Friday, May 29, 2009

The Future Of Film... Again AND Filmgo, An Online Film Fest

I was just listening to an interview about the demise of the music industry and how piracy and digital distribution killed the cash cow that was the CD. They briefly touched on it, but the film industry was the exact same way with DVD's, just a few years later. Basically, everyone fears change. EVERYONE. Anyhow... near the end of the interview, they starting drawing parallels to the film industry and saying how film is a few years behind music and, they concluded, that the film industry should weather the digital storm better due to the fact that they've seen what happened to the music industry. So, the future isn't bleak, but then they got in a bit of an argument.

It went something like this... one guy said that digital distribution devalues the product and that's going to hurt the music labels. For example, one CD is worth, for easy math, $20 and there's 10 songs on it. So, each song is worth $2. Now, iTunes sells songs for $.99. Therefore, the value of a song has been cut in half. The other guy said, that's true... however, that's not the end of the world. It should drive artists to create better music and some artists will become singles artists, while others will become album artists and, in the end, it should streamline the industry. There was lots more to it, but that was the gist. Now there was something that they didn't touch on, which I think is pertinent to both the music industry and the film industry alike and it's related to that shifting price point.

I'm going to switch this all over to film now... so, let's say that digital distribution has devalued film, as a whole, also. A DVD used to sell for $15, but now a film will sell for $5 online. Filmmakers just lost two thirds of their money... or did they? First off, you have to realize that distributing digitally has virtually no cost of distribution. No DVD, no burning the DVD, no packaging, no shipping, no warehousing, etc. So, there's a lot of money saved there. That's one side of it. The other side is, how many people would buy a film for $5, but not for $15? It would have to be more. Let's get down to straight supply and demand. In a digital world, your supply is limitless and your cost to distribute 100 films versus, say, 100,000 films, is next to nothing. However, the lower you drop your price, they more demand you'll have. People look at $4.99 a lot different than $19.99. You see, some people like to hoard films, but most people don't. Most people watch them once, then never watch them again. How many DVD's do you have sitting around that never get watched? If you're like me, hundreds... So, in my mind, if you used the price point that's used for RENTING a film, you'd get more people BUYING. That's, what? $5 - $8? So, SELL your film for that much, digitally, and you'll attract more buyers. Now, if you could get three people to buy your film for $5, at NO cost of distribution, you'd be generating more revenue than if you sold your DVD for $15 to one person. Make sense?

This is why I think the future looks bright. They talk about digital pennies, but they add up. It's just that films with budgets of $100Million+ probably won't work on this model. Having said that, films with more modest budgets will AND, with the price point dropping and the acceptance of digital distribution increasing, the audience has to increase. I've been talking to more and more filmmakers who are distributing their films online, through places like and, and they're making money. It's not one fat check, it's a lot of small cheques... but, like I said, those checks add up. We're near the beginning, shifting slowly towards the middle of this acceptance of digital distribution. As we shift through, the audience will grow and as the audience grows, so will the revenue. We just need to tweak the revenue generation model. Is it subscription based, is it advertising based, is it per content based, a mix of all that? Who knows? The change is on... and now we're even starting to see film festivals that are using the digital distribution format. That's why I wanted to talk about this week. It's a festival that's 100% online and they're open for submissions now. was launched by 545 Productions after organizers witnessed the work of too many talented filmmakers go unseen and undistributed. The entire festival takes place online and FilmGo allows distributors, producers, reps, and film fans alike the opportunity to discover independent films beyond the confines of the traditional festival circuit. Viewers can "attend" the festival, 24/7 from anywhere. With this simple but striking model, FilmGo has become an online destination for new indies, all the while supporting emerging filmmakers in the process.

Unfortunately, if you want to enter it, you better have something ready. The late, late deadline is a week away, on June 5th. Check it out, it's a great idea, and, really, this is where we're heading.

That's all I've got for this week... have a great weekend, see you on Monday!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Interview With Peter Grendle, writer/director of "This Side Of Nightmare"

We're basically at a point where the only thing holding you back from making your film is... you. This is the era of the so-called desktop filmmaker. Now, this doesn't go for filmmakers who are setting out to make a feature length sci-fi film with theatrical aspirations or something of that calibre. I'm talking about going out and making a quality short film, one that could be entered into festivals or just made to sharpen your skills, something that can be used to open some doors or just get you better at the craft of filmmaking. Hey, maybe you know nothing about the process of making a film... maybe you've been talking about it, over beers, for a while now. We should do this, we should to that... if only, if only. Well, at this point, the only 'if' is 'if' you get off your ass and do it. Life is about leveraging what you've got and if all you've got is a want and desire to make film, you better get out and make a film. Once you've made one or have bettered your filmmaking skills, leverage that... it's a cycle and you gotta keep working it.

Take a look at "This Side Of Nightmare", written and directed by Peter Grendle, for example. With loads of resolve and ambition, but short on resources, he went out and shot his 11 minute horror film for $500 in one day. What came out was a film that has a look and feel that can compete with any other short film on any stage, in any festival. Now, having seen "This Side Of Nightmare", I can tell you that Grendle is a talented filmmaker with some serious skills. In fact, I know he does a lot of work in TV, film and the like. That aside, the film impressed me, from the cinematography all the way to how it's cut together. It's a edgy piece that feels like you're getting a snippet of something bigger. You're thrust into the film and ripped out at the end. Really, it's everything that you could want in 11 minutes of horror.

I wouldn't expect that just anyone with a bit of ambition could get off the couch and make something of this quality, however... you have to start somewhere and this isn't Grendle's first time behind a camera. The point is, "This Side Of Nightmare" is a testament to what can be done with just a bit of resolve, a few dollars and some equipment. It's an achievement that I think a lot of indie and wannabe filmmakers and can look up to and, if you're one of those guys who is trying to muster up the will power to go out and make something, this is the interview for you and you should definitely be checking out the film.

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

Like everyone else, I started when I was a teenager, making scary movies in an attempt at meeting pretty girls. You know, because everyone wants to be an actress! What really got me going from there on was sitting down to “The Evil Dead” and realizing that someone else was doing the same things I wanted to. The rest is a downward spiral into becoming the ravenous Horror glutton I am today.

Tell us a bit about “This Side Of Nightmare”, what’s it about and where did you get the idea?

It’s about a lesbian college couple stuck in the middle of the desert with two sadist sisters.

You’ll find very quickly that in New Mexico (where the newest “Terminator” was shot) there’s pretty much one location you can always get for free: the middle of nowhere. Our original idea was to make a gangster drug bust short about mafia men in the desert. I was bored before writing the first word, so I replaced “police officers” with “college couple” and “gangsters” with “redneck killers”. It wrote itself.

I know you shot on an extremely micro-budget. Tell us what the budget was and tell us a bit about how you cut corners and were able to shoot it for so little.

We did it with $500. We had a crew of two people: Tyler King as the D.P., and myself as everything else. Our credit scroll is fake… but don’t tell anyone.

We paid everyone involved and that took up 80% of the cash. We own all our equipment from shooting audition tapes and commercials for local businesses and performers. The last 20% went towards our one lunch break that split the day down the middle. I did all the makeup with water, corn syrup, creamer, toothpaste, food coloring, and a $3 bottle of 3D gel. The grocery bill for this was maybe $25.

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

We shot on my favorite camera for run and gun – the Panasonic HVX200. It took us ten hours, with the exterior car chase shots being filmed the following weekend.

Talk about keeping the production going with such a tight shooting schedule.

The day consisted of actors rehearsing while Tyler set the shot and I prepped the makeup and other essentials. We did one or two takes of each scene, from at least two different angles, and moved on. Everyone knew it was a one day shoot, and no one wanted to wake up at four AM to do it all again, so I think that helped the energy and dedication. There’s a lot that can be done while the shot is being set – and I don’t think enough people take advantage of that time.

For me, there were a few artistic things you did which worked really well. One was the switch to black & white, another was your use of slo-motion and another was your use of angles. All of them created a nightmarish look and feel, very well done horror stuff. Talk about those choices and creating that horror look and feel.

The black and white saturation melt was a complete afterthought, thrown in a year after we had finished cutting. I was thinking it over in the shower that the film was still missing something – suddenly it clicked. I also think it helps to hide some of the “low budget-ness” and give it a documentary feel.

I love slow motion when it’s sparse. That shot was planned before I had finished with the script. It’s the only shot I storyboarded and the only shot that divides audiences. My wife hates it, 70’s Rape and Revenge fans love it. What can you do?

As for angles they were all pretty much made up on the spot. If we had a strict storyboard we would have wasted many hours just trying to match the shots. I would show Tyler what the action was and what plot points needed to be highlighted, and he went from there – at times hanging out of a car window or lying down in the middle of a road.

I also liked your choice with sound and music. Talk about the process of scoring the film….

Scoring is always the tough part when going micro-budget. I was limited to public domain and royalty free stuff by extremely generous composers – so scoring the film wasn’t “what should I write for this scene that would make it pop?” – instead it was “what can I find for free that fits the mood, and how can I cut around it?.” It’s trying, to say the least.

