Q: What was your inspiration for making THE LANDLORD?
The basic story of THE LANDLORD, where a slacker inherits a demon-infested apartment building from his devil-worshipping parents, evolved from a couple of unrelated ideas. First, I wanted to make a movie where, instead of wasting time following a bunch of dim-witted, physically attractive "heroes", we get to hang out with the monsters and their henchmen for 90 minutes, and see how they spend their free time between kills. What does a flesh-eating demon do when he's not eating flesh? Does he crack open a beer and watch some TV? Do they invite their monster friends over?
Second, for practical reasons, we wanted a story that mostly took place in one, fairly ordinary location - for THE LANDLORD, we chose a typical Chicago three-flat apartment building. And while that may seem like a limitation, I think we turned it to our advantage. We all expect horror stuff to happen in gothic cathedrals, hospital morgues, and secret government labs. But having a portal to Hell open in your basement, right next to the washing machine, or vampires hanging out at the neighborhood taco stand? That's something you don't see every day.
Q: Why make a horror movie?
Personally, I'm into fantasy of any kind. We had several scripts we were thinking about doing, one of which was science fiction and another that was a bizarre kung-fu / sword and sorcery hybrid, but in the end we went with THE LANDLORD because horror is generally more do-able on a low budget and has the biggest built-in audience.
Storytelling-wise, I like the freedom and variety that comes with not having to confine your story to what's physically possible, and how fantasy allows people to step back and view real-world issues from a safe distance. For instance, in THE LANDLORD there's a scene where a cop brutally kills a helpless monster which, to me, raises the question of where "monster slaying" ends and "murder" begins. That's a lot easier to digest than watching a cop kill a human criminal and asking similar questions. Meanwhile, unless it's a dream sequence, you don't have the option of showing a trippy-looking inter-dimensional portal in your typical romantic comedy.
This isn't to say movies shouldn't depict reality or that beauty can't be found in everyday things - only that, through fantasy, you can explore hard questions and show bizarre images while keeping the mood fun.
Q: It's also a comedy, which is often difficult to pull off, but you did. What was the hardest part about conveying the movie's sense of humor?
In THE LANDLORD, we balanced the horror and the comedy by following what I call the "Will Farrell formula" (which is kind of ironic, given how - after we were already filming - Farrell released that damned Internet short with the same title as our movie). Anyhow, the basis for all of Will Farrell's humor is that he'll invent a ridiculous character, then play the role 100% seriously. Elf is the best example of this - Farrell is really, honestly trying to figure out how a person raised on the North Pole by Santa's elves would behave in the real world. The "joke" is that he's not kidding.
We do the same thing in our LANLDLORD, except instead of Santa's elves, our hero has grown up around a pair of flesh-eating Babylonian demon gods. How would he deal with having to mop up blood all the time? Would he ever get used to the sight of demons teleporting and other magical weirdness? And how would the demons view the situation? Of course, the answers wind up being laughably absurd, because the entire scenario is laughably absurd, but I think our lead actors Derek Dziak (who plays Tyler, the landlord) and Rom Barkhordar (who plays Rabisu, the main demon) did a wonderful job getting inside their characters' heads, and finding the humor in it all.
Q: The movie really benefits from those actors-- how did you go about casting the movie?
Rom and Derek are personal friends of mine, however - unlike most no-budget movies where the director casts his friends - I was lucky in that Rom is an accomplished stage, television, and voice actor (he's best known for voicing Subzero in the Mortal Kombat video games). Derek, meanwhile, was the singer for my band and knows a lot of people in Chicago's comedy scene. Between the two of them, we were able to start networking and find enough other top-notch stage actors and comedians to fill the rest of the parts. Proud as we are of the visual effects, I think the script and the acting are THE LANDLORD's secret weapons. While our movie has plenty of problems (that I plan to fix next time around), those are two areas where THE LANDLORD really shines, if I do say so myself.
Q: How long did the movie take to shoot?
I wrote the first word of the screenplay for THE LANDLORD in January 2008. We shot the first frame that July (in 105° heat), finished the last pickup shot in December (in the middle of a blizzard), and completed the cut that's been showing at film festivals and conventions in June 2009. While 18 months is a long time by Hollywood standards, many of the independent directors I've spoken to are only now finishing projects they started in 2006, so I guess we moved pretty fast.
Q: What was the most challenging part about production?
The biggest challenges were logistical, just trying to get up to 30 unpaid actors and crew members in the same room at the same time. Anyone who's ever planned a party knows how hard it is bringing that many people together in their spare time: now imagine scheduling 21 separate shooting days, Hopefully THE LANDLORD will mark the last time we have to work that way - simply having everyone getting paid and present all day for 18 days in a row should make shooting the next project easier.
On the technical side, we had more than 240 effects shots: demons teleporting, vampires getting shot in the face, portals to Hell opening up, people bursting into flames, and other, bigger effects that I won't mention to avoid spoilers. THE LANDLORD is not a small story - while most indie films consist mostly of people sitting in coffee shops having conversations, and even horror movies tend to keep the monsters in the shadows, we have all sorts of crazy FX and action scenes going on, with monsters walking around in broad daylight a la NIGHTBREED, and we show all of it. Maybe we should have aimed lower, but if you can forgive the occasional bit of low-budget cheesiness, I'm proud that we managed to tell such a complicated story effectively.
Q: What is your background as a filmmaker?
Before THE LANDLORD, the only thing I'd done is shoot some silly videos for the band that Derek and I used to be in. Those were fun, but for the most part they just involved a bunch of our non-actor friends dressing up in silly costumes and improvising goofy skits in front of a handycam. Really, it was Rom's performance as a government agent in our last video - an extended musical about two robot sex slaves who escape from an intergalactic resort and crash land on earth - that inspired us to attempt a "real" movie.
Q: You wrote, directed and edited the picture. Which one of those did you prefer doing?
It's a toss-up between writing and directing. Writing is great because it's basically structured daydreaming, and you can escape into a fantasy world with your characters. Directing is the opposite: it's all about engaging with reality, working with people, materials, and equipment to recreate your dreams for the camera, so you can share them with the world. I'm just amazed at how close the finished movie of THE LANDLORD resembles the original script - there were some things that were just too ambitious for us to realize without millions of dollars, but most of the important parts are there.
Q: Do you have another horror movie in the works?
We're developing three different projects - one of them relatively cheap, another one mid-priced, and a third that would cost over two million dollars to do properly. The first one - I wouldn't call it a "zombie movie", but it's set in a small town twelve years after a zombie apocalypse, with a few dozen survivors trying to get on with their lives in a dangerous and terrifying new world. The second is a slasher movie, but with a few major twists that make it unlike anything you've seen in HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH - our slasher has a good reason for killing people, making the whole thing really morally gray. The last movie is basically a sci-fi action film, set in a prison for monsters in a world where vampires and werewolves are real. Which one we do depends on how much money we raise, but whatever the case we'll be applying the lessons we learned making THE LANDLORD, and hopefully the results will be a hundred times better.