Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Look Back At The 2008 Box Office For Horror

I can't believe it's New Years Eve, where did this year go? Oh yeah... down the shitter. Well, I'm assuming that most of you are sleeping in, so you can get some rest prior to getting your drink on tonight to try and forget about all the bad shit that's happened this past year. However, I'm up because I have to go to work for a while. In any case, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the 2008 Box Office and see how horror did...

Let's warm up with a few obvious things. Such as, it's fairly safe to say that "The Dark Knight" was the film of the year. However, "Iron Man" was a close second in the Box Office and, some say, a better film. Personally, I'm torn, I thought they were both pretty good. Third place goes to "Indiana Jones", which sucked... Then "Hancock" and "WALL-E", to round out the top 5 at the Box Office. Of useless note, "Kung Fu Panda" was right behind "WALL-E" and is considered to be the animated movie of the year, but whatever. Let's talk about horror.

The first horror film comes in at number 8, and that's "Twilight". Even though I don't really consider it a horror, per se... it is about vampires. After that, it's a big, big step down. Unless, of course, you count number 20, which is "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor". Which is, once again, barely horror, but it is about a mummy.

The first film that I would actually consider to be horror related comes in at number 32... and that's "Cloverfield". Here's how the rest of them fared. I've ranked them by their overall standing in Box Office numbers.

Number 34... "Hellboy II: Golden Army"
Number 41... "The Happening"
Number 47... "Saw V"
Number 49... "The Strangers"
Number 59... "Prom Night"
Number 84... "Quarantine"
Number 90... "Mirrors"
Number 94... "Untraceable"
Number 96... "One Missed Call"
Number 99... "Shutter"
Number 113... "The Ruins"
Number 121... "The Haunting of Molly Hartley"
Number 133... "Doomsday"
Number 144... "Punisher: War Zone"

I may have left a few out, some by accident and some because they didn't make the list. I'm just going down the list of top 150 grossing films of 2008 on, so blame them if you think I've made a glaring mistake. For interests sake, number 150 grossed a mere $7.5Million, while "The Dark Knight" grossed over $530Million.

So, what can we take from all this? First off, this was clearly not a banner year for theatrical horror films. "Twilight" was a PG-13 rated film, based off a novel that's clearly geared towards a younger demographic. The third "Mummy" film, also PG-13, was another film that was clearly more family oriented, which brings us to "Cloverfield", coming in at 32nd overall and, yet again, also PG-13. "Cloverfield" came out to mixed reviews and probably doesn't have the 'stickiness' to garner a sequel or even get cult status, which a lot of people thought it would. I was hyped about it, then had all but forgotten about it before I saw it on this list. Really, the first horror film comes in at number 47 overall, with "Saw V", followed by a string of films that are unmistakably horror. There are a few good films in there, including "The Strangers" and "The Ruins", but all and all, nothing to write home about.

At the end of the day, the theatrical trend towards big-budget family fare is continuing and I don't see it stopping. Further, the straight-to-DVD and VOD markets are growing, but we haven't seen what is referred to as 'the tipping point', yet. I don't think it'll tip in 2009, either. There's a few big, edgier films to come out in '09, such as "The Wolf Man", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", "Star Trek XI", "Terminator Salvation" and "Transformers 2". All of which will be PG-13, I'm sure... but could appeal to the R-rated audience and curb them from hunting for films elsewhere. What could be interesting is if the new "Friday the 13th" does really well. If it does, you could see a new rise in the theatrical slasher films, which would be nice...

As for the straight-to-DVD, VOD and streaming market, I think you'll see it grow, but not gain critical mass. I expect the 'tip' to occur in or around 2010. VOD is really in its infancy and most homes don't have the hardware to support it. Watch for big moves in the gaming console markets, as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo push to own the living room. All of them go online now and the PS3 and XBox 360 currently download and stream content. They're currently only delivering mainstream fare, but I think they'll figure out how to tap into the 'long tail' and deliver niche content... once they do that, watch for them to 'tip' and become media centers, as opposed to video game consoles.

So, for various reasons, 2008 is a year that a lot of people want to forget. Further, a lot of people are being pessimistic about 2009, already. I'm not one of those people. After a slow start, I think 2009 is going to be a great year and I'm looking forward to it. In fact, tonight, I'm going to be celebrating what's about to come, as opposed to what we just went through. Because of that, I may be just a bit too hungover to post anything tomorrow, but I'll be back on Friday. Then, come Monday, we'll be back in full force and ready to kick some ass in 2009.

Until then... good drinking, my friends and I'll see you in 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interview with David Francis, writer/director of "Awakening"

I don't know if I've just been watching a lot of zombie movies lately or if there's just more of them out there, but I've gotta say... I've been very impressed with what I've been seeing. I watched a couple of indie zombie flicks, back to back, a week or so ago. First, I checked out "Zombie Diaries", which was a great, tension building flick (we hope to have an interview with those guys soon), then I checked out the lesser publicized "Awakening", originally titled "Zombie Night II: Awakening". I was blown away by both. Honestly, they were two of the best indie horror zombie films that I've seen in a long, long while and, the best thing was, they were distinctly different.

Where "Zombie Diaries" did a great job of building tension and really creating the world in which it lived, "Awakening" accomplished something that you almost never see in a low-budget horror film... it's a balls-to-the-wall, all out gore-fest with piles of action, including car crashes and explosions. I mean, it starts off like most low-budget indie's, but builds to a bloody, fiery conclusion that will leave you wanting to go grab your camera and just blow shit up. It's a true accomplishment, as far as action/horror on an indie level is concerned, and we had the pleasure of discussing the film with writer/director David J Francis.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what brought you into the world of indie horror filmmaking?

Desperation? Nah, it's just fun. I've always loved horror movies, the way they made you feel more alive through fear. It's like that feeling you have when coming up from the basement that there is something just behind you and you practically kill yourself getting to the top of the stairs before the "monster" gets you. That actually happened last week again. Damn it's fun. That's what brought me to this world, I want everyone to know and enjoy (and fear) that feeling.

Film School: Yes or No?

No, college and university for theatre though, great base for where I am now.

Where did the idea for “Awakening” come from and what made you get off your ass and go make it?

Awakening is actually Zombie Night 2. Zombie Night, as Mike Masters would say (probably rightfully so), is one of the worst movies ever made but it was a blast and we had an opportunity to do something new several years later so we decided to take what we had learned in the interim period and apply it to a sequel!

How did you go about securing financing and what was the approx budget?

The budget was under $100K, business loans, credit cards, credit cards, lines of credit and more credit cards plus a very supportive producer kept that particular dream alive!

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

We shot on the Panasonic 100a and we shot over a two week period. 14-15 hour days but we got it done.

There’s a lot of tired and redundant zombie films coming out… talk about the zombie genre and how to keep it fresh.

It's tough keeping it fresh. Awakening is a throwback in many ways but we tried to make that interesting and compelling with the zombies only emerging during the night. With the emergence of "fast" zombies traditional living dead flicks have had to adapt to stay alive. This, I believe, is causing film makers to rely more heavily on story and acting to the benefit of us all. To me the fast zombies should not be considered living dead but instead be victims of a plague or biotoxin as will be seen in my feature Primal scheduled to be shot in late 2010. Fast or slow, I love 'em.

No question, the effects were unreal. Talk about doing effects and making them believable on a low budget.

That's the easiest part, you just need a group of extremely talented and dedicated people. We had a wonderful FX team that went above and beyond to ensure we had the best effects possible. only about 25% of the coolness they created is visible on screen, the cost of a low budget movie, we didn't have enough lights to see them! They went so far as to collect road kill and leave it out overnight in order to harvest life maggots in the morning. One of our feature zombies would spit them out in different scenes. Disgusting and barely visible on camera but tremendously cool. All of that is available on the feature film "Good, Fast and Cheap, The Making of Zombie Night 2; Awakening" to be released through our website in early 2009.

Tell us a bit about some of your favorite effects in the film.

By far my fav is the maggot zombie, he was done as a surprise for me. twelve hours in the makeup chair to do it. absolutely fantastic, it blew everyone away. He only got a few seconds on camera for the final cut but it was worth it. He actually spat out live maggots and worms!

Now, Awakening is actually Zombie Night 2. Why change the title and is there a third? How do they all fit together?

The title is actually supposed to be Zombie Night 2; Awakening but it got changed with the US release. There's actually a flow between parts 1 and 2 however the third movie is called Reel Zombies ( and it follows Mike Masters, myself and our cast and crew as we embark on our third feature Zombie Night 3 but after zombies actually take over the world. It just started the festival circuit and is blowing everyone away. The trailer is up on

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?

Sometimes the hurdles seem to be insurmountable but anything can be accomplished with hard work and great people beside you. As with any indie film, cash is always a problem but we were lucky enough to have large lines of credit. The next tough thing is getting people. For Zombie Night 2 we had over 600 volunteer cast and crew come out! What fantastic folks. The town of Deseronto, Ontario, Canada opened their doors and hearts and made this movie happen. If we needed anything they would do whatever they could to ensure those needs were met. The lesson from that is never EVER burn a location, keep the locals happy and treat them the way you would want to be treated. With respect. When we finished shooting the mayor presented Mike and I with the key to the city. When we needed to shoot some scenes there for Reel Zombies we were welcomed back. Keep up those contacts and relationships, you'll need them. From time to time the people that have helped you out will ask for a favor, honor that. They gave you their time (the most valuable commodity there is), give it back!

