Q&A With Scott Stewart: Mt. Washington Resident and 'Dark Skies' Writer/Director

The 'Dark Skies' writer/director talks to Patch about the recently released sci-fi thriller, and Mt. Washington's minor inspiration on the film.

'Dark Skies,' the sci-fi thriller that opened in theaters across the nation last weekend, is the creation of Mount Washington writer/director Scott Stewart.

It tells the story of the Barrett family, who are confronted by a series of increasingly disturbing supernatural events. The protagonists, portrayed by Kerri Russell and Josh Hamilton, must confront the malevolent extraterrestrial force that threatens to destroy their family.

Stewart, who has lived atop the hill off Division Street since 2007, is no stranger to the box office. He helmed the 2011 action flick 'Priest' and was the writer and director of the 2010 supernatural thriller 'Legion.'

Patch recently exchanged e-mails with Stewart, who talked about 'Dark Skies' and the subtle way in which Mount Washington influenced the film.

Patch: When and where was the film written, and what was going on in your life around that time. I'm always curious about how a writer's environment influences their work, especially writers in the horror genre. Does living in Mount Washington influence your work at all?

S: I wrote the film over the summer of 2011.  I had just finished making a big studio picture and had wanted to do something smaller and more personal.   I grew up in the suburbs of Northern California in the late 70's and 80's and wanted to capture some of the feelings both good and bad about that time.   I'm not sure if living in Mount Washington influences my work in an overt way, but I always do a lot of chewing on ideas as I drive up and down the hill everyday.  

When I was writing 'Dark Skies,' I often stared at the street lamps in the neighborhood as they came on in early evening.  It became an important image for me that I integrated into the film.

P: On the surface, 'Dark Skies' is a film about a family being confronted by a malevolent extraterrestrial force. However, the domestic horror film is always trying to tell a larger story. What would you say 'Dark Skies' larger story is?

S: The story is primarily about suburban anxiety in its various forms: personal, economic, social.   The boogyman in the story, in this case the ETs, is really a manifestation of those anxieties amplified to the level of nightmare.  I think a lot of people these days feel like they are at the mercy of tidal forces beyond their control, a banking crisis that destroyed their home's value, terrorism, school violence, climate change, etc.  All of this contributes to a general sense of anxiety and unease.  Ultimately the ETs in 'Dark Skies' give voice to those common fears.

P: How do you handle the stress and excitement of an opening weekend?

S: Not well!  I usually head out of town, but this time around my girlfriend and I stayed close to home and it actually worked out pretty well.

P: Dark Skies is a very different kind of movie from 'Priest,' your previous directorial effort. Can you talk about the differences between directing somebody else's script compared to directing your own?

S: My two previous films 'Legion' and 'Priest' were hyper-stylized genre films.  I wanted 'Dark Skies' to be a big departure from those films by being more grounded and realistic, more personal in every way.  I eschewed the stylization of those prior efforts in favor of making the film as actor focused as possible.  I believed that if the Barrett family felt very real then audiences would be more invested in them when things started to go wrong.  

I generally like working from my own script as it helps me understand the material better.  A lot of my directing work begins with the writing.

P: What's next on your docket? Do you think you'll consider to pursue horror, or are there other styles you'd like to explore.

S: I directed the two hour premiere of 'Defiance,' a big sci-fi drama that premieres on the Syfy Channel in April.  As far as films, I'm continuing to explore new genres.  I always want to mix it up.


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