big fan of Dario Argento and that kind of ultra-stylized creepy stuff. I think horror can take on many different faces and can do so successfully. I think we’re at a place right now where were kind of waiting for the next big thing to hit. Right now we're kind of in the zombie phase and vampire thing still and the pseudo-documentary thing is still pretty big. I'm very curious to see what the next big thing is going to be.

MJ: Going back to The Beast again, that's an old school style horror film. It relies more on atmosphere and tension rather than blood and guts. It has a great story and great actors. Your influences when making that film, I'm assuming are more of what you were just speaking about, the old-school type of horror?

PD: Yeah, it was as close to my vision as I could get. Obviously, if I'd had more time to shoot it there are some other things I would've toyed with. We shot that in one night with $700 bucks, which is insane. It's what we had so we went with it, but the idea was to keep it subtle. Just give hints to the audience and let them fill in the gaps on their own. It's not so much straight horror, it's really a family drama with some horrific details sprinkled on top for lack of a better description. More so than being a werewolf movie, it turned out to be more of a father/son movie that just happened to have a werewolf in it. It's something I wanted to put out there and see what people thought about it.

I'm glad I got Bill (Oberst), he's such a versatile actor and he's known as this creepy, dark, kind of character. I was happy to give him a chance to try something different, to play a complicated human being and a father facing a tough situation. He wasn't playing a ruthless, psychotic kind of killer, he's playing a regular guy and I loved seeing him delve into that. I think he did a great job. Wherever he goes in his career, I hope he continues to get chances to play different kinds of roles like that, because he really is terrific in those horrific roles but I think he can do so much more.

MJ: Yes, I hope so too. Who did the creature effects for the werewolf in the film?

PD: What little there are. I brought in a makeup artist to do the extreme close-ups just to do some prosthetics. I knew we wouldn't have much money and I didn't want to show much. Even if we'd had a lot of money and more time to do a more complicated outfit for the werewolf, I still would not have wanted to see him very much. I wanted to keep it very brief, almost eye to eye. We ended up using a little bit more of that in the film then I had originally intended, regardless, I wanted to keep using the shadows and make the audience use their imagination more than having this werewolf pop up. We did end up seeing a little bit of his face, a makeup artist came in and helped me with that. For the wide shots, God help me, I just used an old Halloween mask (laughing). It looked fine, some people get a little picky with it but it did the trick. I think for the kind of monster I was looking to portray, it was very appropriate. It was never going to be a huge, slimy, completely menacing creature. It was basically just a Halloween mask for the wides and for close ups, just a couple of small prosthetics, not even a full facial.

MJ: You could never tell that it was a Halloween mask. That's one of the things I love so much about the film because you don't show the full werewolf, you only see a head in shadows and a close up of the eyes and nose. Those are the kind of movies that I really enjoy, the ones that leave a little bit more up to your imagination.

PD: Nothing will ever be scarier than our own imaginations; we all have demons so to speak that are part of us, if you tap into that. Jaws certainly isn't the first film to take advantage of that by any means but it's certainly one of the most famous. By not seeing the shark, it's scarier; it's all in our head. There are films that did it before, I can't remember, I think it was called Cat People, an old black & white film that really took advantage of that. You rarely ever saw the actual creature but there were a lot of deep shadows and sounds, you're feeding off the fear that you see in these characters faces. They're walking through the unknown, things like that are really scary. I don't want to know all the details.

One of the things that drives me crazy when I see remakes is that I don't want to know per say about Michael Myers childhood or the man under the mask too much, I don't need to know all those details, it demystifies it for me. I don't need to know his whole psychological upbringing, give me the bare minimal and my mind will fill in the rest far better than any attempt at a backstory. Those are certainly lessons that I try to do with my films, sometimes more successfully more than others, but it certainly something I try to put in all my scripts.

MJ: Do you have any plans on making The Beast or any of your other shorts into feature films?

PD: We've been putting these films together for a long time, only in the last year or two have we been getting more attention. We've had people asking us for interviews and getting out and reviewed so we're still putting our pieces in place. Would I? Sure. I've had a lot of people ask me about A Goblin's Tale, The Beast and a couple of the other ones. I certainly think the potential is there. It's a matter of completing a script that's worthy of the short.

MJ: A Goblin's Tale is probably my second favorite short of yours next to The Beast and I would love to see both of those turned into feature films.

