Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interview with Nigel Hartwell, writer/director of "Dead by Dawn" and the brains behind New Blood Entertainment

These days, it's hard to remember that film is an art. Sure, the way Hollywood does it, it's a business. I mean, they pay a lot of money for market research, they go through an army of writers (a lot of which go uncredited), they work with lawyers, agents and bean-counters to put everything in place and by the time they get to the part where you actually roll the cameras, they're just mailing it in. For example, I was on the set of a big budget TV show and was shocked to see that the director doesn't even deal with the actors in person... he was way back in another room, sitting back in a chair, sipping coffee and watching a monitor. With images like that, it's tough to see it as art, but it is... and it's just like any other art. Take music, for example. How much art is behind 'artists' like Britney Spears, Beyonce or any of these big pop bands? Not much, they're very produced. However, with music, it's a bit easier to see the 'art' and you don't have to dig very far. I'm not into bands like Coldplay or U2 or stuff like that, but you can see that there's substance there. There's art. Personally, my music interests are diverse, but I've never been into that over-produced sound. I like metal, I was into hip-hop and rap when it first broke out, I like some alt-rock, I like punk... shit like that.

Actually, when you look at punk rock and where it came from, I think there are striking similarities between it and indie horror film. Punk has run its course, died and came back, but indie horror is just gaining steam. If you think about it, punk embraced a DIY ethic, with many of the bands self-producing and self-distributing. They were fast, hard-edged artists that started in garages and dingy bars. Punk was anti-mainstream and a big subculture emerged that was all about rebellion. Now, look at indie horror... they tend to be anti-mainstream films, in that they go where Hollywood won't. They have a distinct DIY ethic and, for the most part, they're self-produced and self-distributed. There's a growing subculture around them and, although slightly nerdier than their punk-counterparts, they tend to be all about rebellion.

Punk rose up in popularity in the mid-70's with bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. It had it's ups and downs, but spawned bands like Nirvana, Green Day and The Offspring and you can still see its influence today... now, indie horror is where punk was right before it burst open and hit the mainstream in the 70's. Further, I think that those who help push this sub-genre forward and embrace the scene for what it is will be the ones to reap the benefits in the long run.

There's lots of guys doing their part and Nigel Hartwell, the writer and director of the "Dead by Dawn" series and the brains behind New Blood Entertainment is one of those people. Not only did it take him two years to make his first film, he persevered and has now gone on to make two more films in that series, plus another film AND set up his own distribution company. It's people like Hartwell who drive the indie scene forward, adding to it and helping push it in a positive way and for that, we have utmost respect and gratitude. We had the chance to discuss "Dead by Dawn" with him and get a bit of his insight into the industry...

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie filmmaking?

I'm now 30 years old and I've been working in the film business doing various jobs in Toronto, Ontario for the last 10 years. In that time I have independently made 4 horror feature films entitled (The Expedition, Dead by Dawn 1,2,3). All the films were self funded and made with basically nothing.

Film School: Yes or No?

Yes, I attended Vancouver Film School

Where did you get the idea for “Dead by Dawn”?

It was idea that I thought up back in highschool, that I thought would be really creepy, but of course it didn't come to life for quite sometime.

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

As I said before it was self funded and shot on 16mm film for the budget of about $45,000 CAD

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

Arri SR2, and the shoot its self was spread out over a couple years but total days that we shot for was 18. We ran out of money several times, so I had to go save up again.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the amount of characters, the storylines between them all and how it was all tied together. Talk about creating and managing a story like that.

It took alot of time developing this story, as it was my first script, and I got lots of people to read it and give me there opinion and for the most part everyone liked it but minor changes had to be made to involve all the characters with the main plot.. I didn't want to make a horror film where people were getting killed for no reason.

Another thing that stood out was the performances that you got out of the actors. Talk about your directing style.

Two of main actors had a great deal of experience and as for the other actors I tried to find people who were like the characters in real life so they could relate to them better. This was my directorial debut for a feature, and great learning experience on how to deal with certain type of actors. I'm not sure on my style for this film, because it is still a blur to me as we were shooting 18 to 20 hour days.

You used a few computer generated effects. They’re quite tough to pull off on a low-budget, but you managed to do it. They’re not over the top, but just enough. How did you create them? …and talk about the decision to use them.

I had a graduate student create them for me for a credit in the film. It would have cost a small fortune to pay someone to do it.

Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film done. What advice can you pass on to other indie filmmakers who are just setting out to make a film?

Well girlfriends came and went, I was always broke because of this passion for filmmaking, a great deal of time and energy was spent on something that may never turn a profit. I make films because I like doing it, and if I could choose one thing to do in this life for making a living it be this.

Did you enter “Dead by Dawn” into any festivals? If so, how did it do and is the festival circuit something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

I try to bypass the festivals, because I've learned that it is an endless money pit that really doesn't help you. Yeah you might find distribution someday but in the long run, the studios are now making so many low budget horror films that surpass alot of us indy filmmakers and it has really put the crunch down on getting your product out there. And when you do get a distributor they will do to you what they have done to so many in the past, find a way to get your film and not pay you a dime.

I believe you set up your own distribution company, New Blood Entertainment, and distributed the film through there. When did you make the decision to become a distributor?

I made the decision to start distributing my films along with other indys because of this bad system they have out there of screwing the little guy. I developed New Blood to help myself and others see a little bit of there money back, because in most cases if a filmmaker gets screwed over it takes away his passion to do what he loves to do and there are so many filmmakers out there that want it so bad, they will pretty much sign a rotten deal just to get there name out there.

As both a filmmaker and a distributor, what would you tell filmmakers who’ve recently finished a film and are looking for distribution?

I can only tell them that its a very hard go out there, and no one is going to give you an advance unless you have a star or b-star in your film. It doesn't matter how great the film is, if the right person doesn't see it, it will collect dust. I would tell these filmmakers to find a company like mine that isn't out to screw them.

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

The best place for information and to purchase a DVD or soon a Blueray disk, is at my website: newbloodentertainment.biz

It is also available on amazon and most internet retailers as well most video on demand sites.

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

Horror films have always been around and always will be around because people love to be scared and to see things that they don't see on daily basis, like someones head getting cut off. I'm a fan of horror films myself and I will probably never make anything outside the Horror/Thriller genres. I really only have a passion for these genres.

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

Well, Dead by Dawn 2: The Return and Dead by Dawn 3: The Revenge will be released late this year. And I'm currently talking with a producer about shooting my fifth film, a zombie film entitled "The Epidemic".

Monday, March 30, 2009

New Horror on DVD this Week: After Dark Horrorfest III and much, much more...

If you remember, there was something wrong with Amazon last week that was pissing me off and they weren't breaking out the upcoming releases, so I couldn't effectively put together my Monday morning post. Well, I had some fairly painful, useless back and forth with them, as they never actually saw what I was seeing, but all appears to be fixed this week... and what a week it is! There's piles of horror out. Most notably, all the After Dark Horrorfest films are out, but there's much, much more than that. I'm not going to be able to go into too much depth on anything, but I will get through everything here. As usual, if the title's highlighted, you can click on it and go to it's page on Amazon. Also, you can head on over to our Youtube page where you can see all the trailers... and make sure you do, there's some good ones this week.

As you know, the After Dark Horrorfest is an annual festival that features 8 indie horror films and they get screened nationally. January 9th through 15th, 2009 marked the dates for HorrorFest III, which included the films: "Autopsy", "The Broken", "Butterfly Effect: Revelation", "Dying Breed", "From Within", "Perkins 14", "Slaughter" and "Voices". So, you can now buy them individually, or get them as a whole set. Public sentiment has "Autopsy", "The Broken" and "Butterfly Effect: Revelations" as the best of the bunch. Also of note is the fact that "Slaughter" and "Perkins' 14" are the first films that After Dark has actually produced and released themselves... I'd love to talk about the writers and directors of each of them, but I don't have time. So, here's some brief synopsis' of the films:

The Broken - A young woman is surprised to see what looks like herself, drive by one day. She follows the woman, which sets off a chain of events which leads her into a haunting, nightmare reality.

Slaughter - A young woman returns to her family farm in the hope of escaping an abusive situation. Unfortunately, this safe place ends up being much more abusive than her previous one.

Perkins' 14 - Robert Perkins brainwashes 14 people, in order to create an army that will defend him from his parents' killers.

The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations - A young man with the power of time-travel attempts to solve the mystery of his girlfriend's death. In doing this, however, he frees a vindictive serial killer.

