Thursday, April 2, 2009

Interview with Christopher DiNunzio, writer/director of "Livestock"

Holy hell, have I had computer issues this morning... unbelievable. I was really considering not posting this, but I did get to it. Anyhow...

So, we recently checked out Christopher DiNunzio's film, "Livestock", and did an interview with him, but before we get to it... the film got me thinking about a particular sub-genre in horror which I like to call the gangster-horror. Now, I could be making up a new sub-genre here, but it does exist, whether you know it or not.

Gangster films are fairly closely tied to horror films, most likely due to the fact that they're both violent in nature and, therefore, they tend to get similar audiences. I mean, I'm sure there's gangster film fans that don't like horror films and horror film fans that don't like gangster films, but the two bubbles certainly overlap a lot more than, say... slapstick comedy fans and historical drama fans. We can look at this logically, really. Gangster films are about, well... gangs. Gangs, by definition, are groups of people who band together for mutual benefit, usually through illegal activity. Knowing that, there are certain archetypes or characters in the horror world that emulate those characteristics, as well. Werewolves, for example, are dogs... who roam in packs and are, therefore, technically, a gang. This has been exploited in a few gangster-horror films, such as "Wolves of Wall Street" or even the "Underworld" series. The other horror character that shows gang-like characteristics is the vampire and this has also been exploited in a few gangster-horror films, such as the "Blade" films, "Nightwatch", "From Dusk Till Dawn" and, now, DiNunzio's "Livestock".

I'll admit that I'm a huge gangster film fan, films such as "Scarface", "Meanstreets", "The Godfather" and "State of Grace" (mostly the ending of "State of Grace", what an ending...) were major influences and are personal favorites. But, obviously, horror's my thing. So, when watching DiNunzio's "Livestock", I came to the realization that I'm a fan of gangster-horror films and I hope to see more of them...

As for "Livestock", it's a really well put together film, rich with a variety of characters and a weaving plot. From the beginning, you're drawn into the gangster side of the film and the film slowly divulges it's more occult-like roots. Whereas some gangster-horror films would lean more on the horror side, DiNunzio does a great job of leaning on that gangster side, which creates a well balanced film that holds you till the end. It's a great indie-horror, done on a low budget, and it's definitely worth checking out. He did so much with so little and I'm very anxious to see what he comes up with next... So, do yourself a favor and check "Livestock" out.

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

I've always been a huge fan of movies but became interested specifically in horror when I was a little kid when my dad showed me Creature of the Black Lagoon on his projector. Also my mom was always showing me movies that I should not have been watching at such a young age, like Alien and Friday the 13th. I think what attracted me to Indie films was the fact that I think they allow more freedom of creativity that is lacking in most mainstream Hollywood films. I look at Indie and foreign films as more of an art form.

I am influenced by Dario Argento. I love his use of colors and all of surprising twists and turns that are usually in his films. I'm also very influenced by Italian cinema in general from Fellini to Bava. I'm really into old Christopher Lee and Vincent Price films They are two of my favorite actors.

Film school: Yes or No?

Yes and no. I've taken some classes in film school and have read tons of books on filmmaking. I still consider myself a student of filmmaking because I'm constantly learning new things and try and keep and open mind about things. I think film school is a great way to learn the fundamentals of filmmaking, but four years to me is unnecessary. I don't think that a person needs to go to school to learn a craft like filmmaking. I just say get out there and start making a film, even if you fail. Failing is a hard thing to deal with but you learn so much from it.

Tell us a bit about “Livestock” and where the idea came from.

It started out as a story about online dating where something bad ends up happening. But after writing a few ideas down I realized that it was too cliched and not going to work. Me and my brother Ralph talked a lot about old horror films. He also brought my attention to different films I like in different genres. I thought I could blend my story with a couple of new ideas that came from this so I started doing research. I found these interesting characters and the story started transforming into what it is now.

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

The budget was $3,500 I believe. I saved up for almost all of it and also had some help from friends and relatives. I was lucky to get a lot of free locations and borrow a beautiful camera from one of our producers Jason Miller.

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

We shot HDV on a Cannon XLH1. The shoot took 16 days. We shot on weekends and a few weekdays.