Have a SOLID script and plan of execution but be willing to flow with any changes or challenges that come up. You'll need to.

Next tip. Contract EVERYONE and make sure your contracts are legit and solid. Trust me, you'll need them.

I'd continue but there would be a book (at least a novelette) for your readers. No-one wants to read about me waxing eloquent like that!

To summarize, have good people watching your back and watch theirs in return.

Did you enter festivals? If so, how did it do? Talk about the festival circuit… is it something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

We didn't bother doing the festival circuit with Zombie Night 2 although Mike Masters and I travelled to the Berlin Film Festival where we rented an office at the film market there to attempt to sell it ourselves (once had an extremely bad experience with a sales agent). What an eye opening experience to discover the process of selling a feature film. If I had done that seven years ago before shooting the first movie...

I'd highly recommend doing the circuit provided your project has a chance. It's tremendously expensive simply submitting to them let alone traveling the globe following your movie. Research the festivals you are submitting to and ensure that there is a category for you. If you have a slasher flick don't submit to a Christian Values festival!

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?

That's about the toughest part. We went to Berlin to the film market there. Learned a ton and made some contacts. through that we got a German and US release then hunted for sales elsewhere but ended up having to bring on a sales agent to find those buyers. Be very very careful and do a background check on any agent, distributor or wholesaler that offers you a deal. There are wonderful people out there that will act honorably and work with you and others that might go so far as to forge your signature on a contract and sell your movie from under you! It could happen so watch your ass.

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

There is info on the movie on our company website Copies are available on and in select stores in the US and again, the making of... feature length documentary (the birth of Reel Zombies!) will be available on our website in early 2009 as well.

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

It's tough to say. To me, an Indie movie is one that should have a cap on the budget. When an extremely wealthy individual puts, say, 1,000,000 into a production and has star friends appear in it with great media coverage (because of those involved) and is called an "indie" movie simply because it doesn't have studio backing, I cringe. How can people like us compete with that? Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against a movie made in a scenario like that, I just don't want to have to compete against them on equal ground as if all our resources were the same. Independent (Indie) movies are just that. They are made independently of studios or mainstream cinema. We operate outside of that. We want in but live on the fringe until we get there or die trying!

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

For now am just following Reel Zombies through the festival circuit and spending time with my daughter, she put up with a lot during her six years. I did the rough edit for Zombie Night 1 when she was only a few months old and sitting on my lap, then I took off to make ZN2 and finally a full summer shooting Reel Zombies then almost 2,000 hours editing it over a winter. She needs some quality time... I'm all she has, so it's important to be there for her. But...

once the festival circuit is over....

to be continued!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dead Harvey's Back... with the New Horror DVD's of the Week

Okay, we're back... and I thought I'd have a lot of spare time to stock pile some posts and get my shit together over the last week, but... I didn't. So, I'm basically right where I left off. However, if the amount of new horror out this week is any indication, it should be a slow week. As usual, if you want to buy any of these, click on the titles and you can buy them off Amazon, through us. Otherwise, head over to our Youtube Page, where you can see all the trailers...

I can't believe it, but it's been 20 years since "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" came out. I was in the 8th grade and I specifically remember it coming out. In any case, they're coming out with a "Hellbound: Hellraiser II - 20th Anniversary Edition". As for the film itself, it was pretty good, as far as sequel's are concerned. And if you're a fan of the series and you don't have this in your collection, you may want to check it out. This edition has the unrated version of the film, audio commentary with cast and crew, plus 60 minutes of new featurettes.

Although it sounds like it's trying to rip off "Snakes on a Plane", "Snakes on a Train"... or even the subsequent "Flight of the Dead", it's not. "Train of the Dead" is actually a Thai film from Sukhum Mathawanit that's called "Chum thaang rot fai phii" in its native Thailand and it should get a better North American title, as it has nothing to do with any of those afore mentioned films. It's about a gang that rips off a kindergarten school, then gets into a police chase, where they crash during their escape. They crawl out of the car and escape into an empty train carriage. When they find the train filled with rich passengers, they decide to rob them, as well. However, things are not as they seem. The gang is actually dead and the passengers are all ghosts... and the ghosts will be taking them to their final judgement.

"Bloodsuckers from Outer Space" came out in 1986 and is getting rereleased for no particular reason except for, possibly, because it's one of the cheesiest, lowest budget movies to come out in the 80's... and that's when Troma was peaking. If you're into the cult, low-budget stuff of years past, check it out. At absolute worst, go over to our Youtube Page and check out the trailer there. It's really a zombie film, but since it came out in the mid-80's, they had to put a space theme to it. It's about an invisible alien presence that invades rural Texas and kills victims, reanimates their corpses and sends them on a bloodthirsty rampage.

"Morellas Witching Hour" is a collection of three older witch related films, including "The Witchmaker", "Witch Academy" and "Crowhaven Farm". "The Witchmaker" came out in 1969 and is from William O Brown, who didn't do much else... "Witch Academy" came out in 1993 and is from Fred Olen Ray, who's done a bunch of 'bikini' related films like "Bikini Chain Gang" and "Bikini Girls from the Lost Planet". "Crowhaven Farm", from 1970, may be the most known of the bunch, although it's not really that known. It's from Walter Grauman, who spent the bulk of his career directing TV, and has a bit of a cult following.

Well, that wasn't so hard... nice easy return.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Horror DVD's out this Week...

As I warned a week ago, it's another slow week in horror... but, with the year coming to an end, Christmas this week and the inevitable family gatherings, it doesn't really matter, as you probably don't have much time on your hands, anyhow. Looking at the handful of movies that are coming out this week, they look pretty good. It may be too late to get them for Christmas... but if you want to buy any of these films, you can click on the titles and buy them off Amazon, through us. Also, you can head over to our Youtube page and check out the trailers. Finally, this should be our only post of the week, as there's just too much S going on. You may get a drunk rambling or two, but we'll be back in full force next week...

The big release of the week is "Resident Evil: Degeneration", which is available in both Blu-ray and regular def. It's a feature length CGI film, writing by Shotaro Suga and directed by Makoto Kamiya. So, I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say it's a Japanese film... and, after further inspection it, in fact, is. It's more based on the video games than the existing films, as the plot revolves around characters from the games. In the film, a zombie attack brings chaos to Harvardville Airport and Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, who fought the sinister Umbrella Corporation during the Raccoon City tragedy 7 years ago, are back. I actually had a chance to watch the first little bit of it and it's exactly what you would expect from an R rated, CGI zombie films. If that's your thing, you should check it out.

Also out this week is the Dimension Extreme released, "Pulse 3", which is a little shocking because I swear that "Pulse 2: Afterlife" JUST came out... they must have shot them all at once or back to back. If you remember, the original "Pulse" was written by Wes Craven and Ray Wright, directed by Jim Sonzero and it was based on a Japanese film called "Kairo", about a computer hacker who accidentally channels a bunch of ghosts and demons through a mysterious wireless signal. "Pulse 2: Afterlife" was written and directed by Joel Soisson and was loosely connected to the first one... "Pulse 3" is, once again, from Joel Soisson and the plot of this one revolves around a girl who travels back to a city populated by the dead in the search of a mysterious internet lover.

"Baghead" is a film that you and I should probably check out... as I haven't seen it yet, but have heard quite a bit about it. Jay and Mark Duplass are a couple of micro-cinema filmmakers, who went out a few years back and made the indie film "The Puffy Chair", which you probably haven't heard about because it's a sensitive, funny, quirky relationship movie. However, while shooting it, a crew member raised the question, "what's the scariest thing you can think of?". Someone replied "a guy with a bag on his head, staring into your window." And "Baghead" was born from that conversation... they set out with $50K and came back with this, a film that opened at Sundance and had buyers calling them, making insanely inflated offers.

The last film of the week is "99 Pieces", which won Anthony Falcon, the writer and director, the Festival Recognition award at the Bare Bones International Film Festival in 2007. It's about a guy who wakes up to find his wife missing and a puzzle to solve. He then must reconnect with his life and discover a puzzle of lies and deception about himself, his wife and his family in order to stay alive for the next 40 days and nights... while living through starvation and horror.

