The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
Harker Jones: It’s so hard to choose a favorite! “Poltergeist” defined my childhood. “Texas Chain Saw” is visceral and relentless. “Paranormal Activity” stayed with me. And then Part 2 blew my face off. I generally think of Part 2 as the most I’ve ever been scared by a movie. I like that whole series. Well, not “Next of Kin,” but even Jason Blum disowned that, if I remember correctly, so we can all discount that one. The mythology is so subtle and so masterfully interwoven. “The Marked Ones” is blistering in its intensity and, again, if I remember correctly, they said that one was an offshoot, not part of the main mythology AND IT WAS TOTALLY PART OF THE MYTHOLOGY. Supernatural stories don’t generally freak me out, but PA really lingers. Found Footage tends to work for me in general. Usually it’s the slashers that get to me, I think because in real life, people actually kill people. That’s far scarier to me than a vampire or a ghost.
THR: You sent me two shorts, both of which are fantastic and compelling stuff. “Cole & Colette” really intrigued me, and you said you have a feature-length adaptation in the works?
HJ: I have expanded “Cole & Colette” into a feature script called “#bleach” that I’ve been working on with a story development editor (I’m not sure of his actual title, but it’s something fancy like that!). The short is a straight thriller, but the feature is more of a black comedy with thriller aspects. I use the short as the opener, kind of like “When a Stranger Calls,” setting the scene, and then flash back to show what led to that explosive experience and then move forward past it to show what the fallout from it is. I’m hopeful it will surprise people and also give them some laughs!
THR: “One-Hit Wonder” was described as a “Twilight Zone”-esque story, and it absolutely fits that bill. What was your inspiration for this one?
HJ: I was working with some friends to create some projects we could shoot, some of us being actors, others makeup artists, etc., and someone suggested a take on that HBO series “Taxicab Confessions” but “Taxicab Confessions in Space.” And I remember thinking, “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard,” but, hey, I’m a team player so as the writer, I was like, “I’ll see what I can do.” It obviously went in a very different direction and that whole collective with my friends fell apart, so nothing came of it aside from the fact that I wrote both “Cole & Colette” and “One-Hit Wonder” from that experience. The scripts took on lives of their own, having torn up the festival circuit, getting accepted into more than 60 fests combined and winning several awards!
THR: As a writer myself, I can absolutely understand the difficulties breaking into the industry. What has been the hardest part about trying to make a living as a screenwriter?
HJ: The hardest part, something I don’t think most of us think about—or KNOW about—is the networking. I’m an extrovert and I still don’t like networking! You have to go out there and meet people and sell yourself and your projects. It’s not just who you know, it’s meeting people who can help you, not so you can use them, but so you can create mutually beneficial relationships. It can be demoralizing whoring yourself but after a drink or two it gets easier!
THR: So your bio is just balls-to-the-wall insanity! I don’t think I’ve ever been as intrigued by a backstory as I was when learning about your work history. Tell the folks at home a little bit about how you’ve made your way from Michigan to LA and all of the stops in-between!
HJ: I guess my life has been pretty crazy! I grew up in Manchester, Michigan—well, outside Manchester, Michigan, at a lake on a dirt road. The town is so small it is actually a village and has no traffic light, not even a flashing four-way. It’s charming in how it hasn’t changed more than half a percent since I grew up there. After high school, I got a double-major in Telecommunications and Film and Written Communication and a minor in Literature from Eastern Michigan University. And after graduation, things weren’t happening, neither in career nor love, so I got the hell out of Dodge and got my ass to LA where I always knew, even as a single-digit-age child, I was supposed to be. As soon as I drove in, it felt familiar, like home. And things took off from there.
I got a part-time job as copy editor of “Genre” magazine, which was a low-rent “Out,” and two weeks later the associate editor walked off the job, so they created a managing editor’s position and promoted me into that. A year later, the magazine was falling apart so I got a copy editor’s job at Liberation Publications, which produced both “Out” and “The Advocate.” I think it was six months later, the managing editor of “Out” gave his notice and I got promoted into that position. I was there for seven years, which were fantastic. It was one of the best, most challenging and rewarding jobs I’ve had. I made lifelong friends and had adventures I never would have even dreamed about growing up at the lake.
