Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interview with Marcus Koch, director of "100 Tears"

There truly is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight... I think it was Lon Chaney, Sr. who said that... and it's true. In fact, I'll take it a step or two further, I think there are more people who are afraid of, or are scared by clowns, than there are people who actually like them. Seriously, who the fuck likes clowns? I read that they did a design study at the University of Sheffield and kids ended up being scared of clown themed decor in hospitals. Well, no shit. I did a bit of research and the reason is, clown make-up and costumes tend to exaggerate body parts and facial features, which can be seen as funny... but could also seem monstrous or deformed. Either way, the evil clown has become a bit of an icon in horror. Now, although 'The Joker', from "Batman", who first appeared in 1940, could be considered the first evil clown, I don't think pop culture really embraced the evil clown until "The Killer Clown" himself, John Wayne Gacy, was arrested in 1978. For the sake of interest, he didn't actually kill anybody in the clown suit, he just dressed up as 'Pogo the Clown' and entertained the neighborhood kids at block parties, but the media ate it up... and so did the horror scene.

It's interesting to note that since 1978, we've had various incarnations of the evil clown. There's been evil clowns in comics; 'The Clown' from "Spawn" and 'Obnoxio the Clown' from "Crazy Magazine", for example. There's evil clowns in music, such as in the bands Slipknot, Twiztid and Insane Clown Posse. However, film really took to the new icon of horror, with such examples as 'Pennywise', the evil shape-shifting creature that often took the shape of a clown in Stephen King's "It", the creepy clown doll from "Poltergeist", "Killer Klowns From Outer Space" and, of course, Captain Spaulding from Rob Zombie's "House of 1,000 Corpses". Now, the evil clown has been taken to a new level in Marcus Koch's "100 Tears".

If you're an evil clown kinda person, you may have already seen "100 Tears". If you haven't, I strongly suggest you pick it up. It's as good as an addition as you're going to get to the list of evil clown movies. If you're a gore-hound, you're also definitely going to want to check this out, as it's as gory as it gets for an indie film. Koch's specialty is FX and, well, he went off. For me, the film embodies what indie horror can be when the filmmakers has drive and a specific goal in mind. The goal for this? A lot of blood, a lot of guts and one evil clown... Long and short, it's a great film and I highly recommend it. We had the chance to talk with Koch about the film and it's a great interview, as well. If you're thinking about making a splatter film, you'll definitely want to give this a read.

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

Well, I'm a child of the 80's, so I grew up watching 70's and 80s' horror and, right from the start, I knew that's what I wanted to be involved with in some way or another. At age 7 I began making paper mache heads and body parts and started video taping them, making little FX tests, which led to making short films, which led to my first feature at the age of 11. (believe me its far from anything I'd ever show to anyone ), but it gave me a good foundation and understanding of the elements involved with feature film making. My earliest influences were FX guys who delivered the gory goods, like Gabe Bartalos and Tom Savini, or just had an outlandish approach to storytelling Like, Frank Hennelotter and John Waters. I liked films that told really strange dark humored stories, with extreme FX.

Film School: Yes or No?

Personally, not a fan of film schools. I feel they might be good to get you around the equipment and understand the structure involved with working with different departments to bring a script to life, but outside of that, how cameras work can be learned from a book or instruction manual. If you can afford Film School, you can afford to make a decent micro-budget film and there is no better way to learn than to experience all the things that can, and will, go wrong first hand. It prepares you for round 2 and you'll be better prepared by the 3rd film and so on and so forth. And as the budgets get bigger, it doesn't mean all problems go away, it creates new problems to contend with. Its' a constant learning experience that never stops, you can never learn to much.

Where did you get the idea for “100 Tears”?

Doing a clown film was something I've wanted to do for many years. I wasn't sure how it would ultimately take shape, but I knew if I ever got the chance to do it, I had rules in place for how I wanted my clown to look and behave. I think all people under grease paint are fucked up. Maybe its my own personal paranoia and they aren't, but things can turn scary because you never know what kind of person is under the make up. I'd just assume they are all sick and twisted mental patients who should be avoided at all costs, but it's an awesome premise, of course, for a horror film. Everyone, at some point, understands the fear of clowns. That fear is universal for some reason and it's very real for some people.

What was the approx budget and how did you secure financing?

