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Chris Conlee
Horror Interview by The Gravedigger

What is your background as a filmmaker? What do you say influenced you the most in your career?

Chris: I was interested in telling stories from a very early age. Like many of us, I was a class clown, and didn't take my early studies too seriously. My mind was always wandering and dreaming up strange adventures. I went thru phases as a kid, at one point thinking I wanted to be a stunt man (probably after watching, Hooper, LOL).

I watched The Stunt Man, with Peter O'Toole, and I religiously watched The Fall Guy.

At some point I decided I'd rather become an actor. I did the plays in school. I think this almost broke my dad's heart, because I was more interested in doing the senior play than I was in playing varsity basketball. Ultimately, I did both. The coach let me skip the first half of practice to rehearse. But I wasn't a great thespian, and it turns out I was an even worse basketball player.

Then I got into photography and got the bug.

I made some short silent films with my parents' Super8 movie camera. And I started getting artsy fartsy with my stills. Then the early home video cameras started appearing, and I partnered up with a buddy, who's parents had purchased one, to make some goofy little shorts. We just did tape-to-tape editing, pushing pause on the VHS, then fast forwarding the camera to the next shot, unpausing the recorder. The rainbow glitches at every edit didn't even bother us. It was about the story!

When I saw The Road Warrior, in high school, I got the bug and realized that I absolutely wanted to make movies for a living. I had the presence of mind to actually get a degree in something "useful", computer systems engineering, but after that decided to go to film school and chase my dream of making movies.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and attended Columbia College – Hollywood, which at the time was centrally located in downtown Hollywood. It was a small school, but it did a great job of teaching the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. The thing it DIDN'T do was put us in a position to make very many professional connections.

When I graduated, I was basically broke, and wasn't exactly sure how I was going to make a living, so I joined the military to pay off my college and try to save up some money. The army paid off my college debt, and the money I saved, I used to purchase an Amiga computer and my first NLE system, called MovieShop. It was super rudimentary, but not too many people had such a thing in the mid '90s.

When I got out of the army, I moved back to Los Angeles, and started promoting myself as an actor demo reel editor. I ran ads in the local casting newspapers, etc, and sort of made a living doing that. Eventually, one of my actor clients made a feature film, which I cut. He then made another one, and I cut that too, and voila. I was a feature editor. I bought updated hardware and software, of course, and edited a number of features in the late '90s and early 2000s.

It was during this time that I was introduced to Tom Cadman. He had a script, and a friend with a few thousand dollars that wanted to make a movie. We started shooting The Other One on weekends and as time permitted. It probably took us 6 months to complete, because Tom's friend would send us a little bit of money from his paychecks, and we'd buy a couple rolls of film and go shoot it.

Tom Cadman, who wrote, co-directed and stars as the main character of the movie, also had the addiction problems of that character. How much of Augie WAS Tom and why was it so important that he make this film?

Chris: Tom definitely WAS August. I don't know that we ever talked too deeply about Tom's past, with regards to his character parallels, but his addiction issues, and his genuinely likable loser personality was all Tom. I suspect the allusions to spousal abuse, and whatnot, were completely fabricated to add some sort of drama to the story.

Tom was a very spiritual person, and he felt connected to his mother, who had passed a few years before we met. I think the themes of redemption, forgiveness and basically doing unto others as you'd have them do to you, were central to his outlook on life.

Without a doubt, he'd made mistakes in his life, and I think the character of August was his way of kind of fessing up to that. I'm not a hundred percent certain, but I think some of what his character said and did, he hoped his family might see. Maybe to better understand him as a person, as strange as that sounds. He wasn't particularly close with his older brother, or his father, but I think he did have some need for them to understand him, and to appreciate his creative self.

Why did the movie take 20 years to complete? How did you get involved with the movie?

Chris: Well, as I mentioned, we shot it over the course of probably 6 months. We'd get a few bucks from his buddy in Chicago, and we'd buy film and shoot it with borrowed cameras. We didn't know what we were doing, to be completely honest.

It was only Tom and I, and a hodge-podge of mostly his friends, so we didn't have a real crew. There was nobody to hold the boom, most of the time, and if there was, they usually didn't know how to do it right anyway. So we'd end up sticking the mic in a nearby bush, or something, and hope for the best.

I also only owned a 3/4 inch video deck, for doing the actor demo reels, so we transferred all of our film to 3/4 inch only, which isn't sufficient quality for any sort of professional release. We used a borrowed Nagra recorder, but we didn't understand how to sync it to our film, which had to be pulled down to 29.97 for video transfer, and our sound therefore was constantly drifting out of sync after a few seconds. Of course the sound was so bad, usually, that it didn't matter anyway. LOL.

