Usually I have some sort of lead in... or something witty to say before I get to an interview, but this one is different. This is an interview with Bill Zebub.
So, why is this one different? Well, Bill Zebub is the self proclaimed King of the "B" movies, he has a wicked list of films under his belt to prove it and we, at Dead Harvey, are big, big fans... After all, this is the guy who brought you "The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made", the award winning "Assmonster", the metal documentary "Black Metal: The Norwegian Legacy", not to mention such classic titles as "Rape is a Circle" and "Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist". Now, I'm not sure if you figured it out from the titles, but he's not afraid to offend. Further to that, he's not afraid to keep making films.
Zebub has been at this for a while and he's really, really good at what he does. In fact, some would say he's the best at what he does. If you're in the indie scene and want to stay or succeed in that arena, he's a guy to look up to. Mainly because he HAS been at this for so long, he does enjoy it AND he's not going anywhere. So, if you're looking to learn, he's a guy to listen to. If you're looking for offensive material, his films are the ones to watch. It's a long interview, but if you're a Zebub fan or want to be a Zebub fan, you'll really like this interview. It's entertaining and a great read.
Also, before I get to the interview, if you scroll to the very bottom, I've posted some links to some of his films on Amazon...
First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what brought you into this whole world of indie filmmaking?
When I was a freshman in high school I discovered that one of my classmates had an 8mm camera, but that guy never let me film anything. He had absolutely no interest in filming, and refused to let me make films, no matter what kind of bribery I concocted. It seemed like a total waste - sort of like when I see someone with a healthy hairline walk around with a shaved head. Going forward a bit, my parents bought me a video camera when I was 18. it had no zoom, which was actually a good thing, but I didn't realize that it was a good thing until later. The reason it was a good thing was because film-snobs hate zoom-ins - they insist that a camera be dollied forward. Maybe their neurosis should be saved for a later discussion, ha ha. Getting back to the camera, I went to malls and interviewed people, telling them that this was for a college TV station. The questions would start out normal and then degrade into the utterly preposterous. When I gathereed 2 hours of material, which was enough to fill up a VHS tape, I made copies for all the people who were involved. One night I ran into some derelicts I knew from my high school days. They were bored and looking for fun. I had fake beards in my car, and we decided to go all over town as the "Oak Ridge Boys" and filmed it sort of hidden-camera style. We were spectacles, and what made it funny was not so much what we did, but how the crowds reacted to our antics. For the next coupls of years, we made Jackass-type public stuints, but bear in mind that we did this years before Jackass was on TV. As I started amassing a following, I decided to film skits instead of stunts. For the sake of brevity, I'll just speed ahead to the day a scream queen, Darian Caine, befriended me and offered to act in one of my skits. After filming her, she urged me to make a feature length movie. She told me that she would let me sell the movie at her booth at the Chiller Theatre horror convention. Until that point, I had pretty much just filmed out of pure love for filming. It hadn't been something that I actually studied. If I made a skit that bombed, it was just 5 minutes lost. If I made a full length movie that sucked, it would just be too much wasted time. So I went to a book store and bought a book about screenwriting, written by Syd Field. I wrote the movie "Metalheads" as an exercize. Then I shot it as an exercise - a practice movie before I would work on a real one, ha ha. But it got picked up by a distributor! That was in 2001. I have recently re-shot that movie as "Metalheads: The Good, the Bad, and the Evil."
Film School: Yes or No?
