Tuesday, August 5, 2008

EXCLUSIVE Dead Harvey Interview with JIM O'REAR, director of "Scream Farm" and "The Deepening"

I was sent two screeners from Jim O'Rear, "Scream Farm" and "The Deepening". They're both fun, highly ambitious flicks. O'Rear has an impressive background, including a career as a musician, magician and success in both Hollywood and Independent films. Check out his official website here for more details and be sure to check out the interview. He's got lots of great tips and pointers for indie filmmakers and what he has to say about distribution is a must read. Thank's Jim! Dead Harvey is looking forward to your upcoming work!

DH: You’ve got quite an interesting background. Tell us about what different career paths led you to the work you’re doing now.

JIM: Wow… that answer could be an epic! Do you have about a month? Ha! Long story short, I started out as a magician and traveled around performing as “The Youngest Professional Magician” for several years. I got to work with Copperfield, Blackstone Jr, The Great Tomsoni, and many others. Well, after one of those magic shows a television producer approached me… I was probably around 12 years old, at the time… and he asked if I’d like to be in a TV commercial. I immediately told him “no.” I was a magician and knew nothing about acting. After about a week of phone calls, this producer convinced me that what I was doing on stage in the magic show was considered acting and that he thought I’d be natural on camera. I gave it a shot. It was a recycling commercial with “Woodsy Owl.” Remember those? (I’m probably dating myself as an old-timer… scratch the “Woodsy Owl” reference.. ha ha ha). Anyway, I was seen in that commercial and offered more television and film parts, as well as roles in a lot of live theater (my true love). I had trained in Martial Arts for many years, which led me to film stunt work, and I had written for horror and comic book magazines in my spare time, which led me to screenwriting. So, all of my experiences tied back into the film industry, in the long run, which allowed me to act, write, do stunts, produce, and direct.

DH: What was it that first sparked your interest to make movies?

JIM: I, actually, had no interest in making movies, at all. I loved acting and stunt work and writing. It wasn’t an “interest” in making movie that made me do it… rather, it was a bit of frustration that sparked me to start. I had a couple of screenplays of mine that had been produced and I was EXTREMELY unhappy with how they were translated to film. At the same time, my producing partner (Ted Alderman) was getting frustrated with films that he had acted in not getting released and distributed to the public. Ted called me and, basically, said “Dammit, no one is seeing my work so I should just make my own film and get it distributed.” So I, basically, replied “Dammit, I’m tired of people screwing up my screenplays so I should write one for us to make together and get it distributed.” And that’s when it happened. Ted and I joined forces and created our first film together, a vampire anthology, that received a DVD distribution deal almost immediately. We received good feedback so we jumped onto a MUCH bigger film than our vampire flick. We made THE DEEPENING (with Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen, Debbie Rochon, and Debbie D) and received distribution then moved on to make SCREAM FARM (a zombie film that was just released this month). Now, these indie flicks are not “Academy Award Winners,” mind you… but, they are the silly, fun horror films we wanted to make.

DH: Film school: yes or no?

JIM: I never went to film school. I did attend the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts, in New York, for acting, but all of my filmmaking knowledge came from just working on the sets as an actor. I think film school is great if you want to get “book smart” and learn certain technical aspects of filmmaking (such as lighting techniques, how to use various camera lenses to your benefit, etc), but nothing beats getting in there and doing it. “Book smarts” are a good, but it’s not going to help you when you’re on the set and an actor is running late, a special effect is not working, a motor in a camera has jammed, and you’re losing daylight. You better know how to think quickly, rearrange scheduling, rewrite a scene, devise a comparable effect, and pull a camera repair out of you’re ass so that you don’t lose time and money. That kind of stuff you can only learn in the “real world”… not in a classroom.

DH: You take on multiple roles as actor, director, and screenwriter. Which one of these do you enjoy the most and why?

