Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Exclusive Interview with Geno McGahee, writer/director of Evil Awakening

I don't know about you, but when I'm watching a big budget Hollywood horror film, I find that they all look and feel the same. Especially if it's a Platinum Dunes film. So, what differentiates them tends to be a character (maybe), a unique story (hopefully), stuff like that... Long and short, it's never about production values and they tend to be formulaic. One of the things that draws me to indie horror is that fact that I could be holding a few films in my hand, knowing nothing about them, and they could be so different from each other in all aspects, yet I'm going to dig all of them. One could be from a veteran that's done 40 films on low-budgets, one could be from a recent film grad who had a bit of funding or one could be from someone who's just getting started... Hell, I like them all. And there's something about the micro-budget directorial debuts that I really like. It's like watching the minor leagues, where people are honing their talent. For example, I recently had the opportunity to watch "Evil Awakening" from Geno McGahee and it was his first film, even though he's now gone on to make another, plus he's in production on a third.

"Evil Awakening" is the type of film that the general public wouldn't understand. However, for an indie-horror fan, it's a kick-ass, micro-budget slasher flick. Obvious budget constraints aside, McGahee puts together a great story with various interweaving plotlines. It's a great debut effort and who knows what he could've done with a bit more budget? We had a chance to discuss the film with him and if you're a micro-budget filmmaker who's setting out to make a film for pocket change, the interview is definitely worth the read.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you started in indie filmmaking?

My parents bought this 1980’s clunky camcorder and it collected dust for the most part. I was slowly becoming a horror fan and when I was 12 or so, I wanted to make a horror short and got together with my buddy, Mike, and shot a horrible 10 minute skit about aliens, and then we shot one about a monster rising from the ground, which is where Evil Awakening stemmed from. I began filming countless skits and they were all adlibbed…and I still have them all, but they are so bad that I doubt that they will make it beyond my collection.

My influences to go into filmmaking are many but none more than the great Don Dohler and his film “Galaxy Invader.” In Galaxy Invader, I saw a no budget film that had heart and humor and it was really entertaining. Not only that, Dohler went against the grain and got a no budget film out there to the masses. He set the standard and gave me hope that I could follow in his footsteps and get out there and perhaps, get a fan base, even if it would be smaller. It wouldn’t really matter. I appreciate Dohler and I thought that people would appreciate my work one day should I get it out there.

I am a creative person...sort of obsessive when it comes to writing or filming or just about anything. I usually can’t just sit still. I have to be writing or drawing. I currently manage and write for a boxing website called Ringsidereport.com, and have been covering boxing for five years. Boxing and horror are my two loves, outside of my wife (Dani) and my son (Geno, JR., aka: “Munch”). After managing the boxing site, I started Scaredstiffreviews.com and that helped immensely with distribution of my films. I’m a little on the crazy side and my humor can be offensive, but if you see Evil Awakening, you can probably figure that much out.

Film School: Yes or No?

No. I went to college for Marketing, getting my Associate’s from Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts in the USA. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gone to film school, I think. I have been improving on the job and I think that the rawness that you see and the technical problems that you might notice in Evil Awakening have been improved in my second film Rise of the Scarecrows and improved greatly in Scary Tales the film that I am nearly done filming.

“Evil Awakening” is your first feature, where did the idea come from and what was your motivation to get this project done?

In 1996, my good friend Jeremy Weiskotten and I were at a Pizza Hut and were deciding just what we were going to do, and I had been filming stupid skits for the longest time, so I proposed filming a skit. Being a big Friday the 13th fan at the time, I thought that we should go in that back from the dead slasher direction. So we got together with several friends and filmed it and it was a blast and it was about as ridiculous…it’s also an extra on the Evil Awakening (2003) DVD. We screened it at my birthday party and everyone was laughing and asked for copies of it. I realized then that we had the skill to entertain. Well, we continued with skits but they got crazier and better and that’s when I began thinking about a full length low budget horror film.

My other buddy, Steven Joseph Adams, came to me in 2002 and said that he wanted to film something because Evil Awakening (1996) was so much fun, so I came up with the idea for Evil Awakening 2…a mere skit, but this one was not going to be adlibbed like the first one. As I wrote it, I elected to not call it a sequel and not make it a skit either. This was the moment and this was the movie that was going to be our introduction to the horror world. I wrote it in about six weeks and we filmed it in 3 months. My motivation for finishing it was basically who I am, I guess. I can’t see starting something and not finishing it and one way or another, it was going to be done. It would bug the hell out of me if I had footage of a movie that was 60% done or whatever and it was never completed.

What was the approximate budget for the film and how did you secure it?

The budget for Evil Awakening was, maybe, 500 bucks. It was basically a no budget horror film that was done with very little money and a lot of ambition. I paid for the fake blood and pizza for the crew and such, but realistically, there wasn’t a lot of money behind it.

What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?

We used a Sony Digital Video Camera…nothing special for the first time around. Rise of the Scarecrows was the same and Scary Tales is shot on a digital video camera, but a better camera and shot better. Evil Awakening was shot in 3 months, Rise of the Scarecrows took 2 ½ years for various reasons, and now Scary Tales is nearly done and when the dust settles, it will have been 3 months of weekend shooting. I’m organized now and that has made a big difference.

I thought you did a great job of creating little storylines and weaving them all together around the main story of the Cock Monster. (I’ll assume I’m spelling that right?) Talk about keeping continuity. I’m assuming that on a low-budget and shooting out of sequence, with all the stories and characters involved, continuity can be problematic. How’d you handle that?

