Friday, September 18, 2009

Interview with Emil Hyde, writer/director of "The Landlord"

How many untold stories are out there? It's an interesting question, if you think about it. How many people have an idea rolling around in their head? A story that they want to write, make or just get out there, but they never do... Worse yet, how many writers, filmmakers, artists and storytellers are out there that aren't even doing anything related to writing, film or art? I can't remember the direct quote, but someone, somewhere said something to the effect of, "when you're a kid you learn about your dreams and aspirations... and the trick is, as you get older, to always remember them and aspire to them." So, how many filmmakers, writers and artists never became filmmakers, writers or artists? How many stories are stuck in peoples heads and never been seen, read or heard? Who knows? I do know it's a lot.

For some reason, watching Emil Hyde's "The Landlord" made me think of all that. Why? Well... because it's an idea that no Hollywood studio would ever touch or that any sane executive would commit a budget to, but it got made. It's out there. Not only that, it's f'ing awesome. For me, it's like a horror fan had a bad acid trip, wrote everything down that happened, then turned it into a film. There's demon roommates, crazy effects, vampire gangs and f'ed up costumes and it's all wrapped up in a crazy, well crafted story that entertains from beginning to end. An idea like this could get trapped in someones head... forever. For no one to ever see. However, it did get made, and I, for one, am really glad that it did... 'cause it ruled. Now, we have the chance to discuss the project with Emil Hyde.

Tell us a bit about “The Landlord”

THE LANDLORD is a feature-length horror comedy about a young slacker who owns demon-infested apartment building, and must continually find new tenants to replace the those the demons devour. Hijinks ensue when an attractive young woman moves in, and our hero has to decide whether it's worth defying the demons for a shot at getting laid. While the emphasis is definitely on humor, it's got a respectable amount of blood and guts: on the gore-to-laughs scale, I'd say it falls somewhere between GHOSTBUSTERS and THE EVIL DEAD.

The idea was very unique and a great mix of comedy and horror. In fact, you intertwined a great story around a lot of different horror elements (demons, vampires, haunted house, etc) Talk about the writing process and how you flushed this idea out.

The original idea was for a Web series about a stoner with a wacky demon roommate and how, every time the stoner finds a third roommate to help pay rent, the demon winds up eating them - sort of a horror-ified SEINFELD or THE ODD COUPLE. However, I find it funniest when you take an absurd premise like that and try to reconcile it with reality. Wouldn't the cops get suspicious? How would they hide the corpses? And what the Hell is a demon doing living in an apartment building? In answering those questions, the story grew darker and weirder and funnier, until it became THE LANDLORD.

Regarding the other horror elements - particularly the vampire street gang that lives in the neighborhood - the thought there was that the characters of THE LANDLORD live in the universe where all horror movies happen (if you pay attention, you'll notice that the apartment building is on the same street as another famous horror-movie house). Hence, the hero's demon problem is not the only thing going on in this world, which for me is more true to life. Other people have their own problems, and they're not necessarily going to drop everything and help you out just because there's some 5,000-year-old Babylonian demon gods eating your tenants.

If you don’t mind us asking, what was the budget and how did you go about securing financing?

We ended up spending $22,000 - roughly the price of a compact car - paid for with credit cards. While it's very much a no-budget production, I think - and most of the advance reviews agree - that if you can forgive a few cheesy-looking severed limbs and occasionally murky sound and video quality, THE LANDLORD has a really unique story, memorable characters, and a few absolutely hilarious scenes. If you've ever enjoyed watching a Troma movie or something like BAD TASTE, then you should check this out.

You got some great performances from your actors, talk about casting the film, as well as directing a relatively amateur cast.

Fortunately for us, Chicago has a huge theater community and a big improv comedy scene, so we were able to cast most of the leads for THE LANDLORD just by asking our actor and comedian friends if they knew someone who fit the part. Rabisu, the main demon, is played by my good friend Rom Barkhordar, who among other things voiced Subzero in the MORTAL KOMBAT games and recently appeared on the TV show THE BEAST with the late, great Patrick Swayze. Meanwhile Kurt Erhmann, who plays one of the homicide detectives trying to bust the main character, is a well-known stage actor here in Chicago and has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance in the opening credits of TRUE BLOOD as a faith healer. And a bunch of the bit parts were played by people from the Second City improv company, which is basically the farm team for shows like MAD TV and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

That said, roughly half the cast of THE LANDLORD had never acted before, and none of the cast had done complex action scenes with guns and stunts. And even the more experienced actors were busy doing plays, shooting commercials, and working their day jobs, which meant we had to cram all their scenes into a few short hours in the morning or very late at night, which in turn meant less time to rehearse, fewer takes, and more stress overall. I'm just amazed at what the cast accomplished under those conditions, and that they did it all for no pay.

