Interview: Producer Josephina Sykes Talks 10th Anniversary Re-Release For PLAGUERS

Josephina and Brad Sykes have wanted to work together since they first met about 22 years ago. Now, they’re one of the indie film world’s most reputable forces to be reckoned with. We speak to Josephina about her beginnings, how she met her husband and the new 10th anniversary re-release of Plaguers.

Alien Bee – Why movies? What was it that initially appealed to you about donning a ‘filmmaker’ badge?

Josephina Sykes – I fell in love with movies since an early age. I grew up in Romania and my uncle was a director of photography and even if he didn’t try, he gave me the film “bug”. I was acting in his student shorts as a little girl (didn’t have any idea about acting, I was just following his directions), bugging him to let me hang inside his homebased dark room and let me help him which he didn’t need, but I persevered and started to learn. It was magic to see a photograph came to life. I grew up on sets he’d bring me along and I got to see a lot of movies and read about movies, step by step I confiscated all his cinema magazines. Since I grew up during the grey years of communism, cinema created a light in my life and a way to escape everything.

Later on, I prepared for the entrance exam at Film School in Romania which was pretty tough at the time. So film was/is always part of my daily life and who I am.

Alien Bee – And did you have a supportive family? Was Brad part of that ‘family’ when you decided to pursue film?

Josephina Sykes – My mom was always supportive of everything I did or tried to do, endorsed all my endeavors even when some were temporary tries or flirts. My uncle didn’t want me to try to get in film school and I asked him to stop talking to me for a few months while I was preparing for the exam because we were fighting a lot and I didn’t want that. He was very happy when I got admitted, even had a few drinks too many. Finally, last year while I was visiting my family in Romania I asked him why he was against me going to film school and he explained me that he knows how hard it is to have a career in movies and didn’t want that struggle for me. I understand his point of view now, based on my years of experiences in the business but I’m glad I was determined and didn’t give up. But he’s been supportive since film school, and even arranged for some interviews for me at a few TV stations on my last visit.

I met Brad while I was in film school, doing an internship on an American set outside Bucharest (for a movie called “Phantom Town”, a kids’ zombie flick set on a western town) and we clicked fast because of our love of movies and certain filmmakers among other reasons. Since then, he’s always been supportive, knows when to push me, trusts my opinions. I do the same for him, it’s ideal to learn from each other and grow together, career wise and not only.

Alien Bee – How did Nightfall Productions come to be?

Josephina Sykes – We always wanted to work together since we met on that set in the summer of ’97. Brad was working with an abusive producer and stopped that relationship and making movies with him. I worked on a few independent movies since my move to LA as production manager, assistant director, screenwriter so I learnt a lot. In 2004 we decided it was time to join forces and our experiences and create Nightfall Pictures. And in 2005 we made our first feature, “Within the Woods”. Things moved fast after that and we worked hard for every opportunity.

Alien Bee – And how many pictures had you done by the time “Plaguers” came to be?

Josephina Sykes – At that point, I produced 4 features, 2 through Nightfall, the others for other companies, so I felt like I was ready for the challenge!

Alien Bee – Was Steve Railsback hard to wrangle at the time?

Josephina Sykes – Steve is one of the nicest people I worked with in the industry and I’m being honest. He’s very nice, polite and easy going, but sometimes he can be a tad hard to wrangle because he’s an artist and he has his head in the clouds.

I remember, at the end of a day of shooting he came to me very upset because he lost his car keys. I asked him if it’s in his pocket, knowing him well by then. He told me he checked already, a bit annoyed with my question. I called a locksmith to come and help and the stage manager, Brad and I were checking everywhere in the parking lot and inside the stages. I was stressed out that we would have to pay for overtime at the stages because of this situation, but the manager was a huge fan of Steve’s, so that wasn’t an issue anymore. After about half an hour of frantic search, Steve came to me asked me if I still love him, because he found the keys in the back pocket where I first ask him to look!

Steve is very nice to the crew, loves them, jokes around with everyone. But one day he was super cranky, very unusual for him and it was hard for Brad and the Director of Photography, Scott Spears, to work with him. So, I took him in his dressing room to see what the problem is. He was having seasonal allergies (movie stars have them, too) and the symptoms made him cranky. So I gave him Brad’s allergy pill (he refused it initially because it was Brad’s) and then he was the usual self again, fun and cool to work with.

Steve isn’t a diva, far from it, all he wanted from us was to have coffee on set at all times! Which we would have anyways. He loves his coffee and always wants 2 extra espresso shots in his coffee (the baristas were checking the orders with me because that’s a lot!). But otherwise, he needs his own room to rehearse and relax in and love, hugs, like a lot of other experienced named actors I worked with! Very sweet!

Steve asked me to leave the set once to get Brad a DVD of “The Stuntman” from the Virgin Store on Sunset and sign it for him as a present. It was our secret!

After principal photography was wrapped, he came to work while we were shooting inserts to use his actual arm even if he didn’t have to, we would have had a double.

And Steve also hosted a wrap party for “Plaguers” at his house!

Alien Bee – He’s fun in the film. Do you remember any particular direction you and Brad gave him at the time in regards to how he should play his character?

Josephina Sykes – I remember that we wanted him to be as human as possible, not to reveal that he’s a robot till the end. And he did that, it wasn’t hard for him to convey that. He always called and met with us during pre-production about his part (he used to make notes on the script late at night) but also he was very curious and interested about the other aspects of filmmaking and how we were doing things. Brad wrote the part with Steve in mind, so it was a special day when we got him on board!

Alien Bee – Have you stayed in touch with Steve?

Josephina Sykes – We did stay in touch, he’s like an uncle, he even called one night when he was coming back from a shoot. Brad talked to him and waited for him to get back home because Steve was tired and didn’t want to fall asleep behind the wheel. We went many times to his house, him and his family are wonderful people. We visited him in the hospital when he had a surgery, he has issues because he did his own stunts for years and the injuries are giving him trouble. We also went to support him at the Cinematheque, they had a special night double feature for him.

Alien Bee – I know you’ve a bunch of new films in the works – but also a 10th anniversary edition of Plaguers is out?

Josephina Sykes – We’re working on “Hi-Fear”, mostly post-production right now for the last of our horror anthology series.

This end of 2019 is celebratory for us because right now, we do have our 10th anniversary release of “Plaguers”, on Blu-Ray and DVD, with new extras, a new commentary and a cool package coming out through Wild Eye Releasing. “Plaguers” is on various streaming platforms, Amazon and on stores shelves like Walmart! We get photos daily from fans from all over the US that find the movie in their local Walmart and get their copy! It’s touching!

It’s a nice release that we’re proud of and it prolongs the life of our movie. It brings “Plaguers” in front of other generations of SF/Horror fans. Retro is big now and because “Plaguers” was conceived as an homage to various cool, cult movies can be better understood nowadays than during its initial release ten years ago. So it’s a great end of the year for Nightfall Pictures!

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