I was probably most impressed by the acting. Fiore Leo was particularly good in the lead role. How did you go about casting the film?

We were very lucky to find Fiore Leo and cast him in our film. I believe that I'm gonna walk into a movie theater one day and see his face up on the big screen. We found him and the rest of the cast using various online casting resources and we kept auditioning people until we could find the best actors for the role. We were lucky enough to find a cast that not only could act but fit into my biggest philosophy of filmmaking which is having good chemistry. Everyone was willing to work hard and work together and have fun while doing it.

There were lots of characters and various story lines. Talk about your directing style and how you managed the shoot.

We did a lot of rehearsing, which allowed me to do most of my directing then. When we were set to shoot everyone was already prepared, which allowed us to knock down takes and keep moving according to schedule. I think rehearsing is great. It allowed me to spend more time communicating with our DP (Nolan Yee) who did a great job. It also kept me from over directing the actors since they came in to the set well prepared. Filmmaking is such a collaborative effort. I expect everyone to give the best they can to their ability. I always tell them that I'm going to give them all the info I have then let them do their thing. But, I make sure they know that I'm there for them at all times.

The film is part gangster film, part occult/vampire film. Talk about blending those two genres together.

For one they're two of my favorite genres. When I decided to make a film with vampires I wanted to make sure that it was very done very subtly. Coming up with the idea of how we would represent "the pack" in a modern setting in Boston the vision was clear that they should operate more like a present day mafia would rather than what you're used to seeing in older horror films dealing with the occult.

I want to ask about the artwork that was created for the film. The opening sequence pulled you into the whole world and it was all really well done. Who did that and was this something that was an afterthought or did you know you wanted all that from the beginning?

My brother Ralph Di Nunzio did the artwork. I asked him specifically to do it not because he is my brother but because he is a talented artist. I knew from writing the script I wanted to open up the film with these types of images. However I wanted to avoid dealing with copyright issues and didn't want to risk being unoriginal by using stock images. I had this talent right in front of me, so months before we even started shooting I had him start working on the artwork. Also I like sharing this experience with my friends and family so I like to get them involved.

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 biggest hurdle for me personally is financing the film. Having shot some short films before I knew what I would be able to accomplish with little money. It's very easy to make a low budget film these days with the availability of inexpensive cameras and editing equipment. That doesn't mean that anyone can or should just pick up a camera and make a film. You should study film as much as you can and shoot as many short films as possible that way you can get a feel for the hard work that goes into it, and a feel for how much things will cost and what your limitations are. One thing I will say is don't let anyone tell you how to make your film. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take advice, but try to keep true to your vision and make the film that you set out to make. And don't be afraid to ask for help. No one gets anywhere by themselves.

Did you enter “Livestock” into any festivals? If so, how did it do? What are your thoughts on the festival circuit?

I just started submitting to festivals. Hopefully we will get into some. It's hard to get into festivals these days with a feature film since anyone can make a film and submit it. But if you can get in it is a great sense of accomplishment.

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 of right now we don't have a distribution deal. However our Executive Producer R. Harvey Bravman runs a great company Advanced Digital Replication and they helped us make a bunch of professional DVDs that we will try and sell on on our own while we figure out what is the best route to getting a distributing deal. Harvey has been great by helping us with this since we don't want to sit on our butts waiting for a deal. This allows us to keep spreading the word on "Livestock" in the meantime.

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

They can visit to pick up a copy. To check out info on our cast and crew they can visit our IMDB page.

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

I have always felt that the horror scene is what punk rock was supposed to be. It is a community with a lot of people that are very creative and supportive. They are willing to help out and spread the word of indie horror films to one another. It's a beautiful thing. As of right now I think people are getting very tired or remakes. I definitely think that Indie horror can play a big role in the future of the horror genre. I think what you see now and will continue to see is the rise of more foreign films. They seem to be very creative and original. Even people that were once unwilling to sit through a film with subtitles is now willing and eager to do so.

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

I'm in the process of finishing up a few scripts. Also, me and two of the crew members from "Livestock" are looking to make a feature film by telling the tale of 3 short horror stories. Hopefully a company or someone likes what they see with "Livestock and realize that we're worth investing in, which would allow us to grow and continue making well made films. .


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