No, but I wish I had gone to one. You have to bear in mind that I filmed stuff purely for the joy of it. I also got signed as I was preparing to study the how-to of film-making. I sort of reverse-engineered movies...the way I learned to make movies was by studying why something I shot would fail. There were no books about cinematography available. Looking back, I could have gone to my college book store and snooping out books from the film section. Part of me thinks that it is a good thing that I never learned proper film-making in the early days because it might have interfered with my development of style. Sure, I would have made the movie look better, et cetera, but they wouldn't have been as crazy. Skipping ahead, I hungrily devoured every book about cinematography that came out. For some reason these titles became quite numerous for a while at chains like Barnes and Noble. As I studied, it occured to me that even with the vast amount of new knowledge that I was gaining, film-making is something that you have to learn by DOING it, not just reading about it. So my past methods of learning the craft by examing why a shot failed was something that I never discarded. I wish I had gone to film school for the technical aspects, but the fact that I never watched movies the way film students watch movies also means that I have never become influenced by anyone.
Where do you get the inspiration and/or ideas for your films? Both Assmonster and Worst Horror Movie Ever Made are both similar, yet different. Talk about the writing and pre-production stages.
When I get an idea for a movie, it is usually when I am extremely bored. My mind wanders. If you were to sit me down and tell me to write something on cue, it wouldn't be the same. My ideas have to be born out of escape, usually while I am doing a repetive task. The idea for "The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made" came while I was cleaning up the set for "The Crucifier." I was replaying a conversation in my mind. John form Media Blasters was telling me that if he acquired any of my titles he would change the packaging so that it would look professional. When I told him that it was deceptive to make an ultra indie movie look like Hollywood, he talked about Seduction Cinema making bad movies but being able to get them into Best Buy because of the packaging. Nice conversation, aye? So I was thinking about packaging as I was cleaning the basement, I wondered what would make a person pick up a DVD when there are so many titles on the shelf. I asked my friend Rocco, who later starred in Assmonster, if he would be drawn to a movie called "The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made"and he replied that not only would he pick it up, he would buy it without question. I wrote, shot, and edited that movie in 6 weeks in January 2006. Do not buy that movie. It was a mistake to release it. It sold out in one week, and I had to put a stop to any more copies being made. I could have made a lot of money but I didn't want to piss off so many people. As an apology I re-shot the movie last year - that's the version that you have. If anyone out there has a 2006 version, just mail it to me and I will replace it with the 2008 version, no questions asked. But to answer your questions about ideas, they usually come to me out of the blue.
How do you go about financing your films and what kind of budget do you have for each film?
In the early days the budgets usually just were for scream queens. Now I pay for a lot more. I don't have massive explosions, and I use "existing locations" - which means that I do not have sets built for me in a studio. That cuts down on costs MASSIVELY. The "Worst Horror Movie Ever Made" had a lot of money thrown in for effects. At the time of the remake, I became acquainted with Smooth On, a company that produces silicone. Until I learned about silicone, I had thought that foam rubber was the be-all end-all of prosthetic effects. It seemed like a real pain-in-the-ass, with many points of failure. Smooth On had representatives at the Chiller Theatre horror convention, and they showed me what I can do with the stuff. They even gave me samples. Imagine a company giving me $300 of merchanise just to try out. They also gave me an instructional DVD. Why am I telling you this? Because I think that you will enjoy the way I view things, ha ha. I experimented with the silicone and had amazing results. But I knew that I had to refine my skills before I make my own gore for horror movies. It then occured to me that I can learn to use silicone and have all my experiments end up in "The Worst Horror Movie" because the results didn't have to be ultra-amazing, ha ha, so I killed two birds with one stone. I bought $2,000 worth of silicone! Well, if I did the same things today I would have spent maybe only $600. But it was worth every penny, haha. Anyway, I do occasionally get mad when I hear ignorant comments from people who should know better. What I mean is, I had a screening party for Metalheads, and before the movie was shown, a douche bag who called himself a producer introduced himslef to me and asked if I would be interested in a zombie movie he was going to work on in 2009. I told him that we would talk after the screening because I wanted to be a good host to the people who came to support my movie. During the first 5 minutes, he came up to me and asked, "What was the budget for this? $8?" I turned to him and asked, "You said you were a producer, and you would ask a stupid question like that? Even if I shot the entire movie at a picnic table in a park, do you think that the 35 cast members worked for free, ate no food, incurred no travel expenses, or any other overhead?" The funny thing is that when I did actually talk to him about his movie plans, I found out that he never produced anything in his life, and that he was still trying to find a way to finance his movie, and the reason why he wanted to talk to be was so that I could help him get ideas for getting the money for his project. I told him, "You're asking the wrong guy. I only spend $8 on my movies."
