Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interview with Billy Garberina, writer/director of Necroville

The cards are always stacked against the indie horror filmmaker... first off, it's tough to get a shot-on-DV film into a lot of the festivals, let alone into Blockbuster, Best Buy, etc. Secondly, if you do get it in there, it's tough to break through all the clutter, as well as be able to have the general public take it seriously. Now, those are problems that exist AFTER you've shot the film, the cards are also stacked against you when you're heading into pre-production.

When you have next to no budget and you head out to make your film, you've really got two options: Try to make it 'serious', with good acting, good setups, sharp editing, etc... but, really, critics won't differentiate you from bigger budget films, so... you better be an f'ing good filmmaker to get noticed. The other route is to flaunt how low-budget you are, embrace it and not be afraid of it. However, this is a delicate balance that ALSO requires you to be a kick-ass filmmaker, plus have a sharp sense of humor and really good screenwriting abilities. "Necroville" is a film that fits right into this last category.

"Necroville" has everything that a low-budget horror-comedy is supposed to have. It's funny, it's well written, it's got gore and, of course, zombies, werewolves, vampires and two wise-cracking buddies. So, if you're a fan of the low-budget horror genre, which you probably are, this is one of those films that you need to see. We had the chance to talk with writer/director of "Necroville", Billy Garberina...

Tell us about yourself. What's your background and how did you get into film making?

I've been living in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the better part of 20 plus years. I was born on the east coast and as an adult I spent a summer in NYC and a year in LA. For now, Albuquerque is home. It's been very good to me. I was interested in acting from the time I was very young, but didn't really have any outlet till I was in the high school drama department. It was as a teenager I started to get the idea of directing plays, but it wouldn't be until I was about 23 that someone introduced me to 3 chip digital cinema and made the idea of making my own movie real to me. I got a BFA in acting from the University of New Mexico and in the spaces in between picked up a little dance, a lot of juggling, a healthy dose of martial fury and some vocal and music background. As a natural jackass, stunts aren't usually much of a problem.

Film school: yes or no?

Film school: no I never went, but I wouldn't nessecarly discourage anyone from it either. I feel that there are a great many fundamentals that can be picked up in film school...from 3-5 point lighting and composition to comprehensive lens theory and beyond. On the other hand, for the cost of about a fifth of film school or less, you could completely outfit yourself with a full HD camera, grip & electric package with post facilities as well as read a few books, make a few movies and have a much better sense of autonomy. You could also buy yourself one hell of a DVD library for research. After rereading that answer, I guess I'd encourage people to jump in the ocean and sink or swim.

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

Films and directors...I'd say it was Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson that finally showed me the kinds of movies I really wanted to make ala Dead Alive or Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, but some of my earliest and most enduring high water marks would definitely be Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone, Walter Hill and John Carpenter. Currently I'm a huge fan of Takashi Miike's stuff too. In that range of films I'd say I've been watching movies like The Warriors, Yojimbo, Good-Bad-and the Ugly, The Thing Prince Of Darkness and others FOREVER. It'd be my cinematic wet dream to one day make a movie a quarter as cool as anything I just mentioned. A film buddy of mine also pointed out I have an alarmingly complete and comprehensive knowledge of bad western martial arts movies...yikes!

"Necroville" is a fantastic title! Where did you come up with it and the idea for the film?

I wish I could tell you where we originally came up with the title. I can tell you the one thing I repeatedly hear is a comparison of that word to "necrophilia". I guess we were kicking around ideas for the name of the town/movie and it just floated to the surface...that and no one ever had a movie by that title, so voila! The idea for the movie actually started with the bit about the piano...just two idiots being chased by a vampire and unsuccessfully warding it off by dropping a piano on it. Obviously it's a much more complex and involved movie since then, but that idea for a scene was the seed that Adam J and I grew into the Necroville script. It was awhile ago, but if memory serves, I think we were kicking around some really God awful titles like Deadtown, Deadton, Zombieton, Deadsville...stuff like that. Thank goodness we came upon the idea of calling it Necroville.

The film has a great Clerks-style, buddy/comedy angle to it, as opposed to being straightforward horror. What made you decide to add this twist to the genre?

