Thursday, July 16, 2009

Interview With Drew Barnhardt, writer and director of "Murder Loves Killers Too"

There's a lot of people out there who hate the fact that the cost for film equipment and editing software has dropped so much... What they really hate is that the market is getting saturated with micro-cinema films due to the fact that almost anyone can afford to go out and make a film now. I guess the argument is that only certain filmmakers should be allowed to make films, which would raise the overall quality of the films that do get produced. We've always argued, on the other hand, that... sure, you do get a lot of crap out there, but you also get some kick-ass films that would never have seen the light of day had the cost of making a film been higher. It's like the million monkeys thing - if you let a million monkeys type on a million typewriters, one of them is going to write the next great novel... if only by accident. If you hire smart chimps, like the ones they sent to space in "Space Chimps", you may only need a few hundred thousand... but that's not my point. My point is YES, you get a lot of crap, but you also get a lot of good films that otherwise wouldn't have been made. The problem now rests on how to sift through everything to find those quality films, but that's an issue that I don't need to get into here.

"Murder Loves Killers Too" is one of those quality films that managed to see the light of day, but may not have if the cost of making a film had been higher. Drew Barnhardt, the writer and director, scraped together enough money to get the film made and, now, the indie horror scene is a slightly better place because of it. "Murder Loves Killers Too" is, simply, a quality micro-budget film. It updates the 70's/80's slasher film, while staying true to the genre and is entertaining from beginning to end. It's an extremely well crafted film and it delivers everything that it should, from blood to booze to boobs. Further, in this case, due to its quality and a well executed plan, they were picked up and distributed internationally by Well Go USA. The film is a testament as to why the falling cost of making a film is a good thing and it's definitely worth checking out. Drew offered up a great interview, where we got into all of this and more...

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

Well, I’ve been a movie-freak for as long as I can remember. I grew up making sequels to, and knock-offs of, my favorite flicks when I was a kid with my little (or rather, giant) video camera. My influences are pretty much all over the map. From the big head honchos like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Bunuel, and Peckinpah, to the awesome and amazing films of the Cannon Group, (especially the Death Wish series). Which, I guess, is how I wound up making a slasher movie that opens with Barry Lyndon narration. I also love Brian De Palma, Tobe Hooper, Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter, Blake Edwards, gialli, The Wraith. And Danny Steinmann.

As far as getting into indie horror, that was just a natural. If I had grown up watching and loving romantic melodramas and, all these years later, someone told me I could make a movie in their vacation house, maybe I would’ve made “A Summer Place.” But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t. So, instead, my first thought was “A vacation house? Fucking Great! Lets do us a slasher movie!”

Film school: yes or no?

Maybe. I know it’s a cliché response, but it’s true; film school is all about the friends you make while you’re there. The folks you join together with not only out of a shared passion for film, but also out of a shared passion for pissing off all the tight wads. Thornton Melon-style.

The credit list on MLKT speaks to that. My partner in crime, Chris McKinley (producer/editor on MLKT) and I met in the dorms in our first year at school. MLKT co-producer Guy Clark was my roommate, and MLKT cinematographer Kevin Graves is also a film school chum. We were all committed to doing our own thing (for better or worse) and I guess we clicked because of it.

Tell us about your film, “Murder Loves Killers Too”

MLKT is my modest stab at playing with the conventions of the slasher genre. An absurdist slasher, I suppose. The slasher formula is so simple and familiar to horror fans that you have a lot of room to be playful and riff; to be more outrageous, mix it up, spike the punch sorta speak. So the thought was to do a take on a simple slasher, but filtered through this somewhat warped perspective; smear my sense of humor all over it.

But, first and foremost, we wanted to make a fun flick to watch. It seems like a lot of the recent big budget horror flicks have forgotten that, once upon a time, these movies were supposed to be fun. I wanted MLKT to be a good time at the movies.

How did the project come to be? Tell us about where the idea came from and where you got the financing.

Chris McKinley, my Radar Dog Productions partner, and I had been trying to set up a different film with a larger budget for, what turned into, years. We finally hit a frustration point where we felt we had to make something, even if it was just with the change in our pockets and lots of careful planning.

Around the time of said frustration point, a friend offered to let us use his cabin in Big Bear Lake, California. Chris and I went up to the cabin, checked it out, and decided to go for it. Very quickly I wrote a script that was specifically tailored to the location, the resources we already had available to us, and nothing more. Chris got very creative with planning and scheduling, until we felt like we could pull it off just with what we had. There were lots of absurd obstacles, but we never stopped, because we knew that if we did, we probably would have never started again.

I know it’s right on the back of the box, but you really did a great job of updating the ‘old-school, golden-era slasher’ film. Talk about how you recreated and updated that look and feel.