Have a great holiday season... and we'll talk to you soon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Film Festival Updates: The Paranoia Horror Film Festival

I have been aboard the RMS Queen Mary. It's true. I've also seen the Spruce Goose, which is housed next to it at Long Beach. They're tourist attractions now. However, before the Queen Mary was retired in 1967, it was used as a cruise ship, then to transport troops during World War II and then back to being a cruise ship. And now, like I said, there's kids running around it, line ups, cotton candy, things like that... What most of those fat little kids don't know is that ghosts have been reported on board, but only after it docked in California. You see, in 1966, an 18 year old fireman was crushed by a watertight door in the engine room and his ghost is said to haunt the ship. In fact, because of all that, the Queen Mary operates daily paranormal themed tours, some of which have theatrics and effects. There's a haunted maze and they do some other stuff on Halloween. If you remember, the X-Files also did an episode on the ship, although it wasn't about The Queen Mary, it was about the Bermuda Triangle and the ship stood in for a WWII-era vessel. So, why am I bringing this all up? Well, because The Queen Mary will be hosting the first annual Paranoia Horror and Sci-Fi Convention and Film Festival this March 13th - 15th.

The Paranoia Horror and Sci-Fi Convention and Film Festival or "Paranoia", as they'd like to be coined, is vying to be the world's largest Horror Convention & Film Festival and they'd like to find the next great thing in horror each and every year. So, they're doing a judged festival and will be accepting submissions for feature-length films, short films, videos, trailers and screenplays. You have until February 14th to get your submission in and you can find more information on submitting by going to their site and clicking on the submissions page. By the way, the site is a little tough to navigate... that is, until you figure out that all the candles are the different tabs. You might figure that out right away, but it took me a few minutes. They'll be giving out awards for Best short film, best director, best actor, best actress, best scream, scariest scene, best sfx, best screenplay, best trailer and an audience award.

On top of the films, they will also present midnight showings of classic horror movies in the boiler room, along with a themed "Dinner of the Dead". I'm also assuming that there's some sort of convention aspect, but I can't guarantee that, as there's a candle to go to sponsorship opportunities, but it hasn't been updated, so there's no mention of tables or anything like that. Having said that, the world "convention" IS in the title, so there's gotta be something going on.

As for details, just to reiterate, it's the Paranoia Horror Film Festival and it's from March 13th - 15th. Their website is and it's held aboard The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

That's all we got for this week... I think we'll throw a post up on Monday about all the horror DVD's coming out, then shut down for the week for Christmas. You never know, though... we could get all aled and feel compelled to write something.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dead Harvey TV Post 2: Preproduction

Brad wrote up a small post last week on how we're shooting a pilot episode for "Dead Harvey TV" and if you missed it, click here. Anyhow, we thought it would be cool to document the whole process and share what's going on with you, our dedicated reader. Much like everything else on this site, maybe others can learn from our mistakes. Before I send this over to Brad, I would like to duly note the three legends on set there! From left to right, you've got Brad Paulson himself, then Chris Watson and, finally, Aaron Burk. What you can't see is the hoards of screaming fans outside that window who kept disrupting the set... now, on to Brad.

This time it was really easy. Unlike the previous movies (The Bloodstained Bride, The Van, Evil Ever After) we wisely decided not to have multiple locations and actors. No-budget filmmaking is a bitch enough as it is without making things worse. Instead, we followed the five people, one location formula of the last short we did, "Reservoir Drunks".

The first episode of Dead Harvey TV has roughly five characters and takes place 80% in one set: our apartment, which we decorated to look like a public access style TV set. Our DP kept telling us to put the emphasis on production design. This is something we seriously neglected on previous projects and I had no idea just how important that was until we did this one. Since we were spending out of pocket on this one (and have no money to begin with) we resisted this but were convinced by several people it would make a big difference.

It made so much of a difference I felt like a complete asshole for neglecting it so much on the other movies. For a couple hundred bucks we were able to coat the apartment in production design and when you see how filled the screen is in all the shots it takes your mind off the fact you're watching something micro, and you're more prone to get caught up in the atmosphere and the world the characters live in.

The other elements fell into place as well. We didn't audition anyone, instead picked the people we knew would work the best and haven't screwed us over.

We spent one night introducing everyone, having some beers and doing a readthrough/blocking session. That helped tremendously in getting everyone comfortable with one another and building a comraderie. So much so that, when we got around to filmmaking it felt like we were in summer camp together.

Another important aspect was also covered: we scouted the two locations outside of the main one before we shot there. This turned out to be very important because the bar were were going to shoot in had a skylight which we wouldn't have known unless we scouted it before. This allowed us to change our shooting times in advance.

It's amazing that we let such simple things that make so much of a difference to the wayside on the other projects. We spent so much time concentrating on other aspects that we forgot to take care of the most important ones first.

Lastly, we got ourselves a great dp. We spent so much work on the other projects getting everything into place and ready for the shots, but we're not dp's... so it failed. You can spend a million dollars, but if the shot isn't exposed properly it will end up looking twenty times more unprofessional. Why did it take us so make movies to learn these few simple things? I have no idea. I'll just blame it on the excessive drinking for now.

The next post will cover day one of production. See you then!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interview with Andrew Merkelbach, director of "Dead Country"

From "Night of the Living Dead" to "Dead Alive" to "28 Days Later", the zombie genre keeps on going and going and going... and, quite frankly, that's cool with me. I love 'em. The original "Night of the Living Dead" probably gave the weakest, albeit coolest, explanation as to why the dead walk. Because when hell is full, the dead shall walk the earth. Since then, nuclear waste, radiation, a virus and aliens have all been responsible, as well.

For indie horror filmmakers, zombie films offer a fairly easy entry point into filmmaking. There are only so many plotlines (you're either involved in the spreading of the zombie crisis or you're trying to survive the zombie crisis) and it doesn't take much to create an army of zombies. Make-up is minimal, acting skills to play a zombie are even more minimal. However, the problem then becomes, how do you separate yourself from all these other zombie films? Well, by tweaking, changing and working with those two plotlines and/or by adding lots of gore, boobs and humor. "Dead Country" does all of that.

"Dead Country", written by Anthony Davis, Clifford Hoeft, Kaye Redhead and directed by Andrew Merkelbach is filled with the necessary guts and nudity, but also plays with the plot by adding a bit of a sci-fi twist. You see, a spaceship filled with hazardous material explodes over a small town, turning the townsfolk into zombies. Then, it's up to the alien responsible, plus a small group of survivors to stop the problem from spreading. It's a great new addition to the zombie genre and Brad had a chance to discuss the film with Andrew Merkelbach...

Describe your background and what got you into filmmaking

I made my first "home" movie at age 8 on a friends camcorder and before that time I used to direct and act out stories with action figures. He-man sure had some crazy adventures lol I've always had a fascination with movies. I've always been good at drawing, so I used to watch a movie a then draw my own version of the story. I can remember going to the video store every saturday with my parents and choosing a bunch of movies for the weekend. Even though I was like six or seven at the time, I couldn't resist secretly taking a peak at the horror section of the store. Some of those video covers used to freak me out, you know, but I kept coming back for more every weekend. It was like a forbidden taboo or something. I was lucky enough to sit through the second half of Return of the Living Dead and the first half of Evil Dead 2 thanks to my then teenage brother and sister. I can remember the folks not being too happy about it, but my siblings were cool, because they used to either fast forward or talk to me during the more horrific moments. It never bothered me though. I knew it wasn't real. That's what I often say to people now. Horror movies back in the old days were totally unbelievable and that what made them so fun. The old story of a monster under the bed or a zombie army outside is all OK. Although I think you have to be very careful with todays psychological / reality-based horror.

What are the directors and/or films that have inspired you the most and why?

There are so many great directors, stars and movies that has inspired me as a filmmaker. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Lloyd Kaufman's Toxic Avenger, Blake Edward's Shot In The Dark, Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, John Carpenters Halloween, Lew Landers The Boogie Man Will Get You, Bill Malone's House On Haunted Hill, Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead, Peter Rogers Carry On films and most of Steven Seagal's and Van Damme's action flicks. All of these movies and people have made me want to get out there and make my own horror opus.

Film school: yes or no?

Yeah, I've done a bit of film school. Haven't we all in this industry? lol Although the irony is that I was already practicing most of what I being taught. I've researched a lot on my own. And I've learnt a lot from first-hand experience too.

What was it that made you decide to add the sci-fi angle to, "Dead Country" and how did you accomplish the effects?

My previous films all had sci-fi connections, so I just thought I'd bring some techno-babble over to this project lol I've always liked the whole hazardous-waste-makes-zombie's scenario, but making the waste of an intergalactic nature just gave the story a different dimension.

What elements, do you believe combine to make a great movie?

A not too complicated story. Sex, violence and possibly gore, because all three of those things sell. Also, I think if your making a low budget horror, you really don't want to take yourself too seriously. Primarily it has to be fun for people to watch. Humor is always good. And I think you have to be aware of your target audience at all times. Don't try and make it in the image of Shakespeare lol

How did you go about securing financing and what was the budget?

The project was mostly self-financed, but I did have some help along the way.

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

We used many different cameras for Dead Country. Although everything was shot on digital video. All up the shoot took us 10 months.

What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome to make, "Dead Country?"

The weather! lol Some of our shoots we're shot on incredibly cold winter weekends!

Film festivals: yes or no?

Dead Country hasn't been screened at a film festival because we wanted to release the film straight to DVD. However, I've had three previous shorts screened at RadCon.

How's the disribution going? any tips you can give for people looking to get their movie out there?