I'd say that Adam and I are definitely fans of the Tarantino/Smith concept of characters jibber jabbing and bantering with witty stabs at one another with a healthy dose of South Park style potty mouthedness. Mostly though, we sort of modeled it on our own lives. Adam and I generally abusing each other while one of us is dealing with some sort of wretched harpy we've allowed into our universe...thus, in this case art has imitated life. Also, In the world of Necroville, Alex sort of serves as an anchor to Jack's floating into the despicable world of nasty goth chicks and their ilk. All in all it seemed the right direction to go with the characters, the concept and the script. I think it would be fair to say we wanted a more comedic direction from the very start, so adding in that Clerks/Ghostbusters buddy vibe was a natural fit, methinks.

What was the budget and how did you attain financing?

The shooting budget for Necroville was a slim $5000. The post production budget ended up near $4800. So all in all it was a $9800 movie. As for financing, that's a question every single film maker asks without fail and I almost always have the same answer: you have to save it, or save some of it and have a couple of buddies come on board. You have to really, really, REALLY want to do this more than anything, not just talk about it. If you're talking about making a movie (you're off to a bad start to begin with by talking too much) you need to look at everything in your life you don't need to spend money on. Booze? Video games? DVD's? Eating out? Expensive dates? Cheap dates? A jedi craves NOT these things! Seriously...if you aren't willing to make these kinds of sacrifices, you're spending way too much money and especially time on pursuits other than making your damn movie. My first feature was all credit cards...since that horrific mistake I've learned the simple power of earning and saving. Earn, save, repeat. I know that to your average human being, close to 10 grand is no small sum, but in the larger context of life, houses, cars, major Hollywood productions and other general craziness it really isn't anything at all. Necroville was financially, actually a combined effort of Ochressandro Rettinger, myself and Adam Jarmon Brown. When you spread that 10K figure over three committed people, it becomes even easier still. I find a lot of filmmakers continually lamenting not having this piece of gear or that amount of budget. Let me tell you, after close to ten years and dozens of features, both mine and other people's, I've got to tell you that availability of your actors and crew, time and personal commitment is WAY more important than any piece of gear or dollar spent ever. So my bottom line is commit to the process, commit to committed people, make sure they're available and you'd be shocked what a little elbow grease and ingenuity can get you. Necroville isn't Citizen Kane by any stretch of the imagination, but if there's a better way to make a movie with that much stuff in it for under 10K, then I challenge and encourage everyone to give it a shot.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the making of this film and how did you overcome them?

In Necroville I had to relearn the simple lessons I threw out the window to make Necroville. When you have no budget, never use animals, never use an abundance of extras, don't need exotic locations, don't have a ton of CGI, keep the story simple, don't have a ton of SFX...yeah, I pretty much ignored all of my best wisdom. I don't know what I was thinking and looking back at the final product, I really should never have gotten away with half of what we did. That being said, I'd say that story boarding based on locations in advance of a shoot would slim the process down. A lot. I say keeping everything organized and rolling smoothly was probably the single greatest feat. That being said, I feel a lot of headaches in production and post production could be solved with better planning and thinking in pre-production...possibly even in scripting to avoid MAJOR headaches down the road. For as harrowing as those 17 days of straight production were though, the two and a half years of post were the worst. Most grueling of all, in fact if I were pushed. Again, I think I had committed people and good planning in pre for production itself, but if I had to be really honest about the process, I'd say I didn't plan enough for post either with planning or budget and it cost a LOT of time.

What are the pros and cons of making a zombie film?