PD: Those two tend to have the most potential in terms of expanding it into something more. I think both of them have the potential to do it. A Goblin's Tale is a darker fantasy. That was my ode to the darker fantasy films of the 80's like Labyrinth, Legend, Secret of NIMH, and The Dark Crystal. I don't know if they had a little more edge or what, but they were a little bit different back then and this was my ode to them. I certainly would be open to it and it's something I've been mulling over for a few months so we'll see what happens.

MJ: Lanrete also, I'd love to see the story of what's behind that ski mask and what his story is.

PD: I like to force the audience to fill in the holes themselves, sometimes too much. That was my spin on the zombie movie and people would be like zombie movie? They had no idea it was a zombie movie. They still liked it, but didn't get zombie at all. He never calls himself a zombie, but it's my take on the zombie film.

MJ: Referring to your financing has it been hard for you to finance the small, independent films?

PD: Well, the film I'm doing now is the first one that I've ever attempted to have someone else pay for, so I can't speak too much to that in terms of how it's changed in years past, I've just paid for it myself. So yes, that has been difficult. In terms of going out for this film, getting financing is hard period. Getting financing for independent films under a millions dollars is even tougher, getting financing for a short film is damn near impossible. There's no return on investment, you're basically just asking for money. You have to be persistent, you have to know where to look, how to approach people and offer things that are worth-while to them. It was a process that was probably about two months long in terms of me putting out the feelers and approaching people. It's certainly very tedious; you're going to get a lot of turn downs. You just have to find a way to make it happen.

MJ: If you had a dream project what do you think it would be?

PD: Oooooh, I was not expecting that one. I just got used to doing interviews, podcasts, or radio shows. You kind of get used to the same questions, I have not been asked that one before, and it’s a tough one. First and foremost, it would be great to do a feature. If it was a dream project, I would have to say an original genre script. If I were to get something like a low budget version of Let the Right One In or something like that. Even something super low budget as a starter film. Do you know Duel, Spielberg's early TV movie?

MJ: Oh yeah.

PD: Something like that, that really challenges you to maximize the material that's been given to you. Duel is one of the best examples I could ever think of, a very simple concept, shot in a short amount of days, all daylight exteriors, it's an amazing film. That's something I would like to take on someday, some kind of original piece of material that really surprises people when they see what the concept is and see what you could do with it.

MJ: That sounds awesome and hopefully you'll get the chance. I know you kind of touched on it before but what are you working on now and what's coming up for you?

PD: Well, I'm shooting a quirky, horror short film called The Naughty Little Reaper. It's about the grim reapers daughter. She's kind of feisty and independent, who really doesn't want to be a reaper but she is forced to take over her father's duties for one day and of course chaos ensues. It's this crazy horror film; it's got a lot of comedy in it. I like to challenge myself; I haven't really tackled comedy before, so it's got a lot of crazy elements like that in there. It's relatively light hearted; it's something that's all in fun. We've got a fantastic cast and great crew.

After that we've got a gloomy psychological horror film called Caged, that's like The X-Files or Tales from the Crypt. It's about a mentally disturbed man who believes that a killer lives inside of him. We are approaching really recognizable name talent, I really wanted to make that my "We have arrived" film. We've had some surprisingly well-known actors read for the lead, whether or not they attach themselves is beside the point. It's a super small film, but just the fact they're willing to read this material for a film this small is a success in and of itself. We've had a feature script that's been optioned, it's come out of option since then but we've been kicking that around. It's a feature version of Unreachable. The time has to come here soon where I need to avoid the temptation of continually shooting and creating new stories and put those on the shelf for a while and really focus on making a feature. That might be the step I take after this one, we will just have to see.

MJ: I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me. I watched almost all of your short films through your website and I really think you're an amazing filmmaker and I know we will be seeing feature films from you and Dream Seekers very soon.

PD: Thank you very much and taking the time to talk with me. It's a small horror community and I know a lot of the same people that you know, I've seen your name kicked around and this has been a ball for me and I would love to talk to you again down the road.

MJ: Thank you, I could talk to you for hours for sure.

Watch Peter Dukes’ short horror film The Beast right here,

Watch Peter Dukes’ short dark fantasy film A Goblin’s Tale right here,

For more information on Peter Dukes, you can visit hisIMDBpage, you can also visit his Dream Seekers Productions official websiteto watch all of his short films or “Like” Dream Seekers Productions official Facebook page.

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