Q: MAINSTREAM was first prize in the 2nd BLOOD DRIVE contest that FANGORIA has had-what was your reaction to that?
Pretty exciting! It felt like things were coming full circle. Starting to read the magazine back in 1987 was one of the catalysts for my interest in making films years later. I started with an interest in special effects which led to filmmaking. So for my first break/wide exposure to come through them was an honor. Absolute dream to be featured, in any fashion, in the magazine and appear/speak at one of their conventions. And it happened just this past month.
Q: What horror movies would you say have influenced you the most?
Phantasm's whole series was a big influence in a couple of ways... not necessarily seen in Mainstream with the exception of the metal gurney designs and drills, but in several ways...the importance of character, the mild surrealism and always layering on ideas...moments with many different meanings...I always loved the somewhat open threads of the series. Even if something was explained, there was room left to think and ponder about that world. Something about the films' depopulated backgrounds affected me too.
I grew up in an area that wasn't well trafficked save for morning rush hour and that idea in the films, and what was around me, kind of bled into my photography exhibitions and stories. I tend to spend a lot of time on images and stories with one person, or several people who are often left on their own. If five people are involved we're probably following them one at a time. Not every story I've worked on went this way but I do tend to drift towards it.
I wasn't a full-on loner growing up, but the theme of isolation and being different than 'the crowds' was something that was always on my mind. In high school you wonder 'why do I think differently than most people?' and then after high school and college you think, "thank God I think differently than most people!"
While it's not really horror per se, The Twilight Zone was and is a huge influence. The striking photography, ability to be subversive (and make social statements that were buried under great entertainment), and twist endings... particularly the 'end up in hell' endings they often went with, left a permanent tattoo on my mind. I was astonished the first time I'd seen an ending where the good guys didn't win, or the world ended, etc. I was like "Can they do that? Is that OK? Wow they CAN do that!"
Five Million Years to Earth (The Quatermass Experiment) was another psyche-scarring experience. I saw it once when I was 5 and didn't see it again till a few years ago at age 24! As a kid, I misinterpreted the ending and thought the alien consciousness had defeated everything and everyone. Regardless, its depiction of, and disproval of in a sense, of belief systems society was founded on was chilling. I think that's what makes a truly effective horror film; upsetting things we feel are 'solid' whether it's a religion, love, safety... The first two Invasion of the Body Snatchers films will always scare the hell out of me.
Carnival of Souls left a mark. The image of the disfigured, grinning hero in The Man Who Laughs freaked me out...I saw that image as a kid and never saw that film (it's from the 20's and one of the original inspirations for The Joker) until I was 26! When high school came around I started to really soak up horror films, and David Lynch and David Cronenberg were the two that always did, and have, stood out. Other than that I would have to name all the classics that everyone often names.
Q: What is your background as a filmmaker?
Well everyone makes their little "nobody should ever see these" short films and videos in the backyard when they're younger, but I went to school at SVA here in New York for film. Worked on some bigger films, commercials and mainly indie films that were either never finished or released. Worked for a company that produced commercials for Japan for a little while after moving back into New York after a couple of years out of town. Mainly freelancing and working on developing my own projects now. I've also done a lot of script reading/coverage. I directed a few shorts before Mainstream, most of which I'll keep hidden. LOL This is the first one outside of school that I really pushed though.
Q: How did the idea for MAINSTREAM come about? That first 2/3rds, with the guy strapped to the table is pretty horrendous-it reminded me both of those silver balls in PHANTASM and also one of the NINE INCH NAILS music videos (with that guy strapped to the chair).
Let me go on record once again saying I've never seen this video, though this is the third interview where it's been referred to!: Mainstream came about as a 'weird vision' I had, it was an instance where I simply HAD to get this sequence out of my head and on film. With the exception of my vision of it having a higher budget, it's nearly the same as what I first envisioned, in terms or structure, what we see, etc.
The inspiration for it was dealing with so many people, at the time I had the idea, who seemed like the grind they had volunteered for had weathered them into shells of who they may have been in a brighter, better time. The strange mass reaction against doing things differently, being an individual. The first representation of what happens over that unsettling surgery sequence was draining and replacing all the vitality/free will/creativity etc. out of someone, numbing them left and right, replacing it with something average, bland, dead. We just seem so programmed these days, though I feel it's up to you if you are or not. Many people seem too afraid to step outside the box or live their lives the way they want. Nothing wrong with working in an office or 9-5...but are you doing it because other people thought it was a good idea or because you yourself chose it?
The symbols in the film gradually grew to represent things like surgery as a cure-all, a bit of satire over the daily grind...I've gotten a lot of interesting feedback. I like doing something that can provoke thought and debate, though this is one of the more abstract, surreal 'horror' films I will probably do. I want to spend more time on story/character in other films. I just had to get this one out of me. I'm not out of weird just yet though.
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of making MAINSTREAM?
Probably raising the funds needed, even though it was far less that I would have liked to have had, and holding on to them in time for production to kick in!
