Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interview with JJ Connelly, the writer/director of "Gothkill"

Random thought number 1: A little while ago, I was talking with Brad about some random issue and we ended up discussing the fact that film guys all tend to have this strange gift/curse of being able to see things in third person. You know what I mean? Like, say you get in a drunken altercation with some prick and it just turns weird... would you ever take yourself out of the experience and think, "damn, I'm going to have to write this shit down when I get home. There's good stuff here"? I do that all the time... not the drunken altercation part, but the part where I take myself out of the situation, look at it from a third person perspective, and observe. I'm not sure if that's a learned ability or not, but I've found that a lot of film and creative people are like that.

Random thought number 2: I'm into metal. Now, if you saw me walking down the street, there's no way that you'd assume that. By looking at me, the last place you'd think I'd show up at is at a metal show, but I love 'em... and every time I see a band like Slayer or Slipknot, I take in the surroundings. It's amazing. However, as Doc Holiday would say, "my hypocrisy goes only so far..." I've been to a few metal shops, looking for shirts and stuff like that, but I don't really delve too far into the scene. Having said that, it's a scene that I'm interested in and would love to learn more about. I have a big soft spot for metal and anything related to it...

Tying random thought 1 and 2 together: I'm really intrigued by the goth scene, due to my love of metal mentioned in random thought number 2, which piqued my interest in JJ Connelly's film, "Gothkill"... and, after talking with him, I found out that the roots of this film came from that same ability to see things in third person that I discussed in random thought number 1. You can read on, but, essentially, JJ was at a goth party and his mind started to wander. What crossed his mind was, probably, exactly what would cross my mind and the result of that thought was this film.

The film itself is extremely well done, especially considering that it's his directorial debut. I'm amazed at how well he developed the story and weaved it in and around, using various techniques and points of view. People who are into goth will probably dig it, but you don't have to be in to the scene to enjoy it... in fact, you may enjoy it more if you're not into the goth scene, but you'll have to check it out to see why. It's a great film with a great story and I definitely recommend it... and, not only that, I'm glad I had the chance to discuss it with JJ and find out that he, too, has this amazing ability to see things in third person. Really, much like Spiderman's superpowers, it's a gift and a curse.


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

The real question should be "what took you so long?"As long as I can remember, I've wanted to make movies. Drive in type movies by directors like Dennis Hopper and Roger Corman have always been a favorite of mine. Because I grew up in a blue collar town, I had no idea how to pursue a career in the arts. Only after I met my friend Kirk Larsen, (Art director, costumer and all around great guy to have on the set of Gothkill) did I realize that I could just do it. He brought me to my first film shoot to help him with some grip work.

Film School: Yes or No?

No. I grew up in a real blue collar environment. I learned by doing.

Tell us a bit about “Gothkill”, what’s it about and where did you get the idea?

The idea came from several places. I remember walking into the "Vampyres Ball" at The Bank in NYC back in the'90's. Seeing all the occult trappings, I thought to myself, "I wonder how most of these people would react if they ever encountered a real demon?" There were some urban legends going around about the Goth scene at the time as well. I didn't believe them, but thought they would be entertaining in a movie. Around that time, I also saw Dee Snider's "Strangeland" and wanted to write a sequel. I had no way of contacting Mr. Snider, so "Captain Howdy" became "Nick Dread".

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

It was supposed to be under $50,ooo. It ended up at just under $100,000. Financing came through a friend of a friend. He, like me, always wanted to make a movie. His background was in business, so he settled with financing it rather than doing it himself.

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

We shot in digital video on a couple of Panasonic X-100's in 24p. It was supposed to be a 10 day shoot. It ended up taking 19 months.

The film revolved heavily around the goth scene and the look and feel was extremely authentic. So, did you get actors to research the goth scene or did you get people in the goth scene to research acting? Talk about creating that look and feel.