We just kept trudging along, blindly trusting that we'd be able to finish it somehow.

Unfortunately, when we did finish shooting, the true gravity of the task struck us. The sound in particular was so bad, that I didn't have the technical tools, ability or creative skills to fix it. And paying somebody was out of the question. We also soon realized that the 3/4 inch masters we had were completely inadequate. The film and Nagra tapes sat on my shelf for almost two decades.

Sadly, I think this all weighed very heavily on Tom, because it was important to him creatively, but he felt he'd failed somehow by not getting it finished. His addiction grew worse over time, and eventually, he lost his life to it, without ever seeing his movie completed.

I, in the interim, had become a professional motion picture and television editor. My skills were far superior to what they had been, and new and far superior tools had become available for sound and picture restoration. And, without a doubt the biggest blessing, was that one of the vendors I had worked with while working on the ABC television show Once Upon A Time, offered to rescan all of the 16mm negative to ProRes files for me, so long as time wasn't important. It had already sat in my garage for nearly 20 years, so what was a few more months?

When I got the Pro Res scans, I imported them into my Avid and started messing around with the footage. I had to track down a Nagra again to digitize all my sound rolls, and I now understood the whole process of pull-up and pull-down, so I was able to properly sync the sound, even though it was still terrible quality.

Over time, I managed to get a cut that I was fairly happy with. I was working from memory, mostly, as a script no longer existed. When the movie was cut, I set about trying to fix the sound. What you hear is 90 percent the original, but a couple scenes were just too bad to actually fix, so I had to find a voice-alike for Tom, to re-record his lines in those scenes. It was a balancing act between leaving some of the camera noise, wind noise, traffic noise, etc., and enduring the weird warbly artifacting that the audio restoration software was creating. I went back and forth for several years, trying to get the sound as good as it could be. That was without a doubt the hardest part and the longest process.

All of this while trying to explain to my wife why I was spending such and inordinate amount of time on a project that probably had zero percent chance of finding any commercial success. It was a challenge, to say the least. But I persevered, and eventually I was able to finish it. I hope Tom is happy with it. I think he is.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie but one thing drove me a bit crazy—the continuity problems. Was this because there was a time lag between shoots or was it because the events shot made more sense edited together in a different way, that was different from the script?

Chris: LOL, as I mentioned, we shot over the course of 6 months or so, without a script supervisor. It's lucky that ANYTHING has continuity. The scene at the beginning where August's friend says something like, "hey wait, you're forgetting your jacket," that line was specifically added because we realized that in the next scene, which we'd already shot, he had his jacket on. We also added the scene where he falls asleep on the couch and tosses and turns with his jacket, to cover another wardrobe mistake we'd made.

Lots of that sort of stuff happened. We'd just watch our prior scenes a couple days before we went out to shoot new stuff, and hope for the best. Not the best strategy, in hindsight, for good continuity.

What do you want people to take away from the film after they watch it?

Chris: If I'm being honest, I think the story BEHIND the film is more interesting than any story we could hope to tell WITH the film. LOL. I guess both stories are one of perseverance, right? And spiritual introspection. I know the themes of spiritual and personal redemption were important to Tom, and were instrumental in why he wrote the story.

The movie kind of lays out a pretty blunt message at the end: Do what's right, and you're gonna be okay; do what's wrong, and you might not be.

I guess that pretty much sums it up.

What have you been working on lately and what's in store for the future?

Chris: Well, I edited the first two seasons of The Flash, on CW. Then I went over to work on Time After Time, for Kevin Williamson, thinking it would be good to expand my horizons. Unfortunately, that show was a classic example of "creative differences," and I promptly found myself looking for another gig. LOL.

I'm looking for something now. In the meantime, I've continued to cut some indie features. And I'm assistant editing on an ABC pilot right now. I can't talk about it in advance, but if it goes, it'll be a big one, and I hope to be able to get an editing position on it for the fall.

If it doesn't get a pickup, well, the film business isn't for the faint of heart. I'm sure something will come along. I've been doing this for well over twenty years at this point, and I haven't starved yet. I guess the one thing that gives me nightmares right now, is the ongoing threat of a writers strike in Hollywood. If that happens, it's gonna sting.

Fingers crossed, right.

>>Check out the Gravedigger's review of The Other One

find information about Chris Conlee at imdb.com find horror stuff by Chris Conlee

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