FFG: Would you please tell us a little bit about your background?
John: Very similar to my cousin and writing partner, Tim Sulka’s background. We both grew up in the South suburbs of Chicago. I was raised in Blue Island, Illinois. We acted in every single play in high school that we could. Once I got my driver’s license I was even driving to different community theatres just to get involved in different plays and do as much as I could.
After high school, I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. I majored in theatre and there were only 15 people in my graduating class. The acting program accepted only 40 students for the freshman year and by the fourth year, everyone had dwindled out because it was such a very, very tough school; but that felt good and they had a film division senior year, acting for the camera and I knew at that point that I wanted to go to Los Angeles because I looked so young. I still looked 12 years old when I was 21 years old. And then I worked in a professional theatre in Chicago for a couple of years after college, some children’s theatre, Equity theatre, and some dinner theatre and just to save up money. Then I loaded up my ’74 super VW Beetle and my dad and I drove out from Chicago to Los Angeles. I arrived there in June of 1983 and within 3 weeks I had a national Atari commercial and the lead in Children of the Corn and then it just kept going on and on and on. I did 18 years of acting and then retired because I became a teacher.
FFG: Tell us a little bit about Prime Cuts and your main character Todd Sweeney?
John: Todd Sweeney is of course based on the character of Sweeney Todd which goes back to the Penny Dreadfuls of the 19th Century and much earlier. The legend of Sweeney Todd was not just in the musical or the movie; it’s been in mainstream for quite some time. But our Todd Sweeney is definitely very mysterious and has some struggles in Volume 1 of Prime Cuts, which is out now. I don’t want to give out too much more beyond that. At the start of the novel, Todd is released from cosmetology prison and comes back to his hometown because his parents were killed by this crazy guy and he’s out to get revenge. It’s an alternate world where there is very little meat left due to mad cow disease. Todd eventually teams up with this Goth girl who works at a pizza place and eventually down the road, instead of meat pies like in the original Sweeney Todd, Prime Cuts will have the chopped up people becoming toppings for pizza.
FFG: Very interesting. And so of course you and Tim are cousins and what are your family’s reactions to your project?
John: They were very supportive. It goes back to the time I remember being 12 and 13 years old and acting out Carol Burnett skits and writing our own and even competing in a playwriting competition. We both went to the same high school and we submitted two plays, two short one-acts to the playwriting contest and we won first and second place. Then, in our senior year of high school, we did an independent study project, an original murder mystery musical comedy called “Can Bathing Beauties Find True Happiness through Brain Surgery?” It was a huge success. So right away both sides of our family were very very supportive and excited. We both majored in theatre and even though Champaign Urbana was two and a half hours South of Chicago, every time I was in a play, my parents would drive down and spend the night and support me and see me in my theatre production. Even when I was shooting the first Children of the Corn -- I was in Iowa which is about a 5/6 hour drive from Chicago -- my parents and my oldest brother drove out from Chicago for the filming. There is one scene where I’m talking to the little kids and it was in a rundown old abandoned house that they had kind of snuck in and took over and parents were right in the room as we were shooting and my director was saying “How do you do, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin, would you like to stay and watch the shooting?” And they were like “Okay” so they were sitting right behind the camera. It was very unnerving actually. I didn’t want them there (said with a laugh) but they were right in the room with us as we were shooting that scene so they got a big thrill out of it. They’ve always been very very supportive since then and still are.
FFG: Do any of the previous films that you’ve acted in have any influence on Prime Cuts?
John: Prime Cuts certainly went along with certain ideas that are similar to the Sweeney Todd legend, but being an actor from the day I was born probably, I have an ear for the way people speak. Now Tim, my partner, is excellent at structure and he is very good at that and I think me being the actor part of it, I just have a good ear for dialog. So I think all of my roles, not any one specifically kind of helped and added to that whole idea to the dialog.
FFG: Our readers may not know this but besides an actor and graphic novelist, you are also a High School English teacher. Please tells what motivated you to go into teaching?
