Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview With Kevin Jamison, writer/director of "Serial: Amoral Uprising"

Brad and I used to joke that the only way we were going to break into Hollywood is by going up the ass end. At the time of this writing, between the two of us, we've talked with various agents, managers, had projects and material in front of executives at a few different places and have written, produced and directed numerous indie projects, but the truth of the matter is... we're nowhere near the rectum yet, we're barely tickling the rim.

When it comes to getting a project off the ground and getting established, what's the best route to take? Do you write it out and THEN shop it around? Or do you write it out, shoot something based on it and then shop THAT around? Or is there something we're missing? (Please fill us in, if there is) It's kind of an age old question and there's success stories on both sides. For the sake of saving money, simply writing something and trying to sell your project based on that makes a lot of sense... really, all you've put in is sweat equity. However, maybe it's your vision and filmmaking skills that you're trying to sell? I guess it really depends on what your individual goal is. If you want to be a writer or producer, you can just write something. If you're looking to be a filmMAKER, you should probably shoot something.

These were all questions that came to my mind as I was reading through this interview we did with Kevin Jamison, the writer/director of the upcoming "Serial: Amoral Uprising". All those questions came up because this project isn't finished. They've shot a prologue in hopes of attracting financing and distribution. From what I've seen, it looks good and I really hope the film becomes a reality. Only time will tell...

If you're in the pre-pre-production stages or are considering how to get a project up and off the ground, this is something you'll want to read.

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

I always had a love for filmmaking. Its kind of sad but I still have a large number of home made vhs tapes from when I was about 9 or 10. Mainly a lot of fan based shorts with no budget, no script and just a whole bunch of action figures and condiment based special effects. I always had a love for writing and the idea behind being able to make something unique out of nothing and that's exactly what I saw with independent film. Writing a book would probably have been easier but it also wouldn't have been as fun or rewarding as making a film would either. As one sided as it sounds I always did lean more towards the horror genre and that's what ultimately inspired me to want to be a writer/director. Growing up as a child of the 80s horror movies had this edge at the time that just made me want to see them even more. Disney was boring as hell, He-Man always creeped me out a little too much where the Tall Man from Phantasm scared the living crap out of me. So, after digging a little deeper into the genre I quickly became an addict for movies like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Black Christmas and so on and so forth. Influences? John McNaughton for one. His commentary on Henry was basically the push that gave me inspiration to go ahead and write my script despite the fact that I was broke. Granted, my story isn't based on a real person like Henry was, although the two characters do have a large number of similarities. William Lustig. The story he created with Maniac is probably another one of the signals that made me keep writing. Peter Jackson when he made Dead Alive, Sam Raimi, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, David Fincher. Another one that comes to mind is Adam Green. Like myself, Adam is very ambitious about what he wants to see and has broken his back in order to get it done despite the many, many problems that go along with making a film.

Film school: yes or no?

I took a course at a community college for film and television production in 2006, which did serve as a very valuable tool when it comes to the process of planning, acting, producing and marketing. It did teach me the basics of what I needed to know in order to make a film project follow through, but the one bad side to that was the main lesson I learned throughout the entire experience. When it comes to producing a film a large majority of things come down to money and the minds behind the production of the film. It kind of sucked having the knowledge without having the tools to move ahead. Sure, I could make a movie with what I knew but without having the money or backing sources to do anything it was kind of like a lost cause. From my experience, I've found that the best way to get into filmmaking on a physical level is to actually shoot a film. Write a short script, get a group of people together over the weekend (or a few weekends depending on the script) and put them to work on the movie. Another thing I would do is sign up for local projects in the area and go work as a production assistant to see how other shoots went just to see how it was done by other directors. The one thing I really love about film is how excited people get about shooting a movie, so its not like finding help is hard. Positive energy, scheduling and FOOD. Keep your people happy and they'll keep you happy. I do think that film school does teach a lot of things that are necessary lessons when it comes to producing a film. If you have an idea of what you're walking into a lot of things can run a whole lot smoother and help you in the long run.

