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Horror Interview by The Gravedigger
Q: I liked the premise for LIVE EVIL, particularly the whole idea that there are lots of different vampires with different rules of how they can be dispatched. You adapted the script from the original screenplay by Lance Polland. What did you bring to the story?
That element was mostly mine, though it, I felt was suggested by the premise. The premise being that vampires are dying out…. So I thought that they would, as species do, try to adapt to survive. In general I think vampire movies are done too frequently with too few new ideas. The first screenplay I ever wrote was a revisionist/adaptation of Dracula that remains a dream project for me, so I've always wanted to do a vampire film but not the same old thing. If you're tired of vampire films I hope that LIVE EVIL is the film for you. If you're not tired of vampire films then I hope you're open to something different, that acknowledges the old rules but sets up new ones of it's own. Maybe also a thing that has happened, in my opinion, with vampire films is they have become too super serious. So I wanted this script and film to have elements of the absurd in there too, and acknowledge the many many vampire films that have come before. I think you almost have to do that with vampire films as there are just so many of them it's kind of astounding. The tone of this movie allowed for that, it has retro roots, intentionally so, it honors some and sends up others with dark absurdist humor.
This is not a script like, or a film like, I've had the chance to make before which excited me about the whole thing.
The draft of LIVE EVIL I read was rather short, too short to make a full feature. It was told it was a first draft written over a long period of time, scenes went on too long, characters names changed, others scenes were almost only in treatment form, etc. What you'd find in most first drafts really, not knocking it for that. I thought though that the overall shape of it could make a good movie.
It suggested, to me, a bunch of stuff it didn't explore. It set up jokes that weren't paid off. I probably cut that script in half as it existed and then went into new areas, like the different types of vampires and the vampire babies, and made more of, and added other homage elements like Blacksploitation films, Spaghetti Westerns…. I thought the script either had to cut those elements out or really run with them. I decided to run for it. I also brought in elements of Hammer films and Japanese Samurai films; they just seemed to fit for whatever reason. In writing and directing LIVE EVIL I looked for influences that were not vampire films to keep me out of the vampire rut. I even avoided seeing new vampire films for the whole run of the production. I also added a couple of what I'd call Vampire manifesto moments that the script lacked.
The producer Mark Terry suggested that maybe the priest wear a scarf and that maybe it meant something. He didn't know what, but I did as soon as he mentioned it. He said make the script my own. I mean that's what you have to do if you're going to make a film, part of making it your own is hopefully knowing what the film is trying to be, as it relates to you. You have to say, okay this material means this and that to me, and then you go on to turn it into what you feel it should be. You turn it into the movie you'd want to watch. You do that as a writer and as the director if you are, as I was in this case.
Someone told me after seeing the film that it looked like the original intention was to remake Near Dark but that then the film set up it's own tone. I think that might be true, I wasn't interested in remaking Near Dark, that's been done and done better as the original movie that's very well known already.
Q: The movie stars Tim Thomerson in the lead role, as a priest seeking revenge on the vampires. Is this the first time you worked with Thomerson on a movie even though you did TRANCERS 6, which was kind of "channeling" the Jack Deth character he had portrayed in previous? How was that experience?
No, I worked with Tim on UNSEEN ten years ago and stayed in touch off and on ever since. He was my neighbor at the time and he would have been in my film IRON THUNDER before UNSEEN but he was out of the country when it was made. So you see we go, what could now be called "way back." I only did LIVE EVIL because Tim told me privately before I even finished rewriting the script that he would be in it. I had only done TRANCERS 6 because Tim was going to be in it, but that didn't work out because Tim and Full Moon couldn't come to terms over money. Tim's recently said that a previous draft of TRANCERS 6 was really the movie he wanted to make not what Full Moon wanted to do as a passing the torch film. So I got stuck making TRANCERS 6 without him. Knowing him I did some ghost rewriting to put in some Thomerson-style one liners in but it wasn't the real thing. LIVE EVIL would be the real thing or I wasn't going to do it. Once burned twice shy. Also I should say that some part of what got me hired to rewrite and direct LIVE EVIL was or would be my ability to get Tim to play the priest. As they say, "it's who you know…."