You use archetypal characters: young lesbians & bible thumping rednecks. Talk about your choices in creating those characters.

When I only have $500, I have to write around what I have right in front of me. Originally the couple was straight and the sisters were just siblings. Two men and two women. But the inspiration behind the lesbians and sisters literally came from me not knowing any male actors, period.

Unfortunately none of them could be scheduled, so we were forced to do an open casting call – but stuck with the four women – because it felt different. I like the motif and I like the boundaries it betrays in terms of Horror clichés (after all, our plot is already clichéd we have to put something original in there).

The ending was abrupt, almost jarring. Talk about your choice for the ending.

I’m glad you said that. I think it’s how a Horror film should be. No happy ending. No discovery of police or friends. The best Horror should be extremely jarring and it should stick with you for a while. A life has been destroyed – let’s show it.

Have you entered the film into any festivals? If so, how did it do and would you recommend other filmmakers get involved with the festival circuit?

Yes, all the big ones – and unfortunately we didn’t get into any! But we have nailed down four different distribution deals, so I like to think that makes up for it.

I like festivals and I think the right ones with the right marketing can certainly get someone agents/job offers. But I also feel that these things can be done just as easily through the internet. I think the best way to do it is set a budget for festivals, enter into a few big expensive ones, and then enter into a few smaller cheaper ones – that way you run the gamut and meet as many people as possible without spending what could have been your next film’s budget. Because everyone wants to start big, but I think these days, with DVD and VOD being as interesting as they are – it’s much easier to start small.

But what do I know – I haven’t quit my day job yet.

Has the film opened any doors for you or boosted your career in any way?

It certainly has. Granted, we’re all still working on that “career” thing, but the next step is the feature version – and I have a million more people to send that to once its finished than I did before I made this short. And you know, half of that is just due to research and figuring out who’s looking and who’s not, and what they’re looking for as well.

How are you going about distributing the film and how is that working out?

We’re putting this out in four different ways currently. and have picked it up for pay-for-play online viewing, and a huge kudos goes to for putting it out (soon, I hope) onto,, and many others as well.

American Horrors has picked it up for an episode and maybe (?) DVD later on. I’m not sure where or when that’s airing though. Finally, we’ll be on a compilation of AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits someday.

Where can people find out more about “This Side Of Nightmare” and, better yet, buy a copy?

First off, they can watch the trailer here: is the place to go, in my opinion. There are a few reviews floating around the web if they’re unsure if they want to make that 11 minute commitment yet: Arrow in the Head, Horror Yearbook, Fatally Yours, and Don’t Look Behind You are among the awesome sites that have posted reviews.

And they can always check our website, for updates and other projects.

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

The scene is huge and spread out. We’ve all been hearing that since the “desktop filmmaker” came along everyone’s been making crappy movies and getting them put out on Brain Damage for a quick buck, thusly ruining our reputation (and don’t get me wrong, I love Brain Damage films).

While this is partially true, now more than ever I’m seeing much more talent and dedication being put into the DTV market. What’s causing it is up in the air, but I’m leaning towards Hollywood’s lack of bravery and faith when it comes to original work – which is most likely caused by a sinking economy. As a result DTV is growing astronomically, and finally getting a bit of respect. Remakes and sequels go to theaters, original and brave films go to video. Think about the best US releases of the past months: “Alien Raiders,” “Otis,” “Laid to Rest,” “Martyrs” and the list goes on.

What was the last theatrical Horror film that anyone can remember blowing their mind, save for “Let the Right One In?” US DTV catalogs are what I peruse these days, and I don’t think I’m alone.

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

I’m currently finishing Post on a comedy called “Lament to Roswell” about a girl living in Roswell, New Mexico who claims she was abducted and impregnated by aliens, and is now trying to wrangle up a protest against the Government’s outer space policing habits. The trailer should be up soon at our YouTube page:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Look At A Couple Of Indie Horror Distributors: Cinema Epoch and Pathfinder

Yup, it's true, my fear came to fruition - "Night at the Museum II" beat out "Terminator Salvation" at the weekend box office to the tune of $70Million to $52Million. I'm not sure if that's just the weekend numbers and they're not counting what T4 did on Wednesday night and Thursday, but that doesn't really matter. Actually, it wasn't really a fear, so to speak... "Terminator Salvation" is something that I would look forward to and something that you, I'm assuming, would look forward to. However, we all know that "Night at the Museum II" had (or has) a bigger potential audience. It's something that will be playing on planes, on network TV and everywhere for years - pablum for the masses. Brainless, watered down entertainment that would entertain a five year old and an eighty five year old equally. Shit like that is always going to win, what can you do? Having said that, I'm sure both studio's are happy with their respected films performances. However, T4 had a budget of around $200Million and Museum 2 had a budget of around $125Million. So, if you're a studio looking to make money, what's your next movie going to be? Now, are you ready for next week, when the PG-13 Sam Raimi horror "Drag Me To Hell" goes head to head with Disney's "Up"?

Anyhow, I do have a post about some internet stuff ready to go and I'm waiting on getting a few interviews back. However, it's been a while since we've looked at indie horror distributors. So, I've come across two new ones that I want to take a closer look at. Well, I shouldn't say new, they're just new to me.

Cinema Epoch is a Los Angeles-based international sales, production and distribution company formed by distribution veteran Gregory Hatanaka. Hatanaka has been affiliated with distributing some pretty cool films, including John Woo's "The Killer" (which you better have seen), The Coen Brothers' "Blood Simple" and Abel Ferrara's "'R Xmas"... (I haven't seen 'R Xmas, but Ferrar's a bit of a legend, having made "The Driller Killer", "Bad Lieutenant" and "King of New York", but anyhow... "Driller Killer" rules, by the way) They lean towards internationally acclaimed arthouse films, contemporary American films and edgy cult & midnight works. It's safe to say that our readers would be looking to supply films in the 'edgy cult & midnight works' section. Now, they won't accept unsolicited submissions, but they will take an email with a brief synopsis and other pertinent information, such as cast, crew, festivals and awards, etc... you can send that email to Otherwise, click on the link at the top and go to their 'about us' page, it's all there. Recently, they've distributed the "Amateur Porn Star Killer" series, "Growing Out" and loads of other good schlock.

Pathfinder Home Entertainment, the guys who recently distributed "Beneath The Flesh", "A Bell From Hell" and "The Asylum", were established in 1998 to focus on bringing the works of emerging and established filmmakers to the mainstream and they distribute around 20-30 films annually into the U.S. theatrical, home video and television markets. In 2002, they expanded into the DVD/video distribution market and have already released over 140 titles. Further, in 2005, they formed the Circle Post Productions division, extending their services to indie filmmakers. Pathfinder welcomes films of all genres, but a film must be completed or in the final stages of post in order to be considered... send them an email at

Monday, May 25, 2009

New Horror Out On DVD This Week

It's a long weekend and I think that most of you have a lot better shit to be doing than reading this, so I might just leave it up for a couple days, then post something new on Wednesday. We'll see... you never know. Thinking about it... I'd actually like to see some stats on DVD rentals and sales through the summer. We all know that summer is the biggest season for theatrical releases, but that's due to the fact that kids are out of school. However, I have a hunch that DVD rentals and sales may go down through the summer. First off, due to the fact that the summer season is so big for theatrical releases, this may steal some of the DVD audience. Secondly, the weather's better and the days are longer, so... there's more shit to do outside, which should mean less sitting inside and watching movies in your living room. Stats shouldn't be hard to find, so I'm going to snoop around and see what I can come up with. I'll report back after a bit of market research...

In any case, there's a couple of decent films out, but, all in all, it's not that great a week. I mean, there's only four new releases. As usual, though, click on the film to be taken to its Amazon page and/or go to our Youtube page to see all the trailers.

I shouldn't pass judgement on a film before I've seen it, but I think I know what we're in for with "The Devil's Tomb". It's got a decent cast, including Cuba Gooding Jr, Ray Winstone and Ron Perlman and it's directed by Jason Connery, son of Sean Connery... this is only the second project he's directed, his directorial debut being "Pandemic". This had a budget of around $10Million and it's about a team of mercenaries, contracted by a mysterious CIA operative to rescue a scientist working on an archaeological discovery deep under the Middle Eastern desert. The true secret of what lies beneath, a secret that's been protected for thousands of years, will be discovered... and it's not of this earth. The trailer makes it look like a supernatural version of "Aliens" with a Michael Bay flair... but, I don't know. Actually, what I really don't know is how movies like this can make money. $10Million budget going straight to DVD? The least they could do is get it on cable somewhere, then release it on DVD.

Now, I'm not sure if "Gothkill" has already been released and this is a new version or if they're just giving it a fancy name for the DVD release, but "Gothkill: Satanic Special Edition" comes out this week. We actually had the chance to review it and interview the writer/director, JJ Connelly, a little while ago. I highly recommend supporting indie film and picking this film up... definitely worth it. It's got everything that a micro-cinema horror should have. Also, you should be reading the interview, which can be found here.

