top of page

"Creatively, opportunities are endless when using characters that you struggle to identify with"

An interview with JESSE DORIAN | AS SCARED AS YOU | VMA January 2023


From screenwriting to acting, editing, film directing, songwriting, composing, and even running his own e-commerce business and apparel brand, Jesse Dorian is a true force to be reckoned with.


This brilliant writer's incredible talent has been recognized and celebrated by the industry, as he has recently won four prestigious VMA awards with the project "As Scared As You", the 3rd out of 4 screenplays in a Quadrilogy of unrelated stories. And now, he's here to talk about his screenplay that is bound to leave you on the edge of your seat.


This captivating and chilling tale is a true testament to his creativity and unique vision, and we cannot wait to dive deeper into his process and the inspiration behind it.

 

First of all, welcome Jesse, and congratulations on your win here at the VMAs with your project!

Thank you. It’s all been such a great experience.

Before we begin, would you like to give our audience a brief introduction of yourself?

Sure. Um, well… as of this interview, I’m 36 years old. And I’ve never been married. I also don’t have any kids, with the exception of my two rescue cats, Fred and Caramels.


I’m a helplessly frantic individual that never gets bored because there’s never enough time to accomplish all of the tasks that I genuinely want to accomplish. Which also coincides with the sad reality that I never really get what I want on a long-term scale — but I feel like there have been a few times when I’ve come close to getting exactly what I want.


I’m always trying to do too much. Honestly, I’m just a towering mess of a person but thanks to years of psychotherapy… I’m either — getting better at stabilizing myself, and confronting my insecurities as an adult head-on, to where it’s making me an overall better person — or… I’m just getting better at hiding internally what an emotional dumpster fire I really am? I’m sure it’s a little of both — I can’t really tell yet.


(Laughs) I really hope this was a brief enough intro — but knowing me, it was overkill.


I stayed introverted and isolated for quite some time; for years. This also made it a lot easier for me creatively. And it made it a lot easier for me to comfortably stay in the mindset of exploring the various narrative possibilities while amplifying graphic violence in my stories.

You wrote that "As Scared As You" is the third of 4 scripts in a Quadrilogy of unrelated stories that you had originally outlined, all during a manic episode that you later discovered was Bipolar I. Would you like to tell us more about what were the elements of that episode through which you were able to create unique characters that worked perfectly with each other?

Okay, so way back in September 2012, I had a nervous breakdown — which is putting it mildly. I was desperately trying to finish post-production on a feature film that I had written, directed, and starred in the year before. Amongst other things, I wasn’t sleeping, and I was drinking very heavily at the time. I wasn’t diagnosed with Bipolar I until early 2014 — so this kind of removal I had from basic societal functionality went on for a long time, and it was the fucking single-worst period of my life, for obvious reasons.


But if there’s one silver lining that can potentially come from being a heavy substance abuser that also happens to be in a state of mania… your creativity can sometimes become relentless, although exhausting. Your ideas seem infinite; because they are.


As a screenwriter, I was certainly on a roll when I became manic. Within a span of about five months — I finished the entire 3rd Act of a screenplay that I had started prior to my manic episode called, “Donavan Emery, The Android & Himself,” followed by “SVEN”,”As Scared As You”, and “The Four Of Us Are Dying.”


These are just the FOUR screenplays that I would eventually go on to complete within those five months. But there were numerous other screenplays that I had started writing, including a satirical comedic drama — and semi-memoir — called “Both Sides Of The Story,” that I had written maybe 80 to 90 pages of before throwing it on the back burner, along with just about everything else.


One of the results of being manic is — you genuinely view everything as ‘grandiose.’ And it’s, like, sure, it makes perfect sense to you — but it scares the hell out of everyone else. Mostly because the people who think they know you best have never seen you behave like this before. And also because they’re all uninformed about the symptoms of a manic episode, and bipolar disorder.


The people around you will jump to the conclusion that because you’ve become overwhelmingly hyperactive, it must mean that there’s a chance that you’re going to become violent — even though that’s almost never the case.


So, of course, while — being manic in real life scared off most of the people in my personal life at the time, I was actually still quite restrained in the real world.


Overall, my manic energy was mostly reserved for behaving erratically, and sometimes inappropriately, on social media — which, to this day — I still see people doing exactly what I was doing back then, all the time on social media. To where I think, “Oh, they must be losing their shit too.” Either that, or they’re just running for Congress.


And so, anyway… I had become quite introverted — and I stayed introverted and isolated for quite some time; for years. This also made it a lot easier for me creatively. And it made it a lot easier for me to comfortably stay in the mindset of exploring the various narrative possibilities while amplifying graphic violence in my stories.

