Writer/producer/director Wes Craven is a well-educated, soft-spoken man, but "A Nightmare on Elm Street" did come out of his imagination, so the aspiring directors on FOX's reality show "On the Lot" had better keep their eyes on the dark corners.
On Tuesday, June 19, Craven -- who also directed the "Scream" franchise, among many other movies -- sits in as a guest judge for "On the Lot," joining the regular panel of Carrie Fisher and Gary Marshall.
Executive-produced by Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Apprentice") and acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, the filmmaking competition series has been enduring a ratings horror show of its own since its debut on June 22, resulting in it being slashed from two nights a week to one.
"It's Dickensonian," Craven says. "It's about to rise out of the various ashes that have been thrown at it. I think the show has great potential, and they're continually working at it and making it better.
"It's tough to do this kind of show, and finding the right format, what to show and what to jump ahead on, is something that they're quickly learning. They've already done a lot of great changes."
Craven didn't take a lot of persuading to sign on.
"It was just pretty much a call," he says, "'Would you like to come play and be a judge?' And I said, 'Absolutely.' I like the show. I think it's a lot of fun. I like doing things that give back a bit to the next generation of filmmakers."
After all, there might be an undiscovered genius out there that could win the ultimate prize of a development deal with Spielberg's DreamWorks Pictures.
"The potential is you'll find the next Spielberg or the next Orson Wells," Craven says, "the next whoever, Tarantino, whatever. There are lots and lots of kids out there who are just in love with film. Even if you find just a good working director, that's a great contribution to make."
So far, Craven is pretty impressed with the work of the hopefuls.
"I watched the five [films] that we'll be talking about," he says. "They all show great talent. I'm meeting with the other judges, right after the series of interviews I'm doing. It'll be fun to get everybody's take on what I've seen.
"The level of competency is quite high, and each one is very different from the others."
In an era where young people grow up with cameras in their faces and in their hands, and computers have brought sophisticated filmmaking techniques and tools into the home, Craven expects technical competency.
But he's looking for much more.
"The trick is, those ancient skills of the storyteller," he says. "That's what you end up looking for. Where is the storyteller? Where is the person who's going to be putting something of the heart into the film and something that shows the experience of real life?
"That's always the trick, when you have a bunch of people making movies that have only watched movies, and that's their source of experience. That's not so good. You look for the person that has actually had some of life's knocks and some of the insights that come from that."
Craven has some advice for those among the "On the Lot" competitors who might wind up in the big leagues.
"One thing you need to learn as a filmmaker is the political, social part of networking, getting to know people, walking the corridors of agencies or whatever it is, where you form those interrelationships with people that can help you.
"If you come in, and you're just isolated, in your own world, it's difficult."
Watching well-made movies also helps, and if someone wants to make good, scary movies, Craven recommends director Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror classic, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
"That was very scary," he says. "I went to see it in the Times Square area and literally crouched behind the seat in front of me, convinced it was made by maniacs."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times