McNaughton back to horror genre with “The Harvest”

Director John McNaughton

“The Harvest,” says director John McNaughton,
is the first horror story that has interested him in 25 years, “so it’s kind of cool to return to the genre.”  Its world premieres at is Oct. 19 at AMC River East at 6:30 p.m., with the principals present.

The next day, “The Harvest’s” McNaughton, producer Steven A. Jones, star Michael Shannon and writer Stephen Lancelotti, comprise a panel at the Chicago Film Summit & Expo at the Cultural Center. 

In advance of that, the Reel got to talk to McNaughton and Jones about the movie they’re very excited about. It stars Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton as parents of a sick son (Charlie Taha) who lives in a controlled environment until a youg girl (Natasha Calis) moves in next door and attempts to change his life.

THE REEL: John, what got you back into the horror genre after 15 years?

McNAUGHTON: The Gersh Agency, New York represents both the writer and me, and they sent the script to me about four or five years ago.  I put it aside until my agent urged me read it.  I could see it wasn’t a booga booga horror film, but had something deeper to say.  Stephen had quit his production job to write this movie. 

Two years ago my agent brought Stephen to Chicago so we’d have time to talk.  I worked with him and we developed a more complicated story.

Then I met an investor in Malibu where I was doing a play and he put the $8 million for the budget into an escrow account and we were off and running.

REEL: Was the movie set in New York?  Is that how you choose it as your location?

McNAUGHTON:  Not necessarily.  We went to New York strictly due to Michael’s schedule.  He was in a play there, so he shot with us in the mornings and he performed in the theatre at night.

Producer Steven A. JonesJONES: We shot 28 days starting in January, but had to wait for spring to finish shooting.  We went back in May, baseball weather, for a couple of days and returned to Chicago in June.

REEL: And you did your post in New York, also.

McNAUGHTON:  The state gives 30% cash back for post so Manhattan is thriving in that area.  When we went shopping for a recording studio, we saw construction — new rooms everywhere. Facilities were building big mixing rooms in theatres with big screens.

REEL:  Did you know Michael Shannon before, in Chicago?

JONES.  Yes, we’ve known him for 20 years. In spite of his success, Michael is still a regular guy.  He still rides the subway, plays in band in bars.  You can have a drink with him.  He’s smart.  He founded the Red Orchid Theatre here and continues to put on plays and stay grounded. 

REEL: You had a terrific cast, including Peter Fonda.

JONES: In fact, we couldn’t have had a better group to work with. The surprise, though, was the performances of the kids, Charlie Taha and Natasha Calis.  They gave Michael and Samantha a run for their money.  Charlie went onto Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

REEL:  You have a big star in Peter Fonda as the grandfather.

JONES.  Peter Fonda, the moral center in the movie, is a wonderful actor and a great guy.  You have someone like him on your set and it turns really happy.  He’s done everything, he’s fun and funny.  He says, ‘It doesn’t cost an extra penny to be nice.’  It was so pleasant to have him in the film.

Elephant Eye produced and is distributing “The Harvest.”