Dead Country's on shiny DVD thanks to Midnight Releasing and it's doing swell. It sounds kind of corny, but my advice is never give up. Be persistent and never stop giving your all in whatever you do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interview with Sean Dillon & Curtis Krick of "The Craving"

I've been watching indie horror for a long time, long before I started up this site and long before I went to film school. I've always been a horror fan and, looking back, I've always had a thing for the obscure, low-budget films. Little did I know that Lloyd Kaufman, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson were all laying the foundation for what we're seeing today, I just thought they made kick ass films. It took balls and a lot of luck to get an indie horror done back then. However, when DV became a viable option for filmmakers and the PC became a sufficient editing system, the fuse was lit and now we're on the verge of the explosion. The explosion being the hundreds, possibly thousands, of indie horror filmmakers who are gearing up to make their dreams into reality. There are, of course, a few downsides to this explosion. The main one is that there's a lot of sub-par films being grouped with a lot of really good films and those good films can get a bit lost. Now, I'm not sure if "The Craving" is 'lost', but it certainly deserves more attention than it received.

"The Craving", produced by Sean Dillon, Jason Kehler and Curtis Krick, directed by Sean Dillon, is, to me, a shining example of what low-budget, indie horror filmmaking CAN be. It's as sharp, well written and suspenseful as any Hollywood film with a budget 100 times the size... and it's FAR more original. It's an example of what can happen when a group of talented guys get together, take their project seriously and work with what they have. Definitely check out the film and, if you're an indie horror filmmaker, definitely give this interview a read.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what brought you into the world of indie horror filmmaking?

Sean Dillon: I studied English and Theatre in college. After graduation I went to work for a few years at a film and TV production company with an overall deal at a big studio, where my work was mostly in the development phase (reading scripts, helping to develop stories, etc.). I got a chance to work in production on a couple of TV movies, and learned a little more about the filmmaking world. I then went to grad school and got my M.F.A. in theatrical directing. It was at grad school at Purdue where I first met Curtis Krick and Jason Kehler, my fellow co-founders of Biscuits & Gravy Productions. It was then that I began my long collaboration with Curtis, which has included many theatre and film projects. Curtis and I have made many short films together, and we decided that it was time to tackle a feature-length project.

We love film of all kinds, but don't really think of ourselves as filmmakers in a particular genre. Our friend (and associate producer) Brandon Lane shared his enthusiasm for horror films, and after midnight showings of Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" films, we were inspired to think more seriously about attempting a horror film as a first feature project. Curtis, Jason Kehler and I started developing the project. As much as anything else, we were inspired to create something for horror fans, who are enthusiastic, smart and discerning, but are not unforgiving of films with good ideas but with budgetary limitations. We knew we wouldn't be able to spend a lot of money, but we thought we could be creative and work hard enough to create something that horror fans would appreciate. In developing the story, we wanted to include some of the recognizable elements of the genre, as well as to create some surprises.

Curtis Krick: I grew up on the opposite side of the country from Sean, but once we met in grad school we realized we shared a remarkably great deal in common in terms of frames of reference. We really hit it off from the very beginning and have been collaborating ever since. I would say that if anyone were looking to glean something from our experience it should really be the power of a solid collaborative relationship. If you're able to find someone with whom you can really communicate and share a vision, someone who can pick up the slack when you begin to falter, who can give you the support when you need it and keep you from walking into a minefield with good, honest criticism, you don't just double your potential, you increase it exponentially.

Film School: Yes or No?

SD: "The Craving" was my film school. Curtis and I did study theatrical directing formally, but I never took any classes in filmmaking. I did gain some familiarity with some aspects of filmmaking from my day jobs at film studios, which were pretty much office jobs. Because Curtis and I shared an interest in film and a common vocabulary from our theatre studies, we talked about how to begin making films. We came to the conclusion that an investment in owning the means of production might be as valuable to us as an investment in film school, so we bought a decent digital camera and editing equipment. Curtis, Jason and I worked together on a series of
short films in our own way, creating projects for ourselves that would develop specific skills. We all had terminal degrees in theatre, so we really didn't feel like starting school all over again. We also had a certain level of confidence in our abilities to tell a story, and thought we would have the discipline to teach ourselves what we needed to know about the medium.

CK: My biggest concern about film school and my prejudice in favor of the theater background that Sean and I share comes down to working with actors. I don't know how much emphasis that gets in film school, but I know that our training in directing for the stage helped us develop an appreciation for the actor's craft as well as a set of tools for developing a performance with them. I fear that gets short shrift in film school (though I may be mistaken).

How did you go about securing financing for "The Craving" and what was the approx budget?

SD: We producers financed the movie out of pocket. We really did think of the project as a sort of film school, so the personal investment was justified. As the project developed, friends and family members helped with finances to some degree, but the biggest contribution to our budget was sweat equity. The cast and crew worked for no money up front, and made it possible for the film to be made. Having said that, there were certain unavoidable costs in making a film in the middle of the desert, and keeping the cast and crew alive in a place that was 25 miles from the nearest gas station, and 75 miles to the nearest town of any size.

I honestly don't know if I could come up with a really meaningful budget figure in terms of a dollar amount. I don't want to seem secretive or cagey about this, but I think that discussing a dollar figure is misleading. I could say that the approximate budget was $20 to 25 thousand, but a lot of people worked for very little or no money to make that happen. The whole crew placed their faith in the project, even when they knew they might not make a dime. Jason Kehler, Brandon Lane and Tripp Eldridge worked to do everything we needed in every crew position without giving themselves a break. Curtis and I put in a lot of time in pre- and post-production without paying ourselves at all. The excellent creature design and fabrication was accomplished for an impossibly small amount of money because Erin Draney and Aubrey Jensen put themselves into it without reservation, and worked tirelessly on it until they were proud of their work. My remarkable wife Anne, who had never before camped in her life, cooked meals for a dozen people on a propane stove, then did dishes without running water, every night for more than two weeks and still hasn't asked to be paid. I think we got a lot of value for our money, and we believe it looks like we spent more than we did.

CK: One of the amazing things was that once we decided to do this, others came forward and said they wanted to contribute as well, unsolicited. One of our friends said he really wanted to fly out and be a part of the shoot, but he just couldn't get the time off from work; so he contributed the $200 he would have spent on a plane ticket.

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

SD: We shot on mini-DV format using a Canon XL-2 camera, and edited using Adobe Premiere on a PC platform. The total principal photography schedule was 16 days, with one day off in the middle of the schedule. That meant 15 days of sleeping on the desert floor in tents, with no running water, no electricity, no radio or TV... total isolation. Due to availabilities and other issues, we shot completely out of sequence, and because we couldn't afford a dedicated script supervisor or continuity person, we had to be really focused to make sure we got all the footage we needed. Fortunately, we got everything we needed in those two weeks. Many months into editing the footage, Curtis and I decided that we'd like to have a few extra shots to make things a bit clearer, so we picked up a few shots on our own. The additional photography is probably less than fifteen seconds of the finished film.

Theres a certain plot twist in there that I thought was unbelievably original (the addictive smell of the creature) and I'd love to know if that was the starting point for the whole idea or if that was added later so, talk about where the whole idea came from.

SD: I remember thinking about the strong odor being an element in several mythic creature stories, and we thought that might be a great way to signal the creature's presence. We then developed the idea that the creature's odor be intoxicating and addictive, which might create some interesting complications in the story, mixing attraction with fear, undermining trust, messing with the group dynamic, etc. Curtis found a way of really making that an important part of the story, and writing it in a compelling way.

CK: I'll give Sean total credit for that great idea. He deserves it.

The creature was very Cthulhu like for me, was that an inspiration? Also, it's seen numerous times, but never really in its entirety. It was all very effective talk about the process in creating the creature effects.

SD: We never discussed Cthulhu (I've always thought of Cthulhu as being more of a squidlike cephalopod, though the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival award statuette depicted alongside your interview with Jeff Palmer bears a striking resemblance to our creature). We approached the choice of our creature systematically. In the very earliest stages of development, we discussed what kind of force the characters would face. We talked about major categories of forces of evil: humans, supernatural forces, and monsters. We were intrigued by monsters and pursued that line of thought. In considering well-known mythic monsters (Bigfoot, Yeti, Chupacabra, Loch Ness Monster, Jackalope, etc.) we wanted something elusive, yet aggressive and scary. We were already talking about the desert environment, the vast isolation of it, so I guess our creature is influenced by the chupacabra lore more than other creature stories. Curtis is really responsible for shaping the story and characters, and he wrote the requirements and initial vision of the creature into the script. When Erin Draney came on board as the creature designer, we shared our concept with her, and she took it from there. With the help of Aubrey Jensen, Erin designed and sculpted the creature, then developed the makeup for our creature performer, Naama Chezar. Erin and Aubrey first made a full-body suit with a pull-on latex mask that could be put on and taken off quickly, which we used for the silhouette, distant, or fast-moving shots of the creature. They also did very detailed and meticulous makeup, which we used for longer takes and close-ups. The detail makeup took about 10 hours to apply. Keep in mind that the makeup team worked in a tent or a picture vehicle with no running water or electricity, and youll understand why we scheduled all of the creature's beauty shots for a single night of shooting.

