Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Interview with Nick Oddo, writer/director of "New York Blood"

It's pretty easy to figure out why most indie horror films are about slashers and zombies... first off, slasher and zombie films have always been big influences on horror film fans. More importantly, though, they're a bit easier to put together and execute. Let's face it, if you're dealing with amateur actors and a low budget, zombies and slashers are fairly easy to direct and are usually believable, even if they're terrible actors. This is one of the reasons I was really looking forward to Nick Oddo's "New York Blood", which is an indie gangster film. To pull a gangster film off, a lot of things need to come together...

Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Wes Craven, Clive Barker and all the horror guys were big influences on me, but I was also very influenced by guys like Scorsese and Coppola. In fact, back in film school, a few of my short films were over-the-top, gory gangster films and that was a direct result of my love for films like "Goodfellas", "Scarface" and "State of Grace". The truth of the matter is, most of us know about the rise of the gritty horror scene in the 70's, but if you're into gangster films, Scorsese's "Mean Streets" (1973) and Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972) pretty much marked the beginning of gritty crime movies. Both genre's had a huge boom during the 80's, then matured through the 90's. However, it's funny to see that this new surge of indie filmmaking in the early 2000's has really embraced horror, but has yet to truly embrace gangster films. Could it be that Oddo is just a bit ahead of his time???

Nick Oddo's "New York Blood" is a gangster film, no question. Not only that, it's a great gangster film. It's brutally authentic and, at times, you may find yourself wondering if he recruited actual mobsters to play roles. The lead role of Vinny is actually played by Vinnie Stigma, who, if you're into punk and/or metal, you may know as the guitarist for Agnostic Front. There's also cameo's from Vinny Vella and Frank Aquilino, who, between the two of them, have been in "The Sopranos", "Casino", "Goodfellas" and "King of New York". The film revolves around Vinny, who owns a neighborhood whorehouse and wants to take care of his father, who just got out of jail. Then, "the sins of the father and violence of the son overwhelm good intentions and lead to a blood soaked finale". Really, it's a fantastic indie gangster film and it's really well put together. My hope is that it paves the way for more indie gangster films, because if this is just the beginning, I'm anxious to see what's next.

We had the opportunity to discuss "New York Blood" with writer/director, Nick Oddo...

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie filmmaking?

I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and was into sports and Punk Rock music as a kid. I also did some acting and when digital video came along I got into filmmaking. My influences were always off the wall type of films, mostly horror. I also loved Taxi Driver and some of those great 70's drama's and 80's horror movies.

Film School: Yes or No?

No. I never went to film school but as an actor I got to work with Sidney Lumet and Ron Howard. I also worked in the theatre as an actor, director, writer, stage manager, light guy, etc... It was where I learned about story and structure and how to work with actors and get things done.

Where did you get the idea for “New York Blood”?

When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh I got a job working in a whorehouse and always thought it was a great setup for a movie.

What was the approx budget and how did you secure financing?

The total budget for the movie was about 4 thousand dollars. I financed it myself and just made it gorilla style.

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

I shot on a Sony PD150 and we filmed off and on for about 10 months.

The story and style of film were fantastic, but the cast and acting was the high point for me – very authentic, something that you rarely see in a low-budget film. Talk about the process of casting the film… the lead was played by Vinnie Stigma, of Agnostic Front fame, and he played the role perfect. How’d you get him?

Vinnie and I have been friends since the 80's. His band Agnostic Front would always come to Pittsburgh and play at a club called the Electric Banana. My friends and I would always go to the shows and there was a cool little Punk Rock scene in Pittsburgh back then. In 1986 that my friend Will Shepler who is also in New York Blood joined Agnostic Front and became their drummer. A few years later I moved to New York. Yes, casting is very important and I wish I could put everyone I know in my movies, but it's just not realistic. I like characters and don't like pretty perfect looking people. Whenever I see someone with a fucked up face I always think they would be great in a movie. Life experience is also very important and I can read people fairly well. I usually just go with my gut and if I say no in my head even once it's a no.

