Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview with Gregory Caiafa, the writer and director of "Intruder"

I don't know if you've noticed or not, but we've changed things up a bit. Not much, really, just a slight change of focus. Way back when, when we first started out, we mainly discussed the industry from a macro perspective and were basically writing like a bunch of indie horror fan-boys - not very focused. Then, as we are aspiring and practicing filmmakers and screenwriters ourselves, we decided to focus more on the filmmakers and the indie horror filmmaking process - getting more focused. Now, we've decided that we really should be more like the "resource" that we claim to be. We should be for the indie horror filmmaker and we should ask the questions that you would ask and pass on the news that you want to know. We want to gather the information that you need to get an indie horror film from concept to completion as successfully as possible - a resource for indie filmmakers. So, you may have noticed that slight change in focus in our blog posts, as well as in the questions we ask in our interviews. We want to talk to indie festival directors, to distributors and to those who've made quality films that were successfully taken to market. "Intruder", from Gregory Caiafa, is one of those quality films and he gives us exactly the type of answers we're looking for.

"Intruder" is a slasher film and, for the most part, it follows the classic slasher film rules. Having said that, there are a few things he does that makes his film stand out... most importantly, the film has great characters and it's written extremely well. From the perspective of a fan, the film delivers everything that a slasher film should - a confined space, a psychotic killer, gore and hot girls. From the perspective of a filmmaker, Caiafa delivers a slick looking film that's a great example of what a low-budget slasher film can be. He takes time to develop the characters and the story, while hitting all the marks that the film needs to. We had the pleasure of discussing the film with him and he offers up a great interview, which is right in line with what we're looking for with our renewed focus...

Tell us about your film, “Intruder” and if you don’t mind us asking, what was the budget and how did you secure the financing?

“Intruder” was a “plan b” movie. I had written a tremendous script for a retro-slasher that would have required way more money than the paltry sum I had at the time, so I quickly wrote “Intruder” to exploit the momentum I had created for myself. The budget was in the extremely low five-figures, and was secured through various sources.

One of my favorite aspects of your film was the character of Lila Red. You did a great job of building her character over the course of the film. Did you have her in mind first or the premise in mind first? Maybe you can talk a bit about the writing process.

Lila Red was the spine of the movie. My intention was to create a dark portrait of a disturbed character wrapped in the shell of a slasher film. I’m most pleased with how that aspect landed. Often, the story itself fails to live up to its protagonist, but people tend to find it compelling nonetheless. It’s unconventional for this type of picture, and many fans may be annoyed by it, but it was a conscious choice I made to separate “Intruder” from the plethora of horror flicks released each year.

I also really liked the killer. Very simple, which, for me, made him seem more real. Talk about creating the killer.

The killer was a gimmick character. Killer Clowns tend to sell well on the retail market, so I stuck one in there. I don’t particularly enjoy that detail – though there are parts I like a great deal. The character itself was meant to exemplify the randomness of violence. It’s as disruptive and unfathomable as the afflictions that haunt the main character. He’s the external force of evil in a film where the real enemy is within. I have also found attempts at a back-story for the killer to be fairly pointless in other slasher flicks, so I didn’t bother with one. At the end of the day, the slasher archetype – with very few exceptions – is like a shark: a mindless, brutal force of nature.

You also did a great job in casting. It was well acted and well directed. Talk about casting and your directing style.

I placed an ad in Backstage East and conducted my readings out of a Knights of Columbus in Brooklyn. We read a couple of hundred people before settling on the dozen or so that populate the film. I’m mostly satisfied with my choices, though there is a key role that I feel was miscast. It was the kind of situation where I didn’t have a strong handle on a character and wound up casting someone who was terrible for a part, before replacing them with someone who was only kinda wrong for it.

Intruder represented a crude type of film school for me. My background at the time was in theory, and I felt the only way to get a handle on the craft was to dive right in. I feel I did more wrong than right directorially. Given my druthers I would have rehearsed the actors extensively and been a little more concerned with the feel of a scene as opposed to simply conveying information. My subsequent directing work has been far stronger as a result of the lessons learned throughout “Intruder”.

You had some great gore in the film, too. Which was your favorite effect and how was it done?

Special Effects-wise, my fave is probably the “eye gouge”. Overall, I put more of an emphasis on impact and aftermath than insertion. I think a cerebral approach often works because it forces the audience to fill in the blanks mentally, and it also demands more of you editorially, as you have to make the effect work in the cut. I concede that may be a tough sell for a generation weaned on the excesses of “Hostel” and the whole torture genre.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you in to film?

My influences are pretty much everything made in the 1970’s. Lol. I’m drawn more to character-driven material. I couldn’t list all my favorite films on a single webpage! The Godfather Part II, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, M., The Exorcist; the list goes on and on and on…

Film school: yes or no?