For some scenes, there was a lot of implied gore where, in other scenes, there was very graphic gore. Talk about the decision to show some things and not show other things. Was it a creative choice?

SD: Our approach to the suspense of the story was influenced by films like "Jaws," where showing the creature was less suspenseful than the implication of the creature's presence. Of course we wanted the creature to be powerful and terrifying, and we felt like we needed some level of blood and gore to demonstrate that power and to satisfy our genre audience's expectation for a certain amount of graphically violent imagery. Ultimately, we decided to strike a balance and show the gore only when we felt it was most compelling for both the onscreen characters and the audience. I think the real power of those scenes comes from a character's reaction to the gore rather than the gore itself.

CK: We were very conscious about trying to balance being respectful of what the genre required while also upsetting genre expectations in ways that would be exciting and satisfying for the audience. It seemed like a pretty natural evolution in developing the story to ratchet up the gore as the movie progressed and the situation for the characters grew more dire. Whether we were explicit or not, we wanted to approach each scene with an eye toward creating images that were as powerful and memorable as we could manage. We had a great make-up effects team that was up to the challenges we presented them; but we were also convinced that more often than not, audience members' imaginations were the most valuable tool at our disposal. So the trick was to craft things so that we gave folks what they wanted, but also got them to fill in the blanks we left with their own horrifying details.

The backdrop and set are perfect, talk about how you lined that all up.

SD: Once the script was written, the scenic requirements of the location were very specific. We knew we wanted a desert landscape without large-scale vegetation. We wanted a place where you could see for miles in every direction, and where there was nowhere to hide. Curtis' story employed a contrast in the vastness of the desert and the claustrophobic confinement of the small shack, which we intended to build when we found the right desert terrain to work in. Curtis and I scouted locations all over Southern California, looking for just the right combination of factors of remoteness, accessibility, panoramic vistas, lack of man-made features, etc. Our strategy was to look for land for sale on the internet, where we could see photos of the land and have some idea who owned and controlled the property. While scouting a few of these possible locations, we ended up driving through a desert wilderness area with the right terrain and no power lines, structures, or other undesirables features as far as the eye could see. It was quite remote, but accessible. Then we saw a "for sale" sign with a realtor's number, and we took it down to make contact with the owner. We weren't sure where the exact boundaries of the property were, but, as you can see in the film, the landscape is pretty consistent. I contacted the realtor and got a map to the property so we could investigate further.

Here's the eerie part of the story: Jason and Curtis were on a car trip to Atlanta, and took the opportunity to visit the site and get a good look at it. For those of you readers who haven't seen the film, the characters get lost on a shortcut and see a makeshift shack in the desert. Well, Curtis and Jason were trying to find this plot of land, and the road disappeared.

Exactly as Curtis had already written in the script, they drove off-road across open desert and found an abandoned creepy shack. I think they were both exhilarated and a little disturbed by the experience. Apart from a little set dressing, the shack was exactly as it appears in the film. We made arrangements through the realtor and went to work.

The location was ideal in terms of its visual impact, but it meant we had a lot of work to do in pre-production. Since the nearest lodging was 75 miles away, we had to camp at the location. There was no running water for about 25 miles, so we had to fill a pillow tank with hundreds of gallons of water, making supply runs with a 200 gallon tank in a pickup. We had to plan for every contingency, because we knew that if we needed anything, production would have to shut down while someone drove 150 miles round trip. Only one of our fifteen shooting days was in the "town" location, when we essentially rented the whole place for a day.

I thought the acting was great, talk about your directing style.

SD: First, we knew that casting was really important. Get a good group of actors and 90% of your work is done; get a not-so-good group of actors and 10% of your work is done. Because we were working on video, we weren't concerned with the expense of film stock. Though we were on a tight schedule, we usually had time to give the actors several takes in each setup, so they felt they could do their best work. In that atmosphere, they really felt supported in digging deep and approaching their work with seriousness and care. Respect for their work is what we could offer the actors instead of money, and we were committed to creating an atmosphere of teamwork in production. We wanted it to be fun, but we wanted the work to be taken seriously. It's important to note that although I'm credited with directing, that it was really a collaboration between Curtis and myself. The actors quickly gained confidence in our tag-team style because we didn't give them conflicting choices, and never argued or disagreed on set.

CK: Everyone in our cast was very strong (with the possible exception of that crazy old guy in the cabin) and, as Sean says, careful casting paid us great dividends. I remember being struck by the need to encourage all of the actors to slow certain actions down, dividing them into clear beats. I think everyone was conscious of maintaining the urgency of things like running away from a blood-sucking, gut-eating monster. With an eye toward what we would later need in the editing room, I remember often encouraging the actors to take their clear moments to experience things before reacting to them while still maintaining that intensity. This gave us wide latitude to craft the story beats the film needed when assembling all the pieces later.

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.

SD: Developing the story was a lot of fun, and Curtis was very diligent about writing the script. For me, that normally difficult phase of production was actually pleasant; not just because someone else was doing most of the work, but because we took the time to get just what we wanted, and because we knew we weren't then going to have to sell the script, but we were going to make the movie. But we didn't settle for our first ideas. As producers, we were demanding of what we wanted to shoot, and were considerate of what our production limitations would be. I'd say the hardest part for us was really taking care of pre-production. With full-time jobs to contend with, we worked every weekend and evening to outfit the production, knowing that it all had to be in place on the first day on location because there would be no local resources in the desert. Our first day of shooting, we were exhausted. Once we got into production, we were energized by the tireless work of the whole company. If we didn't have the positive attitude from every member of the cast and crew, we could not have made the movie.

I guess my advice would be to take care in preparation. Take as much time as you need to get a script that you are really happy with, and think carefully about how you are going to accomplish everything. Next, surround yourself with only as many people as you will need to get the job done, and see to it that they have everything that they need before you start.

Realize that one of the things they need is your respect and encouragement. Creating a positive atmosphere won't just get you through your project; it will give you a chance to put together your next project.

Don't hurry your post-production, and don't ignore how important sound is to a picture. In our case, we did the sound on our own for many months and locked the picture before we found a talented sound designer and editor, Josh Eckberg, who made a tremendous contribution to the film by building the sound design from the ground up.

CK: I think Sean's right when he talks about preparation. Solid preparation lets you minimize your exposure. That's how you set up a situation in which you can learn and grow and get to do it again. It's impossible to eliminate all risks, but if you can minimize them - i.e. don't get in too far over your head financially - then you can take creative risks and you will inevitably grow as a person through the experience; and if you grow as a person, you will grow as a filmmaker. I believe every one of the people involved in "The Craving" had an amazing experience in the desert; and when it came time to leave, we all felt that even if the film was never completed, it would still have been worth it. Lucky for us the film was completed.

Did you enter festivals? If so, how did it do? Talk about the festival circuit is it something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

SD: We submitted to several strategically chosen festivals, be we didn't have any takers. I can't really talk about the festival circuit because we haven't been there. In hindsight, we probably should have spent more time working the festival angles, but it gets discouraging after a while.

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?

SD: The process of finding distribution can be very frustrating. It's hard to get the right people to watch your film, much less act as a champion. We had a professional producer's rep for a very short time who wanted to take on the task of seeking distribution for a percentage, but ended up wasting everyone's time and not returning calls. A few people made efforts on our behalf, but with no result. Finally, we got a response to an e-mail that had been sent a year and a half before. After all that time, a new acquisitions director was clearing up his predecessor's old correspondence and contacted us. We sent a new screener, the company saw something they liked, and we made a deal. The advice for people seeking distribution is to know what the distributors will want before you seek distribution. Take lots of production stills. Produce a sound track with music and effects only, so that you are able to seek foreign distribution. Make sure all of your rights to music and images are cleared. Then be prepared to do the work yourself. Nobody will be a better representative for the film than the filmmakers whose passion got the film made in the first place. Take help where you can get it, but be your film's champion.

CK: Perseverance pays off. It took phone calls from us to get the distributor to go back and look at their notes on our film and then they realized, "Oh, yeah - we want to distribute that." Otherwise we might have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Where can people find out more about "The Craving" or, better yet, buy a copy?

SD: "The Craving" is available through a number of online retailers, and can also be ordered direct from the distributor, Brain Damage Films. It is also available for rental on Netflix. We produced a few behind-the-scenes featurettes, as well as a couple of audio commentary tracks with the cast and filmmakers that are included on the DVD and provide some insight into the making of the film.

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

SD: I'm no expert, so I'm not the best person to give you the facts. But I do have an opinion. The rise of digital filmmaking has meant that indie horror has never been easier to make than it is today. There has also been an explosion in electronic delivery media, so there's an awful lot of material out there. Unfortunately, there's also lot that's awful. It seems that a lot of ultra-low budget filmmakers that would have been discouraged years ago are no longer discouraged. This is a double-edged sword. Some of the great little films that get made now wouldn't have had a chance to get made before. Some of the terrible and amateurish films wouldn't have gotten made either (you'll find people to put "The Craving" in either category, by the way). I don't know that this is any more true about horror than any other genre, but there does seem to be an idea held by some that if they just get enough blood and gore on screen that they'll find some people to watch it. I'm not judging, but I'm guessing that audiences will tire of gore for gore's sake sooner than they'll tire of a well-told, suspenseful story.