Pros are obvious. People love zombies. I love zombies. It's hilarious. Everytime a mainstream movie with zombies comes out out, you'll hear some insipid reporter quipping something trite like "zombies are back" or "can the zombie craze last?". I've got to tell you, I'm not sure it ever really went anywhere. Zombies are always in because zombies are cool. Not because I say so, but because the dozens of zombie films in production or fresh on shelves and the seemingly unlimited voracious appetite for them seems to indicate it. I think it's a vile and insulting mistake however, to make a zombie movie or any low budget genre pic if you see it as an easy in to film makin' and don't really have a love or passion for them. But really? Shotguns, chainsaws and baseball bats just scream to the human need to overcome fears and trepidation about the evils in the world. The zombie genre is just one of many fine examples of the kind of movie that releases that pent up angst. Good times. Cons? Well...time is always against you. There is never...and I do mean NEVER enough time to get really good zombies and SFX without time...that or money. I know this kind of flies in the face of my previous statement but to make REALLY good zombies with REALLY good SFX takes time. When you're cramming a whole feature into two short weeks and trying to maintain good camera work and decent acting? Let's just say this is one area I will concede the time and money argument. Better zombies require better budget and WAY more time than is often afforded in B movie makin;. That being said, I am also of the opinion that a movie needs to be done before it can be good. If you shoot a movie with perfect zombies that fails to make it past three scenes and never gets seen or a completed feature with quicker, less rotted flesh eaters, who made the better movie? I'm not saying you should throw quality control out the window, but done is more important always, always, always. That being said, if you can;t inject SOME quality into your done movie, maybe you should quit while you're behind. Tricky debate to be sure. Another obvious con is organizing zombies. I got lucky...DAMNED lucky with my zombie siege scene in Necroville. I had well over 100 zombies, but they get bored and angry quick. Many wandered off the set before the end of the day. I'm of the strict opinion that zombies is a plural word that generally works best when there are PLURAL zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. Tricky. Very very tricky.

What elements, in your opinion, combine to make a great movie?

When I figure this one out, I'll let you know. If I had to take a wild stab, I'd say it starts with the script. Always the script. It's easy to have a good script save poorer production value, but nothing can salvage a crappy script. It is your foundation and can be your salvation if you let it. That being said, after your script you need good actors. Good actors can save your bacon every day of the week. Good composition, lighting and camrea moves are next. After that, the editor needs to be on the ball, pacing the movie. The the sound and soundtrack can sink or float the whole process...I guess what I'm saying is it takes EVERY DAMN THING at every damn stage to make a good movie. There's no one element that can make the whole thing, but one really bad thing can sink the whole thing. It's another tricky issue. Maybe one of these days I'll get all of them together in the same picture. I think I forgot to mention the art department...most indies usually do, unfortunately.

How has the distribution been going? Any tips you can give to upcoming filmmakers looking to get their movies out there?

I can't tell you how distro is going yet because it just got released. I'm looking forward to seeing the end of year report myself!...here's crossing fingers. I can tell you based on the coverage Necroville has received online and the ads I've seen in the places I've seen them that the great folks over at Shock O Rama are really doing their best to get this movie out there. Michael Raso is a straight shooter and brutally honest about the state of the market and conditon of products. It's the principle reason I opted to go with Shock O Rama...they did really right by the distribution of Feeding The Masses and I feel like Mr. Raso and his staff are really down to earth about what makes this system happen. I think my best advice to filmmakers is to be realistic about what they've made. I have a handful of unreleased features myself. The first thing you have to remember is that you are in competition with hundreds, if not thousands of other pictures every year. If you can't look at your own movie and be honest with yourself and others about where it's absolutely crappy you need to quit now and never look back. You need to realize that you are not God's gift to film making simply because you bothered to point a camera at something and press record. You need to take the advice and derision of other film makers and especially distributors with a grain of salt and simultaneously for the golden wisdom it can be. Lord knows I have. Ask questions, don't stop learning and expect answers you don't want to hear. If you can be realistic with yourself about yourself and your movie you're already taken your first step into a larger world. You also can't wait for distribution to come to you. You have to promote, promote, promote. YOU have to do the work. If you're waiting around for someone else to do the work for you, you're coming in last and you don't even know it yet. Also, don't be smooth talked into some kind of fluffy sounding deal because like the saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Research your distibutor BEFORE you commit to a deal. Look at the products they put out and the way they get out. Ask other filmmakers on those labels how they feel about the distribution deal they got. Be careful, be bold...just get it done. And don't forget festivals...I myself always overlook festivals and it's a damned mistake...they are great networking and promotional opportunities.

Where can people find out more about, "Necroville" and, better yet, buy themselves a copy

You can buy Necroville just about anywhere! You can order it directly from necroville.com for starters...if you do, a few extra dollars make their way directly back into my pocket. That being said, you can get it through netflix or blockbuster.com, Amazon.com or if you have a Hastings, Barnes & Noble or Best Buy in your area, I happen to know they'll have them or they'll have it in their system to order directly. Easy peezy!

I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about Necroville and I especially want to thank everyone out there who's supported Necroville and will in the future with their purchase. Movies never matter if there's no one to watch them.

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