From Within - The residents of a small town in the USA begin to die off, supposedly of suicides.

Autopsy - A young woman attempts to find her injured boyfriend in a bizarre hospital.

Dying Breed - Zoology student Nina and her friends go into the Tasmanian Forest in search of the Tasmanian Tiger. What they discover, however, is a cannibalistic clan who are the descendants of a famous escaped serial killer known as The Pieman.

Voices - Overnight, brutal murders become everyday occurrences as friends turn on friends, brothers turn on sisters, and husbands turn on wives. Originally released in Korea as 'Du saram yi-da' ("2 people"), based on the best selling Korean comic book series of the same name.

Now, on to the 'non-After Dark Filmfest films'...

"Timecrimes", or "Cronocrimenes" in it's native Spain, is a sci-fi horror that came out in 2007, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. It screened at various festivals and won a bunch of awards and, to be honest, I think it looks f'ing awesome. So, Hector's on his lawn chair, hanging out, when he sees what looks like a naked girl in the trees. Naturally, he hikes up to see what's going on, but gets attacked by a dude in a grotesque, pink head bandage. He takes refuge in a lab up there, then hides in a strange contraption and, moments later, he emerges... only to find that it's hours earlier and, well... check out the trailer, they reveal part of the plot. Love it.

"Cthulhu" is loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", although it moves the story from New England to the Pacific NorthWest and makes the protagonist gay. In spite of the fact that Tori Spelling is in the film, it was actually nominated for a producers award at the Independent Spirit Awards. It's about a guy who returns to the Oregon coast to execute his late mother's estate, but discovers that his father's New Age cult may have a bit of a dangerous and apocalyptic significance.

Speaking of basing films on classic horror author's work, "The Raven" is based on Edgar Allan Poe's story of the same name, where a lavish masquerade party takes a terrifying turn when a masked killer crashes the party.

"Isle of the Damned" gets officially released today, click HERE to read the interview that we did with director Mark Colegrove. Great indie flick, read our post.

"Xombie" is a series of Flash cartoons produced by James Farr and it tells the story of a little girl named Zoe, who washes ashore several decades after a zombie plague has wiped out most life on earth and replaced it with bloodthirsty, reanimated versions of the planet's earlier inhabitants. A xobmie is a 'variant' who's retained their conscious mind and the ability to think like a human... Dirge, a xombie, takes it upon himself to begin a journey to reunite Zoe with the few remaining live humans and save her from a gruesome death. "Xombie: Dead on Arrival" is, basically, the entire flash series on DVD.

"Saint Francis" stars the burlesque performer Dita Von Teese and it's a hallucinatory tale of sex, drugs, fratricide and planetary apocalypse. Ummm... I think there's going to be a lot of surreal nudity in this one... just a guess.

"Tokyo Zombie" is, well, exactly what you think it is. It's a Japanese comedy/horror zombie film. Basically, two Japanese friends accidentally kill their boss, dump his remains in Black Fuji, a mountain/landfill hybrid. The chemicals in the landfill mix with the corpse and give rise to a zombie infestation in Tokyo. Oh yeah, and the guys fight zombies with jujitsu. Not swords, not guns, but face-smashing jujitsu.

John Schneider continues working in indie horror with "Ogre - Unrated"... or is it that he continues his contract with the Sci-Fi channel? In any case, this film was on the Sci-Fi channel and it follows a group of teens who stumble upon a small, ageless village that made a pact with the Ogre on the mountain in exchange for being free of disease and having an abundance of harvest. The pact? An annual human offering... and the locals are looking for their next sacrifice.

Timo Rose is one unique fella... he's a German horror and sci-fi filmmakers, a rapper and the founder of the production company 'Sword of Independence Filmworks'. Well, you can now get your hands on "Timo Rose's BEAST", which is about a young man with werewolf-like tendencies that returns to his estranged family where his life intersects with another werewolf, two befuddled werewolf hunters and two Euro-trash criminals.

Calling all Troma fans... this week you get both "The Best of Tromadance Film Festival, Vol. 5" and "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead: 2-Disc Special Egg-Dition!". I'd particularly recommend "The Best of Tromadance Film Festival", it's a good look at what goes on there.

Aside from all that, there's some notable rereleases, including Lucio Fulci's "Cat in the Brain" from 1990; "The Sinful Dwarf" from 1973, which is called the mother of all 'dwarfsploitation' films and is over the top with nudity, sex and disturbing images; "The Escapees" from 1981, which is a Jean Rollin film and a rare release that marks the film's DVD debut; "The Cremator" from 1968, which is classic Czech New Wave horror and won awards at the 1972 Sitges Film Festival and, finally, there's "Terror Circus" from 1973, which is a sleazy relic from Alan Rudolph, most notably the longtime AD to Robert Altman.

What a week it is...

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Horror On The Big Screen & A Few Festivals To Mention

Well, it's officially Spring, it's officially Friday and there's officially a decent looking horror film coming out today, officially. "The Haunting in Connecticut", released by Lionsgate, comes out today and it's the second biggest release of the week, behind "Monsters Vs. Aliens", which is opening on 125,870 screens, 3 of which are in space. The artwork for "THIC" is awesome, very creepy... the trailer is well put together. If you're interested, it's supposedly based on the true story of the Snedeker family's encounter with the paranormal in Southington, Connecticut. It's directed by Peter Cornwell and it's his feature directorial debut... check it out, if you can. Otherwise, let's look at what's going on in festival world.

I was recently informed of a new festival called the "Vampire Film Festival" and it just recently opened for submissions. Just going through their press release here... "Vampire Fest" will come to New Orleans in late Autumn 2009 and they'll be accepting all films that could be classified in the context of vampire, supernatural and the bizarre. They'll accept any narrative or experimental film that emphasizes the grotesque, mysterious or desolate. Also, as werewolves and other supernatural creatures are interconnected with that of the vampire, "Vampire Fest" will be open to films of the Goth, zombie and werewolf, witch or ghost genre... and there will be awards in various categories. I haven't replied to their email yet, but I should be hearing more about the festival soon.

If you're in the Cleveland area, you should be getting ready for the Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo, which is next weekend, on April 3rd-5th. They're going to be showing some classic horror films ON film, such as "The Corpse Grinders", "The Fun House" and "Day of the Animals". They're also screening a whole bunch on DVD or video and a lot of them are films that we've reviewed and talked about here, such as "Breaking Her Will" from Bill Zebub, "Isle of the Damned" from Mark Colegrove & Mark Leake and "Stockholm Syndrome" from Ryan Cavalline. There's going to be lots of good indie horror, there's Q&A sessions with a lot of the filmmakers and much, much more. So, definitely go support that if you're in the area!

I was going to mention a bunch of approaching deadlines and stuff, but I'll save that for later... I think this is enough information for today. Besides, I need to clear up a bunch of stuff in my inbox before I head out for the day. Have a good one, see you next week.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Interview with Ben Rock, Director of "Alien Raiders"

"The Blair Witch Project" came out almost exactly 10 years ago, which is pretty amazing... I can't believe it was that long ago. Not only that, Blair Witch is the first movie that I went to the theaters to see, where I was equal parts excited and pissed off. By that, I mean I was excited because it was ground-breaking, it was new, it was low-budget and it was good, really good. I was pissed off because I thought, "I could've done that". Although, in retrospect, I probably couldn't have. A side note - I had made a short mock-documentary in film school just before that called, "Living Dead in Montana", where a film crew went to a small town that had been rumored to have been attacked by zombies. After interviewing townsfolk, they then set off into the woods and ended up slaughtering a special needs class that was on a nature hike, mistaking them for the living dead. I thought the similarities between that and Blair Witch were striking... One was better than the other and one made a lot more money. However, mine was funnier.

Fast forward to last year... one of my favorite indie horror films of 2008 was "Alien Raiders". Quite frankly, I didn't do much research or really look into it at first. I just liked the premise and trailer, had the opportunity to check it out and did and I loved it. It was a wicked mix of horror and sci-fi and it's unbelievably well done. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought it kicked-ass, either. It screened at numerous festivals and won several awards and, in my eyes, it could easily have been the indie-horror of the year. When I noticed the awards and the notoriety it was getting, I started to look into it a bit more and do some research on it. It was produced by Daniel Myrick, who was one of the key guys behind "The Blair Witch Project" and, not only that, it was directed by Ben Rock, who was the production designer on Blair Witch. Rock had also worked on, produced, written and directed a few other Blair Witch related projects. Then, a bit of Myspacing and emailing later, I managed to get in touch with Rock... and I was absolutely ecstatic to find out that he was willing to do an interview for the site. Now, I know I say it a lot, but this interview really is a must read, as he covers off everything from Blair Witch to Alien Raiders. I hope you enjoy it...