You made it clear that you deliberately avoided including heroes in this script, but characters who are anything but reliable. A fine and unconventional stylistic choice that nevertheless intrigues the reader, leading them to discover how interesting their own dark side is. Can you elaborate more on the reasons for this choice?

(Laughs) Okay, I’m going to be honest. I didn’t deliberately ‘intend’ to avoid including heroes in this script. What happened was… I wrote this script without a real agenda — except to maybe write something that was a little more ‘batshit’ than anything else I had written before.


Which, (Laughs) I guess is saying something? I don’t know.


The script, “SVEN" that I had finished writing right before this was at maybe about a 9…? But “As Scared As You” gets cranked up to a hard 11… maybe even a 12, I think — on the Batshit Crazy scale. So, I still haven’t really seen anything quite like it before.


But when it was all finished, I eventually realized, “Oh. There aren’t really any lovable characters in this story. In fact, they’re all kind of ridiculous. And mostly evil. Uh… (Laughs) but that’s okay. Because the story’s kinda fun. And there are more than enough solid twists and genuine surprises to keep the audience invested.”



How did you develop the character of Brad, and what do you want to convey about him through his actions and interactions with other characters?

“As Scared As You” was the first time that I attempted building a story in a feature screenplay — around a main character that, I guess conventional movies would tell you that you’re supposed to hate. As in, “This character is irredeemable. He can’t be saved. Attempting to get the audience to see something else in this character will just send the wrong message, and will most certainly make everyone believe that I am condoning sexual assault.”


Which, I can assure you, I’m not. Oh boy, (Laughs) am I not condoning that. And I think it’s pretty obvious that I don’t condone it — with the way it all plays out in the end [of “As Scared As You”].


And again — I didn’t have anything particularly specific that I wanted to convey with Brad. He was a character I was only learning about while I was writing him.


And as thoroughly disturbing as Brad’s actions are, I think it’s safe to say that some of the other characters that he’s forced to interact with are capable of much worse.


Why did you choose to have Brad physically and sexually assault a woman in Act One, and what significance does it hold for the rest of the story?

The reason I chose to have Brad physically and sexually assault a woman in Act One is because I wanted the audience to know that, well… there are real people like Brad, unfortunately. Someone who — deep down, isn’t what he’s selling you on the surface.


I also felt it was important that the audience know from the very beginning — exactly what kind of movie they’re getting themselves into.


I decided to set the tone by installing a central character who is polite, articulate, mild-mannered… maybe even somewhat clever, and — in a general sense — physically attractive. But that’s who — like I said — Brad is on a surface level. The real Brad is capable of horrible, socially unapologetic atrocities.


What significance does it hold for the rest of the story? It challenges the audience to go against their impulsive judgment to stubbornly view a person as ‘irredeemable.’


It challenges the audience to consider that maybe some people are pathetic for a good reason. And the possibility that they might eventually feel bad for a deeply troubled, yet privileged philanthropist of sorts; someone who we come to find out has done a lot of real good for people.


We also learn much later in the story that this guy is supposedly a sincere believer in God, while at the same time… he has a blatant fetish for physically and sexually assaulting women.


And for the record, I hate guys like Brad. I really do. I pretty much hate everything about him.


Because he’s using his good deeds as a way of excusing his bad ones. And how many people are out there, that are just like Brad? And the fact that Brad is so arrogant to think — if even so lazily — that there is a God, and that this ‘God’ would have any sort of practical judgment over anything Brad says or does is what I eventually found makes this character so powerful; and different from other main characters.


And I think that Brad is so much more than just a horror movie antihero with a Christian edge that physically and sexually assaults women. He’s the quintessential toxic male — that’s never had to learn how to physically and sexually defend himself… until of course, the rest of the movie happens.


And so the irony is… despite Brad’s despicable actions, the violence, and his deeply misogynistic inflictions… there might actually be some hope for him to learn something in the end. But it’s only because a smart, and selectively compassionate woman comes to his rescue.


The bottom line is, even if Brad does learn a valuable lesson, he’s still a hopelessly weak individual. It makes for a worthy case that — even though I am a man, I don’t have very much respect for ‘men’ in general.



Brad and Alexis have in common that they want to be seen for who they really are, and what appear to be their 'weaknesses' are in fact virtues that seem to be crucial to the plot of the story. What was the purpose behind creating the dynamic between Brad and Alexis, and why did you choose to make Alexis blind?

Why did I choose to make Alexis ‘blind?’ (Laughs) Because why not.


