Frank Woodward is a writer, director, and producer whose has been involved in numerous horror related projects, including "Working with a Master" for Showtime's popular Masters of Horror series.

His latest project is a documentary entitled Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, which examines the life and works of HPL from the perspective of today's biggest names in horror with interviews from Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and many others. The film won "Best Documentary" at this year's Comic Con.

Mr. Woodward was kind enough to agree to an interview to coincide with the film's upcoming release on DVD and Blu-ray on October 13th.

LNN: What were the most rewarding, challenging, and insightful moments in making your documentary?

Woodward: When you’re interviewing talented and knowledgeable artists like Guillermo Del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub and Caitlin R. Kiernan, it’s impossible not to gain new insights into life let alone Lovecraft. Guillermo Del Toro recommended a book called Sex & Rockets which is all about the life of JPL co-founder Jack Parsons (a man who was a disciple of Aleister Crowley, practiced sex magic with L. Ron Hubbard, and died under mysterious circumstances while summoning “something” into his home).

Caitlin Kiernan was a former paleontologist. She turned me onto the notion of deep time (which is discussed in a section of the documentary). Deep time is essentially a way of looking at life on earth in terms of millions of years. Time beyond the comprehension of man. It’s a theory that fits quite well into a universe of Old Ones.

Neil Gaiman introduced us to Caitlin Kiernan herself.

Challenges… well, making a movie is always a welcome challenge especially when you’re doing it on an independent level. All the research. Pulling the people and resources together. The actual physical production. None of this ever feels like work for me, though it does require the act of balancing logistics, creativity and truth. This documentary came together quite easily, however, and I credit that to everyone’s passion about H.P.L..

As to the most rewarding moment, it has to be the reactions the doc has received from Lovecraft fans. There was a time at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland (run by the intrepid Andrew Migliore) when a man walked up with his wife and thanked me for making the documentary. He was finally able to show his wife why Lovecraft was worth getting excited about.

There’s something special in realizing we’re not alone in our passion. I mean, let’s face it. As crucial as Lovecraft is to the world of horror and science fiction, his fanbase doesn’t seem as large as the Star Wars crowd.

At the moment, Lovecraft fans are kind of like the freemasons. We share a secret knowledge and when we meet a fellow of the craft there is an instant bond. Also like the Masons, Lovecraft fans exist in more places than you’d think. I understand that people as diverse as Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen Colbert are fond of the gentleman from Providence.

Soon we shall be legions.

LNN: You have done a lot of work with the horror genre in the past, including work on the popular Masters of Horror series. What impact do think creating a documentary on Lovecraft will have on your career and how you are perceived as a professional? Does this open or close doors for you in the future, or both?

Woodward: For me, this documentary is kind of like Lovecraft 101. I want it to increase people’s awareness of Lovecraft’s work and how he has had an influence on horror and beyond. Even those who know who Cthulhu is are mostly unaware of the man behind the mythos. If someone watches FOTU and gives one of Lovecraft’s stories a read, then my work is done.

As for my career, I enjoy the horror genre and all the people who work in it. Many have become dear friends. Wyrd (the production company I formed with Lovecraft’s producers James B. Myers and Bill BigbootĂ©) already has plans on doing more genre related documentaries and we want to build on what we learned from Lovecraft.

I’ve also been writing a creature feature script for Starz & SyFy Channel. That opportunity came about in part because of my work on Lovecraft and the Masters of Horror DVDs. By that I mean it was due to the people I met while making those pieces. It’s all about relationships (a clichĂ©, but true nonetheless).

In the filmmaking world, people’s perception of you tends to be based on the most current work you did. There’s also a lot to be said for someone who actually completes a film, and I’m talking from script all the way through its release. For all of the independent films you hear about at festivals, there are at least twice as many that never make it past the first cut. Some don’t even make it past shooting. In many of those cases the cost of proper post production, distribution and marketing didn’t even enter their planning.