My rewrite was in part to make it a Tim Thomerson movie as well as anything else. First off I made the Priest role larger. This would be the kind of movie Tim would be the lead in, not like many of those that he's done recently and it's filmmakers' loss that they don't put him up front and center more often. Stars like Lee Marvin and John Wayne kept making action type films their whole careers. After a certain age though that's not done now with so called "older" actors that much anymore. Not that it's an action film but look at the success of GRAN TORINO, which plays perfectly off of that. That type lead gives the movie a weight it doesn't have otherwise. Or just say less pretentiously, it has positive novelty value now. Anyway this movie seemed right for Tim and Mark Terry wanted Tim in the movie. The crucial thing Mark and I had in common was that we were both wanted to make the same kind of film on many levels. You have to have that with a producer and you don't always.
And how many producers have come to me saying. "Can you get me Tim Thomerson to be the lead in this movie?" Not many, so it was a great chance for me.
I knew the movies Tim was into, and the films Tim had done that he liked doing and didn't. He's a huge movie fan by the way, and I was into those type films as well, so he was in on the joke so to speak. The car the priest character drives at the beginning of the movie is exactly the kind of car Tim used to drive when I first met him. All those kind of things can work into a film when you have that kind of connection to an actor.
I went over the final dialog with him and did minor tweaks when we rehearsed the film too. Tim gave me his trust. That kept me going through some wild and wooly indie production moments. I knew he'd be on my side when and if things got tough which they always do. This was done to both exploit, in a good way, what Tim brings to the table but also go beyond that into things he hasn't done before. He lived up to everything I'd hoped we'd be able to do with him in the movie. It's designed to be a Tim Thomerson fan's wet dream movie. If that's not too graphic an idea, and if it is too graphic an idea to consider then the movie will be too "out there" for you as well.
Q: The one thing I thought interesting is that there are really no "good guys" in the entire movie.
The good guys are dead buried and forgotten in the world this film happens in. I don't know that there are any totally bad guys in this movie either, though. Well the youngest vampire character, the first to die, is pretty much out for themselves and has no "long view" and that character gets what they deserve, as do some other supporting victim parts. I don't' find pure characters too interesting. Thomerson's character is a badass type character on the surface but we know why by the end. There is a key line when he admits that revenge has made him bleed his whole life. The violence in the movie is over the top many times and audacity was something I encouraged. But there is some emotional grounding to it for the characters.
I think you always make any movie better when you make the characters more complicated, more human. There are moments in this film where the vampires are sympathetic, pathetic, and/or ridiculous. The basic structure of what's going on is straight forward, that doesn't mean everything else has to be.
Q: This is also the first time you've worked with Ken Foree?
I worked with Ken on a film project that fell apart at the last moment, and could still happen, called DARK BETWEEN THE STARS. The film fell apart two days before production and we did rehearsals etc. But this is the first time we worked together in a way anyone else could enjoy! LOL. So Ken's being in the movie is also a function of my involvement, though the producers had other ideas I kept pressing for Ken, who was certainly on their list of people they were considering, I'm just saying I helped make that happen and, like with Tim, then rewrote the part for Ken. Both Ken and I wanted to work together and saw this as a nice opportunity that came sort of out of the blue for that to happen.
Q: There are a ton of effects in the movie. Who was your effects crew?
Everybody and their dog spot. I actually met producer Mark Terry through the FX man on my previous film Ghost Lake, Marcus Koch. Marcus even came to LA from Florida to pitch in some FX on this film. You see this movie was shot over nearly a year's time for a total of 42 non-consecutive days. It was a death march and as people dropped in their tracks, from all departments, we got new prisoners to abuse and replace them with. Attrition isn't a strong enough word, it was more like a Plague wiping out crew more and more quickly as time went on. After we burned through all the people Mark Terry could find I brought in Jeff Leroy to help kind of fill in the holes during the last days of purely effects inserts and re-shoots. Also in post I brought in John Ellis to do some subtle CG work that cleaned up some ragged areas in the movie. I don't think you can even tell what John did, which is maybe the way CG should always be, invisible. Anyway those two guys really helped bring it all together into a whole. I mean it was a big big job, the effects, so we ended up with many small crews coming and going until the gruesome end.
