Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exclusive Interview with Gris Grimly, writer/director/artist of "Cannibal Flesh Riot"

This was a while ago now... but, I get home after, what was probably another long day, and I hit the mailbox. A few bills, junk mail and, thankfully, a screener. I open it up, like I usually do, on the elevator ride and as I walk down the hallway towards my condo, I hold in my hand the screener for Gris Grimly's "Cannibal Flesh Riot". Right off the bat, I'm stoked. First off, Grimly has put together an unreal package that, to my knowledge, hasn't really been done before. It's the size of a CD package, with a cover designed like a comic. However, when you open it up, the left hand side actually contains a comic book inspired by the film, and the case itself contains not only the DVD of the film, but also a CD with music inspired by the film. Quite frankly, it's genius. Why more people don't put together packages like this, I have no idea. Now, if you don't know who Gris Grimly is, he's a fairly well known artist and storyteller, probably best known for his "darkly whimsical children's books". Actually, I think he's a hell of an artist and his talent shines through on this film, which has a really cool, unique look and feel. (including a few kick-ass claymation sequences) All in all, this is a great package and definitely worth your time. We had the pleasure of discussing the project with Grimly and he has lots of advice and insight to offer...

Tell us a bit about yourself. You’re an artist, writer, filmmaker and more. Where did you get started and what brought you to filmmaking?

Overall, I’m a storyteller. I don’t think I’m a great artist. I don’t think I’m a great designer or a great writer. My spelling and grammar is atrocious. But I’m a creative and unique storyteller. I think that is why people are drawn to what I do. Because it’s something new and intriguing.

I didn’t really have intentions of getting into film. As a child, I wanted to do creature and monster designs and effects. There for a while I wanted to make puppets for Jim Hensen. My first professional creative job was illustrating Monster Museum for Hyperion Press. After that, I started to get 1-2 book gigs a year.

Since the first book came out, I kept creating and coming up with new ideas, started a line of apparel and pursued different types of licensing. The filmmaking just happened.

Film School: Yes or No?

No. My schooling came from two books. “How to shoot a feature film under $10,000 and not go to jail” and “Rebel without a crew”.

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

“Cannibal Flesh Riot!” was originally going to be a comic book project with my friend Peter Sandorff, who played guitar for the Nekromantics. He wanted to release a limited edition 7-inch vinyl with music composed to a horror comic written and illustrated by me. I started the comic being influenced by old horror pulp and EC horror comics. The story of Stash and Hub evolved from that.

In the meantime, me and some friends were talking about making a movie. At the time, it was going to be a full feature about a werewolf shot in a friend’s backyard. But the concept and story started to get carried away with wire tricks and car crashes. I realized “we can’t do this!” I decided to keep it simple: two guys in a graveyard having a conversation. That was “Cannibal Flesh Riot!”. We were just wanting to do it for the fun of it with no thoughts of releasing it to the public. But after seeing the footage from the first day I thought, “This isn’t that bad.”

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

The budget was somewhere between $4000-$6000 for a 30 minute short. At that range, there is no need for securing funds. You just whip out your credit card and rack up debt.

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

We shot the film on the DVX100. The primary footage was shot in 7 days about 8-12 hour a day. This doesn’t include the days shooting the stop motion segments. That is a little more difficult to calculate.

There was a very distinct look and feel to the film. For me, it played out just like a comic and really had a comic book feel to it. Tell us about achieving that look.

The two main influences in the look of the film were old 50’s B horror films and EC horror comics. I also think that being a cartoonist, translating my thoughts into a live action film is going to have a comic book like feel. We just did our best to make the sets and props as well as the characters look like my artwork.

I f’ing LOVED the brief scenes of claymation. Tell me about the decision to go that route, especially because I noticed that you used brief bits of CG

The CG effects were an afterthought. As we were editing the footage, the idea of bugs crawling around on Stash came about. But the film was already shot. So we turned to a friend for CG. The moth was also going to be stop motion, but we found complications with getting the shot properly and also turned to CG. The stop motion shots in the film are for two reasons. One, to remain consistent to the look of old horror films. I’m a fan of Willis O’Brien’s and Ray Harryhausen’s work. This was a tribute to them. I’m a fan of animation techniques in general and will incorporate them into future projects if it fits. The other reason was budgetary. When you only have a few hundred dollars for the monster, you’re not going to make a 50-foot animatronics Gut Tongue. I would rather see it in stop motion using real meat than CG any day.