JIM: I really like all of them equally, but I don’t necessarily enjoy doing them all at the same time. All of those positions allow you express something creatively in different ways, although it’s a beast doing them together. The purpose of me taking on multiple roles in a production is because I know I’m going to be on set and I know I can count on myself. If I’m directing… for instance… I might as well act in the film, too, because it’s one less person that I have to hire and one less person that I have to worry about showing up on time. If I’m acting in the film, I might as well do my own stunts… after all, I know how to do them and it saves me from having to hire and rely on another person. So, you see, I basically take on more responsibilities to save me from facing potential future problems on the set and adding more stress due to things I can’t control. I’d rather be stressed out worrying about myself than worrying about someone else. It’s probably an odd way of looking at things and it will eventually kill me, but it’s worked so far.

DH: You’ve worked in both Hollywood and indie films. What are the pros and cons of each?

JIM: In Hollywood you are a product and a tool... a means to an end. In indie films you are a creative collaborator. In Hollywood productions you are not really allowed to be creative… you do what you’re told. In indie films you still do what you are told, but you have the freedom to experiment and participate in the creative process. A lot of people ask me why I got out of doing the big budget films and started working in low budget horror and the truth is that I want to work with people who have not had the creativity beaten out of them by the Hollywood system.

DH: How would you describe your directing style?

JIM: I’m very “hands on,” laid back, and always open for suggestion. By “hands on” I mean that I don’t hide myself behind a monitor somewhere in another room and shout orders through a speaker box that sits on the set. I am constantly on set with the actors and crew and don’t mind getting “down and dirty” when it comes to setting up shots. I like for actors to provide input and assist them with what brings the characters alive inside their heads. I also like for crew members to provide their input on other production possibilities within a shot. I look at a film as a team effort with a leader who “drives the bus.” It’s never about just one person.

DH: Both “Scream Farm” and “The Deepening” are ambitious projects (especially “Scream Farm” for its large cast and multiple effects). Do you have any tricks on getting everyone together and coordinating a project of this size?

JIM: No tricks, really, you just have to be EXTREMELY organized and have a good core group of people that you can trust. With SCREAM FARM everything was broken down into lists and schedules… there were cast schedules, crew schedules, scene schedules, prop lists, makeup effect lists, craft service schedules with menus, photo session schedules, and more. You really have to head off any possible production problems during the pre-production time that you have. Plan, plan, and over plan… that’s the key. You’re still going to run into problems when you hit production, but they will be a lot easier to overcome if you have everything logically broken down and scheduled.

DH: You have some great locations in both SF and TD. Namely, the farm and the firehouse location. How did you go about securing locations that added such great production value?

JIM: Ha, ha! The answer may surprise you in its simplicity. I just asked if I could use the locations. That was it.

The firehouse and fire trucks used in THE DEEPENING were located in Watertown, TN. We wanted a small-town firehouse with old engines and Watertown was perfect. I contacted Fire Chief Jewel and told him what we wanted to do. He said he’d ask permission from the City Council and get back to me. A couple of days later he stated the he would turn over the firehouse and the trucks to us to use free of charge. It’s amazing what you can get if you just ask. The trucks and the firehouse added SO much to the production value of that film!

We could have shot SCREAM FARM at any haunted barn, but Ted Alderman was friends with indie horror film actress Kimberly Lynn Cole. He told me about a haunted barn that she had on her property in Jones, Alabama, (also called “Scream Farm”) that she opened every October to help raise money for the St Jude’s charity. Her property also had an in-ground pool with a waterfall, an Egyptian throne room, and many other things that would suit locations in the script. It was possible that we could shoot 95% of the film on her property without ever having to go anywhere else. I contacted Kim (who also plays a role in the finished film) about the project and she was gracious and kind enough to invite us (and about 25 cast and crew members) to her place to make the film. Kim’s place was just perfect and I’m very grateful that we got to shoot there.

DH: What budgets do you typically work with on your films and how do you obtain financing?

JIM: Budgets? How much change do you have in your pocket? Ha, ha! I’m not kidding. If I told you what we had to work with on THE DEEPENING and SCREAM FARM you’d think I was crazy and you’d tell me that no one can make a film for that amount. Let’s just say… we get A LOT out of VERY LITTLE. John Dugan (“Grandpa” from Texas Chainsaw Massacre) came to the theatrical premiere of THE DEEPENING and asked me how much we shot the film for. I asked him how much it looked like we spent. He said, “AT LEAST $50,000.00.” Well, John was waaaaaaay off… by many thousands of dollars.