"Beneath The Flesh" comes from Randall Kaplan, distributed by Pathfinder Pictures and it's a horror anthology of five short horror films, all of which are shot in black and white. Judging from the trailer, it actually looks pretty awesome. You'll get "Id", "The Basement", "The Child", "The Insides" and "Boxhead". Each film has the victim confronting a fear, which they'll have to deal with or die with it. From what I can tell, they're all short films that he's made over the last few years, ranging from "Id", which was done in 2004, to "Boxhead", which was done in 2008... and now he's compiled them all up and packaged them together for distribution. Great idea, might have to try to get in touch with him to discuss it.

Sometimes I hate it when they change titles for distribution, but sometimes it just makes sense... and I think it just makes sense here. "Carnivorous", directed by Amir Valinia and starring DMX, was originally called "Lockjaw: Rise of the Kulev Serpent". Close your eyes and think of that title... "Lockjaw: Rise of the Kulev Serpent". It almost sounds like Russian porn... doesn't sound like a horror, really. It doesn't sound like anything that I'd want to watch and it definitely doesn't sound like it's a film about a magic voodoo pen that helps a guy create a monster snake that attacks a group of reckless suburbanite teens that accidentally killed his wife in a hit and run... does it?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Terminator Salvation Finally Hits The Theaters, Revenge Of The Nerds and more...

It's not summer yet, technically... however, I feel like we're getting deep into the Summer tent-pole movies already. We've already seen "Star Trek", "Wolverine" and "Angels and Demons", but now comes the film that I, personally, have been waiting for - "Terminator Salvation". It's going head to head with "Night At The Museum 2" and as far as audiences are concerned, I don't think there's too much overlap. I'm just prepping myself for the fact that Ben Stiller could beat out John Connor, but it would only be due to the fact that "Night At The Museum 2" is a kids movie... Anyhow, I think a lot of horror fans of my generation credit the original Terminator as a major influence, although it's not really a horror. It was definitely unlike anything I had ever seen at the time and it didn't hold back on the violence... it WAS rated R. If I remember correctly, I first saw Terminator around 1986, two years after its theatrical release. I was in 6th grade and, at the time, I do remember longing for another Terminator film that took place entirely in the future. Well, a great number of years later, they followed it up with "T2" and, later still, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines", which, for the record, I thought was very underrated. Finally, now, my wishes come to fruition. I finally get the film that takes place entirely in the future... and, depending on how well it does at the box office, I should be getting a couple more. McG directs and I think it's a bit of an odd choice, considering he's best known for making "Charlie's Angels" and "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle", however people seem to think he did alright here. The budget was around $200Million and I think it's definitely going to be worth checking out... it'll drag me out to the theaters.

Now, on to some festival shit...

I just noticed that the Arizona Underground Film Festival is now open for submissions... and I'm not sure if we've covered them before. I'm losing track and haven't updated my festivals page in a while. I've been busier than a two-peckered gopher (as my old football coach used to say) and I really need a day to just clean everything up, but I digress. The Arizona Underground Film Fest is a fest that showcases the work of filmmakers with defiantly independent visions and they want to represent every genre of film from across the world... which is a bold goal. It's not that much to enter, early bird deadline (June 20) is only $20. I think these festivals are great to enter, especially as a networking opportunity. On top of that, you stand a far better chance of getting accepted...

Next, one of our favorite nerd fests of the year has a deadline coming up, as well. May 25 is the regular deadline for Dragon*Con Independent Short Film Fest. Dragon*Con is the largest multi-media, pop culture convention focusing on sci-fi and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music and film in the U.S. Yeah, it's one of those ones where nerds dress up as their favorite characters and nerdy girls, usually not known for gearing down, get all sexed up in Princess Leia outfits. Seriously, I put that pic to the left in as a sample, but click here and go to any of those fan photo galleries. Crazy shit. Anyhow, the whole thing takes place at the end of the summer in Atlanta, Georgia and attracts over 35,000 people. Their film festival, which you can find out more about here, showcases short films across all genres of the imagination. Really, if you get accepted here, you gotta go. Even if you don't submit a film, you should go. I'll dress up as 'Creepy the Clown'.

Lastly, let's look at a screenwriting festival. Like I've said many a time, the screenwriting festivals are a bit of a tough one. Some are sketchy, others really are trying, but can fall short and there are a few that are the real deal and those are the ones that are wicked opportunities for up and coming screenwriters. I gotta say, though, I think half the reason that people don't trust screenwriting festivals is because they pick the shittiest names. Script PIMP? Seriously? I know it stands for Pipeline Into Motion Pictures, but... come on. And this one's not much better, ScriptShark Insider. Scary. Also, it doesn't help that their website is down at the time I type this... However, it is legitimate and it is one of the ones that you should be entering. If you're interested, they also do screenwriting evaluation, coverage and submission services. For the contest, there are cash prizes, plus the winner gets a trip for two to L.A. to take a few meetings with industry professionals and gets a private pitch-honing session. If you've got a script ready to go... or about to go, June 1st is their late deadline.

That's all I've got for this week, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Interview With Graham Ratliff, writer/director of "Growing Out"

It goes without saying that there's a lot of differences between studio films and indie films. However, there's one difference that a lot of indie filmmakers tend to overlook... or overlook on purpose, I'm not sure. When a studio green lights a film, that film has already gone through an arduous process. The script could have been based on a book or some other property, it could've come from a name writer, it could've been based on an idea that someone in the studio had, who knows? Then, it passes through executive after executive, studio head to producer, to... Lord knows who. Each person puts in their opinion and the project is tweaked a bit. It's discussed with the marketing people and they do research, surveys and punch numbers, forecast and on and on. Then, like I said, they MAY green light it. After that, the real process begins. At the end of the day, what gets cranked out is a watered down, collaborative piece of work that is produced for the masses to optimize returns and licensing opportunities.

Indie film, on the other hand, is completely different. Usually the guy who came up with the idea is closely involved in the actual production, if not producing and directing it himself. Most of the time there's no board, no executives, no marketing people, no research, no case studies and no test audiences. There's a handful of people who think they've got something and they go for it. If they can raise financing, they're off to the races and no one can tell them that what they've come up with won't fly. It's not for the masses, so who cares what the masses think? This is the environment where truly unique and imaginative work can be created.

Now, here's what I think a lot of indie filmmakers overlook... and sometimes on purpose. They look to the studio system and believe that they need to emulate them. They think that if that's what THEY'RE doing and that's what people are watching, I should do that, too. However, I think they need to take a risk. Take lots of risks... do what the studios can't do. Sure, it may flop, but it may be what brings attention to your film. It may launch your career. If you try to make a watered down film, catering to the masses, you're competing with Hollywood and that's a big beast to fight. If you make something that they wouldn't make, you're fighting a different battle. Make sense?

It's a tough decision, I know... as I, like most people of my generation, was raised on the blockbuster - Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, James Bond, etc... You want to recreate those kinds of films. However, I have to say, as my love of film grew, so did my appreciation for more obscure films. Now, I find myself watching more obscure films than blockbusters. Why? Honestly, because, in a lot of cases, they're more interesting. There's more creativity. They give me something to think about. Sometimes an obscure film will leave me scratching my head, as was the case with the film I just watched last night - Frank Henenlotter's "Bad Biology". However, a lot of the time, they're so creative and unique, they give me faith that there's still a future for film, as was the case with Graham Ratliff's "Growing Out".

I'm not sure where to start with "Growing Out", but to give you a general idea of where they go, it's about a troubled songwriter that discovers a human growing, like a plant, out of his basement floor. There's so much more to this fantastic piece of independent filmmaking, but I really suggest you check it out yourself. If anything, it's creative, unique and something that could only be done outside of the studio system. If you're into the obscure and creative, you'll need to check it out. We discussed the film with Graham and he offered up a great interview, check it out...

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

When I was about 9 or 10 years old my Dad bought a Hi-8 video camera. He got it to record my brother and I playing basketball. Of course it wasn’t long before the basketball playing stopped and the movie making with our friends started. Really jokey action films with lots of violence, or at least as much violence as we could figure out how to do. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when I saw “Army of Darkness” (I dragged my family to see it at least 5 times in the theater) that I thought I would like to make movies for a living. Up until then it was just a hobby.

I went to film school at U.C. Santa Cruz and after graduation I moved to L.A. and worked in the art departments of a number of different films.

So as far as influences go, obviously the Evil Dead movies were a big influence and the early movies of George Romero. Also Frank Hennenlotter’s “Brain Damage” and “Basket Case” had a large impact on me.

Film School: Yes or No?

