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 .

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