Apart from some of the obvious visual nods and hat-tips to slasher classics, I honestly wasn’t trying to recreate a 70’s or 80’s look and feel. I was just doing my thing. So I suppose the digested influences of my generation were coming through that way. I prefer long shots to the fast flash cut editing that seems popular these days. I prefer pretty colors to the grimy dark look that seems currently fashionable. And I prefer melodic and funky music to the drone-factory sound that seems to be in lots of horror flicks nowadays. So, maybe that’s why the look and feel seems “retro,” or whatever. The “story” of MLKT, on the other hand, is admittedly a throwback to the ultra-simplistic set-ups of the early slashers. The ones before they started to become overly complicated with needless plot elements that only distracted from the business at hand. In that regard, I guess MLKT is definitely a throwback to a simpler time in slasher history.

The acting stood out for me, especially Allen Andrews as “Big Stevie”. Talk about the casting process and how you prepared your actors.

We didn’t know any of the actors before hand. We met them all through a series of auditions in which we saw many local Los Angeles actors. The first thing, to me, was to cast distinctively different types in each part. In so many low-budget horror flicks, where you’re watching actors who you’re not familiar with, it can be hard to tell the characters apart: “Wait, was that the guy who got killed earlier?” or “Hold on, is she the sister?” So, it’s important to cast visually: different looks, different personalities, different hair colors, and so on. And then, of course, make sure you dress them each in different color palettes.

So, once we put together a group of distinct personalities, I’d spend an afternoon or two with each of them, or in pairs, talking about the movie, getting their ideas, basically just trying to get them comfortable with each other and with me. I didn’t want anybody to over-think anything. “Keep it simple and play it straight,” was where I was coming from for the most part. Luckily for me, I had folks like Christine Haeberman, Allen Andrews, Kat Szumski, and Mary Legault who took this little horror movie seriously and gave it their all.

Did you screen it at any festivals? If so, where did it screen and how did it do? Tell us your thought on the horror festival circuit.

MLKT first screened at Fantasporto in Porto, Portugal. It had a good response. Not overwhelming. Merely whelming. But I met some good and very helpful folks at the fest. From there it went to the Night of Horror fest in Sydney, Australia, where we picked up a nice award. It hasn’t screened at any US fests yet. I would like to see how it plays with an American audience.

We started out submitting to festivals as a tool to get on the map and, ultimately, to help sell it. But as you, and other indie filmmakers are well aware, those submission fees can really mount up (especially when you’re getting more “we regret to inform you’s” than “yesses”). I actually had a great time on the horror fest circuit a few years back with my short “Herbie!” I met a lot of great people, other indie filmmakers, and even a couple of my heroes. And, from what I’ve seen, the horror fests have grown tremendously since then. There are no more enthusiastic and genre-smart audiences to enjoy a horror flick with than those on the horror fest circuit.

Talk about Well Go USA and how they picked up your film. Anything you can pass on to other filmmakers about the process of getting a film distributed?

Our plan, once the movie was made, was to send trailers, artwork, and images out to genre websites, send screeners out to festivals, just to get on the horror scene’s radar, and to, hopefully, help find a sales rep who could take it to film markets and sell it off territory by territory.

And, much to Chris and my complete surprise, that’s exactly how it went down. Chris cut an attention-grabbing trailer. And we commissioned badass Shock Festival artist/author Stephen Romano to do the artwork. I was a big fan of his stuff and thought his style would perfectly set up the movie, and his posters ended up getting a lot of attention on horror sites. The movie made it into a couple festivals, received some enthusiastic reviews, and we were contacted by sales reps. The rest played out from there.

MLKT and Well Go USA found each other at the American Film Market, and we were thrilled. We knew, in this market, getting a North American DVD was far from a certainty and, with the cost a company incurs with a DVD release, it was probably a real long shot for such a small movie as ours. Now I hope it does well for all parties involved.

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

From what I can tell there are as many, or more, talented folks than ever working in indie horror. But the opportunities for distribution are fewer. It seems as though, in this market, companies are less likely to pick up movies and turn a profit with them. So it’s becoming tougher for the no-budget affairs that don’t flaunt name faces or slicked up production values to get picked up and released. But I’ve only done one movie so I’m not the best person to ask. I don’t know what I don’t know. I do know that it’s tough going out there now.

As far as the future of indie horror, it ain’t going nowhere. Most of the great breakthrough horror films of the last forty years were all independent and lower-budget. I’m not even sure if a breakthrough horror flick can come from anywhere else but the independent scene, where filmmakers who have nothing to lose can push the boundaries.

Where can people find out more about “Murder Loves Killers Too” or, better yet, buy a copy?

You can buy it through Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Barnes & Noble and so on. You can find the links to all of the above, one stop shopping style, here…

MurderLovesKillersToo.com

Also, you can find it for rent on Netflix and the other rental places. And for international readers, MLKT came out in France last month (called “Meurtres”) and it should be coming out in other territories in the months to come.

What’s next for you? Any more projects in the works?

Absolutely. I’m real excited about the latest thing I’ve written. Chris and I will be putting our guns behind it. I shouldn’t say too much or we’ll look awfully silly if five or so years go by without getting it off the ground and then we come out with Murder Loves Killers Too 2. And then two sequels later it’s “What do Killers Love Murder For?” And three sequels after that we’re back with “What the Killers Who Love Murder Ate.”

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