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie horror?

I am a lifelong horror fan, like starting when I was old enough to turn on the television I sought out whatever horror-related films I could find. Growing up in the 1980's, there were a lot of great movies to see -- The Thing, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Scanners, etc. When I was a teenager I started reading Fangoria magazine, and a whole world opened up to me and I began riding my bike to the local video store every week to see the classic horror movies of the 1960's and 1970's. Romero's Dead trilogy and Martin, Argento movies like Suspiria and Opera, and the early stuff from Cronnenberg -- not to mention Sam Raimi's early stuff. I think that those filmmakers were the first indie filmmakers I'd ever heard of. They just made whatever they wanted, so they did things in their movies you'd never see in a studio film. The production values were different than what I was used to seeing sometimes, but they really had something unique to say.

As for my work, I actually started out in theater in middle and high school. At first I wanted to be an actor, but I quickly fell in love with the behind-the-scenes stuff. I was a self-taught special FX makeup artist by the age of sixteen, and in addition to directing the occasional play, I ended up doing makeup on a lot of stuff which was cool. While I was in college, I was tapped by a local makeup artist I'd worked for, and she trained me to be her assistant on some low-budget films in the southeast. I did that for about four years, when I decided to quit makeup and focus on directing.

Film school: Yes or No?

I attended not one but TWO film schools in Orlando, Florida. One was the Valencia Community College film program, a course set up and partially financed by Universal Studios and Disney when they opened their production facilities. It was 100% technical, and as a student you only worked on outside projects (in theory). It was there to teach grip, camera, sound, electric, and production only. It was a great experience, and actually I ended up doing makeup on a bunch of our projects in addition to whatever else they had me doing. In one project, I think I was gaffer/makup artist. You don't see that very often!

The second school was the University of Central Florida's film production technology program. It was a Bachelor's program that was run (at the time) very loosely, like a conservatory almost. We had access to film cameras, sound gear, lights, etc., and the rest was up to us.

A lot of people bag on film school because it can be expensive to attend and won't necessarily help you find work in the field. This is all true, but I wouldn't trade my time in film school for anything. If you want to work in one of the creative fields, you're going to have to make a lot of mistakes along the way in order to learn your craft and film school is a good place to do that. It's an instant community of peers who can help you develop your voice, know what's working and what's not, and the consequences are lower if you don't make a masterpiece. I can only imagine how cool it must be to attend film school with today's technology, how many more films students must be making now and how much more quickly they must be able to find their voice. I'm kind of jealous.

You worked on the original “Blair Witch Project”, then ended up sticking with it… writing, directing and producing various spin-off projects. “Blair Witch” was ground breaking for indie horror, as it was really one of the first indie horror films that was shot on video and made serious, serious money. Maybe you can talk about the “Blair Witch” franchise and what it did for both the indie horror genre and for your career, also noting that Daniel Myrick, director of “Blair Witch”, was one of the producers of your film, “Alien Raiders”.

Well, Blair Witch is another good reason to go to film school, in that I met every one of the Blair Witch guys at UCF except Gregg Hale whom I met at VCC. It's hard for me, or anyone who was directly involved, to speak to what The Blair Witch Project did for the horror genre. I mean, we didn't invent the mock-doc or even the mock-doc as horror film. We were watching movies like Cannibal Holocaust and Man Bites Dog (and I'm proud to say, Waiting for Guffman) as we were gearing up to make the movie. It seems like indie horror exploded a few years later with movies like Saw, Open Water, and Cabin Fever, but I don't think we can take any credit for that. I think by the time those Lions Gate movies came out, Blair Witch was ancient history.

As far as my career goes, however, I have no idea what I'd be doing today if I hadn't worked on Blair Witch. It was a real labor of love while we were working on it -- Ed, Dan, and Gregg had come up with a truly original idea both for a film and how to make it. There was a sense while we were working on it that it would either be a giant success or a giant failure, but it was a fun experiment either way. Since the first thing they'd had me do on the movie was flesh out the backstory, Ed, Dan, and Gregg had me write Curse of the Blair Witch for Sci-Fi, and that probably had more to do with my budding career than production designing the movie. I'd been in LA a little over a year when Artisan tapped me to write and direct The Burkittsville Seven for Showtime and Shadow of the Blair Witch for Sci-Fi. Those projects really formed the foundation of my directing career, and that's pretty much all I've been doing ever since.

I've also worked for just about all of those guys quite a bit over the years. Mike Monello and Gregg Halle formed Campfire Media, a viral/social advertising agency/production company, and I've directed videos for them for Audi, USA Networks The 4400, and HBO's True Blood. And obviously, Dan tapped me to direct Alien Raiders, and for that I owe him my life!

Your latest project was “Alien Raiders”, give us a bit of an overview of the film.

Alien Raiders is part Dog Day Afternoon, part John Carpenter's The Thing, with a good mix of another Carpenter flick, Assault on Precinct 13 thrown in for good measure. The movie starts with what appears to be a violent robbery of a grocery store in a small town in Arizona, but there are some strange aspects to the caper -- there's a guy who checks average people and tells the "robbers" to kill them seemingly at random, and the gunmen seem disinterested in money. When a cop who happened to be in the store takes out the intruder who's telling everyone who to kill, we come to realize that the bad guys are actually the good guys (maybe) and that what they're there to kill has otherworldly dimensions.

“Alien Raiders” is an indie film, but it’s got everything that a film ten times its budget has and it’s got a great look and feel. Can you talk about the process of getting the project off the ground? Where did the idea come from, how did you acquire the script, how did the financing come into place, etc?

Well, Alien Raiders was an idea that Dan Myrick had, and pitched to his partners at Raw Feed (Tony Krantz and John Shiban) as well as Warner Brothers, the company which has distributed all six Raw Feed features thus far. I was brought on as David Simkins (Adventures in Babysitting, Freakylinks) was finishing his last draft and Julia Fair (Believers) came onboard to do a rewrite.

The way Raw Feed works is that they get enough financing to make three films in a row, almost under a television mentality. The budgets are all the same (in this case, $2.25M), and they each have fifteen days to shoot. It's a meat-grinder. And I wanted in.

Here's how I was brought on in the first place: I knew Dan wasn't going to direct this film, as he was swamped with The Objective at the time. I also knew that the film had a lot of similarities to The Thing, which is one of my favorite films of all time. So I got him my reel, pushed and pushed and pushed, and finally he showed my reel to the other Raw Feed producers and they agreed to give me the shot. This was a big gamble on their parts, as I had never directed a feature, and I kind of couldn't believe that they let me do it.

So in a weird way, it wasn't the typical story of "write a script/find a financier/make the movie/sell the final product" kind of struggle. I knew that whatever I made, it was getting released by Warner Home Video, the largest home video distributor on the world. So the pressure was on to make it good, to take the limited time and budget and make something that would be a kick-ass ride for an audience for 90 minutes. Or at least to not suck.

This is your feature film, directorial debut, although you’ve directed, produced, edited and written lots of projects. Talk about making the jump to directing a feature film.

No matter how ready I thought I was to make a feature, it was a huge learning process. And given that I only had seven weeks of prep followed by fifteen shooting days, it was easy to overlook important details and I lived in perpetual fear that we were going to screw up major details or aspects of the film or cast the wrong people or whatever. I now feel very sorry for every director I ever watched from the makeup chair and thought "who the fuck is that guy? Why does HE get to direct?" No matter who you are, directing a feature is an insane exercise in becoming the human encyclopedia of answers.

One piece of advice that's given often is to surround yourself with people WAY more experienced than you are, and in that regard I got very lucky. Our Director of Photography was Walt Lloyd, who's been doing this forever. He shot Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Short Cuts, and Pump Up the Volume among many others. He was also the A-Camera operator on the original The Hitcher. Between him and John Pontrelli, our 1st AD, they managed to bring the movie in on time. The film was edited by Augie Hess, who's worked for some HUGE directors like William Friedkin. And obviously, our lead actor was Carlos Bernard, who's played Tony Almeida on 24 since the beginning of the show, and he's a real pro -- he really made me bring my game up radically. Him, along with a cast of incredibly seasoned pros like Mathew St. Patrick (Six Feet Under), Rockmond Dunbar (Prison Break), Courtney Ford, Joel McCrary, Tom Kiesche, Samantha Streets, Derek Basco and Bryan Krasner (and the rest of the cast!) helped make the story flow better by committing to their characters and inhabiting the reality of the story.

