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:

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