Yes. I wouldn’t have been able to make “Growing Out” without the experience of film school. Filmmaking is a collaborative art. You just can’t do it by yourself. Film school laid the groundwork for how to work with others and established contacts that I still use today. But it’s not really just about the school, it’s more about the experience gained from working on projects. If you can’t afford to go to school or you want you use that money to make a movie, fine, but you better put the work in before hand. Listen to commentaries, watch behind the scenes segments on DVDs, join film groups, hunt out and read websites like this one, and work on other people’s movies, basically do everything you can to learn about film before you put your (or someone else’s) money into it. The movies and TV shows I’ve worked on in Los Angeles were just as important a learning experience as film school was. They both gave me experience I needed.

I’ve always hear this phrase, “I’ll learn on the job” well trust me you are going to learn on the job film school or no. In Hollywood I’ve met people time and again who say they are filmmakers, but they don’t work on other people’s projects. Like it is somehow beneath them. They sit around waiting for someone else to just give them money to make a movie. I personally don’t get it. If you love film and want to make movies, then get involved in it. This industry is totally about connections and who you know, so get busy knowing people and working with them.

On “Growing Out” we were able to build our sets much much cheaper because of help we got from a construction coordinator I met on “Elizabethtown”. We were able to shoot on a soundstage in Orange County because it belonged to the film school my wife went to. We got to use that soundstage and the surrounding offices for a month and a half for the same price as a single day rental at other stages. These connections just wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for film school and working on other shows.

So maybe I should change my response to Film School maybe, but work experience and contacts are a must.

What was the approx budget of “Growing Out” and how did you secure financing?

I wish I had a better story on how we found financing. Through my grandfather we had learned of some people that had just made a lot of money selling a piece of land in Texas. We asked them if they would like to produce a movie and they said yes. There you go. The initial budget was $120,000, but of course we went over that. Then it became about scrimping and saving and calling the family and getting them to pitch in. As you can see from the credits, it was a family affair.

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

We shot for 29 days on a JVC camera. We actually had the camera plugged directly into a computer and using an AJA card and a Cineform codec captured HD directly to the hard drive. This allowed us to capture full uncompressed HD. This was both a blessing and a curse. It meant we could play back takes instantly to make sure we got everything we needed, and to be editing scenes together in between set ups, but it also meant that we had to lug around this large computer set up everywhere we went.

We also used a mini-35 lens adapter on the camera, which I loved the look of, but it cut down on light dramatically. So it always took a bit longer to figure out the lighting.

Tell us a bit about “Growing Out”. What’s it about and where did you get the idea from?

“Growing Out” is about an out of work singer songwriter named Tom who takes a job fixing up an old Victorian house for free room and board. There is a creepy old woman living upstairs and a loony person living out back. Then one day Tom finds a human hand growing out of the basement floor and it just keeps growing…

The film started as a short, my senior thesis at U.C. Santa Cruz. At the time the idea came from the notion that artists have their own personal muse, and in some cases that muse might be something that needs to be hidden from the world. Of course part of the requirement of the class was that the short be less than 12 minutes long. That was pretty limiting. So the concept always stuck around in my head as something that could be expanded upon.

Now, the film was based on a short film, which is included on the DVD. Talk about adapting a short film into a feature length project.

Well my brother Garett and I sat down and discussed what a feature of “Growing Out” would be, what the main characters and moments would be. Then Gare would disappear into his cave to emerge 3 months later with a script. The relationship between Tom and the Growth was pretty easy to see how it would translate, but working in the other characters took a bit of doing. It is a heightened world that they inhabit. Very close to the real world and yet something seems off, so it was important to make sure that every character fit. Garett was really able to nail the tone of the characters, which helped everything else fall into place.

Now, this is definitely a film that could only be done as an indie, as it’s as ‘out there’ a concept as you’re going to get. Talk about raising financing for a film like this and what it means to have complete, creative freedom.

Well having the short film certainly helped. I’m not sure we ever would’ve gotten the funding if it wasn’t for that. It allowed us to clearly show the tone that the movie was going to have and give a sense of the visuals of a human being growing out of the ground. I think it also helps that my brother writes amazingly readable scripts. His writing style is neat and quick. It reads fast and is very entertaining so I think that helped a lot.

But you are right; this isn’t a film that could be made as anything other than an indie. Not only is the basic concept of the film “out there” but the ending really would fly if this wasn’t an independent film. And really that was the most liberating part of it. There were arguments about what should and shouldn’t go in the movie, but those were arguments between the director and the writer. Not the director and head of a studio demanding different music, or a different ending. I worked on a television show called “Life” and saw the notes the studio would send in on the episodes and it was mind boggling. Often it seemed there was no rhyme or reason to it, just “Cut this” “change that.” It would be stifling. So every time I would wish we had a little more money or a little more time I would have to remind myself that we were getting to make the movie the way we wanted to. And really that’s worth almost any trade off. Except for maybe a luxury trailer. I might be willing to change an ending for a luxury trailer.

Music played a big part in the film and you did a great job of mixing it in. Talk about creating and using music effectively.

The one of the big changes in going from the short film to the feature was Tom’s profession. In the short he is a writer and we changed that to a singer/songwriter in the film. That choice was made because we felt like there were just too many movies about writers going crazy. Plus, my brother is a musician and he wanted to write about the process of coming up with a song and the experience of playing it for an audience. For the movie it was a great decision, for us trying to make the movie it was a big challenge.

We posted on Craigslist and other online sites looking for a songwriter that could handle the songwriting chores, but didn’t come up with anything we liked. It was a challenge because we wanted all of the music to have a similar sound, but they had to be coming from different characters and representing different themes. It was tough.

I was working with Jason De Meo on “World Trade Center” at the time, and he mentioned to me that he was in a band. When I listened to his stuff I was just blown away. It was almost exactly the sound we were looking for. He was interested in writing songs for the movie so we discussed the characters and types of songs we were looking for. He and his cousin just produced these amazing songs, which really helped complete the world of the movie.

It was a bit tricky too, because we weren’t making a musical. You want to use these fully produced versions of the songs, but in the world of the movie it’s just a person and a guitar singing. So I tried to play with it visually, and show that when the full mix came in we were really in the head of the character. Hearing more than is actually there. I think it worked pretty well.

Michael Hampton did a great job of playing the troubled songwriter, Tom, and you did a great job of casting the film, every character was a bit surreal and you made it all believable. Talk about your directing style, as well as the casting process and how you created this strange world that Tom lives in.

We posted casting notices everywhere we could think of and got an insane number of headshots sent in to us. Well over a thousand different people to look through. It was a fun process because you get to try and match faces and types with characters that until now have only existed on the page.

Once it comes time to audition I find I mostly go by my gut. You can easily tell if someone has any acting talent or charisma, but when it comes time to pick the final one I always go with what feels right. And in the case of “Growing Out” that lead to three of the leads looking very very different from how they were presented in the script. They just captured the character and brought it to life. It’s also important to pick up on personalities as best you can. You are going to have to work with these people for many long days, so you want to make sure you can stand to be around them.

When it came to directing the actors I was always most interested in finding a connection between the over the top nature of the characters and the real world we all live in. We rehearsed a lot. Another bonus of being low budget and having sometime early on is that you can spend it with the actors. It tells you what is working and what isn’t, and will save you tons of time on set. Rehearsal is a must.

But in the end the actors we got really made my job easy. They were all pros. Understood the characters and what was needed and extremely dedicated to the work. They were amazing.

Almost all the characters had some sort of defect, in one way or the other, and I thought that was great and I loved the fact that, juxtaposed with that, there was a fully, functional human being, with no idea of what real life is like, growing in the basement. Talk about the ideas going on there and I do have one specific question, as I don’t think it was explained… what was with the thing on the back of Philip’s neck?

I’m glad you picked up on that. We did want every character to have some sort of physical defect. It was fun to play around with the differences in character based on that. Vernon is almost proud of his missing arm, playing guitar and writing a song about his lack of piano playing skills. Veronica uses her missing finger as a tool to gain sympathy and seem weaker than she is. And the boil on the back of Philip’s neck is a weakness. He is full of bravado and arrogance until Tom notices the lump and then he is suddenly on the defensive and awkward. There was never some greater conspiracy to it other than that it was his defect. Of course I realize in a movie like Growing Out smaller strange things jump out more.

You are right though that The Growth is supposed to run counter to all of that. To look at the innocence we all have before we are jaded or hurt or scarred by the world. To examine what we do when faced with something more pure than we are.

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?

The funny thing about filmmaking is that the huge insane obstacles that pop up during the shoot will seem small and manageable once it is all done. The best advice I can give is never lose your cool. (This isn’t to suggest I never did.) There is always another solution and the worst thing you can do it become so attached to an idea that you can’t bend. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t hold to your vision and make the movie you want to make, but you need to also be flexible and open to different ways to get there. On “Growing Out” the original tree in the park we were going to shoot at was cut down two days before filming. The exterior of the house had its sidewalks torn up the day before we were going to shoot there. (And FilmLA didn’t bother telling us about it, even though they were aware of it. Then when we wanted a refund for our unusable permit they fought us on it.) Our P.A. backed the truck with all our equipment into a BMW. On our first day in the coffee shop no extras came. Those are just a few of the things that popped up to make life difficult during shooting. That doesn’t even get into the headaches that came up during post. It’s a long process, but it’s funny to look back and think how little it all mattered to the finished product.