But still, I can only hope that if there ever is a next feature for me, I can roll some of these lessons into it and feel a little less green. You could spend your whole life on a film set and not be ready to take the mantle of directing. It's not for the feint of heart.

When you’re making an alien film in the action/sci-fi/horror genre, you have a lot to live up to and I think you nailed it. What do you think it takes to be a successful film in this genre?

I think to be a successful film in any genre, you need to start by having respect for the genre and its audience. I think there are a lot of people (who will remain nameless) who come up with some boneheaded formula and make crappy stuff within that formula and they're able to sell it -- but it's the crap out there that cheapens the genre completely and makes people who aren't fans of the "so-bad-it's-good" stuff stay away from the whole genre. For me, I'm a fan of horror and sci-fi, and I actually think that you shouldn't have to lower your expectations when you watch one of those films. Stuff like Silence of the Lambs or Alien work because they don't talk down to their audience, but pull the audience into a new place within a genre. I would never shy away from skewing too smart, or letting the audience figure it out themselves to some degree. As an audience member, I always prefer not being spoon-fed everything.

I also think a big aspect of what can make the stuff work is casting. If you have a cast of characters you really believe in, then you care when they're in danger, you find yourself caught up in their suspense, peril, danger, etc. And because we didn't have deep pockets, we knew we'd have to rely more on suspense than on giant CGI monsters attacking from every direction.

I think a lot of these films are cast based only on looks, or primarily on looks without regard to acting ability and the tone that performances set. While casting Alien Raiders, John Jackson (who is not only a great casting director, but is also the "Send more paramedics" zombie in Return of the Living Dead) and I discussed the casting of movies like The Thing and Alien, how they sometimes played against type, etc. We went nutty finding actors like Tom Kiesche, who's a 6'4" dude who nailed the role of Logan -- written for a 20-something tech geek type, or Joel McCrary who's best known for comedy work, but they contributed to a sense of realism we were going for.

There were some great effects and great gore in the film, which I think is absolutely necessary in a film like this. Talk about using gore and effects... and which were your favorites in the film and how were they achieved?

As I said, I used to be a special effects makeup artist, and having come from that world, my tendency is to avoid CGI stuff except where it's 100% necessary, and try to figure out practical ways to achieve whatever effect we're going for.

I think my single favorite moment in the movie, gore-wise, is when we cut off Tarkey's finger. Although we ended up cutting it differently, we staged it so Joel was gesturing with his hand, Tom grabs it and forces it down, out of frame. The camera tilts down and we cut it. The way we did it was that the fake arm was there the whole time, and when Tom grabbed Joel's hand Joel just stuck it behind his back and we cut the fake hand. The idea was to make it look like he was gesturing with it, and then we cut it. Like a magic trick. I love that shit.

Obviously, though, the critter at the end was the most fun. Everyone would be lucky to have a remote-controlled alien slug-monster. Very fun at parties.

For the CGI stuff, I kind of insisted that we avoid some of the traps of CGI -- seeing too much detail and everything looking all plastic, etc. The background plates we shot for the CGI work, like the finger growing back for instance, were generally handheld so there wasn't a sense of "here's the FX plate!" The company that did our 3D stuff is a company called "Engine Room," and they do amazing naturalistic work. I knew, however, at our budget we weren't going to be able to rely on CGI as a crutch, though, so we didn't really plan on that.

Talk about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film made. Any advice that you could pass on to other indie filmmakers who might be just setting out to make a film?

The real hurdles were all about time management and efficiency. Again, we had fifteen days. And as my producer Steve Ecclesine made me painfully aware, you have to think about all your "gags," and their necessity to the film. A gag can be anything from a guy pulling out a blank gun and shooting it to a stunt, or a special makeup effect. Frankly, the gags are what the audience is there to see. But consider that on an average day, you'll be lucky to get maybe two to three BIG gags done -- that would be like the ratchet stunt where we killed the Chambers cop, the finger cutting, or a fight scene of any complexity. You might get more little ones like blank fires out as well, but each one of those things just eats up a LOT of time and you need to consider that. Since I wanted to cram the movie with as many gags as I could, I had to get pragmatic and decide which ones were actually worth it, and which ones could be implied, shown only partially, or dropped entirely. So in this instance, some of the biggest hurdles for me were figuring out which ones to cut, etc., which is never easy because you get in your head how they all need to be.

The other advice I already took myself and gave here, but I'll say it again: SURROUND YOURSELF WITH VERY EXPERIENCED PEOPLE. It's easy to get lost inside the labyrinthine process of making a feature, and people who've done it before can help you out of these corners more easily than you can yourself. I know it's tempting to work with one's friends in key roles (and I have often done that), but nothing gets you through a tough day like someone who's been in that corner 1000 times before.

You entered “Alien Raiders” in a few festivals and you also won a few awards. Talk about the festival circuit and what it did for you and the film.

I wanted to take the movie directly to the fans of these kinds of movies, so I begged Warner Brothers to allow me to mount a festival run. We played like 16 festivals between September and February, and won some awards. It was, by far, the best thing I did for the film. Not only did we get reviewed by a lot of awesome outlets, we got a buzz going among the fans of this stuff. And I got to see some fucking awesome films and meet their filmmakers as well!

The other great thing about doing a film festival run is that you get to see the movie in a theater with an audience. In some cases, you could use that as a focus group and go make editorial changes, etc. to the film prior to distribution. In this case, we were DONE with the film before it played festivals, but I could still see what moments worked best, what jokes got laughs, and what didn't work. It's too late for this film, but hopefully I'll get to apply these lessons to the next one.

Is the festival circuit something that you would recommend for all filmmakers?

Yes, absolutely, and I would budget for it. There's no more immediate way to see if your ideas worked than to see the film with an audience. You can sign up on withoutabox.com for free and use that to find appropriate festivals and submit to them. Not every film is made for festivals, but there are so many niche festivals these days that it's hard for me to believe that a well-made film won't get some play on the circuit.

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?

As I said earlier, that was a process we didn't have to go through on this particular film, so we lucked out. The market's kind of brutal these days, and indie films over a certain budget just aren't making their money back like they would have even two years ago.

Where can people find out more about “Alien Raiders”, check it out and/or get their hands on a copy?

The first place to go is rawfeed.com, which is our internet portal. There's even a game you can play on that site, although it's filled with spoilers.

Another cool place to check out for info about the movie is dreadcentral.com. They interviewed Carlos Bernard, Mathew St. Patrick, and myself for their podcast (which is a great podcast to listen to if you're a horror fan). Also, they posted something you can't find anywhere else -- a free mp3 commentary track you can listen to while watching the movie. It's Kays Alatrakchi (our composer), Tom Kiesche (Logan), and myself.

As for the DVD itself, Alien Raiders can be found pretty much anywhere. Blockbuster, Best Buy, Wal Mart, Amazon.com XBOX Live, iTunes, TWC On-Demand, etc. It's not out on Blu-Ray yet unfortunately, but you can rent it on iTunes in HD, which I did, and it looks amazing. Feel free to email Warner Brothers and DEMAND Blu-Ray!

Also, if anyone wants to be my friend on myspace, go to myspace.com/alienraiders. We're on facebook as well, at the less-elegant url facebook.com/pages/Alien-Raiders/41286042112 or facebook.com/group.php?gid=19188962324. It's actually me running these pages, not some corporate WB person, so feel free to drop by and share some love. (Ted's note: those links look funky, but they should work)

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

Well, the best thing about the indie horror scene is that you never know where it's going. It's a big tent and there are a lot of great people out there doing some kick-ass work. On the festival circuit, I got to see some awesome horror films, some which have been released already like Let the Right One In or Tokyo Gore Police (both of which I saw at Fantastic Fest in Austin, one of the coolest genre fests out there), and some like JT Petty's The Burrowers or Paul Solet's Grace set new standards in indie horror in my opinion, and not necessarily in terms of gore but rather in terms of uniqueness. There are some great people working today in indie horror like Ti West, Toby Wilkins, Gregg Bishop, Joe Lynch, and Ryûhei Kitamura.