My position as managing editor was eventually relocated to New York and I was very tempted to go with it, but, like I said, I always knew I was a SoCal boy, so I stayed in LA and that’s when I got into gay porn! I don’t even remember the ad I responded to. Maybe I was head-hunted? I don’t know, but I found myself editor in chief of “GayVN” magazine, which chronicles the business side of the gay porn industry. I had some good times, but there was so much responsibility and work, it was nowhere near as much fun as you would think, though there were lots of parties and sexy guys! And, hey, I got to look at porn all day!
I segued from that into working for Disney Publishing, which was a real 180! I was also writing theater reviews for a website and a friend connected me with another friend about a job that didn’t materialize, but we stayed in touch and he saw the theater reviews I posted on my social so one day he asked if I wanted to apply to be in the LA Drama Critics Circle. So I did and got accepted and now I see tons of theater around LA. I review some of the shows and assess them all for awards consideration because the LADCC has an annual awards show.
I don’t remember what sparked my ass to look into Mensa. It was totally a lark. I went to Plummer Park in West Hollywood to take the application test and it was so crazy I couldn’t even begin to explain it (though I probably signed a confidentiality agreement at the time!). I think overall it comes down not to what you know but how you think. Anyway, when I got the response in the mail I was thinking like college acceptance: Thick envelope means, You’re in! Thin envelope means, Thanks, but no. But Mensa doesn’t equal college. Their acceptance letter was essentially one sheet of paper. I was flabbergasted, and am still kind of baffled! I joined immediately before they realized there had been a mistake!
After college, when I was still trying to make things work in Ann Arbor, I endured a bout of unrequited love and I channeled all those emotions into a love story, a novel called “Until September.” I tinkered with it through the years then finally decided to pull the trigger and self-publish it a couple of years back. Waiting on publishing houses/agents to get back to me when 99.6% of their responses to everyone is “No” seemed like a waste of time. Since it launched, I’ve sold about 1,300 copies, and while I have a lot of friends, I don’t have that many! I’ve gotten fan letters, too, which blew me away. I never, not for a second, thought about getting letters from readers. It has been so rewarding to know that I’ve touched people enough that they sat down and reached out to me. When’s the last time you wrote to an author??
I didn’t intend to write screenplays when I moved to LA, but one day I was at the gym stewing about the state of the world and our society and I remember thinking, “I’m going to write a script about this!” And I did and it gets really positive feedback when I pitch it and I still think it’s the best script I’ve written. I have nine completed features now, comedies and horror. When I get emails from a fan of my book saying they’ll read anything I write next, I kind of chuckle. “Until September” is a fairly dark drama (I compare it to “Call Me By Your Name” and “Atonement”) so I think in response to those emails, “Well, I wrote a slasher movie…” The scripts are just so dramatically different from the book I think fans of “Until September” will be surprised!
Saying it all like that makes my life seem so colorful when really I feel like I’m just bumbling through like everyone else. I’ve been fortunate and I try to keep in mind just how far I’ve come, but that’s difficult when there’s still so much further I want to go.
THR: I’ve often found, in talking to people in the industry, that most people bounce between different crew jobs when working in the entertainment industry. Do you have any interest in working in other roles, like acting or directing?
HJ: Directing seems wildly overwhelming, though I also like the idea of having control over my vision, so should the stars align, I’d be open to that even if I’m not actively seeking out those opportunities. I’ve got my hands full with my scripts! I do, however, have a dream of being a bit-part character actor. Like the guy who warns the teens at the beginning of a slasher that they’re doomed, dooooomed, and then gets killed. Or the friend’s dad who slips the kids a joint and drives away. An IMDb list of credits like that would tickle me to no end. Related, I would love to be in some music videos. A friends-hanging-out video like Noah Cyrus’ “Stay Together” or just one of the barflies in Cyn’s “Drinks.” I’m a damn good lip syncer! My biggest music-video fantasy is being cast in Axwell & Ingrosso’s “Sun Is Shining,” so if you can retroactively make that happen, I’d be much obliged! And I don’t know if this really dovetails with film, but I think it would be cool AF to be a one-hit wonder. Just one song that breaks through the noise and resonates with people and then I totally go away—just in terms of recording, of course!
THR: One of the really interesting trends in recent horror is that queer horror is seemingly everywhere right now, and there’s even more focus from queer creators in telling the story about how horror has always had those elements within the genre. Were there any inspirations for you, in particular, from the history of queer horror?