John: I just finished my 12th year of teaching and 12, 13 years ago it was just a weird time in my life. 9/11 had just happened, a lot of people died in that tragedy and it was also about the time that my agent of 19 years who was like my second mother died. She and I were even on bowling teams together. She passed away from lung cancer and then a very dear friend that I went to college with was murdered. She was married and was 4 months pregnant, living in Los Angeles and she was murdered by somebody who broke into her house, shot her. So all this tragedy happened to people very close to me and then I just happened to be watching TV as they were doing a retrospective on all of the firefighters and various heroes and I felt very shallow at the time. I had a new agent, and it just felt stupid and really silly to be going on auditions to be a “grape” in a juice commercial or something. I was just looking at all these heroes and going wow, they really created a legacy for their children and for other people. And how I have affected people?
Education is fun and granted Children of the Corn is now iconic and a classic. I just wanted to leave a little bit more and so I just came across an article in the LA Times looking for mid-career people to do a career transfer to education, and so I went and checked it out and here I am 12 years later and I’m loving it. I teach Shakespeare for seniors and I run it like an acting class. Five years ago I got approval from the district up here North of Los Angeles for a screenwriting class so I teach screenwriting to teenagers. It’s wonderful. It’s the only class in the entire school district and it is at our school and I’m also going to be teaching AP literature. I’ll be teaching AP language next year AP which is an English teacher’s and an actor’s dream to read Frankenstein, Heat of Darkness, Hamlet and Othello. Dissect it, with the students and you get all the upper level students who are very, very smart and next year will be a very exciting year, I am looking forward to it.
FFG: Do you have any advice for other writers?
John: I think with actors, I would say do theater, get involved right away. If you’re still in high school do school theater if you’re out of high school, then do college theater or community theater. I just think that for both Tim and I, that doing theater was the greatest training ground that you can possibly get and once you get into professional theater you do 8 shows a week. I did Oliver with Davy Jones (from the Monkees) in Florida and up in Seattle and that’s a hard show you know for 2 hours you’re up there dancing and singing. Your whole life becomes about taking care of your singing voice when you’re not working, taking care of your body and just being a professional, being on time, learning your lines. There is no “second take” or “cut” like in film. You see a lot of film actors with very different disciplines especially learning lines and being on time.
And for writers, same thing, near me the Barnes and Nobles has a once a week workshop where writers can come in and read their pieces. Short story, script, poetry, whatever they want in and then in a positive environment people give feedback. For my students, who are lucky enough to get in my screen writing class, we do similar things on Fridays we read the students scripts and the acting students act out the different parts and we all give them feedback. It’s just writing and getting out and doing it. I don’t believe in writer’s block that’s just total nonsense and being lazy. Even if you’re writing junk that’s coming out not that great, well guess what, I’m sure every single TV and great novel out there ever has been through 30 drafts. Writing is rewriting and if you don’t rewrite, a producer or director will rewrite it for you.
FFG: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to our readers?
John: Actually, I’m acting again. I just shot a web series guest star on a web series that’s up and running called Hell’s Kitty, very, very funny, dark, morbid, and always shot in this guy’s apartment who believes his cat is possessed. So Courtney Gaines and I did an episode (#18) of Hell’s Kitty, sort of based on our characters from Children of the Corn coming to this guy in a dream sequence, showing him how to deal with his possessed cat. That should be edited and up this fall on Hell’s Kitty. You can find it online. Several big stars like Lee Meriwether, Cat Woman from Batman series, and Michael Berrymen from The Hills Have Eyes have also guest starred on Hell’s Kitty. He’s getting some interesting people. And then this past weekend I just shot a small part in a short film called Hag. Eilene Dietz, who was Linda Blair’s body double in “The Exorcist” among other things, she is going to be the Hag and I play a marriage counselor. The director/writer Eric Gardner also did a movie called Blue Hole and that is online now and its won many, many awards and so fans can go look at that just to see what type of piece it’s going to be. That should be coming out soon; we shot it already so it’s a matter of getting it edited and up so it should be this fall. Hag is now been accepted in the New York Horror Film festival in November. I hadn’t really acted professionally for 12 years and now since June I have done two things and both of them are really fun.
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You can also download or purchase a hard copy of Prime Cuts, Vol. 1 IndyPlanet.com.