What do you shoot on and how long does the average shoot take?
Currently I shoot on a Panasonic DV-100, which uses mini-DV tapes. If all goes well, I plan to get the Sony EX1, which is HD and sells for about $7,500 with all the lenses and cute accessories. As for duration of a shoot, it depends on the shoot. Lesser characters, or shoots that just use on location for one scene can be done in 1-5 hours. When I shot "Breaking Her Will" we shot from morning til night. The characters had to look mentally drained, so I kept the most jarring scenes for the later parts of the day. The added exhaustions really added to the performance. When I am making a serious movie I try to milk the day for all that it is worth. Most trained actors and actresses prefer to shoot longer hours because that means that we take fewer days.
Obviously, you’re not afraid to offend people. In fact, in Worst Horror Movie Ever Made, it’s as if you’re trying to offend everyone possible. In the world of micro-cinema, do you think this works to your advantage?
If I wanted to make lots of money then I would be making differerent movies. There are many indie directors who are making movies that seem to be demos for Hollywood. They do not use their freedom - instead, they just copy what they think will get them big. I revel in my freedom. I can't give you the beautiful movies that only the lush budgets of Hollywood can provide. But I can give you everthing that makes Hollywood shudder. I love pushing buttons. I did this ever since I was a kid. I don't think that I do it out of malice, although Freud said that jokes are an expression of aggression. I would rather interpret my button-pushing as being a true window into a person. If I personally watch something I do not like, I just simply stop watching it. But there are certain people who love being publicly outraged. If you think that "The Worst Horror Movie" was offensive, it will look like Disney compared to "Spooked" which is about four friends who are white supremacists. One of them dies and comes back black, and the other three have to tolerate him. I play that black guy. Yes, I have been told that I would get killed if I make that movie, but I have had black people come up to my booth at horror conventions to have me autograph "Spooked." 100% of the protests against me are by white people. It's ridiculous. I think that it has to do with conformity, and maybe their drama in public is just to get a pat on the back from other conformists. Conformity is actually essential to a population. When a group of people act as one cohesive unit, they become more poweful and success comes easier to that group. Those people will not enjoy any of my movies. They are great for our population, but not good to have as partners in stimulating conversation. They can't break from their programming. Maybe the real reason why they get so mad is because I force them to think, and these are people who need to have very easy answers to questions. My movies make you ASK questions. My movies do not give easy answers.
Nudity is a staple… not only that, it’s excessive nudity and there appears to be no lack of girls. How do you go about getting that many girls to get naked in your films? Not only that, how do you convince them to get in such compromising situations?
One of the things about "The Worst Horror Movie" that was so funny to me was the abundant nudity and the over-the-top things that some girls did when naked. I never talk people into doing things. I just present the script, and those who like what they read continue on to do the movie. Some people read the script and it doesn't resonate with them, but it's respectful. There was a girl who wanted to do one of the crazy scenes, but she is going to inherit a lot of money, and she believes that if she accepted one of the strange roles then her grandmother would disown her and she would not get the inheritance. I know it sounds silly, but it really happened. So I actually wrote a special part for her where she keeps her clothes on and doesn't do anything outlandish. Maybe when she gains her fortune she will come back and do the crazy stuff, ha ha. Anyway, the main point I am trying to make is that there are enough people out there who are amused by my ideas and who want to try those crazy roles. I don't ever have to do anything to convince actresses. They either like what they read or they don't.
Not only do you get naked girls, you got George Fisher from Cannibal Corpse to appear in Assmonster. How’d you get him?
