Mandao of the Dead” is a new horror-comedy movie now available on Amazon Instant Video and scheduled for release on iTunes in February 2019. Director Scott Dunn also wrote the film and wanted it to be in equal parts funny and chilling.

The plot follows an unambitious man named Jay Mandao who lives a frugal life off his dead father's cereal royalties. Although Jay likes his solitary life, he is eventually conned into taking in his adult nephew (well, nephew-in-law), Jackson.

As Halloween approaches, Jay starts to have weird dreams and realizes that he is capable of astral projection. Soon after that, Jay and Jackson make contact with a ghost who has the ability to reverse the effects of death.

Writer and director Scott Dunn recently discussed the making of “Mandao of the Dead” via an exclusive interview.

Plot, comedy and horror

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you start making Movies and how did you get the idea for “Mandao of the Dead”?

Scott Dunn (SD): I’ve been making my own movies since I was a kid.

In high school, the movies started becoming hour-long features. This was my sport because I sucked at football. There were two characters from a movie I made where I played an impatient therapist named Jay Mandao. He lived with his nephew-in-law Jackson and irreverent things ensued. That was when I was 16-17 years old. Something about those characters stayed with me over the years. In “Mandao of the Dead” Jay is just a guy living off of his late father’s cereal royalties.

Jackson is still his nephew-in-law. And he’s older than Jay which is funny. I love these characters. They’re fun to write for.

MM: What is it about the plot of “Mandao of the Dead” that makes it work so well and keep people interested?

SD: It’s the characters. They’re weirdos you root for. It’s got an astral projection, time travel, ghosts…a girl who thinks she’s a vampire. It just goes for it, which people seem to dig.

MM: What was the filming and casting process like for this film and were any scenes especially difficult to convey?

SD: Well, casting Jay, Jackson, and their cab driver friend, Fer, was easy. My producing partner and wife, Gina, plays Fer. My friend and fellow actor, Sean McBride, plays Jackson. We all worked together on our previous film, Schlep. So that was pretty easy. The rest of the cast was found through auditions.

I had people send in taped auditions first and then whittled that down to a select few. Then they came in and auditioned in person. I like making auditions a fun thing.

It’s really just one big workshop when they come into the room. I’ll have my iPad mini that I film with. I get in there and ad lib with them after they’ve read from the script a little. The actors who are in the movie are such talented people.

I think audiences are going to love them as much as I do. Figuring out how to do the astral realm scenes was really a matter of discussing shots with my director of photography, AJ Young. I think what we came up with together was crucial in selling the supernatural elements in a clean and simple way.

MM: How did you manage to balance the comedy and horror elements?

SD: All the characters in the film are unique and quirky. The horror and sci-fi elements were there to give them something equally unique to interact with. They’re much more fun to watch when they’re up against supernatural hijinks. As far as on set, I don’t like to force the issue of comedy. I want to achieve a tone where the characters are reacting to all the supernatural elements truthfully. There’s a sense of reality to the story because the characters are reacting to the circumstances truthfully, at least in their minds.

Audience responses, film projects and dreams

MM: What has the distribution process for “Mandao of the Dead” been like and what sorts of audience responses have you heard?

SD: I’m a believer in self-distribution. I think it’s important for filmmakers to own the rights to their property. One day that will be part of your library, and you can license it out in cycles. Or you can just sell the rights for a big fat check like Judge Judy recently did. Smart lady. The response has been heartwarming. There’s no better feeling than when people get what you’re putting down.

MM: What other film projects are you now making—or actively planning—now and are you intending to continue focusing on the horror-comedy genre?

SD: Right now, I’m focusing on a sequel called “Mandao of the Damned.” I’m super excited about this one. I see this as a trilogy of movies. There’s a really basic outline of how the story goes, and I can’t wait to finish and shoot it! It should come out in 2020. I’m digging the horror comedy genre. It’s such a fun one to explore. I’m not tied to it though. I want to keep growing and getting better with every movie whatever genre that is.

MM: What are your biggest dreams regarding your filmmaking future and is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

SD: I’ll be honest with you, when I was younger, I wanted to be a big movie star. It took me a long time to realize that “being a big movie star” isn’t a real goal. Because being a star is just a marketing term. I had to get rid of all that artificial thinking and just be me. I don’t care about being a star. I care about making movies that I love. I want people to get a break when they watch my movies. People are begging for an escape, and I get that. Maybe I can help.

I think every movie I get to make is a big dream come true. I’ve been in LA for eight years, and it’s been quite a journey. I used to think I could skip the painful parts when I first started. If I could just avoid all the painful learning stuff and just “make it”, I’d be happy. I started realizing that the awkward growing pains of learning are a good thing. I’m really learning to embrace the struggle. I get why people say they wouldn’t change a thing about how long it took for them to get things going. I finally get that now, and I totally agree.

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