CK: It's exciting to see so many different subgenres burgeoning and so many different ideas being explored. Of course it's necessary to wade through a lot of dross to find something you really like - that's just the downside, perhaps, of the democratization of the means of production. But when you do find something you really connect with it's often very personally satisfying because it's something you would never have seen come from a big studio unwilling to take such a risk because they have too much to lose.

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

SD: We have just completed our second feature film, a romantic comedy mockumentary called "Something Blue." No horror here, but plenty of indie. The film is the story of two young people, Terry and Susan, and the events that lead up to their wedding. Susan comes from a upper-middle class white family, and Terry comes from a working-class Polar-American family. While Terry's blue skin and Antarctic cultural traditions are not a problem for Susan, the two families may have trouble seeing eye to eye. We're in the process of submitting to festivals now. Fingers crossed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Horror out on DVD this week: A bit of Christmas Horror...

Another slow week in horror and, outside of "Resident Evil: Degeneration", which is a feature length CG motion picture based on either the video game or the movie, don't expect much next week, either. They like to release more family friendly films over the holidays, as they make better gifts and families tend to be together. I guess some families don't huddle around the TV to watch slasher flicks... Anyhow, if you're looking at buying any of these, please click on the titles and buy them off Amazon, through us. Usually, I would say you can head over to our Youtube Page and check out all the trailers, but I could only find two of them this week. Pathetic, I know. You can find the "Wild Country" Trailer here, I couldn't find "Spiker", "Satan Claus" or "Psycho Santa"... sorry!

The ONE good thing for horror over the Christmas holidays is Christmas horror, of which there's simply not enough. Although these aren't the best of the bunch, at least it's out there for the people who don't want to sit around and watch "Mamma Mia". "Silent Night, Gory Night" is a triple feature of Christmas horror, including: "Christmas Season Massacre", "Satan Claus" and "Psycho Santa". "Psycho Santa", from Peter Keir, came out in 2003 and I don't know much about it, but I think it's an anthology on its own... "Christmas Season Massacre", from Jeremy Wallace, came out in 2001 and is about a loser who becomes a maniac who hunts down all his schoolyard tormentors and "Satan Claus", from Massimiliano Cerchi, came out in 1996 and is about a santa dressed serial killer in New York who's building a Christmas Tree made of body parts... Ahh, bless.

"Spiker" comes from Frank Zagarino, who also stars in the film. It also has a few other guest stars, including the festival director of the New York Horror Fest, Michael J Hein. Zagarino is a bit of a B-Movie cult action figure, having acted in such film as "Project Eliminator", "Alien Chaser" and "Project Shadowchaser III". You'd probably recognize him, if you saw a picture. Anyhow, this is one of two films that he's directed and it's about serial killer who plunges railroad spikes into you to kill you ("Spiker", get it?).

"Wild Country", out of the UK, was written and directed by Craig Strachan and it's his second feature, having also done "Hidden". It shot on DV, but the creature looks pretty good... I'm just not sure how much of it you'll see as the trailer doesn't show too much, but I saw a few wicked stills. It's about a youth church group that finds a baby abandoned out in the woods and on their way back to safety, they're chased by the wild beast intent on protecting its brood, which relentlessly pursues them one by one...

"Darklight" is the feature length directorial debut from Bill Platt, who won a couple of awards for his Sci-Fi short, "Bleach", back in 1998. I believe "Bleach" was a student film of his... he's also worked as a producer on a few things, as well as other random positions. This is the last thing on his resume, so I'm not sure what's next. However, go check out the trailer, it looks pretty f'ing awesome for a film that I've heard virtually nothing about. "Darklight" stars Shiri Appleby as the immortal Lilith, long hunted by a secret society known as the Faith. Lilith lives as a 24 year old girl, not aware of her ageless past, when Faith recruits her and trains her to use her mystical power, known as Darklight, for the good of humanity.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Film Fest Updates: Slamdance and Dead By Dawn

So, Slamdance has announced their 2009 Programming... and, believe it or not, 2009 is the 15th anniversary of the Slamdance festival, which is crazy. Good work, guys. Taking place in Park City, alongside Sundance, Slamdance takes place January 15 - 23, 2009 this upcoming year and they'll be screening about 100 films in total. I was supposed to go last year, but couldn't make it... and it's been on my "to do" list for a while, but then again, so is going to Mexico to get wasted for a week. Both aren't happening anytime soon. Anyhow, if you can make it, it's a great place to get a bit of snowboarding in, do some boozing and check out some films. Also, due to the "indie" nature of the Slamdance festival, they tend to get some good horror films... and this year looks to be no different. Highlights include the opening night film, "I Sell The Dead", from Glenn McQuaid, which is about a duo of bumbling graverobbers who begin to unearth peculiar corpes. Other horror notables are "The Ante", about an innocent man who becomes the killer everyone wants him to be; "The Conjurer", which we've covered before (click here) and is about an old cabin with a dark history and "Mum and Dad", which is about a murderous and perverse family that imprisons a young woman in their suburban house of horrors, where she discovers she has to become part of the family - and joining them in their insanity... or die. Now, here's the REALLY cool part... New this year is an online venture with, where Slamdance films will stream anytime throughout the festival, bringing the festival to a worldwide audience. It'll cost you $9 per film and around a third of all the money goes to the filmmakers... you gotta like that. You'll find that site here, at Also, if you want to know more about the festival, you can check out our interview with Slamdance Executive Director, Drea Clark here.

For our overseas readers or those over here who would consider travelling overseas and like a little international flavor, Dead By Dawn, Scotland's International Horror Festival, is gearing up. They're back for their 16th year (take that, Slamdance) at Filmhouse from Thursday April 30 - Sunday May 3, 2009. Also, Spawn of Dawn is returning on Saturday, May 2. I received a press release and they're bringing it up now because tickets and passes go on sale in January... and, if you're thinking of travelling there, you might as well start thinking now. For more on Dead By Dawn, go to their homepage, which can be found here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

After Dark Horrorfests "8 Films To Die For"

I briefly mentioned After Dark's "8 Films To Die For" festival in my post yesterday, but when I looked back at it, I realized that I only mentioned 6 movies... and it's supposed to be 8. Perplexed, I decided to look into it. Turns out that the first film I mentioned, "Slaughter", is actually also part of the fest AND I left out the film "Voices". So, for those of you who are keeping score, the 8 films in the "8 Films To Die For" festival are, in fact: "Slaughter", "Perkins 14", "The Broken", "Butterfly Effect: Revelation", "From Within", "Dying Breed", "Autopsy" and "Broken". Just to mention it again, both "Slaughter" and "Perkins 14" are of particular interest to me, as they're basically collaborative works from amateurs. Anyhow, you can find out more about the festival, each film and all that type of crap on their site, which you can find be clicking here. But I will talk more about the fest...

Let me just start by saying that I love the whole concept of the After Dark Film Fest, which is, essentially, to give nation-wide theatrical releases to films that otherwise wouldn't get a theatrical release, by packaging them all together, creating a marketing campaign for the whole thing, then finding theaters across the country that will play them all for a week. They do a big launch party, plus they do a Miss Horrorfest contest, things like that. It's the whole power in numbers thing. One filmmaker may not be able to get that much buzz or a theatrical release, but 8 of them with a unified mission under one banner, can. It's a great idea... and we, as a horror community, should really support it. Now, with the cost of making 35mm prints for each theater, this isn't something that just anybody can do, there's some serious dough behind all this. However, when they finally figure out who's going to pay for switching all the theaters over to digital systems, this could become something that everyone can do. And much like how I think that gaming consoles and the internets are going to change up the home distribution model, digital cinema is going to change the theatrical release model. Now for some babble...

I think I could write a novel, or maybe just a novella, on how f'ed up this all is... but to sum it up, the theater owners want to pay as little as possible for the rights to show a film, while getting as many people in the theater as possible because they're really just in the popcorn selling business. The studios hold power in that they have the big releases that the theater owners want, BUT the studios also have stinker films and smaller features, so they make deals where theaters need to show certain films for X amount of weeks and they have to accept other, smaller features IF they want to get X amount of prints for the big budget films. Stuff like that. Having said THAT, the theater owners hold power over the studios because they're the gatekeepers in getting the studios the box office numbers that they need because good box office numbers boost their DVD sales, especially in foreign markets. So, they try to manipulate each other, they fight, they collude. It's dirty. ANYHOW, where does this leave indie guys who are looking for theatrical distribution? Not in a good place AND this is where the fight over switching over to digital comes in... the theater owners want the studios to pay for it because the studios will be saving millions in not having to make all the 35mm prints. The studios don't want to pay for it because if the theaters switch over to digital systems, the market will be opened up to smaller players because the cost of getting a theatrical release just dropped to, well... just having to put together a marketing campaign. So, I have no real conclusion on this, but to pull it all together, the model that After Dark is using for "8 Films To Die For" could work VERY effectively and efficiently if theaters were to switch over to a digital platform. When it does, bands of indie filmmakers could get together, market their films as one and get theatrical releases in multiple markets. Then, that would give them some good numbers and media for their press kits, which would boost their own DVD sales, which would be good for indie film, as a whole. Right? That, of course, goes without mentioning the fact that theater owners can change their line up instantly, giving theater goers what they want instead of running those stinkers and films that no one wants to see... so the audience wins, too.