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?

We had a very little budget, which is always going to cause problems on set. I think there will always be hurdles no matter what budget you are working with, but it is much more difficult to overcome these hurdles when you can’t buy your way out. We shot in the LA area without a permit or insurance. This means we needed to shoot on friends’ private properties. So you could only imagine how limited our options were. We shot the graveyard scene in a friend’s backyard, which was next to a rooster farm. I didn’t think this would cause a problem since we were shooting mostly at night. But this was a cock fighting rooster farm and those cocks were pissed off all the time. They would crow all the time. We found a way around it as best we could. Most of it had to be cleaned up in post. Other than that, we ended up scheduling the shoot during the worst monsoon Los Angeles has seen in 20 years. We lost many shooting days because of this. But again, the best we could do is shoot the interior shots when it rained and the catch the exterior shots when the weather shined fondly on us.

After it was all said and done, what would you have done differently?

There are many things I would change. It’s not that I’m not proud of it. We made a kick ass film. But I learned a lot during the process. There were many times I wanted to go back and shoot something differently or go back and fix this or that. But sometimes, you just have to cut the umbilical chord of the bastard child and squeeze out the next one.

Talk about the festival circuit, how did that go? What did you learn? And what can you pass on to other filmmakers who’ve finished an indie horror and want to enter it into festivals?

I found out that festivals are extremely political…even some of the smaller ones. You have a better chance if you like the taste of shit on your lips. But that’s not my style.

Another thing that I loved was your choice in packaging the film up with a short comic adaptation, as well as a CD of music inspired by and from the film. It makes the film worth purchasing, as opposed to just watching in a festival or ripping off the internet. What were you thinking when you put it together?

I don’t always know what I’m thinking. Sometimes I think I’m mad. Especially when I was getting into producing a compilation CD. I listen to some horror punk and psychobilly music. I love when bands sing about old horror movies, mainly because I love old horror movies and there is that connection to the song. As I was finishing up the editing on the film, I thought it would be cool to ask friends from bands that I knew or worked with to do a song inspired by CFR for the limited edition run of the DVD. While a few of them agreed, most of them had to pass for whatever their reasons. Some of the bands were on a crazy tour. Some of the bands broke up. It wasn’t what I expected. But instead of giving up, I decided to approach a bunch of bands I liked, but didn’t know. Out of those were Mister Monster, Blitzkid, Ghoultown, Creature Feature and a few others. I sent them all copies of the film with a letter stating what I was doing and asked if they liked the film would they contribute a song for the compilation. It was a lot of hard work, but in the end, we put together a killer collection of music.

What about distribution? How’s that going? Are there any lessons that you would pass on to other indie filmmakers who’ve just finished a film?

Currently, the movie is only available as the self-distributed DVD through Mad Creator Productions. I’ve been asked about distribution, but I’m not interested in it right now. I’ve thought about doing a few other short films that could be released and distributed on DVD in the future as a collection.

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

There is a “Cannibal Flesh Riot!” myspace. That is good enough for getting info. You can find that at The DVD, Score and other merchandise can be purchased at

I feel that I should mention that you’re also an accomplished artist, clothing designer, etc. Where can people buy your art and other products?

Same place.

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

I’ve just finished up shooting a music video for the band Ghoultown. The song is called “Mistress of the Dark” and stars none other than Elvira. If that wasn’t awesome enough, the video was shot at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. I’m finishing it up now and plan on releasing it in October. The band and I are collaborating on a special CD/DVD release for early next year which will include the single “Mistress of the Dark” and a few other B-sides, the music video, making of documentary and some other kick ass special features. We are all looking forward to that. Then I will focus on the next thing, which will hopefully be the next short.

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