Independent filmmaking (especially with niche topics like Lovecraft) requires a level of determination that needs to last sometimes up to 2 years after you finish your cut. Lovecraft has taken 3 years to conceive, make and release. Being passionate about your subject helps you reach the finish line. That’s why I stick to genres I’m a fan of.

LNN: Along these lines, what impact will films such as Howard's Strange Adventures of HPL" and Del Toro's future At the Mountains of Madness have on you and your documentary with their successes or failures?

Woodward: Ron Howard is already having an impact. The L.A. Times has published two articles about Howard’s adaptation of The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft and how Lovecraft is a hot Hollywood property. We at Wyrd already knew about the comic book. Andrew Migliore and I had met the graphic novel’s artist Adam Byrne at the San Diego Comic-Con. He and the rest of the Strange Adventures team were kind enough to lend some of the artwork to the doc. So, in a way, we discovered their book before Imagine.

Del Toro’s plans for At The Mountains of Madness are even more exciting because it’s based on an actual Lovecraft story. Whenever Guillermo is finally able to make it (which may be some time considering The Hobbit and a slew of other cool projects on his slate), it will definitely show Hollywood that Lovecraft doesn’t need to be classified as “un-filmable”.

The thing is that Hollywood has already been making Lovecraft movies for years now. They’re just not based on actual stories from the mythos. The Thing. Alien. Hellboy. These are all Lovecraftian movies. You also have Stuart Gordon’s films. Re-animator may not be entirely faithful to the source material, but take a look at Dagon. It’s a damn fine adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

There’s no question, though, that the likes of Ron Howard and Guillermo Del Toro will bring H.P.L. to a whole new level.

As far as any impact these big screen treatments will have on our documentary… well, I hope the fact that Lovecraft is in the air will make people pick up a copy of FOTU on Amazon or add it to their Netflix queue. Interest is rising and now there’s another primer available for the curious.

LNN: As a documentary filmmaker seeking to chronicle the life of deceased author, what concerns do you have and what precautionary measures do you employ to avoid the trap of the intentional fallacy? Or conversely, since Lovecraft was so prolific, outspoken, and generally clear about his views on writing and the world, is this not a primary concern?

Woodward: Lovecraft was an eccentric, xenophobic gentleman. That seems to be the general impression most people have of the man and, to a certain extent, it’s correct. But, as with all people, there are many shades to their character.

Fortunately for our documentary, we were guided by the likes of S.T. Joshi, Robert M. Price and Peter Straub, three scholars on the life of H.P. Lovecraft. Between these men, thousands of letters and good old fashioned research, I feel we avoided the intentional fallacy you speak of. That whole Man Who Shot Liberty Valance approach of “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” We are summing up a man’s qualities in 90 minutes so some facts may be compressed, but FOTU was always guided by the stories our interview subjects told us.

Lovecraft may have been xenophobic, but he had many close friends. Joshi told us a charming story of Lovecraft hosting a coffee klatch for his fellow writers in New York and bringing the coffee in by the pail from the local deli. Lovecraft traveled up and down the East cost of America… once he was more accepting of the many cultures around him. Yes, he was by today’s views a racist, but so were many people of that time. For better or worse, tolerance had only come so far in the early part of the 20th century.

LNN: Many people who are passionate about Lovecraft are more than just fans of his fiction and connect with him in some way on a ideological level. How does Lovecraftian philosophy influence your thinking and the way you live you life?

Woodward: I fluctuate in and out of that sense of the cosmic. I’d like to think I have some control over my place in the universe. It helps me get things done.

As an atheist (or a lapsed Catholic to be more precise), Lovecraft’s gods do make more sense to me, however. If I had to believe in a supreme being, I do think they’d be indifferent to us human folk.

They’d also be quite alien. People’s conception of gods is limited by their own understanding of the world. I feel we make gods in our image. That’s why many gods act in humanistic ways. If the gods actually existed, they’d probably be so far evolved from us it would be like staring into the “face” of a star headed cucumber thing. The gods were able to make the universe. We humans can barely make an acceptable version of health care. I’d think there would be some differences.