At the end of the day, I suppose we've seen it all by now in terms of special effects, etc., and now I think we're seeing people with a keen interest in solid storytelling take a whack at it. It's back to the stuff from the 70's and 80's, where we're seeing stuff that a big studio might not touch but it's great work and thanks to digital technology a lot of it looks every bit as good. With the economy the way it is, indie horror might be one of the few thriving genres out there for a while, so we'll see.

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

I have a couple projects potentially in the works, but nothing has a green light yet so I don't want to look like an ass if they don't end up happening. I'm dying to get back to the set though, and get back to work!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Horror On The Interwebs...

Once again, I've got a loaded inbox and I'm going to throw some links and info at you. As long as I keep getting this stuff, I'll keep passing it on... and, like I said last week, if you have a Myspace page, a website or some sort of online deal that you want us to promote, let me know about it. I'll mention it.

So, I was looking into this new film, "Silent But Deadly", which comes out... I don't know. Some time in 2009. Anyhow, it's a horror/comedy from Michael Patrick Entertainment, directed by Stephen Scott and written by Erin Berry, David Pluscauskas, Lori Kelly and Joel Plue and it's about an unconventional and mysterious serial killer who takes aim at a Hollywood film set by unleashing his own brand of retribution on the cast and crew. Jason Mewes, of Kevin Smith fame, plays the killer and it's also got Will.I.Am Sadler and Kim Poirier in it, plus a bunch of other fairly notable names. Anyhow, check out the Myspace Page here... it looks like it's going to be pretty good.

So, I was reading this article on the Bit Torrent client, Vuze, a couple days ago. I even mentioned them in my post yesterday because of that article. Anyhow, I downloaded it and checked it out, as they were saying that you could stream to your PS3 through it now. Now, you can already stream from your PC to your PS3, but this just takes out a few steps and makes it easier, so it's not exactly the second coming of Christ or anything. Anyhow, that's not the point. The point is that most Bit Torrent clients are just that, stripped down ways for you to pirate shit. Vuze, which you can find at Vuze.com, is trying to be a lot more. They're trying to be more like Hulu or Youtube with their Vuze HD Network. It's actually a pretty cool way to search through torrents, but that's not all! They also have lots of legal content, like trailers, music videos and indie films, uploaded by the filmmakers. You read that right, you can upload your content. Not only that, you can charge people to download it or you can have it ad supported. Either way, it's a way to monetize what you've made and you don't have to deal with distributors or anything like that. Anyhow, if you've currently self-distributing your film, there's no reason NOT to check this out and use it. Click here to be taken right to their "publish" page. I'm so intrigued by this that I might contact them... I'll let you know how it goes.

Speaking of uploading and selling content through web portals, I think I told you about Eyesoda.com before. They want to build social networks around thought provoking indie films and music. You can go to the site, sign up and look around... you can also upload your film and build an online business. Hey, no reason not to use all of these, right? Who says you can't put your film on Vuze, put it on here, fuck... put it everywhere. Anyhow, they sent me a code to get a free movie download and I figure it's the same code that they sent to everyone. So, click HERE and it should take you to Eyesoda.com and you should be able to get a free movie download...

I was reading the "The Wrap" and came across this article from Eric Kohn called, "Niche Marketing Guru Has Recipe for Success". You can find it here. It doesn't mention horror at all, but it's an interesting little article on how marketing guys try to reach their target demographic for particular films.

Lastly, I'm sorry... I'm NOT a Tarantino fan. For me, he's got a pretty f'ing bad track record, really. Working backwards, I thought "Death Proof" was a disaster, I couldn't stand "Kill Bill" and "Jackie Brown" was not just awful, it was God awful. That leaves "Sin City", which I liked, but didn't love, "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs". He writes great dialogue, really has a knack for producing and nailed his role as Richard Gecko in "From Dusk Till Dawn". He's definitely a talent, I just think he's GROSSLY over-rated. Having said all that, head on over to The Weinstein Company's site, here, click on "coming soon", click on "read more" on that "Inglourious Basterds" tab... and you can check out the trailer for it, which looks f'ing good, I gotta say. Also, right below it, you can find out some more info on "H2". What's that? Well, if you didn't hear, it's Rob Zombie's sequel to "Halloween"... yup.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Interview with Steven Cerritos, creator of "Mister Serial Killer"

When you look at how people use and adapt to new media and technology, it's never really just introduced and accepted. On top of that, for every one 'thing' that's introduced and accepted, some other 'thing' usually has to suffer. The easy example is the mp3 player... or the iPod, to be more specific. Digital music and the new ability to abandon any hard product absolutely KILLED the music industry and changed it forever. For years, they made their money on record sales, then cassette's, then CD's... now, all of a sudden, they've had to switch the model around. Now, they make money off live performances and appearances, as well as through licensing. Either way, they're adapting because they HAVE to, not because they want to. This isn't just a recent thing, either. Think about what happened to the radio and print industries when TV had it's first live national broadcast in 1951 when President Harry Truman spoke at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference? What about the first live radio broadcast or what about the invention of the printing press? New technology always fucks shit up, but it forces us to adapt and then, years later, we look back and think things like... remember network broadcast TV?

Traditional media, basically TV, radio and print (newspapers) is hemorrhaging. It's agonizing. Print, especially. I just read that they predict that we'll see a 'newspaper free' city within a few years. Meaning, you're going to see a city that has no local paper. Radio? Please... how many devices can you hook up to your car now? Satellite Radio, your MP3 player, burned CD's... and when is the last time you listened to the radio at home? Really... TV, however, is a bit different. Everyone predicts that it'll still be the centerpiece of the living room for years to come and you'll have some sort of massive screen there forever. It may be 3D and occupy an entire wall, but it'll still be there. What will be different is what plays on it. Right now, the networks are dumping a whole wack of time, effort and money into their web-based projects, even though they're not making them much money right now. Web-based video aggregators like Hulu, Vuze and even Youtube are backed by the networks, but some more than others. Also, you can now stream them, easily, to your TV. For example, Vuze just announced that you can play any of its content through your iPod, PC, PS3 or XBox. Now, there's another major factor at play, called the recession. Ad dollars are shrinking and marketers want accountability, so they're pulling out of TV, radio and print and turning to more accountable media. (I could write a novel on what's going on here, but I'll save you the torture) So, what's that accountable media? Where are people turning? What's this new technology that's fucking with how people watch network TV? Well, it's the web, obviously...

The web is fast becoming the place that people turn to for their content. Sure, we still go to the theaters and we still watch cable, but who's kidding who? It's all on the web... and we're turning to the web for more and more content every day. The switch is under way and we're turning this big bad boy around. It's tough to turn a freighter around, but you can do it. Early adopting indie filmmakers are starting to figure out how to use it, too... or at least try. Steven Cerritos is one of those guys. He's recently launched his web-based series, "Mister Serial Killer" and currently has his first webisode up and running, with more on the way. It's everything you'd want in an indie horror. It's dark, it's disturbing, there's violence, bizarre characters and perverse humor... and it's quite entertaining... and it's all web-based. I'm very interested to see how it all turns out, both with the show itself and with how much of an audience he can build. We had a chance to discuss the project with Cerritos and if you're thinking of new ways to get new ideas out there, you'll probably want to give this a read...

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

I am an independent filmmaker living in Toronto, Ontario, though I am an American Citizen – originally from LA. Just like many independent filmmakers, I write, direct and edit most of my projects. Over the last couple of years, I have created two short films, ‘Cerritosis’ and ‘In Darkness’. I am currently developing and promoting my newest project, ‘The Mister Serial Killer Web’ Series. My style can be summarized as dark and absurd. Many of my peers label me as an eccentric filmmaker, as evident by the characteristics of my work and my peculiar affinity for the bizarre and obscure. I am influenced by Garth Ennis’ writing, Mark Ryden’s artwork, Joel-Peter Witkin’s photography; and Clive Barker, Beatrix Potter and Kentaro Muira’s dark and imaginative creations. What is now my lifelong passion; my knack for filmmaking originally began in the form competition. Once I completed my first film, I knew I was onto something.

Film School: Yes or No?

I never went to film school. However, I did take a two year course in Television and Broadcasting.

You've launched a web-based series called "Mister Serial Killer", tell us a bit about the project.