Tell us a bit about the idea behind Serial: Amoral Uprising

SERIAL: Amoral Uprising is a prologue that we filmed, funded and produced ourselves in effort to get the promotional ball rolling on a much bigger script that we plan to shoot in the summer of 2010. Amoral Uprising is just the beginning of a much larger story that profiles the life and crimes of a manipulative sociopath and serial killer Trenton Wade Bracks. Although the character and story of Trenton Bracks may be fiction the actions and events that transpire throughout his life are in fact inspired by a large number of true life cases such as Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas and Tommy Lynn Sells just to name a few. He's someone you could see as your drinking buddy, your co worker or the guy hired to fix the roof on your house. For women, he would be somewhat of a mysterious stranger type with a southern gentleman aspect about him which of course is usually just another side of his manipulative personality. With Amoral Uprising we wanted to create something we could both use as a fundraising/distribution tool, a companion piece for the full feature and something we can give the fans to dissect while they wait for us to put together funding for the full feature. So people who are interested now can watch Amoral Uprising and then check out the full feature which is based 10 years after the events in the prologue once its done and for other people who are not able to get into the movie until the feature is released, they'll have Amoral Uprising to serve as a second film that will be a part of the dvd package.

Talk a bit about how the project came about.

I started writing the story shortly after getting out of school and since I was basically broke the entire time I had a while to work on the script. I took about a year and a half to create the story and write the script and after I was happy with it I started shopping it around to different companies but none of them were interested in me directing the project. Just buying the story and taking their spin on it which is not what I wanted. So one day when I was on some horror forums I ran into a user named Mike Scola who said he had his own production company in Chicago and wanted to take on my script and let me direct as long as he could be the director of photography. We decided to shoot an experimental trailer with two of his friends which he paid for out of his own pocket. He edited the film and gave us something to use and even if it wasn't something that got us put on the map it was something we used to get established as an indie film project. A few months later we held an audition out of his garage and found a handful of actors and actresses who wanted to get involved which lead to us shooting the SERIAL promo video with now lead actor Christopher Howell as Trenton Bracks. A few months later we were still not satisfied and that's when I told Mike I wanted to shoot a prologue to attach to the feature and that resulted with what we have now in SERIAL: Amoral Uprising.

Whats your budget for the film and how are you going about financing it?

For Amoral Uprising, we worked on a budget around $4,000 to get everything done and like most low budget/big vision projects it wasn't half of what we needed in order to do everything like we had originally planned. But we wanted to get the prologue filmed, some serious experience when it came to the future of the project while creating something we can use as a serious product so we worked with what we had. For the full feature we are currently in talks with a few different companies who have shown interest towards the feature but nothing has been set in stone as of yet. Obviously were going to need a WHOLE lot more than what we used for the prologue, but that's the advantage of having a physical insight into the story with Amoral Uprising. Investors and future distributors can see exactly how badly we want to make this movie a success and something that's going to be enjoyed by a large variety of people for years to come. With the prologue we didn't have the biggest budget or half the production crew that was required because of time and money and that alone was the only thing that stopped us from doing everything we could have possibly done. With a serious budget there is no limit to how great the feature could come out. Since this is a crime/horror movie anything is possible with a decent sized budget. We have the talent, the drive, the experience and the ability. Now we just need the financing to get it done.

What stage are you at right now and what hurdles are you facing right now?

With Amoral Uprising we are currently in the process of putting the movie into product replication. I am talking with artist Ken Carrano about designing the cover art which I am more than positive is going to come out amazing. Once we have that completed it will begin the hunt for possible distribution depending what happens with the full feature between now and then. As planned, we are going to create the Amoral Uprising dvd product and begin distributing it ourselves on an independent level on the website and around horror conventions and film festivals.

Speaking of hurdles, talk about some of the hurdles that you've faced getting to the point you're at now. What kinds of unexpected things have you faced that other indie filmmakers may be interested to learn about?