LNN: One of the topics your documentary discusses is how Lovecraft's work has long been "ghettoized" but is now seeing much more scholarly and public respect, even to the extent that it has been released as part of the Penguin classics collection. However, what people talk less about is the cultural significance of Lovecraft's new found canonical status. Specifically, what does Lovecraft's rise in popularity suggest about us as a culture and our current ideologies that we are now more openly embracing him?

Woodward: As much as I’d like to believe Lovecraft’s work has been punching through the veil on its own strength, I think Lovecraft’s resurgence is due more to his fans. The geeks have taken over the asylum and many of those geeks are well read. They not only know of Lovecraft, they read the works of other masters of the weird like Clark Ashton Smith, Manly Wade Wellman and Fritz Leiber.

They’re also the ones pitching what gets made in pop culture. Take the case of Guillermo Del Toro. He has thrust Lovecraft into the spotlight due to his endeavors to make ATMOM. On TV, I hear Lovecraft’s name mentioned all over the place. Warehouse 13. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. The Colbert Report. Don’t look too closely at their writing staffs. You may find some geeks there.

As for current ideologies… you may have noticed our country has made a return to spirituality in the last 8 years. Due to a rash of inexplicable catastrophes (both natural and man made), the future has become one big unknown. People are afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of their place in the new order.

I think that fear is also why the members of certain churches, temples and synagogues are determined to convert, control or kill any non-believers in the name of their once benevolent deities. Some would actually welcome the end of days. Now I’m not making any direct correlation between these fundamentalist types and the bayou cultists found by Inspector Legrasse, but… connect the dots as you wish.

LNN: One of the marketing avenues Lovecraftian kitsch has found a toehold in is children's toys and games, such as the popular plush Cthulhu doll and the new video game Scribblenauts, which lets kids summon Cthulhu to do their bidding in a cartoon setting. It is no secret that the LNN represents a categorically sympathetic voice when it comes to these sorts of things, but sometimes I wonder--just for a brief moment, mind you--about the ethical and ideological ramifications of letting small children play with Eldritch horrors. What are your thoughts?

Woodward: Children need to prepare for what’s coming. If they learn to cuddle up against a plush Shoggoth, they’ll greet their eldritch executioners with a smile as opposed to a scream. It makes being devoured a little less horrible.

To look at the merchandising another way… Neil Gaiman once blogged about people discovering songs through commercials. Say a 14 y.o. kid hears The Beatles’ “Revolution” for the first time in a Nike ad. They fall in love with the tune which inspires them to buy the song and listen to other Beatles albums. Gaiman’s point was (and I’m paraphrasing)… who cares how someone discovers great art as long as they discover it.

If kids pick up The Call of Cthulhu because they’re wondering where that tentacled Scibblenauts beastie came from, it’s a good thing.

LNN: What are your plans post Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown?

Woodward: As I mentioned, Wyrd has two other documentaries in the works. One is on The Spat Pack (the filmmakers responsible for bringing Rated R horror back to the box office with films like Saw, Hostel, and The Devil’s Rejects). That is nearly completed and, if the stars are aligned, will be ready for a sneak preview soon.

Our other documentary is about to begin shooting. It’s called Men In Suits and focuses on the actors that make our favorite rubber monsters come to life. Godzilla. Alien. Creature from the Black Lagoon.

As for my next Lovecraft project... I would love at some point to develop a miniseries based on either Herbert West or The Lurking Fear. I understand there is already a series based on Herbert West lurking in development, but that’s a modern teenager spin on the stories. I want to make a period piece. A good and true adaptation.

Then again… I think we all would love for that to happen with any Lovecraft story. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is having the best luck with this, but they face the same challenges of most independent filmmakers. I expect that’s why their film of The Whisperer In Darkness is taking so long, but I’m sure it will be worth the wait.

LNN: Anything else you want to put on the record?

Woodward: No, I’ve rambled on long enough. Thanks.

LNN: Thank you! We wish you the best with your release next week

Learn more at Wyrd's official web site:

Order Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown online at Amazon.

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