‘The Mister Serial Killer’ is a disturbing and psychotic web series featuring a group of serial killers, each with different variations of psychological complexities and/or disorders, and perversions. Typical webisodes (the equivalent to television’s episode) begin with a cartoon like storybook sequence, followed by live action. The first webisode, ‘The Happy Face Killer’, is a ‘long’ twenty-two minutes. Now I use the word ‘long’ within the context of comparing it to your traditional five-to-ten minute web series. Therefore, future webisodes will run five to ten minutes long. The web series is catered for the 18-34 demographic and it’s about serial killers, hence the graphic violence, dark, perverse humor, and bizarre characters. We’ve taken the unique approach of delivering the web series on a platform with a colorful palette and a cartoon-like art direction because it complements the opening animation and creates wicked contrast when juxtaposed with the gritty, dark and violent live action.

Why Online? Is there a reason you developed an online property versus, say, a short film?

The reason why it’s an online property versus a short film is because there’s a lot more on the way! We plan on introducing more bizarre characters in their own wacky and twisted tales. Also, as a creator, I have complete creative control and total freedom, as opposed to the censorship and restrictions that come with your typical networks. However, before we go gangbusters on an entire season—which will be created, regardless – we’ll be shopping it around to places that are more receptive to controversial content/programming.

What's the approx budget for the whole deal and how did you secure financing?

The first webisode was privately funded and made with a relatively small budget.

Talk about the melding of the different formats together and what are you shooting the live-action stuff on?

The live action was shot with Sony’s EX3. It’s a great camera that delivers in HD! Melding different formats started with my very first short film. I guess it was a way of implementing my hash of inspirations into one medium. With ‘The Mister Serial Killer’ web series specifically, I find that it ‘softens-up’ the viewer from the impending dark humor and violent live-action. It’s almost like the appeal that comes from the animation lingers on and distorts the viewer’s perspective. Plus it’s pretty cool!

The idea is definitely an ‘out there’ idea, in that it’s not something that I don’t think it’s something you could do in traditional film or television. So, was it the chicken or was it the egg? Is this so out there because you knew you were going to develop a web-based idea OR did you have an out there idea and decide that it had to be distributed online.

The concept is ever evolving, or better yet, always being fine tuned. Yet it was always initially planned as a web series because the concept was deemed so out there. Though I don’t think the web series is mainstream appeal, I believe there is an audience out there willing to embrace this concept, and that’s why the internet is a great way to get it to them. Eventually, I’m hoping, this will get in the hands of a couple of people / media outlets, and from there on explode and reach its target audience. Now, can it be broadcasted? With the influx of digital networks and the direction being taken by Showtime and HBO, I think it has the potential to find a bigger audience, though I still wouldn’t consider it mainstream.

This project is really just getting going. Where do you see it going? What’s the goal of the project?

We have the first webisode up and plan to create an entire first season. In the first season, we plan to introduce and showcase seven characters. After the web premiere, we’re hoping to sell character specific webisodes on DVD. The DVD’s will consist of a ton of additional content not available online. They'll also have a 5.1 surround sound, as opposed to the online's stereo mix. Eventually we’ll also deliver a box set with every single webisode. However, the great thing about having the series available online is that it’ll live on forever! We don’t have to worry about cancellations and more and more people will discover this neat little project without relying on a limited time frame.

Is there money in a web-based series? How do you see the “Mister Serial Killer” series getting monetized? Talk about online distribution versus traditional distribution.

Making content exclusively for the internet isn’t really profitable. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to recover the initial cost through DVD sales, merchandise sales, and advertising sales. However, I think change is on its way. More and more people are relying on the internet as their main source of entertainment. Eventually distributors will forego their traditional means of distribution and focus primarily on online distribution.

Talk about the indie horror scene. Where do you think it’s at now and where do you see it going?

The horror scene is always in a perpetual cycle; it’ll be big in this decade but disappear in the next. However, the web will present an alternative for the indie horror scene. Creators will no longer have to rely on the big studios or big distributors for funding or distribution, as the internet’s accessibility and low cost of HD technology will keep budgets relatively low.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

Aside from the ‘Mister Serial Killer’ web series I’m developing another web series consisting primarily of puppets, though the star of the series will be a human actor. Right now it’s tentatively titled ‘Bedtime Stories for a Serial Killer’. It’s another obscure concept. Think Pinocchio stumbling into a ‘Silent Hill’ world. Technically, we’re shooting the puppets and one human actor against green screen. We’re choosing this method because it’s actually cheaper, our imaginations can run wild in post production as technology has come a long way, and we can deliver content a little quicker because of the two aforementioned.

How can people support the “Mister Serial Killer” series?

Visit the enityfilms.com/misterserialkiller. Also, tell all your friends, colleagues, loved ones, or anyone who would be into this to check it out! Regardless of how much money is spent on marketing, word of mouth can either make or break a film. So spread the word! Got any inquiries, concerns, feedback? Send me an email to stevencerritos@enityfilms.com .

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Horror out on DVD this week: A Handful Of Guts and a beef with Amazon

I don't know what the hell is going on, but it looks like Amazon.com has made some minor changes. I don't know what they are, but they're fucking me up. Everything looks the same, tabs are similar. However, when I click on movies, then go to the 'new releases' tab, I only get the new releases from March 3rd and 10th. You used to be able to see EVERY week; past, present and future. I was on there for around half an hour, trying to find out about the upcoming releases on March 24th, but... nope. Nothing doing. Now, maybe I'm stupid or something, but how could you purposefully exclude that feature? Isn't that fairly important? Don't people want to know what's coming out 'next week'? If not, maybe someone could've let me in on it because I talk about what's coming up next week, EVERY MONDAY. Anyhow, I had to root around on the web, going site to site and find a handful of releases that are coming out... or, I should say, that I THINK are coming out. I mean, I know there's nothing big coming out this week, but all I could find were these four films. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find trailers and I'm not sure if they're available on Amazon, so... here's a link to our youtube page where you MIGHT be able to find the trailers and if the titles look clickable, you can go to their Amazon.com page.

"Art of the Devil 3" appears to be the 3rd installment into the extremely gory "Art of the Devil" series, which started in 2004 with the Thai film "Khon len khong", which was directed by Tanit Jitnukul and was released with the English title, "Art of the Devil". "Long khong", directed by Pasith Buranajan and Kongkiat Khomsirir and released in 2005, which came out as "Art of the Devil 2" and that one won a couple of awards. The first "Art of the Devil" was about a girl who goes to a witch doctor to exact revenge against her ex-love and his family, but after they all die, the ex-love's secret mistress and her family starts to die, too... "Art of the Devil 2" is about the 'black arts' killing off a group of teenagers in revenge for something they did back in high school. This third installment is about a black magician who attempts to offset the toll that dark power has taken on his body by forcibly removing the power of dark deity from the bodies of other humans who have absorbed it... looks f'ing gory. Check out the trailer, found that one.

"Czech Chillers: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders/Witches' Hammer" is a couple of old horror films out of Czechoslovakia. "Valeria and Her Week of Wonders", originally released in 1970, is from Jaromil Jires and it's inspired by fairy-tales, such as "Alice in Wonderland" and "Little Red-Riding Hood". It's a surreal tale in which love, fear, sex and religion merge into one fantastic world... it looks like one for the stoners, to be honest. I found the trailer for that one, too. "Witches' Hammer", from Otakar Vavra, is also from 1970. It's an award winning film about the medieval persecution of witches. It's actually gained a bit of cult notoriety in the whole witch genre, as there isn't many witch movies out there. So, if you're into the persecution of witches, here ya go.

Now, I'm left to guess on a DVD coming out called "Cycle". Is it the 2006 film out of the UK about a guy on a mountain bike who stalks five students, murders them and eats their brains? I'm assuming so... either way, couldn't find it on Amazon. God, I hope they put that tab back.

Lastly, it's not really horror, but "Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood" comes out this week. "Tales of the Black Freighter" is the comic within the comic that's featured in the original "Watchmen" series. They've turned it into an animated feature that's available on this disc. "Under the Hood" looks closer at the character arc of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, I believe. Also, in this set, you get a Watchmen Motion Comic Book in HD, a first look at DC University's Animated Green Lantern DVD and some additional features available in BD-Live.

So, I've sent emails to Amazon and, at this point, they don't seem to understand what I'm asking for. They've replied twice, sending me links to "Twilight". I'll keep you posted on this...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Film Fests and Contests: A Talent Scout, Fantasia, HP Lovecraft Festival and A Night of Horror

I had some stuff come up this morning and I was seriously considering skipping this post. However, I had already laid out a bunch of stuff, so I figured that I'd quickly go through them.