I have many friends in the music scene because of my magazine "The Grimoire of Exalted Deeds" and because of my radio show, which currently is on 91.1 Fm Sunday nights from midnight-3am. If you are not in the NY area you can still hear an archive, or a live stream at www.wfmu.org - I am on the air as Professor Dum Dum, and I pretend to be a German scientist. But getting back to George, he is a really good guy and if he lived closer he would surely have a role as a main character. In my upcoming movie "Rap Sucks" there will be quite a lot of cameos from bands like Finntroll, Amon Amarth, and Turisas, among others. Rumor has it that Mayhem members may participate.
Talk about your writing/directing style… what are you like on set?
I wipe out a lot. I know that sounds strange, but if you were ever on set with me you would think that you are in a Three Stooges skit. In "The Worst Horror" I shot all the girls in the card scene on the same day. You can ask any of them how amazed they were by the amount of times I fell on my face, broke lights with my forehead, and otherwise wiped out so badly that you would think that I am a stuntman. When you see my upcoming re-make of "Dirtbags" I actually had the camera turned on while I fell off a bed and broke down a door. I don't know how I have not had my neck broken. Part of me thinks that I wipe out because there is always a beautiful woman present, but after studying cognition I have a more sutable answer. When I am directing, I am keeping mental track of dozens of things. I am not only directing, I am also the cinematographer, so not only do I need to make sure that the lines are correct and delivered correctly, I also need to make sure that the actors are in their proper positions. I have to keep track of any noise that would screw up the recording and make the editing unbearable.. Some psychologists look at attention similarly to computer processing power. If you are on a computer and you have a lot of programs running at the same time, each program suffers a loss in performance. I think that because I have so much to handle, my coordination suffers. In fact, sometimes I can't even string a sentence together, ha ha. I guess that you can sum up my directing as "very funny to witness."
Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcome to get your films done. Any advice you can pass on to other indie filmmakers who might be just setting out to make a film.
I think that the best advice is to just use what you have. The bigest hurdle for most people is that they have grandiose thinking. I made my first movie with a consumer camcorder. I didn't buy a real camera until my 7th flick, and even then it took me two years to buy a boom microphone. When I was making skits and jackass stunts, I edited VCR-to-VCR. What I am trying to point out is that I was never sitting down just wishing to start something. I was ALWAYS shooting, even when I had total crap for equipment. Even if no one else ever saw what I shot, the fact remains that I was PRACTICING my craft and getting better each time I shot something. If you wait until you get a budget, or if you wait until you get a better camera, then you can just wait for pigs to fly. If you don't have a camera, ask a friend to borrow one. Whether you edit with a computer or with two VCR's. the basic principles are the same. Now stop making excuses. It's in you or it's not.
Do you enter film festivals? If so, how do your films do? Talk about the festival circuit… is it something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?
This is yet another accidental success. I heard about the Fantasia Film festival after I made "Assmonster." When I looked at their site I realized that I was too late to submit a movie. But I sent them Assmonster anyway, with a brief note letting them know that I will submit a movie eventually, and the Assmonster movie was just to let them know the kind of stuff that I do. A couple of weeks later I got a call from Mitch, and he told me that the movie was going to play! Doh! And because of that screening, a writer from Film Threat told the Hollywood Film Festival that the movie is highly recommended, and THEY played it too. Then various horror conventions started playing it too. And this is just from me saying "hello" ha ha. I haven't submitted anything since then to any other horror conventions, although I do remember that Fantasia people considered "The Worst Horror" to be something that would get them and me some bad press because of the abundant offensive material. I already have distribution for every movie that I make, so I don't need to be in a film festival. I am not really sure what a film fest can do for a director, but I did enjoy getting my movie to these events.
Tell us about the process of finding distribution. How do your films do and what insight could you pass on to other filmmakers who are looking for distribution?