On a practical note, be sure to save money for post production. I know during shooting we had a mindset of “We will deal with post when we get to post”, but there are a lot of expenses to be aware of. Mixing the sound. Doing an M&E mix if you want to sell overseas. Coming up with the deliverables for your distribution company. All of these things cost money, so it’s a good idea to have some of that set aside. We had money set aside for post in the early going, but it was gone quick.

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

We did submit to a couple of big festivals, but didn’t get in. It was suggested to us that when it came to sales you really only needed to submit to the big ones (Sundance, Slamdance, Toronto, Telluride, etc.) and that playing a little festival wouldn’t help much. So as our funds were drying up, we stopped submitting. But as an artist who wants their work to be seen, applying to every festival out there is very very appealing. So I do kind of wish we had applied to more. It is terribly expensive though. I’m told you can call directly and talk organizers into waiving the fee, but I never had any luck with that. But if you can afford it I would submit to every festival you can, because ultimately it’s about getting the thing seen.

Talk about the process of finding distribution, what would you tell filmmakers who’ve recently finished a film and are looking for distribution?

We were very lucky. My wife worked on Pirates of the Caribbean 2 + 3 with an artist who had directed a small horror movie called “Haunted Forrest”. He recommend us to a company called Circus Road. They had worked on his film as Producer’s Reps and gotten him a distribution deal with Lionsgate. A Producer’s Rep basically shops the film around for you using their contacts and connections, and then when the film sells they get a percentage of that sell. I’m not exactly sure why they aren’t called agents, because it seems like the same thing as an agent, but no, they are producers reps. So we contacted Circus Road and sent them a screener of Growing Out. They thought they would be able to do something with the film and sent it out to Cinema Epoch. Now Gregory Hatanaka the President of Cinema Epoch was just an all around great guy. So often you hear about people to whom movies are just a commodity, people who have no interest or concern about the art of a film. Well that isn’t Greg, it was great to sit down with him and talk about the film and see that he really got it and knew of all the same obscure and off beat horror films that we did. He was really great to work with and gave us a lot of freedom on the DVD and the theatrical release. Just really involved us in the whole process. I don’t think they accept screeners, but I do believe their website has some info about where to submit a pitch.

But this again is another story about how connections we had made working on other films helped us with our film. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here.

Where can people find out more about “Growing Out” or, better yet, buy a copy?

You can find out more about the film at or you can check out our distributor at You can buy the movie online just about anywhere, Amazon, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, and you can actually go into a Fry’s Electronics and pick one up, which is pretty exciting. You can also rent it on Netflix, Blockbuster, etc. It’s not too hard to track down a copy.

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

I remember when I was growing up we would drive around to 3 or 4 different video stores just to see if there were any new horror or cult movies that we could rent. It was a real scavenger hunt. Today, when we have two or three genre movies released a week it’s a lot easier to find stuff to watch. It’s exciting, but now it’s about finding movies that are good, the scavenger hunt is still there. Sadly there seems to be a lot of “Me too” filmmaking out there. They see that one movie does well so they keep making that kind of movie. Look, I understand that this industry is just that, an industry. You have to make money. But when you are talking indie well the doors really are wide open. So it bums me out sometimes to see people not going further. This isn’t to say there aren’t people out there on the indie scene making fantastic stuff, because there is. And at the end of it all I’m not even really talking about talent, I’m talking about heart. Anybody that can finish a film has talent. It isn’t easy at all to see a movie through start to finish. My hat is off to them. But you can tell when a filmmaker is doing something from their heart, something they are passionate about and that is exciting to watch.

As for where it is going, that’s hard to call. I think we are a crossroads here. We are in the beginning of the digital age and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I hope that it leads to more daring, bloody, scary and challenging horror films. I’m ready to see ‘em.

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

My brother is currently finishing up a second draft of what will be our next film. It’s a crime thriller with a crazy unstoppable killer. Sort of like what would happen if you threw Jason Voorhees into Reservoir Dogs. Should be a bloody blast.

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Horror Out On DVD This Week: Coming At You In 3D!

Well, I have family in town due to a wedding this weekend and I've barely been able to get to a computer. I feel disconnected... out of touch. Brutal. Anyhow, I thought I'd be able to get to it a few times and keep things rolling here, but... well, shit happens. Having said that, I really wanted to talk about the new horror coming out this week, as it's actually a decent week and there's some lesser known titles coming out that you should know about. So, I'm actually sneaking away right now... I'm going to quickly get through all of these, but I doubt I'll be able to post anything for Tuesday morning due to that... and the fact that I have to drive people to the airport. In any case, there's mass departing tomorrow and things will be all back to normal for Wednesday. As usual, you can go to our Youtube page to check out all the trailers, plus you can click on the title to be taken to their page on Amazon.

The big release of the week is "My Bloody Valentine 3D", which is available in a few different formats and I'm really not sure why. The first is that one, just called "My Bloody Valentine 3D" and it includes four pairs of 3D glasses, the next is "My Bloody Valentine 3D/2D Flip", which also includes four pairs of 3D glasses, and, lastly, one that's just called "My Bloody Valentine". So, why do we need the other two versions? Shouldn't the 3D/2D flip be enough? Wouldn't that mean that it's BOTH versions? Is there a difference between THAT 3D version and the exclusively 3D version? To be honest, I didn't research it too deeply, but... come on. Anyhow, I actually really want to check this out, but not because of the film itself. I couldn't give a fuck about that. What I'm interested in is checking out the quality of the 3D. The stuff they're doing in the theaters is pretty f'ing impressive, but the home version stuff has never really blown my skirt up. So, could be worth it...

"Eden Log" is a fairly intense looking French film from Franck Vestiel, which premiered at The Toronto Film Festival and has been getting good reviews. It's the first film from Vestiel, as a director, and he shot the entire film using only hand-held cameras. The story revolves around Tolbiac, who wakes up in a cave, naked and disoriented and next to a dead body. Suddenly, digital phantoms appear in front of him and inform him of a paradise known as Eden Log. He then sets off to find Eden Log, as he is pursued by various ravenous mutants and phantoms. I heard it described as a techno-horror, or something and, excessive categorizing aside, it does look pretty good.

"Bane", which won the best feature award at Shriekfest and was considered a bit of a horror festival hit, comes out of the UK and is written and directed by James Eaves. Oddly enough, it seems to share a few plot points with the previously mentioned "Eden Log", as, in "Bane", a group of four women wake up, with amnesia, in an underground cell. They're each visited by a surgeon, who carves a number into them, and they figure out that they're part of a strange experiment that has no obvious point. I don't want to ruin any ending here, but expect a strange turn of events at the end... Reviews are good and it looks like it had a fairly low-budget, but it's put together really, really well.

"The Devil's Ground" is from Michael Bafaro and it stars Darryl Hannah. I'm not sure why they changed the title, but it looks like it was originally called "The Cycle" or it's just called "The Cycle" in some markets, "The Devil's Ground" in others. In any case, it's from Anchor Bay and it looks like it's got a bit of budget behind it. It's about a group of people that go to research an ancient burial ground, only to find that what's buried there ain't so ancient. An ancient curse is awoken, Darryl Hannah gets involved, horror ensues...

If you're looking for something about conspiracy theories and secret societies, I wouldn't pick up "Skull & Bones". "Skull & Bones" is actually an indie-horror about a couple of angry gay dudes who wreak havoc on an Ivy League school. It's written and directed by T.S. Slaughter and it's being described as a "tale of HOMO-cidal mania" - you can expect rape, murder and a 'shocking ending that will disturb even the sickest horror fans'. Check out the trailer, not one for the squimish... or, not one for the squimish straight males, anyhow.

Fans of Takashi Miike and Tokyo Gore get a flick to check out this week, as Miike's "Detective Story" gets its North American release. "Detective Story" is about a couple of guys named Raita who are looking for a murderer, but end up partnering up with a painter who, supposedly, uses real blood and guts to create his pieces. It goes something like that, anyhow... it's tough to descibe a Takashi Miike film sometimes and, as I haven't seen this one, I have no idea what's in store. However, if you know Takashi Miike, you know Takashi Miike and you know what you're getting.

"Caleb's Door" is a indie horror from Arthur Vincie and it's about an ex-marine who's drifting through life, moving from one pointless job to another. He moves back to his childhood home to escape the nightmares he's been having, but instead of things getting better, they get worse... and they start coming true. It looks like a fairly well put together micro-cinema film. Definitely worth checking out.

That's it for now, look for a new post on Wednesday!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interview With Tom O'Malley, Festival Director Of ACEFEST

We usually discuss what's going on in the film fest world on Fridays, but Dead Harvey will be taking a break tomorrow... So, no post. However, to make up for it, I've got a great post for you today... and it is about the film fest world. We had the chance to talk with Tom O'Malley, the Festival Director of ACEFEST.