As some of you know (regular readers and friends), we've been working on a "Dead Harvey TV" project. So, I was looking into different ways to get the idea out there and I came across "A Talent Scout", you can find the site here. Basically, they're a contest for aspiring TV writers and they also do consulting and management, things like that. I wasn't going to go the 'contest' route, but, hey, why not? Just a thought for all of you - a lot of industry people aspire to work in TV, as it's not project to project work, it's like having a full time job. A lot of people want to be staff writers and lots of actors want regular work on TV. I bring up the thought because everyone seems to focus on feature length scripts and the film world.

Fantasia International Genre Film Festival is coming up this summer and they're currently accepting submissions. However, that's not what this is about. I received an email from them and they would "like to let you know about 2 releases from Evokative Films, a new film distribution company that speaks right to the Fantasia crowd. HANSEL & GRETEL, A South-Korean film by YIM Phil-sung, was released on March 6th at AMC Forum and will play until March 19th, so there’s only 4 days left to see the film on the big screen! The copy will then go to Toronto to play at the AMC Yonge & Dundas from March 27th. THE KILLER (LE TUEUR), a film by Cédric Anger that had 2 sold-out screenings at last summer’s Fantasia, is now available on DVD". I don't know much about either film, but I thought it was worth bringing up. However, if you're not in Toronto, you won't be able to check out "Hansel & Gretel" on the big screen, but look for it on DVD in the next few months.

Residing in the "probably too late to bring up" folder, The HP Lovecraft Festival, which takes place in Oregon in October, has spawned a mini fest, which starts today in Seattle. If you're in the area, you should go check it out. They're calling it The HP Lovecraft Film Fest, Best of Fest Seattle. So, it starts today, March 20, then ends Thursday the 26th. For more information, go to the HP Lovecraft Festival site, which can be found here.

Lastly, on the other side of the planet, the A Night of Horror International Film Festival, taking place in Sydney, Australia, starts on Wednesday, March 25 and runs until Friday, April 3rd. It's a huge, huge festival over there and it's worth checking out. Well, if you live in the area, I guess. It may be tough and expensive to put together a trip to get over there now. For more information, go to their site, which can be found here.

That's it for the week... have a great weekend and we'll see you next week!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Interview with Max Perrier: producer, cinematographer and director of "The Ante"

There's been a massive explosion of independent film in the last few years... and by 'the last few years', I mean more like the last decade. There's a few reasons for this. The biggest reason is cheaper digital cameras that can rival 35mm quality and the next biggest reason is cheap, easy to use editing software. Digital technology and the web changed everything and we have yet to see where this is all going to take us. But, instead of looking forward, let's look back for a moment. Imagine a few years ago, when film was your only real option... you had to go buy expensive film stock and rent camera equipment. When you're shooting, you have to load the film in the mag, get the camera ready, measure out focal points, light the scene properly, adjust F stops, etc... then shoot. But, you're not done yet. Now, you take the film out of the mag, put it in the can, send it off for processing and color correction. Get it back, go through it... it goes on and on and on. That's not even mentioning the editing process and if you've ever edited on film, which I have, you'll know how brutal that can be. These days, for most indie filmmakers, it's point and shoot and what you see on the monitor is what you get. You dump your footage right into your PC and start editing.

Now, I don't mean to be negative on film. There's a distinct look and feel to 35mm film and I really feel that digital cameras can't perfectly emulate it... I mean, there's top notch digital cameras that do a damn good job, but it's almost as expensive to shoot on those as it is to shoot on film. So, when we're dealing with indie film, there tends to be a big jump between the quality of films shot on 35mm and DV. Because of that, films shot on 35mm are more marketable, therefore are taken more seriously by the distributors, festivals, etc. I mean, I'm so used to seeing indie films that are shot on DV, it's strange to see one that's shot on 35mm, but, however rare they are, they are out there. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch, "The Ante", from Max Perrier, and it's a classic example of a great indie film done on a low budget, but shot on 35mm.

From the first few frames of "The Ante", you forget the fact that you're watching an indie film. The brilliant cinematography gives it a look, feel and atmosphere that would rival anything that's studio backed. The screenplay, from Danek Kaus and James Chancellor, is extremely effective in that it's both simple and complex at the same time. There's twists and turns and it's all put together in a neat little package, directed and shot by Perrier. It's like they had an idea, flushed it out without ever over-thinking it, then the chips just fell in all the right places. The fact that it won the Gold Award for Feature Film at WorldFest Houston and screened at Slamdance is no shock... I can't say much more than it's just a fantastic indie film that will engage you from beginning to end, as it follows an innocent man that becomes the killer that everyone wants him to be when he gambles his freedom in order to save it. We had the pleasure of discussing the film with Max Perrier and he offers up a great interview.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into filmmaking?

I got into filmmaking without thinking about it much, one thing let to another. I used to draw rough storyboards in elementary school; sketchy, flat 2D war and adventure stories with stick figures cartoon characters. Then later in college the family bough a small video camcorder. My brother had these ideas of sketches to shoot and since he acted in them too, I ended up framing and editing. What we did got people’s attention so we went on with more complex stories. I then discovered film format and got totally hooked, shot super-8mm, then 16mm. We found this cheap Russian-made 16mm camera on sale in NY so we drove down to buy it. We actually came back with a hand-cranked Bolex camera. I shot two short films with it, one of which was a festival hit. When this happens you’re motivated to do more. We ended up shooting music videos for the MTV equivalent here, did tons of small punk/rock bands. Budgets got bigger and I got to try 35mm, which was amazing. As for my influences, I can’t say I’m a fan of any specific director or genre. I tend to like films when they age, once they outshine the hot air created by the marketing at their release.

Film School: Yes or No?

I can’t say I went to film school. I attended some film courses at college, but most of them were on theory or history. Practical shooting experience wasn’t part of the program and openly discouraged. Then one I day I found a loophole in the system and got my hands on an Arriflex camera gathering dust on a shelf in the department’s storage room. That, plus being required to watch old films, taking photography classes, were the only school input. Most of what I learned was done the old-fashioned way, through practice in personal initiatives out of school. You could say that shooting tons of music videos on film with limited budget was a school of its own too, especially since they’d always intentionally be stories in them.

Where did the idea for "The Ante" come from and how did you get involved?

“The Ante” is based on “Traces”, a short story originally written by my brother Simon. It was intended as a bloody thriller. I was looking to shoot a feature with rock bottom resources; Valerie (co-producer) and I felt like the story was a good starting point, since it was set in exteriors with few characters. I originally wanted to adapt a James Cain novel called “Past All Dishonor”. She and I started writing a loose adaptation with the help of another writer. Then I had another writer flesh out a horror story I had in mind which I felt might fit this type of shoot. Turns out we used neither of them. I did the Traces story instead and had it fleshed out into a feature by writers James Chancellor and Danek S. Kaus. A main character was added, the poor sucker’s wife, to help thicken the plot. The script was actually never locked. A lot of lines were changed seconds before shooting. Some scenes were shot twice following different revisions, which was nuts considering the budget. My grandmother read all these murder mystery novels and my brother would say that someone who did that would be good at setting up the perfect murder. So he wrote this story of a guy getting perfectly framed for someone else’s killing. There’s also a vague connection with my godfather who was a state trooper in a rural area, he often had these madcap real-life criminal cases to recall. Production got under way when I teamed up with Valerie and a crew that wanted more feature experience, kind of a “create our own opportunity” thing.

We talk to a lot of indie filmmakers who end up producing their films out-of-pocket. However, this is obviously a slightly bigger production. Could you talk about the process of how the film got financed?

The film was also financed out-of-pocket. There were no outside investors, pre-sales, government money or rich relatives involved. We shot it “on spec” taking care to keep total expenses under what we could realistically expect as revenues though its future distribution. In other words, the idea was to maintain a low break even point. Cash went for the strict minimum: food, gas, film stock and the % of rental equipment and crew we couldn’t deal off. What helped was to keep the crew small, the shoot brief and the shooting ratio at rock bottom. No more than 3 takes were filmed for any single shot, most were double or even single takes. The idea is classic, when you don’t have much resources, make sure there in front of the camera, not behind. The intent was to create value, a good high value / low cost ratio.

Not only were you the director, you also served as producer and DP. Talk about creating the balance of having so many roles on the film.

