Interview – Boaz Yakin

Everyone has their own idea of what true horror is. For some it may be a nightmare of being hunted down by a deranged killer, for others it is being the torment of our own struggles. Accomplished, diverse, and award winning Filmmaker Boaz Yakin is no stranger to the Horror film genre, previously working as a producer on films such as 2005’s Hostel and 2007’s Hostel: Part II. Now he looks to shake up the preconceived notions of what a Horror flick is with his latest project, Boarding School.

A film written and directed by Yakin, Boarding School hits theaters on August 31st and is bound to catch you by surprise. Excited about it all, Yakin took the time to chat about challenging himself as a filmmaker, the concept behind Boarding School, his vision of horror, plus more. – You have been involved in film as a writer, director, and producer for nearly three decades now. Working in a broad range of genres, you have directed such films as 2000’s Remember the Titans, 2003’s Uptown Girls, and produced others such as 2005’s 2001 Maniacs. A very diverse resume, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in film?

Boaz Yakin – Oh my gosh, it’s been so long, how am I supposed to remember that long ago! (Laughs) My parents are in theater, my father is a theater director and is an acting teacher. My parents had a mime company when I was growing up. When I was seventeen years old I studied with Belle Adler. It’s sort of the family business so to speak, I don’t think my parents would know what to do with me if I became a doctor or lawyer. It very much was in my background and what I was exposed to growing up. It was an natural outgrowth of that. 

20th Century Fox
Miramax Films – Very interesting, so it was in your blood! As mentioned, you have worked in various genres ranging from Drama to Horror. Do you enjoy the ability to create in several different styles?  

Boaz Yakin – I enjoy exploring. How successful one is or isn’t is up to other people to determine. I like watching and exposing myself to a lot of different styles, genres, and approaches. There are a lot of different kind of movies that have influenced me and that I have enjoyed. I guess for me it is exploration, keeping things fresh, and trying different things. The movie I am working on now is a dance movie – an experimental, contemporary dance piece, I  have never done that before. I think I keep trying to keep it fresh, interesting, and challenging myself. – You have done a lot of that through the years. Speaking of different styles, your latest film, Boarding School, is set for release on August 31st. What inspired this story?  

Boaz Yakin – Again, it’s so long ago, it’s hard to remember. (Laughs) For me it’s a movie about coming to terms with and embracing the things you feel makes one weak. When I grew up, I struggled with my sense of ethnicity. You struggle with your sense of sexual identity, the feminine inside the masculine self so to speak. To me, it is a movie about embracing all these things that make you ashamed and using them to make you stronger. I think the story came out of the desire to do that. There are filmmakers that I have enjoyed and influenced me. I wanted to explore their playground so to speak. Filmmakers like David Lynch, Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955) was also a big influence. It was kind of a way of telling that story. – It is an interesting story with many layers to it. There is an interesting tie in between past real life horrors and modern ones. What challenges did you face marrying the ideas together?   

Boaz Yakin – I think it’s always challenging to tell a story that isn’t in a traditional kind of way. I wanted to do something that was unusual, unexpected, and didn’t neatly fit into genre – like the way The Night of the Hunter, Eyes Without a Face (1960), or Blue Velvet (1986) did. To me, Blue Velvet is a Horror film, but not your usual type Horror film, it’s something a bit different. For me, trying to explore how to tell a story in that playground was something interesting and challenging for sure. I think it’s a challenging thing to put out as well. Here in The States, people like their genres to be neat and well defined. It’s a Horror movie, Thriller, Suspense, or Comedy, etc. Kind of doing things that fly between genres can be a challenging thing to do, but I decided I was really going to try and go for it. 

Monumentum – It is refreshing. What is traditionally Horror in the sense of what people expect, can be expanded. There does not need to be monsters or serial killers, it is a different type of horror.

Boaz Yakin – Yes, and a scene where normally something scary would happen, in this one, someone starts dancing with a dress on. (Laughs) Hopefully it will still be satisfying for people. – You bring up a good point about providing scenes you would not expect. Boarding School does not really shove anything in your face, but is very subtle and a good deal of the story is conveyed through the characters. What was it like working with this cast of actors and actresses? You had a balance of young and elder talent.