The budget came in at just under 100 k, it ended up a lot more than we originally set out to shoot with. It, in turn, allowed us to go a little crazier with a larger cast and, of course, the gore. As far as getting the official greenlight, it was just a situation of right time, right place. Elmar Berger had seen some of my FX work that I had done for another German filmmaker and knew what kind of budget I was limited by and said, "Hey, would you be interested in making a slasher film and have total control of the FX budget and free reign to do what ever you want?" Who could say no? The only rule that applied was it had to be extremely gory and blow away anything I had done in the past, FX wise. Twist my arm!!!! So, I opted to go with a Killer Clown and give him a giant meat cleaver, that was my starting point.

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

We shot on HD video and we began the shoot on a cold January 12th until an even colder February 12th, then began editing immediately. We finished the film and screened it on June 23rd, so about 6 months from start to finish. Then things slowed down. It took about a year and a half to finally get it released on dvd.

Let’s talk about clown killers. First off, your clown, Gurdy, is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Very gruesome. What were you thinking when you were creating this character?

I absolutely didn't want a killer clown to spit out silly, witty one liners or do anything clown-like, like kill someone with balloon animals or a deadly pie to the face. I thought it would be good to have a silent killer, I think its' always been a good idea. Imagine how bad it would be if Jason or Micheal Myers spoke? Freddy was a fluke, it just worked. I felt if Gurdy never spoke you could truly never tell what kind of person he was on the inside.

While we’re on the topic of Gurdy, what the hell kind of weapon was he using? Where’d that come from?

We had the meat cleaver made at a machine shop in town, its actually not as over sized as it seems. The Japanese really use cleavers similarly sized for cutting meat and I just thought, wouldn't' that be fucked up if you saw a clown running at you with one of those? So, it was to be.

The film was very gruesome, lots of good gore. Some people shy away from excessive gore, some people go over the top. You leaned on the excessive, at times, but I thought you did a good job of balancing things out. Talk about using gore.

I'm a child of the 80's. It's what I grew up watching, so my expectations for a slasher film are pretty high. People tell me all the time that in "good horror", less is more and maybe that is true, but imagine just how much more "MORE" could be. I can understand a lot of independent filmmakers are restricted to small budgets and limitations and they should work within their means, but seriously, I feel if you set out to make a slasher film, you better deliver the red gooey goods. I wanted Tears to be over the top when it came to the gore, I like things to be extreme, but not come off like I'm making a snuff film.

Since we’re on the topic of gore, let’s talk about the effects. They were unreal. Who did them and can you tell us about some of your favorite effects and how they were created?

I handled the bulk of the effects, but I had some help from Joe Davison. (he's an all around jack of all trades) Because it was such a small crew, and most of the time I was running camera, I needed someone else to get their hands dirty with me. We had about 2 months prep time, which was a saving grace. We knew it was going to be a huge undertaking, many heads needed to be sculpted or cast, many body parts, tons of silicone guts and entrails had to be made. Even as we shot, we were adding new FX daily. New gags we wanted to try. I wanted to see one character butchered into sloppy chunks and show it from beginning to end. It's the one scene the MPAA gave us the NC-17 over. (side note: when we released it unrated, we added 30 more seconds of footage of her getting chopped up. It's ridiculously over the top) One of my favorite FX gags was one of the most simple to pull off and on film, its outstanding! A girl is chased into the bathroom and disemboweled, it was something we made up on the spot because in the script, she was just going to take a hit to the back with the meat cleaver. But, we wanted to amp things up a bit, so we had a bucket of guts, a bucket of blood and its all done with quick cuts. It really sells the illusion she gets her stomach slashed open. Blood hits the wall, cut to the floor and we see entrails and gore spill everywhere. I love seeing peoples reactions and cheers during the screenings of it and there was literally nothing to it.

You balanced humor and gore very well in this film, which a lot of people have a tough time doing… talk about creating that balance.

Horror and comedy is a tough mix. It can work or it can fail horribly. Personally, I like dark humor in my horror, but the road we took with 100 Tears was a bit different, partly due to Joe Davisons' improv comedy background. What we wanted to do was when Gurdy was onscreen, he wouldn't be comical. We took the death and gore somewhat seriously, albeit overly gory and over the top. We only wanted humor to come from Mark and Jennifer (Joe Davison and Georgia Chris) because they are two funny people to be around and their characters have no idea of how bad the situation is around them, and are somewhat oblivious. The way we structured it was odd, the humor doesn't roll into the gore and the gore isn't a punchline, so it jolts back and forth between the gore and humor rather jarringly. Some people got it and liked it, so maybe, in time, we'll see if what we did holds up.

Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film done. Any advice you can pass on to other indie filmmakers who might be just setting out to make a film.

It was a surprisingly smooth shoot. The first few days we had a large crew, but after that it dwindled to, usually, a 6 person crew. By the last few days, it was literally Alanna (who played "Leggs" in the wheelchair), Jumpin Josh (the best damn Grip we've ever met), Joe and I, all trading off jobs, setting lights, handling the camera, while my hands were covered in blood. But we managed to get the job done in a timely fashion. The rest was dealing with an ultra slow computer to edit on. (a nightmare in and of itself)

Did you enter “100 Tears” into any festivals? If so, how did it do and is the festival circuit something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

We hit the festival circuit and got a great response, we even played a few NON-horror festivals and still did pretty well. We also played at a few Fangoria conventions, but conventions are a different animal. They have a screening room and you can watch all sorts of movies play all day, but most times people usually just stop and see a sneak peek because there is just so much going on at conventions. If you sit for 2 hours in a room, chances are you'll miss something else, but it's cool to watch it screen in those circumstances and see who stays through the entire movie and stays after to ask questions. The biggest was Screamfest Orlando. It's a huge fest and had a huge screening room and never once have I ever seen it pack out as we did with Tears, people literally lined the walls and sat on the floor down the aisle. It got to the point where they stopped letting people in because it was well beyond a fire hazard at that point. So, many people got turned away at the door, it was insane. As far as advice, there is a film festival for every type of film imaginable. Just because a film doesn't go over with a big festival doesn't mean it won't find its place somewhere, so submit to everything you can.

Tell us about the process of finding distribution. How did that go and what insight could you pass on to other filmmakers who are looking for distribution?

Distribution is one hell of an evil to contend with. There are sharks out there and they are hungry. We had a few offers that didn't pan out. We got some contracts that were so ridiculous, I can't even explain. We had a good lawyer to read between the lines on some and I think we've found a good distributor in Anthem. It's not as widely released as any filmmaker would hope, but it's not impossible to find either. The economy really does play a big role in distribution, as well as current trends. Some filmmakers try and see what is selling at the markets and the next film they make is what's hot, but the sad thing is it's the wrong thing to do. Generally, if a trend is HOT on the market, it's on it's last leg and at the end of its run. If you make gore films and someone tells you Sci-Fi is selling better, don't stop making a gore film. By the time you finish your newly adapted alien monster film, ghosts are hot again. So, make the film you want to make, no matter what someone tells you. there will always be an audience for it.

Where can people find out more about “100 Tears” or, better yet, buy a copy?

We have a myspace page for Tears at www.myspace.com/100tears, it can be rented from Netflix.com and is available for sale through our distributor directly at AnthemDVD.com. Little by little, it's getting the recognition and word of mouth is playing a big part in that. Hopefully it will find its way onto the shelves of retailers.

Talk about the indie horror scene and indie horror filmmaking. Where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?

Like I said before, trends come and go and it's in another phase, as usual. We've beat the J-horror ghost stories to death, we are running out of objects that could be haunted. The torture porn thing ran its course in the mainstream, the remakes will end eventually. Personally, I feel the practical FX heavy films I grew up on are coming back and even if it's for a few short years, I'll be happy. CGI has its place in the modern world, but films from the 80's were so great and cheesy, with the tongue planted firmly in cheek, and they didn't have computer generated FX to rely on to make it a blockbuster. They didn't take themselves too seriously, they were just fun to watch and were not afraid of the red stuff.

What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?

Currently, I just finished "Sweatshop" (a very bad ass SMASHER film, if you will) with tons of gore! Who hasn't longed to see a bunch of ravers crushed with a giant hammer made from a pipe and anvil ??? There's also the ultimately surreal, "Walking Distance" (this one is part supernatural science and part Cronenbergian weirdness), all from the warped mind of Director, Mel House. Next week, we begin shooting the newest film in many long years from the God Father of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis. Grim Fairy Tale. It's absolutely wacky and chalked full of absurd gore, who could want more ?

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