GUT-PILE(director) THE VICIOUS SWEET (Producer) STRAWBERRY ESTATES (Producer)
I grew up at a time when home movies were shot on film. Video was not an option. That's how I "cut my teeth", making dozens of Super 8mm sound/silent film shorts, mostly horror films. Years later, in the Spring of 1996, I met Ron Bonk of Salt City Home Video. We hit it off and soon thereafter I became producer of his feature THE VICIOUS SWEET. I also had a fleeting appearance in the movie. Then came GUT PILE, which I wrote and directed with Ron producing. GUT PILE was a very long and drawn out shoot. It was during this time that I again acted as producer on Ron's STRAWBERRY ESTATES. I have a slightly larger cameo in this one. After that, we switched gears and turned to comedy with THE WORLD vs. SONNY & GINO, a feature based on a local cable access show. Here I have my biggest "acting" role to date. We returned to horror with the anthology B-MOVIE THEATER PRESENTS. Some of my other contributions to these flicks include set construction, creating custom props and special makeup effects work. On occasion I also had to run and…pick up the pizza! I will act as producer again in the Summer of '99, when Ron's LITTLE SISTER goes into production.
Directors like George Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), Sam Raimi (EVIL DEAD), John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) and Tobe Hooper (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) have had a big influence on me. All of these movies were shot with a small crew and very little money (by Hollywood standards). They are considered classics today. I have much more respect for these "B-Movies" than I do for the Tinseltown megabuck films that usually have crews numbering in the hundreds and budgets in the millions. A low budget B-Movie is just the opposite and must make up with creativity what it lacks in resources.
The drive-ins were also a big influence. During the 70's and 80's they were the showcases for B Horror films. I recall seeing movies like THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE at the drive-in. They were kind of an all sensory experience. The dark woods behind the screen, the movie itself, the crickets, warm summer breeze, the smell of stale concession food and the sound that you could never get quite right on your radio. Even the bad movies seemed somehow good there. I knew I wanted to be a part of this…some how. Now with the drive-ins all but gone the new showcase for the B Horror movie is home video. Not quite the same atmosphere….but the hot dogs are better!
I didn't go the film school route so I'm not really sure what I missed. I'm sure it can be a valuable experience, teaching you all the fundamentals and maybe most important, allowing you access to the school's cameras and editing equipment. You'll also meet people who obviously share your interest and may help you on your future projects. I personally read a couple of filmmaking books when I was a teenager and made a bunch of Super 8mm movies using family and friends as actors, and my parents home for just about every interior location. I also think that I learned a lot simply by being a lifetime fan of horror films…and movies in general. As you see, I'm neither here nor there on the subject. The decision is up to the individual.
Your script is the most important part of your movie. It is the foundation or "skeleton". What you shoot becomes the "flesh". You don't want it to be disfigured! Before you shoot a single frame make sure that you are completely happy with the script. Read your dialogue out loud with someone and make sure that it doesn't sound goofy and flows the way you want it to. Have others, whose opinions you respect, read it and get their two cents worth.
Everything we have shot so far has been on S-VHS. The camera used to shoot GUT-PILE was a JVC GRSV9U, a very compact/lightweight camera that offers more mobility. You can place it on the end of a pole or put it inside of a pipe or…whatever. VICIOUS SWEET and STRAWBERRY ESTATES were shot with a Panasonic 456. We generally shoot with two, 250 watt lamps and a few "clamp on" lights found in any hardware store. You can find colored gels for your lights at your local stage/scenery store or check with a photo shop. Once shot, the raw footage is put into the computer and edited on Premiere. It is then transferred to Betacam, so the original quality holds up quite well. From there VHS copies are made and it's off to a television screen near you!
GUT PILE was brought in for just less than two thousand dollars. It was self financed. More than half of my budget went to my effects guys. In hindsight, if I had done the effects myself, I probably could have brought the movie in for about nine hundred dollars. For example, we had a foam latex "gut-pile" made which the lead character was to accidentally step in. If I could do it again I would go to a slaughterhouse and get a real gut pile. It would be a little disgusting at shooting time. However, that one act alone would have saved me $150-200. Keep your locations simple. If you have a budget of $400 (for example) don't write STAR WARS. It won't work. Use locations available to you. Your family and friends' homes and businesses. Woods are everywhere and always free.
If you don't have any connections to your local acting community place an advertisement in the paper and hold an audition. Make sure to appoint them a time, spacing them so they don't all show up at once. Videotape their performances. Even f some of these people are not right for your current production you now have them on tape and their phone numbers, for future reference. The cast of GUT PILE consisted of only five people. There was no need for a "formal audition". I cast them based on their work I had observed previously on VICIOUS SWEET.
My effects guys hooked me up with a buddy of theirs named Brian Boston. I contacted him, told him what I was doing, and he was into it. He sent me some sample tapes, which I really liked. I sent him edited scenes as we completed them to use as a reference. As of this writing he's just finishing his work on GUT PILE. If you don't have a music guy check the ads in some genre magazines like ALTERNATIVE CINEMA or even FANGORIA.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO MAKE YOUR FIRST FILM?:
Way too long! Ordinarily movies shot at this level seem to take about one to three weeks. We started shooting GUT PILE in October of 1996. The movie (which has a fall setting) was disrupted by an early winter. Winter in Syracuse can be brutal. My plan was to pick up where we left off in the spring. However, by the time spring arrived there was another problem. The lead actor not only held his previous day job but had now also picked up part time work at night. Between that and our own commitments we ended up shooting just one day a week, usually on Sunday nights. This continued throughout the summer and into October 1997 where, after one year (of very part time shooting) we wrapped. I'll never shoot like that again. The time next time I'll set aside ten or twelve days and shoot it all at once. This will also cut down on continuity problems.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH EFFECTS AT THIS LEVEL?
John Pinkerton and Chris Alexander came in from Ohio for a weekend in October 1996 to do the principle effects work on GUT PILE. Their duties included shotgun victim, wall-mounted head, man gutted on a truck hood and an animatronic corpse head (scarecrow). They did a great job. However, if you decide to work with any of these "guns for hire" be prepared to pay. Not because they are greedy, money hording ghouls, but because the cost of their materials is very high (foam latex, et cetera). Their labor was really quite reasonable. Local "dude" Jeff Meyer did some additional makeup effects using dime store Halloween products. Your budget will determine which path to take.
Just keep it simple. Use locations available to you and actors with flexible schedules. Don't let your shoot drag on too long. Try to do it in as much of a block of time as possible. Story-board your scenes ahead of time to make sure that they will cut together properly at editing time.
HOW IMPORTANT IS PUBLICITY?:
Publicity is very important but you have to direct it towards your target audience. For example, if your local television stations does a story on your antics, it may get you a pat on the back from Mom and Dad but it won't do shit for your sales. Contact the various genre magazines, submit "THE MAKING OF..." articles/photos. Send them a copy of the movie. They may review it.
WHAT ABOUT DISTRIBUTION:
Salt City Home Video will distribute GUT PILE as with all of our productions. Check the genre magazines (again) where Salt City, E.I., and a few others advertise. They are always looking for new product. Send them a copy of your movie.
I have a few ideas rolling around but I haven't decided which will be my next writer/director effort.
Stick with your dreams. I know that sounds corny as hell. It's been a loooong time from my Super 8mm shorts to GUT PILE!