Boaz Yakin – Will Patton is just an actor’s actor, he becomes a character from a very pure and curious place. He is always interesting in what’s going to be different and how he can tackle something in a fresh way. From me, his portrayal of, I don’t know if you really want to call it the villain, going for that old school Brooklyn accent and school teacher vibe, is almost unexpected in a movie like this. It’s almost funny in a way. I thought it was terrific and I enjoy working with him so much. 

Working with the kids is challenging. Luke Prael, who plays the lead, definitely has to do things that are emotionally difficult and emotionally difficult for him. Luckily, the young lady who plays his counterpart in the film, is actually super experienced. Sterling Jerins, at twelve, she has done more movies than I have, she has been acting since she was six. She is actually Luke’s best friend in real life since they were children, which we didn’t know at the time that we cast them. She was able to be kind of a rock for him and put him at ease during the more challenging stuff he had to deal with.

Luke Prael as Jacob & Sterling Jerins as Christine in Boarding School. – One can imagine that relationship they have in real life translated into the chemistry of the onscreen performance. 

Boaz Yakin – Absolutely. We learned about it literally after they had been cast. At the audition, they said, “Yea, we know each other,” I thought they knew each other from auditioning or from school. After they were cast it became apparent their parents were best friends, their older sisters were best friends. They were born a few months from each other because their parents wanted to have kids at the same time. They grew up in each other’s houses since they were babies, that is not something we knew when we cast them. (Laughs) It did create a warm and stabilizing environment for some pretty crazy stuff. – That is pretty cool. As mentioned, you have done a lot of different films. Of those, you have done a good portion of Horror. As a writer, director, and producer, what is the key for you to create a tension in a story.

Boaz Yakin – I’m not sure there’s only one. I think there is a combination of, creating something where a character is not really sure of an internal desire/need or an external one. Having them basically be pushed against a reality that has a different point of view of what it wants from that character. I think it’s always interesting to deal with a character that is essentially uncomfortable in his or her own skin. I don’t know, there is much in common between my movies on a genre level.

Certainly, if I had to look at my movies, I would have to say I am always dealing with a person that is both uncomfortable in their own skin and also the social environment they are in. I think that is what creates the tension in a film. Not just is there a killer waiting for in the next room? I think it’s what the internal struggle is that makes it interesting. – Yes, it is the character which the audience is connecting with. The audience will often feel what the character is feeling.

Boaz Yakin – I enjoy that a lot. I find sometimes with audiences, the common Thriller or story-line, what is easy for people to take is a character that may be in an uncomfortable situation that isn’t necessarily that uncomfortable within him or her self. For me, the most interesting characters are the ones genuinely uncomfortable within themselves. To me that makes for interesting drama. 

Lionsgate – Agreed. What can you tell us about your other project?

Boaz Yakin – I almost finished shooting it last week and I am going to get into editing it by the end of August. It’s the project I am working on until however long it takes to finish it. It’s called Aviva. – That will be something to look out for. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?

Boaz Yakin – I’m a fan of just good stuff. I love good Horror films, but they’re not always traditional Horror films. I love Eyes Without a Face, I think that’s the greatest Horror film ever made, other than Psycho (1960). As mentioned, I really love Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, which is kind of a poetic childhood fable Horror film too.

There is always the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), which is one of the great Horror films ever made. Those kind of movies are things I revisited many times and I have always wanted to dip into that pool at some point. I am also the biggest Star Trek fan, but only original. 

Lux Compagnie
Bryanston Pictures – Good selections. So only original Star Trek, no Next Generation?

Boaz Yakin – Well, Next Generation is good for when you are not feeling well and you want something to go down easy. If you have the flu, you can totally watch five in a row of them and it’s fine. For real Star Trek, it’s really only those first three seasons and a couple of the movies. I like the first movie from 1979, even though it’s long. I liked Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and loved the one where they saved the whales, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). As long as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley are doing their thing, I’m happy. (Laughs) 

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