As far as financing, it’s a lot easier to beg for small amounts of cash than it is to beg for large amounts, so we kept the budgets low on purpose. Ted Alderman actually financed THE DEEPENING, himself, with his credit card. We begged for money to make SCREAM FARM from anyone we thought might give us some. As luck would have it, a fellow horror filmmaker and good friend (Chuck Angell) that I had worked with several times in the past believed in the script and financed the whole film.

DH: Was there anything from the scripts of SF and TD that were changed or left out of the movie? If so, why?

JIM: There were a couple of minor things. In THE DEEPENING we had written a scene where one of the characters gets whacked a couple of times and then beheaded with an axe. When it came time to shoot the scene the actress was afraid of getting blood in her hair. Yeah… you have to wonder why she agreed to be a victim in a horror film if she didn’t want to get bloody. So, the whacking occurs off-screen. We shot everything else that was in the script. Now, we did cut out a couple of shots that we filmed with Gunnar Hansen because I felt that they slowed down the narrative flow of the film, but these brief shots are included as “Deleted Scenes” on the DVD.

In SCREAM FARM there were 3 things that were altered. In the finished film there is a scene where the zombies chase the characters out of the barn and a major fight erupts between the humans and monsters in the field. Originally, this was written as a huge fight scene inside the barn with a struggle over who would gain control over a gun. When I arrived in Alabama the first thing I noticed was that there was not enough room inside the barn for the fight to play out the way it was written, so I did a quick re-write that would get the characters outside and then back inside so that the story was not disrupted. The second change involved a character who was to have his arms, legs, and head ripped from his torso by the zombies in a brutal and bloody effect sequence. When it came time to shoot the scene, Ted Alderman and our fight coordinator, Miles Spence, suggested that the kill be simplified (I won’t give details to avoid spoilers) and that it only be seen as a shadow reflected against the barn wall by the moonlight. I thought it was a great suggestion and is actually very effective in the finished film. The third change has to do with some zombies who are supposed to be cut in half by a large saw blade. This was going to be accomplished with the use of CGI… but our CGI guy flaked out on us. We replaced him with another CGI guy, Bryan Henry (who was fantastic), but I didn’t want to overwhelm him with this large effect on short notice, so we just shot some extra footage of blood splattering so that the kills happened off-screen.

DH: What particular challenges did you overcome to get SF and TD made?

JIM: Luckily, we had no significant challenges to overcome while making those films. Both of the projects were well planned out and the cast and crew supported the project in any way that they could. We had the typical challenges that every production faces… unexpected weather, occasional prop malfunctions, that kind of thing… but we didn’t face any major crisis on either film. Having said that, I’ve probably just jinxed myself and our next project will be plagued with problems! Ha, ha!

I guess the biggest challenges we faced were in the editing room during post-production. Certain scenes in THE DEEPENING needed a lot of color correction and some dialogue replacement and a lot of the cinematography in SCREAM FARM was poorly shot so we had to manually correct much of that footage, frame by frame. Thank goodness for powerful editing software!

DH: What lessons have you learned from SF and TD that you can pass on to aspiring filmmakers?

JIM: Basically that anyone can do it if they have the determination and don’t give up. Ted and I jumped right into filmmaking on a whim and have produced 3 features together that have all received distribution deals. Granted, both of us already had a background and important contacts in the industry, as well as the additional knowledge that goes along with that, but the process of filmmaking and distribution is the same for everyone. I truly believe that anyone can do it if they are determined to make it happen and don’t give up.

DH: Tell us about how the distribution process worked for SF and TD. What do upcoming filmmakers need to know regarding how to get their movie out there?

JIM: Let’s just say… distribution is a dirty, unforgiving bitch who never knows what she wants except that she’s hell-bent on making your life difficult. Does that sound a bit harsh? Ha, ha. There is no set formula for attracting distribution offers. It’s always different. Distributors are constantly changing their minds about the products they want and everyone has a different view on the state of the current marketplace. Some say you’ve got to have a star attached to your project, some say you don’t need a star just cool monsters, some say you need more nudity, some say you need less nudity, some say your film needs a more developed story, some say you’ve got too much story… you get to the point where you feel you can’t win. You just have to deal with it and not get frustrated, because everyone’s trip through the distribution process is different.