Just to reiterate what I continually blather on about day after day, week after week - the festivals are a very important scene for indie filmmakers. Here's my quick take... you must know that there's a difference between independent film and indie film and I'm not sure that a lot of people know that. Independent film has money behind it. Independent film is, essentially, pet projects of Hollywood guys that are produced and financed outside of the studio system. Indie film, which encompasses micro-cinema and true independent film are films that are not only produced and financed completely outside of Hollywood and the studio system, but they're by people who really aren't part of the system at all. They're truly independent. Obviously there's a bit of overlap here and there, but there's a growing distinction between the two and I think a lot of people mix them up or just lump them all together. Independent film, as far as Hollywood pet projects are concerned, is a dying genre. Without getting into too much detail, I don't think the economics are there for it to work. However, I believe those same economics actually help make the TRUE independent scene flourish. Long and short, TRUE indie film and its fanbase are growing and there's only one place for that growing fanbase to turn if they want to see these films on the big screen, or with a group, and that's the festivals. So, by my math, the market should be able to bear all these festivals... in fact, there's probably room for more in a lot of cities. That being said, both audiences and filmmakers alike need to support them AND the more we do, the better they'll do and the more press they'll receive. The more press they receive, the more press the films receive. The more press the films receive, the better the films do. The better the films do, the more money filmmakers will make. The more money filmmakers make, the more indie films will end up getting made, which almost takes us full circle. Anyhow, long and short, support your film festivals - they're integral to the success of indie film. Attend them, submit to them and talk about them.

Now, regardless of whether you're a fan or filmmaker, you'll want to read this interview about ACEFEST, which stands for American Cinematic Experience FEST. So, no foreign films, please... and that's cool. Each film fest has to have its niche, this is theirs. Formerly referred to as ACE Film Festival, ACEFEST is now in its third year and it's one of the festivals that the New York's indie film scene looks forward to every year. Here now, is our talk with the Festival Director, Tom O'Malley...

Tell us about yourself, how’d you get into the indie filmmaking scene?

The entire ACEFEST staff, including myself, has filmmaking running through their veins. All graduates of various film programs, we've experienced various aspects of the process and simply can't get enough. I, myself, made a short film a few years back that was an amazing endeavor but sucked the life out of me.

Tell us about ACEFEST. When and why did it get started?

ACEFEST was born during my "resting period" of said project. I wanted to take a short break from filmmaking, move to NYC and start a new life - without leaving the film industry completely.

Tell us about a few of the success stories out of ACEFEST.

Something interesting that happens as a festival programmer - the films become your own, almost like your children in a way. With that said, I can't possibly choose just a few success stories. Many of them can be read here.

So, indie horror people will love the fact that Lloyd Kaufman is a judge this year… does that mean we can expect horror to do well?

Although we've always played a horror / thriller here and there in past programs, the looming aura of Lloyd Kaufman is all over this year's event. It's hard to say at this point, but I have a feeling indie horror will have a new home at ACEFEST 2009.

From the perspective of the filmmaker, what can I expect to get out of attending and/or having my film screen at ACEFEST?

ACEFEST has always been filmmaker-oriented. From the minute we announce our program, each selection is promoted relentlessly throughout the industry on a local and national level. Our festival has the intimate capacity to deliver individualized attention to its films, and filmmakers seem to love that about us. Another rare benefit of exhibiting at ACEFEST is sharing one single screen in one single theater. All works are played with equal weight and presence in the program. We've had great success with this model in terms of catching industry, media and press attention for our line-ups.

As an indie film fan, what can I expect to get out of attending the festival?

For the experienced festival-goer, ACEFEST is an established annual event in the heart of New York City with a highly-impressive roster of titles to choose from. For newcomers, ACEFEST is an excellent starting point to the fest circuit. Our simplified programming structure, low ticket prices and overall ease of use makes our event attractive to all.

When you’re accepting films, what are you looking for?

Which films come in the coolest package. (That's a joke). Our Selection Committee and Judging Panel rate each entry on a number of different points. Works that grab the viewer's attention in the first 4-7 minutes always have a slightly better chance than slow-starting films. Genre and duration are factors that don't really come into play until it's time to program the final line-up.

Does budget come into play when you’re considering films?

Not directly, no. It's not uncommon for a high-budget film to have better production value but we are just as likely to pick a $15 video art piece that has substance.

So, in general, why should indie filmmakers try to get their films into festivals?

Festival, for filmmakers, are the equivalent of bands playing shows. You need to get your film out there to a real-live audience. Video sharing websites are great and all, but serious industry producers, distributors and press are going to pay more attention to a theatrical exhibition.

As a filmmaker, what can I do to make my film more festival friendly? Should I even be thinking of that?

Your efforts and concerns are better spent making your film the best it can be. Don't make works just to impress festivals. If it's good, it'll impress festivals - along with everyone else.

At what point in the filmmaking process should I be thinking about the festivals?

Budget for it in the beginning. Figure an average of $35 per festival submission. Then, don't worry about it until your film is complete or at least near complete.

What advice can you give to an up and coming indie filmmaker?

Make films about what you know. Bring part of your life into your work. If you don't, your audience will see right through it. Take this advice from script to screen in every aspect of the process.

As we are a site dedicated to indie horror, maybe we can talk a bit about that scene. Where do you think the indie horror scene is at now and where do you see it going?

Indie horror is as vibrant as ever - if not more! Fans get really into it and really passionate about it. The filmmakers have a connection with their audience, a mutual understanding, like no other genre. My personal opinion is that indie horror will be the last remaining survivor after the apocalypse in 2012.

What’s next for you and ACEFEST?

Once thought of as a temporary gig, ACEFEST has become one of the most anticipated events on the industry calendar. We're not going anywhere, anytime soon.

Where can people find out more about the festival and how can they go about entering their film?

There are 3 easy ways to submit your film including Withoutabox, online form and PDF mail-in. More information can be found here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Internets Stuff

Well, it's the day of the week where I link to some interesting articles and tidbits that I found out there on the web. Stuff that I think you, as an indie filmmaker, may find useful or interesting. Information you can use. Food for thought. Stuff that makes you go.... hmmmmm. Right, well. Where was I?

I tend to talk a lot about how we indie filmmakers need to think of our films and projects as 'content', as opposed to 'films'. Usually, I just talk about theory, statistics and things like that, rarely do I offer up anything that's terribly useful. I'd like to shift your attention to a company called Now, once again, I'm not sure how useful they'll be to you, specifically, but it's interesting to know that they exist. Their tagline, if you can call it a tagline, is "Video Everywhere. Ad Revenue Anywhere. FreeWheel is here." Here's what you need to know... There's two ways for your content to make money. One, the viewer pays for it. Two, it's ad supported. I, personally, believe that most things are going to head towards the ad supported model and that's where a company like comes in. Your specialty may be production, but you're going to have to get into things like analytics and metrics - who's watching, where are they watching, what are they watching it on, when are they watching it and all that. At absolute worst, you'll need to know what all this means. You see, you're selling space to marketers and advertisers and they work on things like CPM (costs per thousand), impressions and frequency. CPM is how much it costs them to reach 1,000 people, impressions are how many times their ad was seen and frequency is how many times their ad is played... You're going to need to know stuff like that and, if you do and the numbers are good, you have something to sell. will help control, manage, optimize, forecast, adapt, simplify and standardize your content. If you're getting viewers, they'll help you get the metrics and information to help sell it, then monetize it. It's a whole other side of the business, but it's one you should know, as it's one that can make you money.

Now, I just read "'Saw' helmer to revisit Troma hit" on, which you can find here, and it got me thinking... So, Darren Lynn Bousman, one of the brains behind "Saw", not to mention the recent "Repo! The Genetic Opera", is interested in remaking... or should I say, reinvisioning... Charles Kaufman's "Mother's Day". Before I talk about what I was thinking, a bit about the original - it came out in 1980 and it's directed by Charles Kaufman, the brother of Lloyd (not the screenwriter), and it was distributed by Troma. It's basically a hillbilly horror, where a couple of good ole' boys rape and kill to impress their mentally deranged mother. The only reason the film got any recognition was because it depicted scenes of violence and rape, so it was labelled as an extreme exploitation film. Otherwise, it wasn't particularly successful. It was released on DVD in 2000 and has gained a bit of a cult following since then. Now, to be honest, I'm a little baffled by this one... when you remake "Friday the 13th" or "Nightmare on Elm Street", you get the title, that built in audience and the characters. With "Mother's Day", not only are you not getting any of that, it's not like the plot is terribly unique. I mean, why not just create your own hillbilly horror, based around the idea of a couple of mutant boys trying to impress their deranged mother? Having said that, I don't know how these deals are structured. Maybe Lloyd said, "Go ahead, use the name and borrow from the script as much as you want. Just mention that it's a Troma film and that it's a remake." If so, this could be a smart idea for Llyod and Troma, he's basically giving away a fairly dead title in exchange for a bit of press and advertising. Who knows? If that's the case, good on Lloyd. Actually, either way, good on Lloyd. Hopefully Bousman made a good deal...

