Thursday, May 7, 2009

Interview With Jacob Ennis, writer/director of "Stash"

They say that a good horror villain needs to have an 'other' quality to it. Now, the problem is, 'other' can be hard to define. By it, I mean it's something that's foreign to you. Something you don't know much about, something that you've heard stories about, something that's outside of your comfort zone - it's otherly... the easy example is ghosts, which have been a fixture in horror since its inception. However, it's no coincidence that Dracula is from Transylvania - a remote region of Romania, that the Creature From the Black Lagoon is, well... from the Black Lagoon. Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers all have 'other' qualities: Jason's basically a campfire story, Freddy is the creepy janitor that high school kids talk about and Michael Myers is the urban legend about that house that's down the street. When you break down horror characters, there's lots of things, creatures and people that have this 'other' quality and, of course, one mainstay in horror that definitely fits the bill is - the hillbilly.

Hillbillies have been around for a while, I mean "The Beverly Hillbillies" was the number one show on TV in the early 60's. However, I'm not sure where and when the poor hillbillies actually took their turn to the darkside. Without question, "Deliverance", which came out in 1972, played a major part. Since it, "Dueling Banjos" will never be the same and the lines, "Squeal like a pig" and "Where you goin', city boy?" will always get a laugh on camping trips. On top of that, two years after it came out, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" hit the theaters and that was it for those poor backwoods folks... they forever had 'other' quality and, since then, hillbillies and small town folk have become the stuff of nightmares. Every time we pass through some remote town on a road trip and see a couple of people sitting in chairs by a gas station, all we have to do is sing the opening few chords of "Dueling Banjos" and we all get the picture... Them. Others. Roll up the windows, I'll wait here.... you can pump the gas.

Every year, you'll see new twists on the hillbilly theme in horror and they'll just keep coming. As urban centers continue to grow, hillbillies will always scare city folk and it'll be a tough stereotype to shake - they're way too ingrained in every horror fans psyche. Personally, I'm a fan of hillbilly horror and that's why I was excited to review Jacob Ennis' "Stash", which revolves around a hillbilly, Bud, who not only supplies the surrounding counties with their weed, but he's a bit of a sadistic guy and has a bit of a 'rape and kill' problem. It's a micro-cinema horror that's extremely well written, well acted and really well put together... it shows like a film with 10 or even 100 times the budget. I was very impressed with it and Ennis deserves a lot of credit for doing so much, with so little. You should definitely check it out, if you get the chance... and, of course, you should definitely read the interview...

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

I have always been into horror films. When I was a kid I would go to the library and check out books on classic movie monsters and makeup effects. There was this really cool line of books that was published on the classic Universal monsters and I loved them. The other was a Dick Smith book on makeup effects. I would keep them checked out most of the time. What was really cool was my sister would later go to work at the library and they were getting ready to toss these books out , because they were getting old. She surprised me one Christmas with all of these books I loved so much as a kid! I remember watching horror films at a very young age. I was always drawn to them. The first VHS movie I bought was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I literally wore that tape out playing it so much. I was very much into The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Ray Bradbury Theatre. some of my fondest childhood memories stem from me getting to stay up late on the weekends with my dad and watch these awesome shows. Some other great memories was when I discovered the TOXIC AVENGER on USA's UP ALL NIGHT Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear...good times.

Not only was I Into horror films, but also Haunted Houses, plays and puppetry. When we would have our annual family Christmas party, I would be upstairs building Haunted Houses with my cousins in the upstairs of my childhood home. We would then sell tickets and let our family members go through it. This later branched into making films when my mom and dad bought the first VHS camcorder.

Film School: Yes or No?

No film school, but I did get a degree in Radio and Television Broadcasting. I got a job right out of college working for a local TV station in Master Control. It was a primitive operation at the time. The transmitter building, which resembled a Nuclear War bunker, was located in the middle of nowhere, right dab in the middle of a cow pasture. From there we would switch the on-air programming, which consisted of several 3/4 inch tape machines, a 1970's era switcher, and a crude satellite operation. It was cool, and I learned a lot from this job. You really had to be on your feet, unlike nowadays were everything is automated. I also started the process of writing STASH as a novel during my down time when we would air paid programming. I soon jumped into the production department where I worked for several years.