With THE DEEPENING, we set out to make a cheesy, 80’s-style slasher flick. We didn’t want to make a good movie… rarely were the horror films in the 80’s considered “good”… we just wanted to make a stylized piece based on the fun flicks of that time period. What we didn’t notice, at first, was that we had created a story that had not ever been told before. We had something that set it apart from the standard copycat slasher fare… an original story. Up to that point no one had made a slasher fireman movie; there were killer cops, dentists, doctors… but no firemen, as they were considered the “untouched heroes.” Not only did we have a killer that had not been on film before, we took it a step farther and tied it into the events of 9-11 and the firemen who worked during that disaster. We knew we were treading on controversial ground and were taking a risk but I guess we didn’t really realize what we had created until big studios like Universal and Lionsgate started calling. Our story and the fact that we were making something different went a long way in getting attention for our project. Long story short, the film played some limited theatrical engagements and a festival receiving various offers for distribution. In the long run, the majors flaked out on us because they were eventually afraid of the content (much related to 9-11) and how the public would react, leaving us with several independent distribution offers. We eventually settled on Phoenix Entertainment, who was starting a new horror label known as Under The Bed Films. We took another risk placing the project with a brand new horror label, but we liked their attitude and I felt very comfortable with their company.

It was a bit easier with SCREAM FARM. Several of the larger companies viewed it but they all had mixed ideas about what was going on in the marketplace and how they could sell it to the public. Knowing that zombies are always popular, I didn’t wait on the majors to make up their minds. We premiered it at one engagement in Birmingham, Alabama, and immediately received 3 offers for distribution based on the audience’s response. As fate would have it, Phoenix (our DEEPENING distributor) was looking for a zombie movie and, being happy with our relationship over the previous film, we signed with them again, who released it under the title THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE COLLECTION FEATURING SCREAM FARM. It’s actually a cool 2-disc set. SCREAM FARM is the primary feature and then it’s got a ton of zombie shorts that they collected and put together to make up the second DVD of extras.

DH: What’s next for Jim O’Rear?

JIM: I’ve got a ton of films as an actor/stuntman that have just been released and are in post-production, as well as several I’m about to start working on. I’ve also got several personal appearances coming up.

THE DEAD MATTER should be finished with post very soon and a taste of it will be premiered at Comic-Con in San Diego, CA. It’s a great vampire/zombie film I did in Ohio with Andrew “Wishmaster” Divoff, Tom Savini, and Jason Carter. It was made by Ed Douglas of Midnight Syndicate in association with the great Bob Kurtzman.

ACONITE was just released on DVD which is a werewolf-like film I acted in with Reggie “Phantasm” Bannister, Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen, Linnea Quigley, and Debbie Rochon.

I’m wrapping up filming THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, which is a thriller about a cult who are trying to bring about Armageddon and I will begin shooting OLD HABITS DIE HARD, acting opposite Kane “Jason” Hodder, very soon.

I’ve got several convention, festival, and haunted house appearance coming up that include The Fright Night Film Festival (Kentucky), B-Movie Celebration (Indiana), Nashville Comic & Horror Convention (Tennessee), Ripley’s Haunted Adventure (Tennessee), and more.

As far as producing, we’re currently trying to raise financing for a new film I wrote with Scott Christian Spencer called PRANK CALL that’s an 80’s-style thriller with lots of surprises.

There’s a list of current projects and appearances on my website, for anyone interested, which includes links to additional information. That site is www.JimORear.com. You can also find me on MySpace at www.MySpace.com/JimORear.

DH: If you had an unlimited budget, what would your dream movie be to make?

JIM: It’s actually one that I’ve written called BLOODLINE. On the surface it is an action-packed Civil War vampire movie, but at its core it is a story about a father’s relationship with his son. It’s a story that I am very personally close to and hope to see it produced some day.

For more information on Jim O'Rear, you can go to his website here or his Myspace page here. For more information on "Scream Farm", you can go to its Myspace page here or buy it here. For more information on "The Deepening", you can go to its Myspace page here, its webpage here or buy it here.

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