So, anyhow... "8 Films To Die For" gets its one week theatrical run across the US from January 9th to 15th. It's going to be in almost every major market and it's something that you should check out for a few reasons... The main one should be because you're an indie horror fan and you just want to see the films. However, you should also check this out because you're seeing what could be the future for how more indie horror could be making it to the big screen and make you, the indie horror filmmaker, a lot more money.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2009's Slate of Horror Films - What To Look Forward To and What To Look Forward To Not Looking Forward To.

I haven't actually done any looking back at 2008 yet, but I am willing to look forward to 2009 at this point... I thought it might be interesting to look at what's slated to hit the theaters, horror-wise, this year. Obviously, there's a few big, notable releases, such as the remake of "Friday the 13th" and Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell". The poster for "Friday the 13th" could be the high point on that flick... my hopes are a lot higher for Raimi's return to his low-budget horror roots with "Drag Me to Hell". Now, keep in mind, this is just what's slated at this time and it can change at any time. Also, there's bound to be plenty added and some taken away.

January has a couple of notable films coming out, the first being "Slaughter", which is the first film to be developed from the Slamdance Screenplay competition... "Slaughter" is about a young actress who discovers that her and her co-stars have been cast in a Japanese snuff film. On a similar note, "Perkins' 14", which also comes out in January, was the result of the online film colloboration, The latter is going to be part of the After Dark Films Horrorfest lineup, which also includes "Autopsy", "The Broken", "Dying Breed", "Butterfly Effect: Revelation" and "From Within". As for Hollywood released films, you'll get "The Unborn" with Gary Oldman... a PG-13 horror from Platinum Dunes (sweet!). The remake of "My Bloody Valentine" (even better!) also comes out and so does "The Uninvited", which is a British film, based on a Korean film, which is also going to be remade in the U.S. in 2010 (I'm speechless).

February, of course, holds the date for the new "Friday the 13th", which is scheduled to come out on, of course, Friday, February 13th. "Jason was my son... and today is his birthday."

March holds the date for "Knowing", directed by Alex Proyas ("Dark City", "The Crow") and starring Nic Cage. This has been in talks for a while and is finally coming out... it's about a professor that unearths a time capsule depicting the dates of the assassinations of historical figures, the hotel fire death of his wife and the imminent world apocalypse... he then attempts to stop these incidents from occuring.

A bit of a break for anything scheduled until May, when Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell" finally comes out, which is about an L.A. loan officer who has a powerful curse unleased on her by a mysterious woman... after she denies her an extension on her home loan. How fitting for these times...

Then, July has "Orphan" and a remake of "Piranha" from "High Tension", "Hills Have Eyes" director Alexandre Aja.

August has "Final Destination 4"... 'nough said.

September brings you "The Crazies", directed by Michael Eisner's kid, Breck Eisner, and it's the remake of the 1972 Romero film that... well, never really caught on. The original is actually pretty good, though. If you haven't checked it out, you should.

October brings you "Sorority Row", a remake of "The Stepfather", "Saw VI" and "Zombieland", which stars Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg and is about the most frightened guy on Earth, who leads a motley crew of survivors in a world overrun by zombies.

Finally, November will bring you "The Box" and the much anticipated "The Wolfman", starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins.

So, to me, it looks like a lot of the same old PG-13 horror stuff that Hollywood's been pumping out for a while now, plus a few established sequels and franchise movies, then one or two to look forward to. The best stuff could definitely be going straight to DVD and, in that case, you'll just have to keep reading Dead Harvey every Monday, so we can tell you about the new movies of the week!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Interview with Award Winning Screenwriter, Jeff Palmer

Most of the guys I hang out with in the indie-horror scene, and by that I mean the guys I went to film school with, who I would still be having beers with regardless if we were all selling encyclopedia's, see directing or actually shooting a film as the end goal. Now, I love being on set and I love directing, however there's something about the screenwriting process that I truly, truly love. In fact, if I could cut it as a screenwriter, I'd be a pretty happy camper. You see, there's something about starting with just you, a pen, a blank piece of paper and some sort of cocktail, then ending with a 120 page, polished screenplay. You're truly crafting something out of nothing. Also, it's free, it doesn't require depending on anyone else and you can do it drunk. Not to mention that none of my finished films ever won shit, but I won a Kodak grant for my short film "The Town that Dreaded Some Clown" because of the script, but I digress...

I know I'm not alone, either. There's lots of quirky drunks out there who would rather be huddled over their PC with a cocktail in hand than stressing out on some set. Jeff Palmer's one of those guys. Well, maybe not... but he likes screenwriting. Anyhow, he recently won the top prize for screenwriting at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival for his script, "The Sleeping Deep" and isn't stopping there. Palmer's obviously a really talented guy and not only does his award winning script sound awesome, I really hope to see it on the big screen soon.
We had a chance to discuss it all with him and if you're an aspiring screenwriter, you'll want to check this interview out.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into horror?

Well, thanks for the interview. It's funny. Horror is the last genre I ever considered trying out. As a huge fan of the early Sam Raimi classics "Evil Dead" and Peter Jackson's splatter-fest "Dead Alive", I don't know if I would ever find myself making that sort of film. That said, my script "The Sleeping Deep" does contain a lot of gory bits and many horror conventions, so I suppose it all depends on what type of story you want to tell. I'm also a fan of Dario Argento films, spooky tales like "The House on Haunted Hill" as well as contemporary masters such as John Carpenter and Clive Barker. If the story is captivating and it makes your skin crawl, I'm all for it, so giving horror a whirl was only a matter of time I suppose. My first feature "On the Fringe" (available on DVD) was a dramatic character ensemble which was a perfect low-budget script for the time I was shooting it in 1999, but I couldn't bear repeating myself. It was time to branch out and the story behind "The Sleeping Deep" pulled me in and didn't let go.

What got you into screenwriting and is that your goal or are you using screenwriting as a means to an end?

It's all about telling stories, whether it be in music, art, film, writing... it's communicating ideas to a greater audience. Getting that message, that idea out of your head and into the world. I'm finding that the written word is, and has been, one of the best ways of doing that. Plus, it's free. You can go anywhere on the page with a cast of thousands and it doesn't cost a dime. Think it up in your head and blast it out onto paper. That was one of the rules I had when approaching "The Sleeping Deep" - write with no limits in both imagination and budget. This helped immensely and freed myself from stopping short and thinking, Oh, I couldn't afford to do that. As filmmakers and artists our job is to create paradigms for folks to participate in. If we don't break the rules and scribble outside the lines and off the page, who will?

I've directed features before and if I got the chance to direct "The Sleeping Deep" that would be wonderful, but it's not a deal breaker for me. What's important is getting the movie made and on screen and out there for an audience to enjoy. If a capable director with a vision digs the script and there's a budget behind the project I'd be thrilled to see it all come together as the screenwriter. Again, it's about spreading the story around in some form to a wider audience.

You recently won top prize at this years H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival for Screenwriting for your script, “The Sleeping Deep”. Tell us a bit about your screenplay.

This is always a difficult question to answer. Anyone who's read the script quickly realizes that it's not a typical horror film. There are elements of fantasy, suspense, mystery, historical fiction as well as bloody, squirmy things. Basically, two strangers, Charlotte Foster and Kevin Tiggs, are connected by the same nightmare. When Kevin goes into a catatonic state, his psych nurse Janice Harrington decides to figure out what caused him to snap. This leads her to find Charlotte at the grave of Kevin's dead fiancee in a rural cemetery somewhere in Maine. The two women, plus an assortment of other tagalongs, must join forces to destroy the creatures of an ancient underworld before its gruesome demons gain passage to the waking world of humans.

If I had to water it down using the Hollywood script algorithm it's kind of like "Rosemary's Baby" meets "Alien" and "Underworld" wrapped inside a Lovecraftian "Nightmare on Elm Street". Lots of demons, sex, sex with demons, bloody wombs squirming with writhing tendrils, gunfights, swordplay... that sort of stuff. Fun!

Is H.P. Lovecraft a big influence for you? If so, talk about Lovecraft as an influence.

I didn't grow up reading Lovecraft, but I've had his "Lurking Fear" collection of short stories for a long while and have always enjoyed the dark, haunting settings that he conjures in his writing. His style is very flowery and descriptive, which isn't for everyone, but there are gems hidden amongst the passages that are truly macabre and disturbing. His story "The Dream-quest of Unknown Kaddath" definitely inspired me to write "The Sleeping Deep" but it's not based on any of his stories.

Did you write the script with intent to submit it to this specific festival?