Mainstream 'almost' got made several times before it finally came together. In terms of on-set trouble... just a few moments. We had one crew member who nearly left and spent a lot of time complaining once he found out our cameraman enjoyed hip-hop. Ugh... The scene involving fluid being drained from Edmundo's (Santos, my lead actor) head was to be done with this freaky syringe, a metal one used on cows that was from the 1970's I believe. It happened to fall completely apart ten minutes before its scene and we had to do that sequence with a generic plastic syringe and use the coverage that didn't concentrate on it. There were a few problems along the way, but we pushed though them...nothing seriously detrimental to the production. I had been living with various forms of the film in my head for so long that there was little time wasted on set trying to figure things out.
Q: How has being in BLOOD DRIVE II helped you?
Well it's only been out three weeks, so it's still just getting out there... it's all up to me whether anything comes of it, right? I never wait by the phone. I'd been doing a lot of promo since before it was picked up (was completed this spring) which brought some attention...I was pretty relentless about promotion before it, now it's better because I can hand people the disc! I just need to afford more copies. Been getting a lot of requests to see it, from sites and festivals. Other than good reviews and exposure so far, I've spoken with a producer about directing a series of shorts he may stream as web content and on dvd...don't want to name names unless it actually comes together...I've spoken with Juliya (from Fuse TV and the Blood Drive 2 host) about possibly doing something together in the future. There's a couple of other things brewing but I don't want to jinx or announce anything until it happens.
I've started getting copies of the DVD to different producers I wanted to meet with or work with, as well as character actors and filmmakers I've admired. We'll see what happens. Either way I'll keep going developing my own work. I got a bit of funding from a patron who admired Mainstream to put towards my next film, there's been a bit of interest as to the first feature I go with too...but that's very nebulous since I'm still working on scripts. I'll be concentrating on that this Fall.
Q: What other projects are you working on?
My next short, which we're about to begin prep on, is titled Eight Phone Calls. Since the last film took so long and was dependent on a lot of rented props and FX, this one is stripped down and basic: it's one man in one room on a phone. Written around the assumption that we wouldn't have a budget, but it will be shot on 24p and 16mm. It's an offbeat thriller/character study and while it gets weird towards the end, it's much more straightforward than Mainstream. It's also dialogue-heavy as opposed to Mainstream. It will have another unique, unsettling soundscape, which I'm building now, but it's not really a horror film. That shoots in January now.
I've got two music videos coming up as well and I'd like to do more. I'm going to have a bit part in Chris (Horror Business) Garetano's documentary THE HORROR OF DANTE TOMASELLI, speaking about Dante's work. I've done freelance editing and sound design but I'm taking time off from that to concentrate on writing and developing more feature-length scripts; and I'll be getting ready to make my as-yet untitled feature-length debut towards the end of 2006.
Q: Who are the "genre" actors you'd like to work with some day?
Well some are not necessarily strictly 'genre' but a list would be: Miguel Ferrer, Tom Atkins, Sheryl Lee, Lance Henricksen, Keith Allen, Christopher Walken, Geoffrey Lewis, Gary Cole, Christopher Eccleston, Vincent Lamberti, Danny Masterson, Danielle Harris, Felissa Rose, Fairuza Balk, Robert Englund, Billie Piper, Nicholas Worth, Keith David, Doug Bradley, Kenneth Tigar, Michael Biehn, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Jason, John D. Lemay, Amanda Wyss, Brad Greenquist, Ray Wise, Howard Sherman, Clare Higgins, Craig Sheffer, Charles Cyphers, Jake Weber, Barbara Steele… I'll quit now only because there's really about 100+ names from all over the acting spectrum. LOL There's an actor named Sean Six who blew me away in an episode of Millennium, he was on Alien Nation as well...I'm not sure he's acting now but he'd be perfect for Eight Phone Calls. I'm looking for him as we speak! LOL
I'd really like to take people who've been pegged as 'genre' actors and give them something entirely different to do. Have them inhabit characters far different than what they usually get stuck portraying. Ever speak with Robert Englund? He's hilarious, personable, etc. And not just in Freddy's sardonic manner. Put him right up in a Robert Altman film or a broader comedy, straight drama, he'd be terrific. Or Felissa Rose in a romantic comedy. There's no reason they wouldn't be great at it. I'd love to take a dramatic, funny, character-based film like Nobody's Fool and populate it with a heavy dose of genre stars.
Q: What is your "dream project"?
That's in flux at the moment. I have to find some new ones, you might want to ask me down the road!
I had two, both sci-fi, and both somehow happen to involve extraterrestrial tripods.: One was an update of HG Wells' War of the Worlds, which I've had to put off 20 more years due to this summer's epic. LOL That was always a book that spoke to me as a child...the subtext (even as a kid!) and the narrative. Strangely enough, the other was John Christopher's trilogy;. the original novels (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire) and there was a BBC TV adaptation of the first two books in the 80's. The themes of control, repressing creativity, groups that didn't want to think, those themes have always resonated with me. I know that series is nearly ready to go with Gregor Jordan helming them. I can free up my schedule if he wants some help though.
I'm developing scripts in several different genres, but I definitely won't abandon horror films. I do feel the writing in most horror films can be improved, given more depth, better characters. You can tick all the boxes of a genre film and still make it something that affects people as well as scares them. Not every story needs that but I'm tired of not even being remotely interested in the people under siege. Well that and corny pop songs over the end credits.