I have a BA in Film Theory, and wouldn’t rule anything out in the future education-wise.

When you set out to make “Intruder”, what was the goal? Was it to make money, were you trying to open doors, get into festivals… and did you accomplish what you set out to do?

My professional objective with “Intruder” was pretty straightforward: create a low-budget slasher for the home video market that would get me a grip on the first rung of the film business ladder. To that extent I have succeeded. And I had no conceit coming in as far as criticism or the quality of the film goes. Rip it apart! As long as it gets its day in court, and as long as it isn’t personal. It’s important to note that, regardless of the relative strength or weakness of a piece, if you have some capacity as an artist the right people will recognize it. This helps you get that elusive grip on that slippery rung.

I’m pleased that many seem to enjoy the film, however I’m more encouraged when fellow filmmakers and fans who may dislike the movie take the time to give me kudos for what I did right. It’s part of the birthing process. You come out, make a bunch of bad movies, and then make a brilliant one that gets you famous (fingers crossed… tightly!).

Maybe you could talk a bit about your decision to make a slasher film and what you did to make yours stand out.

I made a slasher because it’s a niche market that never seems to go away. There have been dry spells here and there, but for the most part, the slasher flick has been a staple of the horror genre since the mid-1970’s. My thinking was that the film would enjoy a slightly longer shelf life if I made it in that milieu. On the downside, a niche market is just that: a small sample of the entire fan base. Your appeal is limited. And the audience can often be unforgiving. Many slasher fans have a ridiculously specific idea about what such a film should be and will excoriate anything that deviates from that paradigm. I went on Netflix and Adam Green’s “Hatchet” – arguably the best slasher film of the post-modern era – has an average of only 2.8 stars out of five. I mean seriously!

Talk about the process of finding distribution. If you could pass on one piece of advice to other indie filmmakers on distribution, what would that be?

As far as distribution is concerned, I sent out an extremely rough draft of the film to a bunch of companies, and got a few offers. More importantly though, I got feedback, which enabled me to make a few adjustments/ reshoots before resubmitting it to various sales agents and DVD companies. Most distributors are broke and it’s highly unlikely you’ll get anything resembling an advance, so what you’re looking for is someone with a track record of making profits from similar work. If they book and promote it well the film could turn over some green.

Honestly, though, my advice to other filmmakers would be to self-distribute. I’m extremely pleased that “Intruder” got into most major online retailers and rental services, however if you’re a newbie with no pedigree, even the “pay-to-play” companies are going to drag their asses when it comes to promoting and booking your film. At the end of the process you’re typically exhausted and just want to get it out there, but you’re going to wind up doing most of the leg work anyway, so you might as well hold onto a bigger piece of the wholesale pie. A credible producer advised me to self-distribute in the very beginning and I regret not heeding his words.

Talk about the indie horror scene, where do you think it is now and where do you see it going?

The indie horror scene is a quirky beast. It’s always a crapshoot. Films are cheaper to make now as technology has democratized the art form. But consequently the market is so glutted that it’s virtually impossible to make any kind of real money out of the gate. Financial considerations are paramount, as money equals momentum in the film biz. But the demand for films is down overall since the internet killed the video star. People are watching youtube and checking out films through pirate sites (shame!). As a result, the current generation has been primed for both short attention spans and free entertainment. Not good for the indie filmmaker. Not good at all. As far as artistic issues go, well, there will always be an audience for a truly scary film, and scary films can be made for any amount of money. “Paranormal Activity” made more than any one of the “Saw” films, and the movie’s budget was about half of what a typical Saw trap costs to pull off. Granted, that’s an anomaly, but it still demonstrates that fine work can be done with meager resources. If you add up all those factors, I think that as young filmmakers make more and more films and hone their craft vocationally, we’ll experience a new vogue of truly frightening independent horror movies in the years to come. It may be a vogue driven more by passion than profit; but that’s fine. If need be, I’d be perfectly happy selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, provided I could still make a movie a year and get it seen by other people.

Where can people find out more about “Intruder” or get their hands on a copy?

“Intruder” can be purchased through Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, most Bakers and Taylor online retailers, and many Mom-n-Pop shops as well. It can also be rented through netflix. Here's a LINK to its Amazon page.

What’s next for you? A sequel? The film IS left open for one…

I don’t think I’ll be making a sequel. I wrote a treatment for one, and assembled a small production to make it happen. However, that was intended more as a device to keep the first film fresh. I was almost a year out from locking picture without a distributor and figured a packaged duo of films would sell better at the film markets. That plan got indefinitely postponed when I settled on the companies that put the film out on DVD and VOD.

The next step is to make another film. I have a script that’s ready to be lensed and anticipate getting the ball rolling now that “Intruder” has been put to bed. Wish me luck!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Is that guy not aware that there a CLASSIC horror flick already called Intruder?

Anonymous said...

No, he wasn't aware of that :)