I used the Lovecraft Film Festival submission deadline as an impetus to get a first draft done, but had intentions on submitting to other festivals. Still, the content of the script was perfect for that festival so it made sense to buckle down and get it done. I put ass to chair for several weeks and followed through. I'm glad I did. Deadlines are essential.

Talk about winning the award.

A good film friend Matt Johnson had an extra ticket to see Henry Rollins in Berkeley and he invited me to join him. It was also an excuse to meet up and talk about the script since he had read the first draft and wanted to give me some feedback on it. We talked about it and I asked a lot of questions, what worked, what didn't. He had some great input and it all had my head spinning with ideas for the next draft. When I got home that night I checked email and found this telegram (visit to see) from the H.P. Lovecraft Festival. I had to read it nearly five times before it sank in. At first I thought it was a joke, but I emailed to make sure and the telegraph was legit. I was thrilled. The only part that sucked was that it was like 1:30 in the morning and no one was up to celebrate and my wife was traveling so it was a long restless night. I think I was most surprised that my first draft script at 154 pages made it all the way to the top. The festival didn't have a page limit, so that was one reason I was able to submit to them.

My wife and I had plans to attend the festival in Portland, Oregon even before winning the award, so it made the trip that much sweeter. The three day event was a lot of fun. I saw a lot of cool flicks and met some great people. I'd love nothing more than to return with the filmed version of "The Sleeping Deep" in tow down the road.

Has winning the award opened any doors for you? Basically, is there any difference between “pre-award winning Jeff” and “post-award winning Jeff”?

It's nice to have another feather in my cap, but not too much has changed. I'm pretty excitable so I was really stoked at first (who wouldn't be?) and then after a few weeks it turns into "Ok. What now?" I got a flurry of emails from folks in the biz wanting to give it a read which, at the least, could turn into decent connections. I think the award, if anything, helped to validate my efforts and it made me realize that all the time and research I invested in the process was worth it.

What’s happened with “The Sleeping Deep” now that it’s an award winning screenplay?

Since winning the award I've had to whittle the 154 pages down to a reasonable 119, which wasn't easy. But it was necessary if I wanted to submit to other festivals and contests. I incorporated a lot of feedback from folks who read the first draft and tried my best to keep all the parts that made it shine. It's so important to listen to what your readers have to say about the story: when they felt confused, when they were sucked in, what they thought was different or cliche, which characters they cared about or didn't. As much as we'd like to just write what we want, the goal is to entertain an audience, right? And if we don't heed some of the caution signs we're liable to go astray with the finished product. Why not make the changes when it's just on paper instead of in the middle of a million dollar production?

It's also opened my eyes to this idea of franchise filmmaking. Not to downplay content or story, but any producer will want to know what the return is going to be on their investment. With that in mind, I want to have the sequel script ready to go or close to it when the first part hits the screens. The ending opens up a whole can of worms (literally) and leaves me with a great jumping off point for Part 2. The first film is intimate and personal, the second film will cast a wider net bringing more characters into view. I suppose there could even be a third part although I haven't even thought about that yet. Of course this is only if I can find the right producer or production company to get behind it, but I don't think it's impossible. It's a very marketable screenplay and would be perfect for the Asian, horror, and comic book/graphic novel audience.

I'm excited about this part of the process because the die has yet to be cast. I learned my lesson with trying to find distribution for my feature "On the Fringe". When you're shopping around a film, it's a done deal. There's not much you can change about it so it's a take-it-or-leave-it situation. With a script, it's more flexible, more malleable. If a producer or production company has some ideas and they are within the realm of the story, changes can be made to make it a better film. Then there's the whole process of casting and production. When you're in the script stage, the sky's the limit. Nothing is set in stone so there's a lot of room to maneuver. If a producer sees potential with one story line versus another, this can be discussed in pre-pro, but when you're shopping a movie around, especially one with no name talent on a shoestring budget (which is where I was at with my first feature) you don't have that option. This isn't the case with a screenplay. The right development team could ratchet up a project by taking what's on the page and fleshing it out into pre-visualizations, concept art or storyboards.

Would you suggest that other up-and-coming screenwriters submit their scripts to festivals and contests like this?

Festivals and contests cost money and it seems the prices to submit are creeping up there. If you do choose to submit, make sure it's the right kind of contest and do some homework beforehand. There are tons of contests that boast all sorts of prizes and great honors and accolades, but in the end it's just an online banner award or something like that. There are some great contests that I'd love to win, but not every script fits into every submission criteria. You could have an amazing screenplay that people love, but if it's 5 pages too long don't bother sending it. So some of the rules are kinda lame. Still, it doesn't hurt to poke around and find a few that are appropriate for your story. You never know. I sure didn't. Sometimes you just gotta put it out there and see what happens. I submitted "The Sleeping Deep" to a few more contests just to see if it holds up. If it comes back with another award then I must have done something right. If not, well, that's okay. Nothing ventured nothing gained. As a friend once said, this business is all about being the turtle. Slow and steady.

Here’s a two part question on screenwriting.

What do you think makes a good script/story?

Far be it from me to decide what makes a good or bad screenplay. I'm certainly no expert. So much comes down to personal choice and a lot of what I've mentioned in my answers are only my opinions. But I believe that a good script/story should have an amazing beginning and an amazing ending. As a reader you need to be sucked into the world within the first 5-6 pages. There needs to be something that hooks you and won't let go. The same goes for the ending, whether it be a bang or a twist or both. That's the flavor you're leaving on the reader's mind. That last page or few pages have to really put the icing on the cake. Of course, the mid-section needs to be solid and meaty, but the opening and ending are the two slices holding the sandwich together. If you have those I think you're in a good place. Also, keep the characters interesting, the dialog true, and as I've mentioned before, don't dismiss feedback. This doesn't mean you need to incorporate what everyone says, but if 9 out of 10 readers find the ending confusing, maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board and do some tweaking.

What do you think makes a good horror script/story?

Show more restraint when it comes to the gore. Less is more and that can be said for good horror. Of course, I love over-the-top blood and guts, but it's hard to believe that an intelligent audience wants to watch 90 minutes of people getting torn to shreds without some story that brings it all together. Or maybe they do? That's not for me to decide. With "The Sleeping Deep" I wanted to infuse a supernatural thriller with moments of horror and the macabre with a nod to Lovecraft. Whether that is of interest to the average horror fan is up for debate.

Talk about the state of horror right now… Where do you think it’s at and where do you see it going?

First off I need to say that I'm definitely not a fan of torture porn. When people were raving about "Saw" I was yawning. I just didn't see the appeal. Then we started to see more and more of it in the theaters and on DVD. I just didn't find it to be inventive. Gory? Yes. Interesting? No, at least not to me. And I do feel that it's important for horror to be interesting, whether it's the characters or the story. There's got to be more than trapping people, tying them up and killing them. However, I have seen a few decent new horror movies in the past several years. "The Strangers" that recently came out on DVD was actually very suspenseful and the opening sequence had you really involved with the character's lives. This made you care about their struggle. Same goes for "The Descent". That was another great collection of characters thrown into a really shitty situation. Their struggle became very personal. "The Ruins" wasn't bad either. That had some moments where I was squirming in my seat.

I guess I'd like to see more Wes Craven and Clive Barker style films and less torture porn and cookie-cutter slasher flicks. But a well-made zombie film can be fun. "30 Days of Night" was pretty cool. In fact, for sheer graphic in-your-face violence and bloodletting, "Doomsday" was chock full of horror moments that were couched inside a sci-fi film and setting. Talk about gruesome, a mass of people roasted a man alive, ripped the burnt flesh off his bones and ate him. That's horrific, but there was a lot more to the story than just that. Straight up horror certainly has its place and fan base, but a great story sprinkled with some gory bits can go a long way, too.

Where can people find out more about “The Sleeping Deep” and follow what’s going on?

My main website is and information about the script can be found at People are welcome to contact me with any questions or inquiries.

What’s next for you?

The big goal right now is to get "The Sleeping Deep" into the hands of a producer or production company who will get behind the story and shepherd it through the process of funding, casting, production, etc. Some folks have mentioned Lionsgate or Dimension Films, but that's a high hill to climb. Maybe I can tuck the script in a Trojan horse and send it through the gates? I've seen that Riptide, a division of Shoreline Entertainment, is producing a remake of H.P. Lovecraft's "From Beyond" so they might be a company worth approaching. But it's all about being realistic, staying the course and being open to possibilities. I'm in the early stages of outlining the sequel "Return of Mazimus" as well as novelizing the first part. While I enjoy scriptwriting, the art of writing short stories or longer works is still important to me. Great novels, books and short stories are always being adapted into films, so it's important to get the message out in some form for people to digest. I've been talking with a good friend and cinematographer John Tulin out of San Jose about shooting a few scenes for promotional purposes, but before that can happen I'd need to get my act in gear and scout some locations. Producing isn't one of my strong suits. Anyhow, these things take time. There's no need to rush into a bad deal or the wrong production dynamic. I am willing to keep working on the script in order to find the right combination. Timing is everything.