Talk about your directing style. Although you had a few veteran actors involved, most were amateurs. How do you create that authentic feel from the actors?

My style is fairly simple since I never have a budget, but the most important thing to me is the story and casting. Like you said I had some veteran actors but most never acted before, when you work with people who never acted before the first thing they are going to have a problem with is remembering the lines and delivering them with some sort of authenticity. My way of working around this is to just make sure they understand what needs to be accomplished in the scene. Once they understand that we are home free and I have them say what they feel comfortable saying in the context of the scene and as long as we accomplish what needs to be accomplished in the scene it works and they come off credible. There are some scenes in the movie where Vinnie said his lines exactly as they were written and those scenes are great. In others he says it his way and it also works great. I did the same thing with many of the other actors and it worked well because they felt comfortable. As long as you accomplish what needs to be accomplished in the scene and the actors come off as believable it works because they feel comfortable.

Shooting in and around the streets of New York, in the market, around Little Italy and all that just added to the look, feel and authenticity. How did you go about finding locations and how did you deal with the public when you’re shooting?

We just gorilla it. I never had a permit in my life. If I want to shoot somewhere I just do it. New York is a great place to shoot and you never run out of great locations. If we need a bar we have friends that own bars, the same goes for the restaurants and most of the locations. The only time I had a problem was when we shot a quick scene at Sing Sing prison. They don't allow any photography and I almost got arrested.

There was also some great gore, very Scorsese-esque for me. Talk about using gore in a gangster movie.

The make up FX were done by Brian Spears who is a great up and coming Make up FX guy here in New York. I met him at a Chiller Convention a few years ago, he worked on Midnight Mass with Marvin and I got in touch with him a few years later and asked him to do the movie, I think he did a great job and I look forward to working with him again. My favorite movies have always been horror movies and gangster movies so the mix just came natural. Believe me if I had the bread I would do a flow blown horror film. The horror genre is without a doubt my genre of choice.

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.

The most important thing for me is to just do it. I can't tell you how many people talk about making movies and never get in done. Write a script, cast it, get some actors and locations and just go. I always say there are two kinds of people in the world, those who talk about it and those who do it. I'm both.

Talk about the festival circuit, how did “New York Blood” do? Is the festival circuit something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

We won best horror at The New York Independent Film and Video Festival. Festivals are great but it's important to submit to the ones who appreciate the type of film you've made. New York Blood would never get accepted to a festival like Sundance or Tribeca. It's just not realistic. Submission fee's are heavy so don't waste your money on the big festivals if your making a no budget movie.

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?

Brain Damage released my last movie "I Hate You" on a compilation called "Serial Psychos" I liked how they marketed the movie so they were the ones I thought of immediately. To me the coolest scene right now is the independent horror scene. There are plenty of distributors out there who will release a low budget horror movie and the fan base is strong. It kind of reminds me of the Punk Rock and Hardcore scene. It's not high tech expensive stuff but the people in these genres have something interesting to say. I'm constantly surprised at how much people can do on a limited budget. It's very inspiring.

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

It's in most mom and pop stores and few of the bigger chains but the easiest way to purchase New York Blood is online. It's on Amazon.com, buy.com and most of the horror sites. People can also check out my myspace page for updates on what's happening, myspace.com/nicktheknife666

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

I feel like this is a very unique time for filmmakers, it's the first generation of the DYI movie and I know some great filmmakers are going to come out of this scene just like the filmmakers who came out of the independent scene in the 60's and 70's. If you don't make movies how can you expect to learn and find a producer who can help you raise money so you can move on to the next level?

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

Right now I'm working on a documentary about an Underground Fight Club here in New York City. It's called Welcome to the Underground and it should be available on DVD this fall. Then in the summer I plan on doing a horror movie.

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