As for my role as director... well, I just spent a lot of time talking to the actors beforehand, fleshing out the details and back stories for their characters, even the minor ones, and giving the actors as much input as possible so they had a sense of ownership. Ideally, what you see of a character in a movie should just be the tip of the iceberg, and you and the actor should have a pretty good idea of where that character's coming from and why they behave the way they do. The problem with most horror movies is that they don't bother answering those questions - the characters exist merely to spout a few wisecracks (if they're male), get naked (if they're female), then die... which I guess works for some people, but for me killing off characters with no real personality is like playing poker for no money.

You did a great job on the CG effects. I thought they fit in seamlessly. Talk about some of your favorite effects and how they were accomplished.

For the visual (CG) effects, we knew we couldn't compete with current Hollywood movies in terms of realism. So instead we decided to go for a slightly retro, flamingly unrealistic, 80s-style visual effects style, partly because we knew we could pull it off with the software we had, partly because it suited the mood and theme of THE LANDLORD, and partly because we genuinely love the cheesy FX in old movies like BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

However, I still wanted to have some pseudo-realistic logic behind the crazy visuals. For each effect, we'd ask "What, exactly, is happening here?" and let the answer guide our design. For instance, when the demons in THE LANDLORD teleport, we wanted it to seem like they were "burning" into the virtual celluloid that the movie was shot on. So, after filming the same shot twice - once with the actor and once without - I applied a reverse "film burn" effect to the layer with the actor on it. Next, I applied a kaleidoscope effect, to create hundreds of tiny images of the demon, then backed off of it so that the smaller images melt together into one main image (you can see this much more clearly on the Blu-Ray version). Once that was done, we added "glow" and "light rays" effects just to add some razzle-dazzle factor, et voila. Flashing-burning-kaleidoscoping-demon-teleporting madness!

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie film?

Prior to making movies, I toured in a band with Derek Dziak, the husky John Belushi/Jack Black/Seth Rogen-type dude who plays Tyler, the hero of THE LANDLORD. Surviving as a DIY band is all about selling enough merchandise at shows to cover gas and food for the next day, so we decided to shoot a concert DVD just to give fans something more to buy. However, the footage from the show we recorded didn't turn out so great, so we decided to head out to the forest preserve with a handicam and some cheesy costumes and do some ridiculous skits about our band getting sucked into a second-rate Middle Earth / Dungeons & Dragons universe and battling some evil barbarians and zombies that look suspiciously like us in bad wigs. Turns out, people liked the DVD better than our albums, so we made another one to go with our next album, then eventually decided to forget the band thing and just make a damn movie, which turned out to be THE LANDLORD.

Film school: Yes or No?

Nope. But I did depend on the skills and knowledge of many film school students and graduates to get THE LANDLORD made. There's so much that goes into a movie, even a cheesy no-budget flick like THE LANDLORD, that no one person can possess all the necessary expertise.

Did you screen at any festivals? If so, how did it do? What are your thoughts on the indie horror festival circuit?

So far, THE LANDLORD has been accepted into 7 horror film festivals in the U.S. and U.K., and we're just beginning to make our rounds on the festival and convention circuit. The funny thing about these "film festivals" is that hardly anyone attends the film screenings - they're all to busy getting autographs from the old-school horror celebrities out in the vendors' hall. But that's okay, because people will stop by your booth and pick up the DVD even if they didn't attend the screening, so your movie still gets seen. Meanwhile, the after parties are as wild as any I attended while touring with a rock band - horror geeks are cool people, and they all love getting drunk n' crazy.

Talk about distribution. What lessons have you learned and if you could pass on one word of advice to other indie filmmakers, what would it be?

We're about to sign our first distro deal, so we'll just have to see how this goes. Ask me again in a year, I'll probably have more to say on the subject.

Talk about the indie horror scene. Where do you think it is now and where do you think it’s going?

As a musician, I already saw what the Internet did to the music scene, and it's just beginning to have the same effect on filmmaking. The good news is that digital technology makes it possible for anyone with a little bit of money, a lot of friends, and a ton of self-motivation to make a no- or low-budget film, even if their ideas are so wild or weird (or lame) that they'd never get money from a studio. However, the downside is that, with online piracy sucking all the money out of the game, it's harder than ever to get financing for a mid-budget movie, or to make a living as an artist. Taken together, that means you'll see more and more original indie movies, but the average quality will take a dive, since many of them will be shit and even the good ones will be made with the filmmakers' own money, in their spare time. In that sense, THE LANDLORD may be a sign of what's to come.

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

Just follow this link right here:

What’s next for you?

Despite what I said about it being harder than ever to get financing for a movie, we've got two scripts in development that we're raising money for. One is a really dark, violent horror-comedy set in a prison, while the other is a more serious supernatural thriller about an ancient Chinese dagger that grants wishes at a horrible price. Hopefully we'll find investors, 'cause G-d knows I'll be paying off those credit cards for THE LANDLORD for a good, long while.

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