I guess I was trained for it by shooting music videos & short films with tough budgets. It’s common to multitask when you just can’t afford to appoint anyone. This said, I share producer credit with Valerie Gagnon and DP credit with Maarten Kroonenburg who did a good half of the shoot. This said, I actually find it harder not to be DP and director at the same time. It helps me focus on where we’re going with the story. With a good camera assistant and a chief gaffer that can see art in lighting, handling cinematography yourself doesn’t necessarily prevent you from directing. As for producer’s work, a lot of key decisions are taken before principal photography. Valerie really took the lead once the set was started. Producing comes naturally when it’s you that initiates the project.

The film is about a down-on-his-luck guy, who takes wrong turn after wrong turn, so to speak. I thought the whole concept and idea was very timely, considering the current state of the economy. There were lots of themes and ideas that were very pertinent. Was this on purpose?

More or less, hard to say. Characters eating dirt is classic. Greed and self-induced fantasy leads people to absurd behaviors. The story follows three hungry, dumb wannabees that end up loosing everything. These characters make these brainless gambles thinking it’s the future; I guess there’s a casino-mentality that’s reminiscent of today’s economy, or the stock market at least… The connection is funny but I can’t say any of it was pre-meditated, it’s just human nature coming through.

The film really explored the darker sides of people, basically how far they would go when they thought 'a better life' was at stake. Talk about your directing style and creating that feeling of desperation, which I thought ran through the film.

I brutally used up the actors’ patience and energy until they got desperate for real! Main actor Paul Burke was covered with sticky red corn syrup in the summer heat for days and days… [laughs]. I’m joking. Seriously, I worked to create that impression by keeping the characters and the mood constantly on the edge of an abyss. Using characters’ instinctive reactions and gut responses helps create that feeling of desperation. Yelling, swearing, running away, breaking things, being violent, have the odds against you all the time; all this leads to building a sense of fear and anxiety. The environment just isn’t cooperating with the characters. There’s a loss of control and a lot of on-the-spot unpremeditated actions, like taking what you have in your immediate surrounding to serve an immediate purpose. One example is when Sam uses the shovel to knock off the crazy old farm wife. On top of this, the gloomy lighting, heavy use of ambient nature sounds and the dark, orchestral music were also key to setting this tone of impending doom. The setting too was also key to creating this idea of desperation. We made sure for example that the farm felt like it was coming out of the dust bowl.

I know you don't consider it a horror film, per se, but the film revolves around death and there was some violence. I thought Anastasia's death was particularly gruesome - talk about using violence and death in film.

People are animals like any other in a way, they’ll prey on others, or try to steal their lunches like scavengers; they try to take the easiest shortcut to satisfy their instincts. Violence was used as a character in itself, a kind of shadow that trails Sam from the start; from the dead turkey to the dead end he finds himself in (with the dead racoon along the way!). Sam carries death around him wherever he goes, like a burdening cross but also like a magnet for more deaths and ultimately to his own demise. The dead man he can’t get rid of is like a meal every vultures wants a piece of. Jan and the farmer’s wife are like scavenging hyenas, Sam is just like the unexpected predator trying to hide its kill. Just the visuals of a guy covered in blood walking around for so long sets a tone of shadowing death. The coldness in the violence and the characters’ deaths help build that horror undercurrent.

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 first hurdle is to get other people just as motivated as you are on board. At least one, that’s all it takes. And when I say motivated I mean stubborn and obsessed enough to stick it out for years. Energy and motivation is contagious and for such a long run, you need to be able to relay this energy. When you’re momentarily out of focus, out of solutions, in a slowdown, etc, chances are that other person(s) won’t be, long enough for you to refocus (and vice-versa). Crew psychology issues in tough conditions are another hurdle. It’s crucial to think of crew chemistry before the shoot; a feature means weeks on set, when things are rough all sorts of personality issues can pop up. Maintaining a motivated team is tougher under difficult shooting conditions. Another obstacle is to learn to appoint, let go certain key responsibilities and trust your people. It feels pretentious giving “advice” but one that comes to mind is to capitalize on people’s interest and motivations. Ambition drives people, if your project serves that ambition it will inherit that drive. Another thing I’d root for is aiming for production value. It’s not a bad idea to ask yourself if you’re creating value, if this piece of entertainment or art that you’re building will end up being worth more than the sum of its parts. Short-changing format quality or on-camera visuals to the benefit of leeway in directing or performance skills isn’t the best decision to make to create this added value. In a way, Indies have everything to prove and can’t afford being lukewarm; its gamble is risky by nature, something’s got to stand out.

You entered "The Ante" in a few festivals and won a few awards. Talk about the festival circuit and what it did for you and the film.

Festivals seem to come in five types, with some being odd mixes. There’s the truly independent, that doesn’t care about budget, glam or how artsy your film is. There’s the one that see independent film only as serious thought-provokers, geared towards actor performance; these are often allergic to the entertainment value or commercial-intent behind pictures. Then there’s the festival that equates independent film with foreign films, as if domestic films were intrinsically commercial in nature. There’s the red carpet festival propped up as a showcase venue for the odd “artistic” pictures from big established producers/studios. Then there’s the festival that specializes in a specific theme or genre. Understanding what type of festival you’re dealing with makes a huge difference in saving time and money when submitting. The Ante is meant as entertainment, yet feels more artistic than the typical commercial film; it doesn’t star established actors; feels like film noir, but also dark comedy, horror and even western. This novelty or “sitting on the fence” in genre and style made it a hard fit for festivals. Some committees probably found it too commercial; others too domestic (not foreign/ethnic enough); others still not politically correct enough or not sufficiently geared towards actor performance, etc. Competition is huge, slots are limited, submitting feels like playing the lottery. Once you get into one, it does make a difference, it spawns material for the film’s press kit. We met our distributors at festivals, got the media to talk about the film, etc. You also get to learn more about what you’ve made through audience and media reaction. Getting in a festival also contributes to our professional credential which helps for future projects.

Is the festival circuit something that you would recommend to all filmmakers?

Sure. Depends on how you target your festivals with what film. Some festivals can feel like total snobs, especially for genre films like horror. I guess that’s why these specialty festivals popped up, there was a need that wasn’t met. It’s like playing the lotto. It can get expensive submitting blindly every time a festival comes up. Average submission fee is around 50$ for a feature these days. If odds are only 1 out of 20 you get into one, picking them wisely is key to avoid wasting promo money. Festivals are a good, inexpensive mean of communication once you get in. Taken individually, they’re worth the time and investment. Then again, if a film is unlikely to fit any type of festivals and only good for straight commercial purposes, there’s no shame in that. On the contrary, I feel that in the end, it’s the broader audience that’s out there that has the final word, not a select few at a 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?

A soon as I had a rough DVD screener ready after editing, I started writing to distributors asking if they would like to watch the film. Since it was shot on 35mm, which is a marketable high res format, most took the inquiry seriously and asked to see it. Three or four took interest after seeing it but we waited until we got in a film festival, where we met a better distributor. Film festivals will often act as filters, a kind of pre-selection, focusing distributors’ attention to a selection of films. It suggests the film has some sort of appeal and at the very least will have something to write about for reviews, media coverage (however limited) which is a building block for future sales. We didn’t have the resources to set-up a screening in NY or LA and invite distributors so the festivals acted as a good substitute. In retrospect, it’s probably not a good idea to send DVD screeners to distributors if the film has the potential of getting into a festival. An organised, mediated screening goes a longer way, it fosters competitive biding and interest from distributors attending. You also get to meet and know early on who you’ll be dealing if you end up signing.

Where can people find out more about “The Ante”, check it out or get their hands on a copy?

People can find out more on these links:
If they want to see it and get a copy, they can contact Maureen Josephson at Panorama Entertainment (panent@aim.com or 914.937.1603). They cover North America.

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

In a way, I think it’s healthier than ever. Professional tools and networks are more and more common as years go by. The only down side seems to be that an adverse effect was created at the same time; there are more and more films out there, which makes it harder for any single one to stand out. Independent filmmaking nevertheless remains a great source of new, unpredictable ideas and point of views. Considering how tough it is to pull through, it’s ironic how free it is creatively.

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

I have several simmering on the stove top. I’m doing another “on spec” feature, a horror film set on a remote road at night, with ghosts and plenty blood (although not gore). I’m also developing a horror project set in Asia with a strong paranormal theme. In parallel, I’m working to kick-start a thriller based on a 50s film noir novel and a gritty urban drama set in the Bronx’s Hispanic community. Lately, I was also offered an action/horror project about martial arts enthusiasts hired to fight evil ninjas infesting a small town. Finally, Valerie Gagnon (producer) has this bloody bootlegger story set in the prohibition era she wants me to direct late next year. We’ll see what the future holds this time around.