So, tell us about the origins of "The Unholy Sideshow".
I was living in a three story stand alone house in West Philadelphia, built in the late 1800's, with Jelly Boy the Clown, The Reverend First Minister, and a few other artists. On several occasions we would discuss how perfect our house was for a horror film, especially after watching Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 and 2 and House of 1,000 Corpses. Which are really two different takes on the same story. So, it started with the house. The Reverend, myself and our friends, The Amazing Barry Silver and Elisha Caplan, had a Sideshow performance troupe, The Unholy Sideshow. So, we went with the idea of a Sideshow family of serial killers living in a fucked up house in an urban enviornment who kill their audience. Similar to The Wizard of Gore and Blood Sucking freaks, with the use of the Malerkus character, another persona of Jelly Boy's.
Several months later I began writing the script and putting together the cast and crew. I wanted to make a trailer to go along with the script, and package them together and attempt to get some funding, but I had absolutely no idea how to do it. The crew started with my associate producer and production manager, Elizabeth Hand, who can do just about anything and everything you can think of when it comes to DIY film; Justin Berger, artist and composer who started with very little make-up/FX experience; Nick Lerman, a musician and fellow film maker who had worked on a few productions and; Naomi Littell, my other main associate producer and production manager, who is another jack of all trades especially in puppetry and sculpture. Naomi also provided us with the space for Malerkus' lab. She lived in a huge warehouse just off the El in Fishtown. So, she slept next to the lab for several months, gaurding the precious trash, and donated objects we collected over several months. Quickly after we added Jon Cobb, Barry Silver, Frank Walsh and Jelly Boy, who performed dual roles of actor and crew hands in construction, gaffer, camera work, PA, basically what ever you can think of they did. Oh and let's not forget about Pyro techniques.
It took an entire summer to go through some casting for the character of Rebecca, a nightmare which I'll go into later, to finish writing the script and prepare for our big Zombie shoot, which became known as 'Zombies in the Snow.' We started production in late October of 2005 with two cameras, some home depot lights, and a makeup box. As the shoots rolled on we dropped down to one camera, because the two we had didn't match. During the 'Zombies in the Snow' shoot we met Chris Carlucci, who signed on along with Justin and Naomi as one of the main make-up and FX people. Chris is an amazing FX guy, with brilliant ideas and ability. He is young and ambitious and was in his last two years at the University of the Arts during production of Unholy Sideshow. The Final piece to the crew puzzle came about through mutual friends, when we added Ed Stites the final of the four main FX/makeup artists. Ed has worked on a lot of films, the biggest being Land of the Dead. With out Ed there would be no stomach rip, and that would be a damn shame.
About half way through we realized that we were all ready making a feature length movie and had gone beyond the original idea of making a trailer. The big problem was that with out funding we didn't have the ability to make the film the way it was written. And the script kept on changing, as it still is today. We added new characters, developed ideas and completely altered the orginal idea. Making it more about The Order of Mystery and the Curse of the Necromancers. And adding The Enigma to the story line after Jelly boy met him at the Philadephia Tattoo convention. Jelly told The Enigma that we were making a horror movie with zombies and sideshow freaks and the blue puzzle pieced demon wanted immediately in. How could we refuse?
So, I got off my ass because everything was right there in front of me. The locations, the cast the crew. All of the tools and materials to finally make a film completely on my own with a group of friends like my unkowning mentors Ed Wood, Jon Waters and Lloyd Kaufman.
You definitely had a unique cast, tell us a bit about who they are and how they came about being in the film.
Well, all the Sideshow performers are working acts, but not all of them are The Unholy Sideshow. Jelly Boy, myself (Matters Squidling) and Frank Walsh (Lazari, and The Masked Perfesser) are in a troupe called the Squidling Bros., The Reverand First Minister, Hell Cat (Carrie Brown), and Elisha Caplan are in the Unholy Sideshow Performance troupe and The Amazing Barry Silver is in both. The Enigma runs his own troupe, currently The Electric Acid Theater, in which Jelly Boy also performs. John 'Red' Stuart, the oldest living sword swallower, is one of our main mentors, along with The Enigma, and he has performed with all of us at one time or another. Mike Dombrowski and Jon Cobb (NYC pioneer in the art of body modicfication and piercing) have performed with us as fire performers. We Sideshow folks like it confusing eh?