I don't know if I can advise about finding distribution because I got contacted by a distributor, not the other way around. And they acquired a movie that was really just my practice movie, ha ha. over the years i actually have tested out some other companies, but I only gave them movies that I considered to be stinkers. I have made over 30 movies, so you can guess that not all of them were good. You have to understand that I don't just TALK about making a movie. When I get an idea, I immediately blast it out into a movie. Maybe that is not a good thing, but I am a man of action. So I signed over some of these movies to other companies, and I am glad that I discovered how bad those companies are because I will NEVER give them a good title. I would have been totally ripped off. As it stands, yes, I was ripped off, but those movies were dead to me anyway. If you find out that the Bill Zebub movie you are getting is distributed by MUSIC VIDEO DISTRIBUTORS, then you can feel good about buying it because that company has always been honorable. Everyone else I've come across is a rip off in some way.
Where can people find out more about you and your films and, better yet, buy copies?
I do not sell my own movies unless I am at a horror convention. It's out of respect for the people who carry my products. This way they will never fear that I will undercut them. And it is also because I am a movie maker, not a mail order person. you can find the latest news at billzebub.com. I think the easiest way to find a movie is just to Google it, but there are some stores that carry my titles (Ted's note: scroll down, we have some links to Amazon). Almost all of my titles are available at bestbuy.com, but if you want to get it at the store you will have to tell a clerk to order it for you from the site and you can pick it up at the store and they will NOT charge you shipping.
Talk about the indie horror genre. Where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?
I feel funny talking about it because I mostly make comedies. Isn't it strange that I sell comedies at horror conventions? But I did notice that I hadn't shot a serious horror movie in a while. That is why I made "Breaking Her Will." I have a few more really intense sex-horrors coming out in the next few months. But I am a lone wolf. I am not part of a scene. I don't know about the horror genre. From what I have seen, it seems to be composed of people with very diverse tastes, so no matter who you are, someone out there will like your movies, or share your interests. I don't know where it is going because I don't look at things that way. I just live and do things out of personal will, not because of pressures or trends. But I have to say that I have purchased some movies about serial killers and am absolutely furious that they were completely sanitized of any kind of serial killer behavior. I bought those movies to see depictions of what Bundy and others DID TO VICTIMS, not to see dinnertime conversations. If I ever shot a movie about Ted Bundy, it would be graphic beyond all predictions. Of course, there is a limit to what bigger productions companies can show, but to take out all of the gore and depravity? I can't criticize the movie makers because I know how much work goes into making any kind of movie, but as a viewer I was sorely disappointed. When I made "Breaking her Will" it was a kind of opposite to those serial killer movies, in that I tried to make every moment as uncomfortable as possible. I hope I succeeded.
What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?
I shot "Dirtbags" but I don't know if I am going to release that next. I have some horror titles still being juggled around. I am also doing a new master of "Rape is a Circle." When I shot that movie a few years ago, I made a lot of technical mistakes. I had only meant to shoot the movie as an experiment, and as such, I wanted it to look gritty and shot with a shakly documentary-style camera. To make it more gritty, I used existent lighting, which was a bad mistake. When movies look gritty, even lighting that looks bad has actually been set up that way. So my white balance was always off. The new version will have color correction, of course, but I will also use shots that were not used in the first movie. What i mean by that is that every single shot that you see in any of my movies has been shot at least twice. I shoot on digital tape so even if the performance is great there could be a gliche or digital artifact on the tape. So if you have seen the first version and liked it, you will probably drool over the new version because of the look and because of the new footage. I think that version will be out by April. I may call it "The Reaving of Isabelle" instead of listing it as a "Director's Cut." Maybe I should list it as the "Director's Improvement."
Ass Monster: The Making of a Horror Movie
The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made: The Re-Make
Metalheads: The Good, The Bad, The EVIL
Black Metal: The Norwegian Legacy
Jesus Christ Serial Rapist