Alexis is, without question, the story’s smartest character. She runs laps around every other character when it comes to applying logic, resourcefulness, misdirection, and comprehension. Her mental capacity is superior.


And it’s not simply because Alexis is ‘blind,’ and therefore her captors underestimate her. I personally think that all of these characters in “As Scared As You” are a lot smarter than most modern horror movie characters are in general.


As far as the undeniably electric chemistry, and the personal connection that Brad and Alexis share with each other… I think it just sorta goes without saying. They really don’t feel like they fit in with the rest of the world — nor would they feel like they fit in with any characters in their position from other movies, for that matter.


The dynamic between Brad and Alexis that is established so early in the story is important because it validates their motivation to work together from the moment they realize the extent of the danger they’re in; and while they try to outsmart their captors.


Also, it eliminates the agonizing film trope in which they have to learn to trust one another — if they want to make it out alive. With “As Scared As You,” I’m purposely avoiding that stupid trope, which a lot of other movies typically use to just waste time.


The whole thing is set in Felton, a quiet town made up of seemingly gentle people with good manners, but which turns out to have a disturbing level of carnage as its downside. What inspired you for the setting of the story?


Well, first off — there really is a Felton, California. And it’s up in the mountains not too far outside of Santa Cruz.


In between visiting an old friend who lived a few small towns north of Felton, I stopped there to have lunch at this sort of grille — or American bistro… they had sandwiches and a bar and I was, like, sitting at the bar, having a whiskey on the rocks or something and I had my laptop with me… and it was the town that I just so happened to be in — right when I started the first draft of “As Scared As You,” which was about 10 years ago.


So, that’s pretty much it. Sheer, random chance — Felton, California was the town I landed in. And I actually sorta thought that Felton seemed like a really nice, quaint community… perfect environment, and setting for a story featuring a character that potentially keeps two of her alleged immediate family members zombified and chained in her basement.


Linda Palmer's character has a dynamic of submission and domination with her son and husband, dressed as Dog and Clown, reduced to cannibalism as a result of incest and shame that Linda has obsessively tried to hide from the town. What was your creative process behind the relationship between these characters?


(Laughs) You know what’s funny? The original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is probably one of my all-time favorite movies. And with a question phrased like that — it would be fair to assume that “As Scared As You” is just another shitty Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off. But luckily, in context, the story is absolutely nothing like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Thankfully.


The entire dynamic and characterization of Linda and her family are mostly the results of me writing an entire movie without a very clear plan. The results are unexpected but somehow… it just all winds up making sense in the end.


And what’s actually kinda cool is — your interpretation is that there’s actual incest involved with Linda and her family — but to be honest, I never really saw it that way. I’ve always looked at it more, like, you can’t really trust anything that this ‘family’ is saying. And I feel like I at least somewhat set the tone with there being this lack of clarity over whether Stuart Phillips is Linda’s cousin or not. He says that he is. Linda says that he isn’t. And it’s sorta meant to be open-ended — at least on paper, it is.


Also, the whole scenario involving Linda’s ability to zombify people, including members of her own ‘family,’ is a somewhat obvious reference to what Jeffrey Dahmer used to try doing to his victims. Except, where Dahmer’s method failed… uh, Linda’s method ‘succeeds…?’ Or — at least that’s the more gentle way of putting it.


Blood, sex, violence, and unimaginable tortures seem to give your characters immense pleasure and satisfaction. It then becomes inevitable to wonder what the boundary is, beyond which our happiness does not turn into a nightmare for someone else. What are your thoughts on this?


Okay, I don’t know if this will come as a surprise to anyone… but I really don’t share a whole lot of common interests with most of my characters — and I think that’s why I probably write them.


(Laughs) I’m just — I’m fascinated with them. And I typically like to explore what doesn’t really make sense to me. I’m a genuinely curious person, and so… creatively, I feel that the opportunities are endless when using characters that you struggle to identify with — because essentially, they’ll do anything.


So, writing about a bunch of — (Laughs) well, what appear to be civil individuals, who are almost generically depicted as ‘simple’ but are at heart, a bunch of fucked up masochists — with a hidden layer of intellect — is hardly boring.


Thank you for being with us today and delighting our audience with your vision! Is there anyone you would like to dedicate the last lines of this interview to?


My therapist.




 

Website - https://www.asscaredasyou.com/ Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/imitateinvertebrate/

1,121 views

Comentarios


VMA_LogoTOP.png

WHERE ONLY THE BEST

INDIE FILMMAKERS SHINE.

THAT PRESTIGIOUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

TRUSTED BY THOUSANDS OF FILMMAKERS AND SCREENWRITERS WORLDWIDE

bottom of page