One of the first rules of screen writing is to write about what you know, write about what is around you, what inspires you. That's exactly what I did.
Throughout the films, there were scenes that were throwbacks to 30’s or 40’s film. Those scenes felt like an old school Boris Karloff film or “Nosferatu”. Are these inspirations? Tell us a bit about what films inspire you.
Absolutely you put the nail right up the nose. As I said above we were working off of an unfinished script, which originally was intended to be a trailer, so when the final rough was pieced together everyone that watched it was confused by the flow of the plot. Since a lot of the scenes and characters were inspired by the old films of the 30's and 40's, and ever eariler, we decided to go with the titles to help fill in plot holes we couldn't afford to shoot.
The Mummy with Boris Karloff, Well really anything with Karloff and Bela Lugosi, The Wizard of Gore, The Hammer Classics, The Reanimator, Blood Sucking Freaks, Lucio Fulci Zombie films, Romero Zombie films, All the old monster movies, Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 and 2, Night Mare on Elm Street etc.-the list is long. Ed Wood, Wes Craven, Lloyd Kaufman and Rob Zombie.
I also pull inspiration from directors outside the horror genre, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Ed Wood, John Waters, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Francis Ford Coppola and Guillermo Del Toro.
How did you go about securing financing, what was the approx. budget?
There was no financing for the film. Funded mostly by myself and my brother Jelly Boy. I was working in an underground Flower Shop making deliveries out of Suburban Station in Center City Philadelphia and Jelly Boy was painting houses. All of the producers mentioned in the credits contributed financially in some way and we collected many props and materials through donations and the amazing trash picking network of Philadelphia. One person's trash is another person's treasure applies perfectly well when describing the production work done on Unholy Sideshow. Countless hours of volunteer work from over 100 people, cast and crew, who with out them the film could not have been possible.
The gore and effects are amazing, they blew me away. Tell us about the effects, maybe explain how you achieved some of the better looking ones. The stomach rip comes to mind…
You don't need millions, you don't even need thousands of dollars to make realistic, scary, bad-ass gore effects. It's about skill and know how. Secrets, some may consider, but a talent and skill that not every make-up artist can pull off. The four main make-up/fx artists that worked on Unholy Sideshow, including the many others as assistants and on larger shoots, all had varying range of expierence. They learned as art students, haunted houses and dark rides and specialty FX trade schools. Liquid Latex, Corn Syrup, plastic bags, cardboard, make-up, pizza dough, cotton, paper towel, coffee grounds, chocolate syrup, etc.
Ed Stites was the man for the job, along with his assistant Dirty Dave, they spent all day into the night making the organs out of cotton, plastic bags, and latex. As they worked in the back we shot, shot after shot at The Triangle Theater in North Philadelphia. Before the shoot we used an old theatre flat and cut out a hole in the middle for the actress, who we didn't cast until the night of the shoot, to fit into. So from the mid back up would be above the table, with her stomach down underneath. We had a medical gerney for Tess (stomach rip girl) to lie on so we put the table on top of the gerney and had Tess climb into the hole. At this point it was 4am, and we had been there since the early morning, Jelly who was Malerkus at the time was asleep and we had to wake him, which is always a task. Ed and Dave had finished the organs and a cardborad/liquid latex stomach airbrushed the color of Tess' skin. The organs with a lot of extra fake blood were stuffed in a plastic grocery bag and placed on top of Tess' stomach. The fake stomach was placed on top of that and we made sure to cover the top seem with her shirt. All shots were waist up, so you couldn't see her legs were missing. When Malerkus reached into the cuts on the carboard and latex stomach all he had to do was grab hold of a sticky slab of organ and pull. The rest is what you see.
What did you film on and what did you use for post production to achieve those certain looks?
I filmed on a Canon XL1, mini dv tape , 3CCD camera. I began post production with Final Cut Express and upgraded to Final Cut Pro Studio 2, so I could color correct, create a pro DVD menu, and utilize the handy compressor that came with the Studio package. Did a lot of audio tweeking back and forth from Final Cut to Pro Tools, most of it done by my good friend Styx Latte, drummer of The Hydrogen Jukebox (Jellyboy and I are also in the band). The amount of hours spent on trying to polish a turd when it came to our audio source was one of the more difficult tasks to endure during this project. Let's all thank Styx! Audio was mastered by Brian Tobianski and the disc was printed by Discmakers.