On a film set murphys law loves to make itself known. If you plan something chances are it isn't going to go as originally planned, no matter how set it may seem inside your head or written on paper. Since we filmed around winter of last year on a friends property inside of a farm house with no working water, there was no end to the problems that we came across throughout the shooting of Amoral Uprising. The day before shooting my director of photography Mike Scola and special effects artist Don Ehrenhaft were setting things up in the house and the ceiling began to leak water from the attic. The entire ceiling had a huge ring left from the water damage soaking the downstairs floor so in spite of that we had no working water. We did have well water, though. Nice and disgusting. The snow caused people to run late the first day of shooting so one thing all film makers need to account for is to stay on track with scheduling. If you get started two hours late that could be two scenes you have to cut from the days shoot all on account of one person being 30 minutes late. Almost every person on my set had their car stuck in the snow at some point so each time a group of us would have to make a team effort to get them out of it which caused more time delays. So before you shoot take a few weeks beforehand to consider the weather, the condition of locations and what it will be like come shoot time. Since our shoot was planned in October and was shot in November, weather and time were our two biggest enemies.

Whats the goal for the project and when do you think it'll be completed?

Right now our goal is to become established. We have been working for close to two years and now that we have something that we can show people I feel that its time we introduced the story on a mass level as much as we possibly can. In order to get people interested in Trentons story they need to know who he is and that's what Amoral Uprising is going to do. We have promotional t shirts with a design that reads Meet Trenton Bracks and that is exactly what Amoral Uprising will serve as. Once people see the beginning of the story they'll want to know what happens next and the only way we can do that is to make the full feature. Its like at the end of the original SAW. James Wan set that up so perfectly that he knew we would be clinging on to the story and now they have how many SAW movies? 6? Personally, I don't plan on making six SERIAL films in the time they have made those movies but the potential is very similar. Thanks to Christopher Howell, Trenton is a huge character a part of a huge story that is not only realistic and inspired by a number of true cases but also a truly entertaining story capable of gaining attention from a multitude of fans and investors. Much like Tobin Bell brings to Jigsaw, Christopher Howell loves playing Trenton Bracks and is more than a little hungry to get back into character as dark and diverse as Trenton may be. Our goal right now for the feature would be to shoot in the summer of 2010 so that way we can present the dvd in early 2011 possibly around January.

Are you thinking about the festival scene or distribution at this point? If so, what kinds of things are you doing to prepare for it?

Of course. Ive been talking with a variety of distributors since we finished Amoral Uprising and the only obstacle that is standing in the way is not having the replicated product so its nothing that we cant handle with a little bit of responsible financial planning. I've always been a huge fan of the convention and festival scene and seriously cannot wait to start doing shows. I love talking to fans and hearing their take on the film or just on different horror and crime films in general. As far as distribution goes nothing has been set in stone as of yet so anything is possible. It all depends who takes notice of the film and I'm willing to break my back as many times as I have to in order to get as much exposure on Amoral Uprising as I possibly can.

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

I think the indie horror scene is looking up as of late. Films like 100 Tears, iMurders, Hatchet, Five Across The Eyes, Chainsaw Sally and a few others have really upped not only the production value but also the material value of how most independent films are made. Much like me there are a lot of young and hungry directors out there who don't have a graduate certificate from Columbia or any other big name film school who want to make movies more than anything in their lives but they just lack the tools to put it all together. Those are the type of people we need working in independent film. Any goon can watch a movie that was made 20 years ago, sell the story as a remake to a studio with the funding and rip it to shreds for a good profit on the first weekend of the release but these aren't going to be films that people keep inside of their heads or share with their friends. Creating original ideas is what I love about independent film. I love working with people and being on set because there is no rush like it in the world. We need people like Adam Green and Greg Swinson and Scott Glosserman who are sick of seeing classics badly redone and are willing to put it all on the line to produce a quality story and film. That's exactly what I plan to do with SERIAL.

Where can people find out more about Serial: Amoral Uprising?

We have a website that you can find at or you can reach me directly on my facebook page that I update regularly. Just look up K.M. Jamison.

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