HJ: I don’t think there’s been anything specifically from the annals of queer cinema that has inspired me, though queerness and “otherness” have always been part of horror. I think that’s why so many queers are horror fans. We understand being different, or at least being perceived as different. That said, not all of my projects are queer. Two have zero queer content, though the rest have some, whether it’s the lead character(s), supporting characters or just a sensibility. I’m just talking my features here. “Until September” is a gay love story, so that’s clearly as queer as it gets!
THR: As a follow-up to that one, what do you think is the gayest horror movie ever made?
HJ: The first thing that comes to mind is, of course, “Elm Street 2,” which is super gay, though I also hesitate with that one because, for as gay as Jesse is, his character is NOT gay, so does he even count? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of queerness in that movie aside from him, though. That leather-bar scene! And the showers! Yowza. The second movie that comes to mind is the slasher movie that takes place at the West Hollywood Halloween festival. It was only OK, but it focused totally on gay men so it’s jumping to mind. It had a generic title so I can’t remember what it’s called, though!
THR: I’ve always found inspiration itself to be fascinating, and it’s always interesting to learn where the people who create our entertainment come up with the ideas that entertain us. What inspires you in general, and how do you come across most of your ideas?
HJ: This is so basic, but I’m mostly inspired just from life. My first three scripts were processing my rage at the world and society—and two of them are comedies!—and “Until September” stemmed from unrequited love, as I mentioned. But most of my projects just spring from the ether and the world around me. I also don’t push it when nothing’s coming. I’ve never been stuck in front of a blank computer screen trying to push ideas. If it’s not coming organically, I just go out and live my life. That said, the ideas have been coming fast and furious nonstop for the past 15 or so years!
THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
HJ: Jason Blum, hands down. I think he’s brilliantly savvy. I know every horror writer/director/producer wants to work with Blumhouse, but I know that my teen slasher-whodunit “Never Have I Ever” is a perfect fit! It’s one of my scripts that gets the most enthusiastic response when it’s pitched. And Jason just seems like a good guy. That’s important in any industry, but so hard to find in the entertainment industry.
THR: One of the topics that seem to divide horror fans the most is whether or not classic horror films should be remade. What is your perspective on this, and what horror film do you think absolutely needs a remake?
HJ: Hollywood has been remaking and retelling the same stories since the beginning, so in theory I don’t have a problem with remakes. The problem is that they are often so awful and misguided, it’s shocking (see the “Poltergeist” remake; or better yet, don’t) and taint the original’s legacy, or at least water it down. Sometimes they work, though (see the “Texas Chain Saw” remake), and can even be better than the original, though I hesitate to name any because I’m sure any statement on that matter will be contentious! So in summary, I don’t mind a remake, just don’t fuck it up! Which, I know: easier said than done. And instead of reworking the classics, why not redo the films that had potential but didn’t quite land? Regarding a film I think absolutely needs a remake: I’m going to go with “April Fool’s Day.” There was a quasi-remake that had nothing to do with anything and was absolutely terrible, so I’m not counting that. I think “April Fool’s Day” is fantastic, so well written and directed and acted, and I’d love to see a contemporary take on it—with the original ending!
THR: What’s next for you? I know you talked a bit about some scripts that you have waiting development, what are you able to share with the audience about some of your ideas they may see coming soon?
HJ: I’ve got two new feature scripts that I’m getting really positive feedback on. One is “#bleach,” the “Cole & Colette” feature, and the other is a one-location mind-fuck thriller called “The Alexandrite Ring.” The comps I use for that are “Shutter Island” and “Memento.” It’s super low budget and I am 100% certain no one will see the ending coming. And I don’t think that about all my thrillers! But it’s batshit crazy and I think it will blow people’s minds. I’m also writing children’s books and I’m aiming to get the first one, “The Bird Who Was Afraid to Fly,” online by the end of the year. I’m working with a fantastic illustrator who I think will illustrate the other two I’ve written, too, though I need to get the first one out there before moving ahead with the others!
THR: Finally, what’s the most amount of money you’ve ever drunkenly spent at a fast-food restaurant?
HJ: I generally don’t eat fast food—even when I’m drunk!—so maybe a few dollars once? Sorry, I’m sure that’s not the colorful answer you were expecting or hoping for!
Find Harker Jones on:
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Harker-Jones/e/B07V6BQZ1B/
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19341846.Harker_Jones