After it was all said and done, what would you have done differently?
Probably the most valuable lesson I learned was never, ever rush casting, especially for a challenging lead role, no matter how much you want to start production. Not to knock Han Salzman, who played the role of Rebecca, but she had no acting experience and was are only choice out of a handful of auditioners who were much worse and unfitting for the role than she was. Shooting went on way longer than originally discussed, and Han just didn't fit the description or type that the character Rebecca represents.
We had a real hard time deciding to shoot 4:3 or 16:9. 16:9 just seemed to stretch everything out and not really achieve what it was trying to do, so we went with the square TV format. If I could do it again I would have saved up a little more cash, spent some more time with casting the Rebecca character and shot everything in HD
And most importantly, have a fucking audio technician. Many, many hours were spent in post fixing horrible sound, with camera noise and room noise and whatever else you can think of to make a sound engineers job a waking nightmare. We did everything in camera audio, and a lot of the shooting was handheld. I couldn't afford the extra gear, and none of my skilled friends could volunteer their time for free.
I rarely, if ever, ask this question… but was there any negative feedback? I can see some people thinking it's a little over the top.
Most people think it's funny. Some people think it sucks and they can't follow it. Others get it completely, like yourself, and want to see more. When we were doing a screening and performance at The Palace of Wonders, a sideshow dime museum and performance bar, a friend of mine who was smoking a cigarette outside during the screening and saw two middle-aged white people walk out in a huff. The woman told the man that it was the most disturbing thing that she had ever seen, she thought everything was real! A great compliment as far as I'm concerned. You don't want everyone walking out of a horror film all happy and glad they came. Only the true horror fans get a real sense of enjoyment from seeing someone's guts ripped out, our a needle skewered through someone's face.
Talk about film festivals. I see that you at least entered one, winning best make-up and special effects at The Philadelphia Terror Film Festival. Anything you can pass on to other up-and-coming filmmakers?
Film Festivals-Lots of trips to the post office, lots of rejections, from horror fests and regular independent festivals. Withoutabox.com is a great resource. I have submitted everything through them and they are tied in with the entire circuit. The Terror Film Festival in Philadelphia was a great experience. Very good people showing quality independent films at a grass roots level. They were the first to except us out of many, most likely because we're local. I think that the Independent Film Market is saturated. That's the feedback I've gotten back from the festivals and that's what I've heard from other film makers. But never, ever stop trying to get your film noticed. Every year more and more people are able to make films at lower costs and every year Independent Film becomes more marketable so even the Indie fests that were much more excessable, say even 5 years ago, are about who you know, or who you've got in your picture. We will be screening Unholy Sideshow in NYC at the New Film Makers Film Festival on October 29th. They want us to do a 'Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque' performance and screening. I'm going to have several members of the cast performing sideshow before and in between different sections of the movie. I'll probably have some nasty looking zombies to walk about and get things sticky.
What about distribution? How’s that going? Are there any lessons that you would pass on to other indie filmmakers who’ve just finished a film?
Tried really hard on getting distribution, sent out hundreds of letters to various companies all over the world, heard back from a handful, got the film to a few and was rejected by them. The copy you received is from a pressing I had made through a company in NJ called discmakers. I had 1,000 printed. I've sold about 150 copies and given away as many.
Where can people find out more about “Unholy Sideshow” and, better yet, buy a copy?
Unfortunately my website, westphilth.com, is one of my horror stories of trying to start an independent horror production company. When it's up and running, westphilth.com, will be a source for all of my projects, as well as, other sideshow performers I work with. You can purchase a copy online at filmbaby.com. Or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The film is being sold for $15+shipping/handling.
What’s next? Do you have any other projects in the works?
I am currently working on a feature film, 'The Museum' a narrative/documentary made in the Fellini model of film making, about the people, history and art of The Ellen Powell Tiberino Museum in West Philadelphia. I am also in pre-production on a short, 'The Domestication of Otis Wickel-Wackel'. A dark comedy about a young man who cries all the time until he receives a Top Secret box containing a head who becomes his girlfriend who unintentionally destroys him, turning him inside out with the power of her mind.
As far as Unholy Sideshow, I am working on a more involved feature length script and treatment for a four part Epic Story of our Modern Apocalypse. Beginning in present day and ending with the final destruction of the human race.