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

It was under $5,000. I shot a short film in early 2003 called HAPPY ANNIVERSARY. I had cast a local actor Billy W. Blackwell for the lead part. Billy had worked on some other indie stuff around the area, and his wife Denise Blackwell also was getting active in the local film scene. They also had an interest in producing something. They really liked how fast and efficiently I shot the short, and they asked me If I had any scripts. I had just finished up writing STASH and they gave it a read and really liked it. From there they agreed to produce the film and put up the money.

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

We shot the movie on the Panasonic DVX-100A. We went into production on February of 2004. All in all it took us about three and a half years to shoot. The reason it took so long was the majority of the actors had "real" jobs and other real life obligations to take care of, including myself. There was also some sickness and other issues that we ran into during shooting. I edited the film along as we went. I would probably still be editing if I had not done that.

Tell us a bit about “Stash”. What’s it about and where did the idea come from?

STASH started with the title. I thought it was pretty cool, then I started writing it as a novel concept. I had most of it written as a novel form, but just set it aside for a couple of years and really didn't do anything with it. After having it on the back of my mind for awhile I decided it was too good of an idea not to try and do something with it. I took what I had from the novel, and over about a two week process I had my first draft for the script.

Honestly, what really impressed me about the film was how well it was written. From the story structure, to the characters, to the subplots… it all fit together perfect. Take us through your screenwriting process…

Well, like I said before, it really just started with the title. From there I knew I wanted to do something that had a Marijuana element. I knew I had a great arsenal of locations at my disposal, coming from the beautiful state of Kentucky. I actually don't write too often. I have here lately, but from the past it would only come in spurts. It was kind of like a dam though, when it opened the floodgates were wide open. The whole storyline unfolded within a couple of weeks. Most of the characters were based on people that I knew. I never had an outline or a clear path of where I was going when I started. It kind of just flowed out as I went, like most writing projects. The editing was the same way. The opening scenes with the naked chick(Naomi St. Claire) in the woods was an afterthought. I didn't realize until I was finishing up editing that there was really too much driving. I tried to break it up with a bit of nudity. I always heard that you needed to catch the Distributors attention within the first two minutes of your film. It worked. I also added the epilogue diary entry scene at the last minute as well. It just didn't work without it. I thought that it gave it a better closure before the final stab at the end.

The next thing that really stood out for me was the music. First off, there was some original music involved… but, also, there was a great score. Who did the music and talk about how it was all put together. Did the original music come after the fact or was it done before you started shooting?

The music was definitely in the forefront of my thinking. What I really hate about most indie films I see is the generic Garage Band music. 90% of the music you will hear in STASH was recorded for the film. Mark Schoenrock composed most of the what you will hear in the film. I met Mark when I went to work at the Fox station. He is a very talented engineer and composer. He recorded all of his tracks in the wood shed behind his house. He played most of the instruments on the incidental music, along with my Brother in law Floyd Lovins on Banjo and some other local musicians he brought in like Dirk Schilngmann on Fiddle and Elijah Wilson filling in on Guitar. I have always been impressed with Mark's work, and the theme song for STASH just floored me. "If you ain't got the cash....don't mess with Bud's stash." Another force in the soundtrack was someone I learned of while watching a Tim Ritter film TWISTED ILLUSIONS 2. His name is Toshiyuki Hiraoki and he is a composer from Japan. I talked to him via email about the project, and he very quickly started sending me tracks. No scenes were visually composed to a scene. They just kind of fell into place during editing.

Some of your actors, namely Bud, had no previous acting experience, but a lot of your other actors had quite a bit of experience… especially on other low-budget films. How did you manage the cast? …and talk a bit about your directing style.

We had a couple of casting calls for the project. I had previously seen Nathan Day(CJ) and Stacey T. Gillespie (Stan) from other local film projects. I knew that I wanted to work with them, and they fit the part. After they read for the parts, and especially after I watched them act together, I knew they were perfect for the roles. I met Karen Boles (Sarah Conrad) at a local film convention in Lexington. She handed me a head shot so I already knew of her before the casting call. She came in and just hit it out of the ball park. The way she goes into character on the drop of the hat, and her professionalism sold me immediately. The same goes for everyone else. We had a wide range of local actors and we had no problem getting the cast we needed. The last character we casted was for the role of Bud. I was talking to one of our PAs Claude Miles about how we had not found the actor to play Bud. I went on to describe the character to him, as a big 300 plus bearded long haired guy. He told me that sounded just like his old roommate Kevin Taylor from his college days. The next day Claude emailed me his picture, and I knew we had found our Bud. One of the last roles we cast was the role of Jenny Brook's mother. I had met Debbie Rochon on the shoot of Jerry William's and Eric Butt's film ZEPPO, and got to chat with her a bit. I later sent her the script and she was very excited about being a part of it. We had her on set for two days. It was a wonderful experience, and a honor to work with her.

