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Justin G. Dyck and Keith Cooper on the power of grief, selfishness, and human fragility in 'Anything for Jackson'

June 23, 2021
2 min read time

Two grief-filled grandparents acquire an ancient spellbook and perform a reverse exorcism on an innocent young mother in order to bring back their dearly departed grandchild, who perished in a terrible car accident. This, more or less, is the logline for director Justin G. Dyck’s spiritual horror, Anything for Jackson. Written by Dyck’s frequent collaborator, Keith Cooper, Anything for Jackson is a terrifying yet harrowing tale about the power of grief, selfishness and human fragility. The project itself born of a serendipitous nature.

“We came up with this idea after a pitch meeting for another project. The execs loved our first idea, but were really looking for a horror film and asked us if we had something that fit," says Dyck. "We didn’t, but we lied and said that we had a document but neglected to bring it with us, then promised to send it later that evening. During the car ride home, we just started tossing around some ideas. We really tried to work our way down the horror subgenres and challenged ourselves to turn them on their head. We landed on exorcisms and said, 'Okay, what’s the opposite of taking a soul out of someone' and quickly realized the answer was putting a soul into someone and that’s how the idea was born.”

In terms of who or what would be the hook of this story, Dyck says that the conversation took a less predictable turn.

“In stories like this, you always see the parents. It’s always the parents doing something — rightfully so — when they lose a child. We thought that was too easy. We loved the idea of grandparents being at the center of this story because it starts a conversation about privilege, Baby Boomers versus Gen X, etc.”

Flash forward: The execs loved the pitch, and Dyck and Cooper were tasked with actually writing the project.

“I need to work alongside a good writer,” Dyck says. “I love ideas and structure, but when it comes down to actually writing a script, that’s all Cooper. For this project, we started out with a simple beat sheet — outlining the movie start, middle and end — then Cooper would go and write. He’d send me the first ten pages, I’d give notes, and he’d go back and write the next twenty to thirty pages. Repeat.”

When asked if he enjoyed this process, Dyck responds, “It’s like my own personal Choose
Your Own Adventure!”

After the script was finally complete, it’s time to shoot, which for Dyck is where the rewriting really
begins.

“The goal is to get the script as close as possible to your vision. When you get on set and have to describe the scene to the crew visually, hopefully, the script mirrors that. In this situation, I was very lucky to be so prepared because I had Keith to walk with.”

After only a fifteen-day shoot, Anything For Jackson was in the can. Dyck, a seasoned director by this point, has this advice to offer to his younger self: “Just keep going. My first project was a script about a kid who plays with a monkey. Then I directed a bunch of Christmas films and worried that I would be pigeonholed for the rest of my career. Now, I look back and realize every day on set makes you better. Everything gets better with repetition. It’s always going to work out in the end. The movie will get made, so just relax.”

Anything For Jackson is now available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray.

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