Lastly, as you probably know, I'm a big fan of reading about and listening to what the big players have to say... I think it's good to be the small, indie guy, as you can change directions quicker and take bigger risks, but you should always hear what the whales have to say, as they're the ones pushing the money around. If money's what you're after, you better know where it's heading. This is an interview with Barry Diller, who's the Chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp and the guy responsible for the creation of Fox Broadcasting and USA Broadcasting. You can find the interview here and it's not that long... what's really interesting is his thoughts on net neutrality, the future of TV and video on the web. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interview With Marc Lougee, director of "The Pit And The Pendulum" Short Film

What always amazes me is how similar we all are, as far as what got us into this whole film mess. The more people I talk to and the more of these interviews we do, the more I see common threads. Generally speaking, growing up, there was probably a particular film that caught our eye. Maybe it was a horror, maybe it was a sci-fi, maybe something else... but something you saw made you think, "How'd they do that?". Then, you bought magazines, you played around with camera's, you got your hands on anything related to that film and your obsession took off. For some, maybe it was the story that blew their mind, maybe it was how it was all put together, maybe it was the effects, but that starting point was the same - "How'd they do that?". Anyone who knows me, knows which film it was for me - it was "Star Wars". I spent hours upon hours in the basement, with my Dad's porta-pack camcorder, creating short stop-motion films, using action figures and hand-made backdrops. And knowing where it all started for me, I was very excited to check out Marc Lougee's stop-motion short, based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit And The Pendulum".

For horror fans of my generation... and around my generation (I was born in the mid-70's), I think there will always be a soft spot for stop-motion animation. Growing up, it was all there was. I mean, "Star Wars", "Terminator", "Clash of the Titans"... all used stop-motion. However, where it was one of the only ways to create certain effects in the past, now it's a style. "Robot Chicken", the recent 3D film "Coraline", the first few "South Park" cartoons and anything done by Tim Burton all use the technique. There are a few notable artists these days, including Henry Selick ("Coraline", "The Nightmare Before Christmas", "James and the Giant Peach"), Tim Burton himself and Adam Jones (of the band Tool, who does all their videos in stop motion). However, the pioneer of the craft was a guy named Willis O'Brien, who began making short stop-motion films in 1914... he inspired many people, including the afore mentioned artists, as well as Ray Harryhausen, who was actually O'Brien's student. Harryhausen contributed to the art by evolving the technique known as model animation, which took an elaborate puppet through the stop-motion process with the point of striving for a more photo-realistic animation, which could be combined with live-action elements. This is the technique used in Lougee's "The Pit and the Pendulum" and, not only that, this film is released under the "Ray Harryhausen Presents" banner, who was actually involved in bringing this project to light. So, with this film, you've got direct lineage to the pioneers and people who created this whole scene. How about that?

As for the film itself... what can I say? It's incredible. The animation is amazing, the music and narration fit perfectly, it's creepy and it's extremely engaging. This is one of those films that I would highly recommend, if only because of the time, effort and work put into it... knowing that the filmmakers were doing it all for the love of it and not the money. So, do yourself a favor and check out the site, which is mentioned in the interview later. Plus, if you're up for it, buy the DVD and support it. It's a great interview and I hope you like it...

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

I got into film and filmmaking as a kid, having spent most Saturdays in front of the 'tube, soaking up every Creature Double Feature I could see. In there someplace I got a load of Ray Harryhausen films which proved the ultimate catalyst to push me into the fray. Seeing stop-motion animated creatures and effects, intertwined with live action footage just thrilled me to stupidity. I was hooked for life. Of course, at the time I was just a kid and had no idea whatsoever how any of this stuff was accomplished, but that was part of the intrigue. Living in rural New Hampshire, I had very little access to information regarding film and effects (I'm talking pre-internet/ caveman days), so I was always on the prowl for fanzines, and of course, Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters magazine. I one time stumbled on a book at the library with an address for Dick Smith, sent a letter and was forever changed when he wrote back. That proved to be paradigm shifting for me. My mind blown, I embarked on a letter writing spree to various luminaries, including Jim Henson, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Ray Harryhausen, et al. Most of these folks actually corresponded with yours truly, kindly answering my queries. Seeing these guys were indeed human (albeit icons in the industry), I got the hare-brained idea to pursue finding a place in the industry for my silly self.

You’ve spent the bulk of your career in animation and in make-up and effects, how’d you get into it?

I read everything I could find on films, filmmaking and special effects when I was in high school in an attempt to educate myself on how this stuff worked. I read everything from Lenny Lipton's classic books on filmmaking to Famous Monsters to Don Dohler's classic fan magazine on special effects and animation. Of course, this also included sneaking into the drive-in many times to see films! I saw Star Wars about 20 times when I was 14; the Chess game Phil Tippet animated for the opening scenes blew me away. I was inspired to get out of New Hampshire and head to the city to get involved one way or another, much to the chagrin of my guidance counselor, who couldn't wrap his head around my desire to get into film and television. Working on a construction crew at the local nuke plant or slapping soles on sneakers at a shoe factory seemed more reasonable to him. Fortunately for me, I was naive enough that these options didn't land on my radar.

There was little by way of film schooling a the time outside of a college environment, so I was on my own. In the end, I left home at 15 to get closer to Boston to find more resources and meet other folks in the business. I did a stint in the US Army to pay for film school and miraculously, got into the Massachusetts College of Art film department. With access to film gear, I made a ton of shorts, all animated (which I found to be easier than trying to recruit friends to help out- I did everything). I managed to talk my way into an internship at a local post production facility as a green screen studio technician, so I learned alot from the tech guys about green screen compositing, ADO and of course, the secrets of painting studios green, fast. Later, I got a shot at interning with a small stop-motion studio in Boston (now defunct), where I got my first directing gig on ABC's Saturday Morning ID's, including the classic 'Cowboy and Horse' spots. Bloated with minor-league success, I split for New York, snagging a key spot on the Budweiser BudBowl half-time spots in 1989. I wound up working with Broadcast Arts for years before heading for Los Angeles to work on series stuff, starting with Land of the Lost in the early '90's. Been busy since!

One of your first credited jobs is as a prosthetics technician on “Basket Case 3: The Progeny”. I’m a bit of a Frank Henenlotter fan, myself. Loved the “Basket Case” trilogy and I wanted to include it in a question… so, talk about being in the make-up and effects department on bigger productions.

Who isn't a Frank Hennenlotter fan? I was lucky enough to have done some special effects work (including miniatures, models, and make-up prosthetics) in New York and New Jersey, which got me an introduction to Gabe Bartalos, who led the crew for the work on Basket Case. Gabe was awesome, and after caving (I begged for a couple of weeks), he took me on as a prosthetic tech. I whipped off to Atlanta to get going with the crew of folks from LA. That was a blast, and a real eye opener; serious stuff, every day. Throw on your headphones and don't stop until the day is done. We didn't even talk much as we threw molds together, poured foam latex, sculpted, etc. That was an excursion for me, as I was leading large crews already on commercial gigs, and the days were pretty much a laugh-fest as we kicked out the work. Totally different vibe. In the end, I opted to do less feature film work, as I enjoyed the East Coast vibe a bit more, as it fit with my personality. I like to have fun on the job, while kicking my ass to get things done. Takes the edge off when things get hardcore serious. But that's me.

Being on Gabe's crew was a blast. We had a great time all around, and I learned a tremendous amount from the guys on board. A couple of these folks were fresh of Jurassic Park, and were letting me work on some (then) cutting-edge animatronic techniques that I still find pretty mind-blowing.

Film School: Yes or No?

I don't feel film school is an imperative. There are many, many options available now, from weekend courses to one year to 4 year programs, but it really is up to you as to what you want from the experience. No matter how you slice it, it's nuts in the business, so the more you know, the better off you'll be. You still have to work your ass off to get in the game. Film school can be useful if it will help you learn a useful skill (one that will help keep you fed while pursuing lofty goals in the industry), and may get one access to some very cool gear, professional instructors and experienced film folks who may be keen to act as a mentor. Just showing up at NYU of USC ain't gonna make you a director, producer, etc. It's up to you as a film person to build a portfolio of your work, skills, and experience. That will get you in the door over having a degree.

Film school is a big yes if there are several variables in place. I bailed in my third year but, it's never stopped me, either. I've not yet been turned away for lack of a film degree. I feel it's totally dependent on your ability to work hard and one's threshold for pain. I have heard school is great for meeting other folks, developing your network for career pursuits, etc, but I tend to lean toward just getting out there, learning on the job, interning and meeting folks who are already working. Be useful, pleasant, and have fun. Do a good job, whatever job you can land in the business, and keep your focus on what it is you want to do. It'll open doors, in time. Save the tuition money to make your short films to show producers you want to work with. IMHO, of course.