A great many of the cast are from the Goth scene and were more or less playing themselves. This is especially true of the extra's, featured extra's and the smaller roles. Others, like Michael Day, Eve Blackwater and Erica are trained actors. Of the three, I'd say Michael Day had the least actual exposure to the Goth scene. He did a remarkable job and really pulled off the role of a pompous ass / poseur well. He's actually a very down to Earth, cool guy.

Flambeaux was fantastic as Nick Dread. In fact, you did a great job on casting. Where did you find him and talk about the casting process.

Flambeaux was an acquaintance I met through a cousin of mine. He's been performing at NYC underground events for years. I went to see his first Off Off Broadway show "World of the P Cult" in the Summer of '02. I was so impressed with his acting that I came back three nights in a row and taped his performances. When funding for "GothKill" became available, it was a no brainer. Flambeaux was the man.

The story had a few flash-backs, as well as a few cuts to Flambeaux in hell and even some scenes where he addresses the audience. To be honest, I thought it was a very complex story and it was put together on film very effectively. Talk about preparing for the shoot and how you managed everything.

My screen writing teacher cautioned me against using flashbacks. I've always been a fan of shows like "Forever Knight" and "Highlander", so flashbacks come naturally to me. Addressing the audience was a nod to Spalding Gray. I've always loved his films and his style. Flambeaux and I both believe in mysticism and are very interested in our Celtic heritage. We can talk about it for hours. As complex as the story was, as long as he "Got it" , and I know he did, I was sure I could pull this off.

When you’re dealing with sex, violence, religion, etc… it can be tough to deal with actors, let alone the rest of the crew. Talk about your directing style.

Ha! Is "deer caught in the headlights" a directing style? This was my first time. I was terrified. I hadn't learned this by doing. I had read Robert Rodriguez book "Rebel Without A Crew". I watched Joe Mantello direct "Assassins" and "Wicked" because I was working on those shows. I noticed how Joe never raised his voice, never embarrassed his actors. He pulled people aside and discussed what he wanted from them. That seemed pretty cool, so I went with that. It works.

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

Don't ever hire your crew off of that guy's online "list". You know who I mean. You want some used furniture? Go to that guy's list. You want a crew? Do your homework. Ask around. Use any and all contacts you have. Check references personally. As for the hurdles, there were a ton. The first producer, who I won't name, hired way too many people, most of them off that "list" and pissed away over $60,000 in four days. We had to fire most of the crew and shoot the bulk of the movie in small pieces, over a period of over 18 months, as small sums of money came in. Scheduling was a nightmare, and we had to use body double's on several occasions. The guerilla style we shot with, as well as all the hats our small remnant of a crew had to wear, actually made us tight knit little movie making machine. It was hectic, but fun.

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

We entered not as many as I would have liked, but it can get expensive if you submit your movie to everything. We had our European debut in 2008's "Gimme Shelter Film Festival" in Athens Greece. It was well received over there. Closer to home, we've been in the Coney Island Film Festival in 2008 and in 2009 we're slated to be in the next "Evil City Film Festival" .

Talk about the process of finding distribution, what would you tell filmmakers who’ve recently finished a film and are looking for distribution?

Support your local horror / cult film scene. You never know who you're going to meet at these small events. It was at such a screening that I ran into Rob from Wild Eye Releasing. It was at the Pioneer Theatre in NYC (R.I.P.).

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

Wild Eye has a web site, and there is an actual GothKill website as well. www.gothkill.com

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

It's tough. Big studios seem to enjoy passing off some of their films as "indie" projects. Hollywood is the land of remakes and sequels. Even a lot of the smaller festivals and fan sites seem to schill for the major studios. Money is tight these days, so that makes things even tougher. If people really want to keep indie horror alive, they need to support it. Get out to those screenings. Buy the dvd even though you can copy it from a friend. Come to our websites and send us emails. Let us know you're watching and you want more. If there's a demand for it, and you let us know, we'll find a way to make it happen.

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

I have several scripts backlogged. We were all set to start on a movie about an all girl vigilante gang, but the economy hit our backer so we had to put it on hold. I'm going to start shopping a couple of scripts around later this year.

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