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 biggest obstacle is your own motivation. Can I really finish this? I would say while I had an awesome group of people working with me, in hindsight I took on too much. I was the writer, Director, Editor, DP and editor. If only I could have got a couple more people to help out on lighting or an extra PA, maybe I could have focused more on Directing the scene. I think that maybe some of my performances could have been better If I was not concentrating on framing the shot or moving the light or whatever.

Another hurdle I overcame, and I guess continue to overcome is the naysayers. There will be way more people that try to bring you down, than bring you up. Get out there and do it. There is really no better way to learn than to do it yourself. Some people will say that you must go to film school. While you might learn the basics, the true learning will come in the field. Keep writing and keep shooting. You will walk away from every project a little bit better. There are tons of people that will say someday I will make that perfect movie. If only I had this or that. My camera is not good enough, or I don't have enough money, or If I only I could finish that script. You can talk and dream about it, but can you actually do it? Yes you can. Jump on a film crew as a PA. Do whatever you can. Take these skills that you will learn and use them towards your own projects.

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

We entered STASH into a couple of festivals, but we obtained our Distribution early on. We played at the Fright Night Film Festival and Scare Fest. I would say that Film Festivals are great. Yes the awards are awesome, but the true prize is the connections you will make. Film Festivals are a great promotional tool and can greatly help the marketing of your film and to secure a distribution deal. I think one of the better ones is Troma Dance. There an indie filmmaker can enter his or her film for no cost. It's all about the films.

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

Distribution is a touchy subject. Only securing a deal for one film, I would for sure not be the expert on the subject. I was lucky enough to have the guidance from my good friend and fellow filmmaker Tim Ritter. I met Tim when I interviewed him on my late night TV show Moonlight Cafe'. We stayed in touch and became good friends. Being one of the pioneers in Horror in the early straight to video days, Tim has seen all aspects of the business. His guidance was invaluable during this process. He was also able to get a screener directly into the hands of POP cinema President Mike Rasso. I was really shocked at how fast Mike responded about the film. Luckily he liked it and we signed with them. You will need to have someone with experience to help you over this process. Either that be a fellow filmmaker who has experienced the legalities of a distribution deal or an attorney. There will be tons of paperwork and legal jargon to go over during this process. This is all very important. Make sure you know what you're signing! Having all of your paper work is crucial. If you shoot the movie and one of your actors flakes out and you don't have their release're fucked. Get your shit together from day one on all releases. It doesn't matter how great your movie is, if you don't have the proper paper work your film will not get released. Do plenty of research on your distributor, and don't expect to be able to buy that Ferrari quite yet.

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

You can go over to and check out all of the latest news and updates. There is also a cool interview and podcast at You can buy the DVD from the distributor's website at or The film is also available for rent at all Hollywood Video, Movie Gallery, Hasting's stores, Netflix and

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 think that anytime indie films are being made is a good time. I respect anyone that can get out there and see a project to its completion. With the technology available today anyone can make a film. This is a good and a bad thing. The bad is it over saturates the market and makes it harder to secure a distribution deal. That just means you have to make your film stand out. I really don't like all the remake craze, but at least it is getting horror films back into the theater. I think the future for indie films is very bright. I believe the major studios will continue to feel the impact of indie cinema. We can now make micro budget films that sit next to multimillion dollar studio pictures on retail shelves, and play at the theater. The future has endless possibilities and will continue to get better.

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

Right now I'm finishing up post production on a supernatural documentary called HAUNTED KY: SPIRITS OF THE BLUEGRASS. We have been all over the state documenting paranormal evidence, and learning the ins and outs of the Ghost Hunting field. There will be some mind blowing evidence revealed in this film. Getting ready to go into pre-production on a film called RED RIVER. This one is about a killer that lives deep inside the Red River Gorge named Roland Thatcher. He captures and kills unsuspecting campers and hikers and cuts them up to fertilize his weed crop. There is a much more twisted story in there, but you will have to wait to find that out.

1 comment:

sgzimmer said...

Jacob is a fantastic guy, and definitely one of the individuals that you hope succeeds. Great interview!