Where did you get the idea to do “The Pit and the Pendulum” and did you always want to do it as a stop-motion animation?

Ray and I had spoken of working on a short film with his involvement several times since 2000, but schedules and whatnot stymied any efforts to see anything gel. Eventually, Ray's agent got in touch with me to propose our producing a short based on one of Edgar Allan Poe's classic short stories (Ray is a huge Poe fan). Ray was interested in developing some projects under his 'Ray Harryhausen Presents' umbrella as executive producer. I thought the idea to do something of Poe's in stop motion animation would be very cool, so we talked it over at length, finally resting on The Pit and the Pendulum. Of course I was blown away at the mere idea of working with Ray on anything, so I jumped onboard and the rest is now on DVD.

To be honest, I have no idea on how much it would cost to do a stop-motion animated film. What was the budget and how did you go about securing financing?

We did'nt have any funding coming from 'Ray Harryhausen Presents', so we had to go about finding our own funding to pull this thing together. In the end, we got generous funding from Bravo!FACT grants and post-production grants from the National Film Board of Canada. Once we exhausted the grant route, we finished of the cash flow with personal savings. Anything we couldn't scratch up money to pay for was generously deferred by friends and folks interested in seeing this thing thru. With Ray's involvement, we managed to get really talented folks to get on board. I would pitch the idea, the direction I wanted to go with the film, and we got a brilliant crew assembled. The actual budget would have been over 70K if we had to pay for everything. I was keen to see some of our investment coming back, so I worked out a marketing plan during pre-production to include a DVD release as well as online marketing and promotional efforts to help with our plan to self -distribute the film on disc.

Switch VFX handled the VFX for us, while they were pounding out shots for SAW IV. Our drop-dead delivery date was flexible, so inbetween shots on SAW, the crew at Switch would hammer some stuff down for us keeping our costs down as our project filled in gaps in their schedule. Urban Post Production in Toronto handled our foley work and 5.1 surround mix, which was awesome. Thankfully, they had alot of interest in supporting us as filmmakers, too, and were supremely helpful in helping us achieve the most production value for the money we did have.

Another aspect of producing an animated short film is the viability of creating a really wonderful, high quality short for less money than a live action film of equal production value. Animation can be done with a minimal crew, as opposed to gathering a ton of gear, locations, vehicles, insurance, et al. Certainly one option when the budget proves to be the deal breaker, preventing the film from being made at all.

Talk about the process of making a stop-motion animated film.

Traditionally, stop motion animation is progressive in single frame increments, so you have a lot of inherent control over every aspect of the production.

I like to follow the route of script to storyboards to shoot and then post-production. Pretty standard in the broad sense, but the devil is in the details. With this much control comes a huge amount of finagling the little things on every phase of the film. We don't usually have the budgets where 'we'll fix it in post' is feasible, so we need to approach every shot, camera move and character action with clarity of vision for the end result. There's usually not lots of extra material to edit, the process being labour-intensive & hence potentially very costly, so we need to mind the edits from the front end. To achieve this, I scan the storyboards, do a rough audio track from the script and cut together a 'Leica reel' or 'animatic'. Essentially, it's the film edit using storyboards and artwork in place of animated scenes with a voice read for timing. The animatic 'proves' what works/ isn't working before I commit anything to camera. This takes a lot of the guess work out of the production, and saves many a headache.

As a director, I like to mixed up traditional methods with new, computer-generated imagery and effects to augment our story and visuals. We approached our short in the same spirit that Ray would with his stuff; use whatever you can to make a cool, visually interesting story. Essentially, we shot using concepts Ray had developed, only now evolved as to be done with new technology.We used lots of green screen backgrounds, 3D VFX, crazy theatrical sound design, silicone skins for the puppets, and camera placement/ lenses to mimic a live action approach to shooting. We also shot with micro computers and DSLR's for high resolution images at low cost and with minimal equipment.

I thought that the narration made the film, definitely a highlight. Talk about casting an animated film.

Casting is a huge part of the foundational aspects for an animated film. Fortunately for us, having access to brilliant talent was a real boon. Pete Cugno, the narrator of The Pit and the Pendulum, was a friend we had worked with on the CBC show 'What It's Like Being Alone". I had the opportunity to direct a bunch of episodes with Pete. I felt he would bring a real sensitivity to the role of the Prisoner, both in the story and as the voice over artist. Thankfully, Pete felt the same way and showered the project with his particular brand of brilliance.

Talk about distributing “The Pit and the Pendulum”.

We've decided to self-distribute after looking over the options available to us and felt we would always be left wanting more, or anything at all. We had to be mindful of some legal parameters as well. The distro deals offered to us included hacking the film up into bits and lending authority to disassemble the work in any way that might prove beneficial to the distributor. The distro company would be able to do what they would with the attached names, images, and film itself. This of course had potentially problematic outcomes, with minimal fiscal return (if any) for us as producers of the film, so we opted to handle the DVD release on our own. So far, I couldn't be happier with our decision, as we have complete control over how the DVD is promoted and screened. Our handling the distribution also allows us ready access to the fans. We've gotten some great feedback.

Is there any money in making animated short films?

I haven't found that end of the short film rainbow where a pot of gold surely awaits, just yet.

By way of The Pit and the Pendulum, we've done alright in as much as the debt we generated producing the film is slowly dropping away, thanks to decent monthly sales (thanks, Mom).

Making money with short films is a huge discussion, falling on the left and right, so I'll say only that we've made enough to help pay some of the debt we accrued in the production of the film, but as far as an hourly rate of return for time spent to dollars it's in the sub-negative numbers. I feel short films are a labour of love, best produced for serving a higher purpose than creating cash flow. I personally don't know any short producers making mortgage payments with shorts, exclusively. There are exceptions, of course, and my hat goes off to those folks- but for the most part, I wouldn't head to Vegas on projected earnings from a short film...

I’m assuming that entering festivals is a big part of the process for you. Talk about the festival circuit and do you have any insight to how the festival circuit works, that you could pass on to other filmmakers?

Animated short films are wonderful fodder for festivals. A cool short can be leveraged to create your identity as a filmmaker, help promote your work and can be easily shared around the globe (and beyond) with online technologies. (With some great trailers and the right approach, your short might even go 'viral'). We produce shorts to help with our promotional efforts for other projects we have on the go, as well as raising awareness for the type of stuff I do as a director and creative producer. Shorts allow me to exercise my creative muscles by making films I can afford within shorter timeframes, as well.

Looking to screen your stuff in a festival? Do your due diligence and research film festivals. Find the festivals that fit with your film; style, medium, story, etc. Hook up online with the various festival entry outlets (like, or, hit the library for film festival books, search online for feedback for the various fests you're thinking of applying to. I tend to go for European film fests, as there is no application fee. Know your audience; find matching festivals. Not doing your homework will likely prove to be expensive and ultimately frustrating. Do yourself a tremendous favour and assemble a press kit, synopsis, etc. Follow the rules and regulations to the letter. Be careful to fill out the forms exactly as they require; anything not 'right' may get your app (and film) retired to the rejection pile. Film Festivals in the US get a lot of submissions (and gladly take your money for applications), but if you're stuff ain't up to snuff, you may have bought a rejection letter due to a poorly packaged application versus the attention your film warrants.

If I’m a filmmaker, interested in making a film like this, what kind of advice would you pass on?

Have a plan! Assemble the best crew you can, beg borrow and steal anything you need to FINISH THE FILM. Commitment is key; once you get started, be sure you have the desire to see the project thru to the end, and complete the thing. Millions of films get started, dozens get finished. Complete films get screened. Get it out into the world for an audience to see. Be sure you have enough cash to do the job, and stick to the proposed schedule!

Where can people find out more about “The Pit and the Pendulum” or, better yet, buy a copy?

You can get a heaping helping of info, trailer, crew bios, etc at the official site for the film!

Check it out here:

The DVD is available directly thru the site, too! Support our next short- buy a DVD. Better yet, order a comic, too. We even have t-shirts for sale! All proceeds from the sale of stuf goes toward our next project (and we'll be forever grateful for your support).

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

Geez, where do I start....?

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

Got a few things on the burners, including a feature script for a stop motion film, a new short screening on Bravo!FACT May 17 entitled "How to Get Rich In Television Without Really Trying", and some super-secret ARG gaming stuff and more comic book ties-in's thru Bluewater Comics for their Vincent Price Presents line. I'm also developing another Poe short, the second of our proposed trilogy, based on Edgar Allan Poe's 'Hop Frog'. We plan to produce this as a stop motion project as well. In June, we'll be screening in Toronto's LUMINATO Festival with several other Edgar All an Poe shorts as well as the Kalamazoo International Animation Festival in Michigan. The Pit and the Pendulum comic book is also still available in limited quantities and will be included in Bluewater Productions graphic hardcover collection of stories from their Vincent Price Presents comic series later in the year.