Thank you! The actual spelling is “The Coch Woods Monster” but it’s pronounced “Cock Woods Monster” so you are basically correct. Continuity and low budget are not friends of each other and it’s very hard to shoot when people are not getting paid and when they change their looks. Hair grows quickly, people gain and lose weight, and people lose clothing that they need for the next film. I think that I’m more in tune now and continuity is now a lot better. Evil Awakening did pretty well because it was shot quickly and most people understood that they needed to keep their look. Rise of the Scarecrows was tougher because it almost didn’t come and took over two years to complete and there are some continuity problems there but they aren’t that obvious unless you really look for them and you see continuity problems in big productions like Rocky IV when Apollo Creed is wearing boxing gloves and then pointing at Ivan Drago without a glove in the same scene. It is very tough and tough for me because I’m not as organized as I want to be, but we’ve done pretty well and I think that we’re on the right track.

What were some of your biggest hurdles in getting the film finished?

I guess just dealing with nonpaid actors that didn’t take it as seriously as I did and would often miss shooting days. Other than that, the rest is easy…time consuming but easy. Weather in New England is also difficult and can throw a wrench in the works.

Did you enter it into any festivals? If so, how did it do and what did you get out of the experience? If not, why?

I did enter both Evil Awakening and Rise of the Scarecrows into film festivals and neither one was ever allowed to compete. I don’t get it and I’m not convinced that they even watched them. I’ll be doing the same thing with Scary Tales with no expectations. I see the movies that win these film festivals and I know that my films belonged there in the running. It’s so frustrating, but it’s part of the business. They expect a certain look and sometimes want that artsy stuff instead of what I provide. So, I’m hoping that they will look at Scary Tales and give it a shot and if not, so be it. There are more than one way to skin a cat.

Talk about distribution. What was the process like for you and how’s that going?

Distribution was the toughest thing in the world. I had sent Evil Awakening everywhere and the few replies I got were either negative ones or they loved it and wanted to run with it, BUT they wanted the rights to the film, the money, and no guarantees on anything! How’s that for a deal. In other words, Evil Awakening 2 could come out without me and I would get nothing for the sales of Evil Awakening. F that. I thought that the best way, perhaps, to get a distributor was to start a horror site and interview them so that they know me when they see my submission and my chances would increase greatly. JR Bookwalter, a great filmmaker and now a distributor, gave me my shot and picked up both Evil Awakening and Rise of the Scarecrows.

I have a tentative deal for Scary Tales, which will probably be released next summer, and Rise of the Scarecrows is supposed to be released in January/February 2009. I have found that most distributors are ruthless and use filmmakers to line their own pockets while not throwing a crumb to the people that have done all of the work. I sat on Evil Awakening for five years before I found the right guy (Bookwalter) to see my work and give me a shot and a very fair deal as well.

After it’s all said and done, what would you have done differently?

I would not have put a deadline on the movie to complete. There were scenes that were cut out so we could finish and make a film festival that they didn’t allow us to compete in. I will never do that again. I would have shot it differently…fix some technical things, but all in all, for what it is, I like Evil Awakening. It’s got some problems, sure, but if you can look beyond the technical flaws, you will find the fun in it.

I would have developed more characters, rather than focus primarily on Sam Adams (Steven Joseph Adams), although I love that obnoxious and crazy guy!

Where can people find out more about “Evil Awakening” and your other projects and, better yet, buy a copy?

Anyone can go to scaredstiffreviews.com or xposse.com for details and can go to Amazon.com to purchase Evil Awakening. They can find my myspace page and become a friend with the Coch Woods Monster. Or anyone that wants to contact me directly can email me at genobambino69@gmail.com. Good or bad, I love to hear from the horror fans and any fans that I may have out there.

What’s next for Geno McGahee and X Posse Productions?

The continued promotion of Evil Awakening and the future promotion of Rise of the Scarecrows and Scary Tales are on the agenda as well as the planning for the fourth movie which will be filmed next summer. I am hoping that we can make a dent in this horror world and that the people give me a chance. You won’t regret it.

Lastly, talk about the indie horror scene. What do you think about where it’s at now and where do you see it going?

The indie film scene is pretty good, although it does get saturated with bad movies because the digital video camera and editing programs have leveled the playing field and has allowed many to make a movie when they probably shouldn’t. The Campbell Brothers are great and when they come back to horror, they could easily make their mark on a huge level, my friend Jim Haggerty is a great filmmaker and has a lot of ambition and knows how to network very well, and another friend of mine, Polly Frost, is not only an exceptional writer but she also excels at filmmaking. She has a great web series called “The Fold” that I really think is fantastic.

The fact of the matter is Indie Horror is where the heart is and where the originality is coming from. There is vision and love there and when you rent or buy a film made on a shoestring budget, you are getting something special. I think that Indie Horror now has an advantage over it in the past because of technology and we are now getting more and more indie films and I LOVE watching them because when you don’t have money, you need a good story and ingenuity. I see Indie horror going into the mainstream more than ever because it has to. How many Asian transfers, remakes, bad sequels, and PG-13 fluff horror movies will the public stand for before they begin looking elsewhere?

I do want to thank you for the time Ted, and I thank everyone that have purchased Evil Awakening and have written me to give me their thoughts. I sincerely appreciate the support and keep an eye out for Rise of the Scarecrows and Scary Tales.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Interview with great questions. Evil Awakening Rules!

Anonymous said...

Save your money, buy beer or something. The movie is garbage.

Jim Haggerty said...

Great interview. I think when people see "Rise of the Scarecrows" it's going to shut a lot of people (like the above poster) up. Really good movie with great atmosphere and pacing. Geno really grows leaps and bounds from one project to the next.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that a man with no formal film school training and a single crappy digital video "movie" to his credit thinks that he the expertise to review legitimate filmmaker's work...pretty lame.