Q: What is your favorite scene in the movie?
To me, if a movie works it's more than the sum of the parts. So I don't think of them that way. On a bad movie it's easy to feel, or tell yourself, oh well at least this or that worked. So I guess that's a good sign for LIVE EVIL that I don't have that list. LOL
One of the reasons I made the movie was for the scene with the baby head on the priest's sword. I told Tim when we did the scene, "No pressure but I made this whole movie just for this moment." I don't want to spoil it but the shot is in all the trailers. All the actors, and we didn't mention Tiffany Shepis being in the film, have moments that they really delivered on. Things I wrote, and was looking forward to, and then the results were as good or better than I expected. I feel like all the characters have good "pay off" moments.
Q: You've done a lot of horror movies. What challenges you when you make a film?
Most of the challenges to filmmaking have to do with time and money and there is never enough of either unless there is too much of both, so the genre of movie doesn't change that too much. I told a producer that was assuming a movie we were about to do would be easy that there are no easy movies. But I'm probably taking the word "challenge" too literally. I don't try to "play to my strengths" when doing films. I think that phrase is kind of corrupt. I think a film should be ambitious by nature and there should be things you don't know, but feel, that you can pull off. Over time a certain confidence is there, you need to have that, so you don't try to play it safe with the material you choose. Safeness is dullness. Even worse is trying to do the type of film that you think you do well, or make sure you have "your" signature shots in it. All that is useless distraction. Destructive self-consciousness. Horror in film and perhaps much more so in literature and oral and folk tradition is rich with possibilities, and unexplored ones at that. The constant challenge if you get to keep making films is to get better in every area, to learn from what works and what doesn't. Keep learning from others too. Keep discovering new filmmakers and films you haven't heard of.
It's nice to have a wealth of experience you can dip into but it's invigorating to keep adding to that with new lessons. It's also important to remain a fan of films, not just your own. Don't get spoiled, well let's not mix words, I mean to say "ruined" by the nuts and bolts of the hideously dysfunctional pseudo-process of what's laughably called a film "business." A challenge is to remain enthusiastic but somehow realistic too. In equal measure.
Q: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON, in post-production, stars Aimee Brooks, who was so good in MONSTERMAN. What is that about?
Aimee's character wakes up in a wrecked car in an abandoned amusement park. She doesn't even know how she got there. She hears calls for help and finds a man impaled, but still alive, by a full size pine tree in the middle of the roller coaster. And that's sort of the most normal thing that happens to her as she tries to escape and is faced with different characters and scenarios that are all tied to the various disintegrating rides and stories from the parks' 130-year history. The other main characters are a boy her age who acts as a caretaker and a Carney who admits he's dead but refuses to say he's a ghost. The characters want to escape and the trick involves their own past with the park and issues of just what parks are to us. The park we shot at and many elements to the story are real. I wrote the part with Aimee in mind from the start. She's very good and it really gives her something to sink her teeth into.
Q: THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS is stars Corin Nemec and Ken Foree. By the title, is that H.P. Lovecraft inspired?
Also Aimee Brooks. That film is still in development but all these guys are attached to it. Ken is actually involved in getting the money put together to make it as well. Lovecraft was/ is an element though it's not mythos story. The film, THE LAST WAVE, was a big inspiration as I felt that a sort of American Indian based story like that would be effective. It does take from real creation myths of the Pima tribe and those deal with pre human creators of the world etc. So very Lovecraft but no Necronomicon, instead it has some "real" mumbo jumbo. As I like to say and believe, that real mumbo jumbo is the best kind. Lovecraft has his "old ones" in Native American lore they call them "those who have gone before." Creepy.