I grew up wanting to make movies ever since I saw The Evil Dead trilogy in junior high. The second I put Army of Darkness in the VCR I had my mind made up what I wanted to do with my life even if that meant years and years of struggling to do it. And that's what came next-- the struggling. I went to film school in New York and stayed in the city ever since. NYU was a great opportunity to just work, make short films and meet other people doing the same thing. My senior film was "The Underdogs", a kind of big gothic horror short about killer dogs who take over a small rural town in Pennsylvania. In that I was lucky enough to cast Nick Damici, Tim House, Rodney Gray and the one-and-only Debbie Rochon, all of whom I went on to work with on Mulberry Street. That film played a handful of festivals and was a great calling card to show we could do more. After graduating I did whatever the hell I could do to keep a foot in the industry. First as a production assistant and storyboard artist for a few years, then I fell into grip and electric work for a few years and spent most of my time on movie sets in the lighting department. After slugging it out with sandbags for a few years I was lucky enough to buy an editing set-up and get work cutting corporate videos and commercials. That's where I got a feel for putting things together and learned the big lesson of getting enough coverage and options to shape into a final product. Two or three years later the opportunity to do Mulberry Street with a tiny budget came along and as terrifying as it was (and still kind of is) it snowballed into the real thing and that became my obsession for about two a half years. During that experience and even still, I mostly do editing work, most recently at IFC cutting movie trailers.
Q: What horror movies have influenced you the most? What are your top five horror movies of all time?
First up is ARMY OF DARKNESS. I was addicted to that movie from the first time I saw it. That was kind of my education in filmmaking really. From there I fell in love with Peter Jackson's early movies, Dario Argento's early movies, and John Carpenter's work. Anything that scared me made me want to learn how it scared me and what it did to to crawl under my skin. As time goes on I'm more into seeing what new things people can do with the genre. Mixing it with other genres or bringing really strong characterization to what could be an otherwise traditional horror romp. I also love anytime an insane idea is approached with complete sincerity. Movies like Cronenberg's The Fly or even Reign of Fire are such ridiculous premises but they're done with such complete conviction that they suck you in and you forget that they could just be lame B movies. My top five (of the top of my head, these change day to day) would be:
1. The Thing 2. Suspiria 3. Night of the Living Dead 4. The Descent 5. Ginger Snaps (I have a soft spot for that movie)
Q: First, how did the idea for MULBERRY STREET come about?
After Nick Damici was in The Underdogs, we spent a few years dreaming up crazy ideas for indie horror movies. We came close a few times on other projects but mostly it was just to do it and dig into the process, hoping one day the chance would come to do one. That came when we finally hit the end of our ropes in our daily careers and realized we'd be ten times happier broke and beaten down on a no budget film as long as it gave us the chance to just work and do our own thing. We put our foot down and Nick banged out a script called "Dead of Night", a more traditional zombie film that took place in the winter in the country. We started to budget it out and realized there was no chance we could even put a crew up for a week at our budget level and so we kind of scrapped it. Then Tim House came along. He was a friend of Nick's at the time and he did a great job in my short. He offered to put up $10,000 at first to get it off the ground and so Nick just said "we can do it this script if we shoot it all in my kitchen". From there it snowballed and never stopped. We went through thirty-some drafts of the script and re-set it all to take place in his building using people and places we knew we could get for the film. My girlfriend is an amazing producer at Belladonna Productions and she kind of took us under her wing and shepherded us along in how to put a low-budget movie together. And once we started doing it, thing just fell into place. Cast, crew, and locations all saw the energy involved and jumped aboard and before we knew it were on set in Nick's kitchen shooting this crazy movie and having a blast through it all.
Q: You had mentioned you spent three years of your life on the movie...what was the most difficult part of that?
Waiting. I HATE waiting as most people do, but waiting for things to come together when it's out of your hands just kills me. It took me a year to cut the film and then another few months in post getting sound and music on all lined up... and then you sit... and wait and wait and wait to see where it's going to go. Festivals, sales reps, distributors, anything. In actuality we were really fortunate to get what we did, because once we got accepted to South By Southwest, festivals really just ate it up and we were invited all over the world to screen at some amazing places. After that our Lions Gate/After Dark deal came together (over many months) and we got a really great campaign behind it to get it into theaters and now on to DVD. So I can't complain about anything, but the waiting is very hard.
Now we're lining up the next film, and again it's a waiting game. First the writer's strike, then pounding out new drafts, and approaching cast and investors. Again we've been really lucky so far. We have some AMAZING response from casting so far and it looks like we might actually be doing this one soon, but when I look back I realize it's already been over a year since we wrote the first draft and it's a long process of evolution even before a single chip falls.
Q: How did you go about casting your actors?
They're all friends! Nick, Tim, Debbie, Rodney (the train platform guy), Kim Blair (Clutch's daughter), Larry Fleischman (Charlie)... all of them were friends. Frank the old bed-ridden war vet is Nick's real father who's never acted before in his life. We wrote most of the parts around the actors we knew would be right for the part and everyone loved the opportunity of shooting a down and dirty horror movie in the neighborhood. It's kind of the purest casting you can do. No auditions. That's the best part of living in the city and keeping your foot in the business. You're surrounded by incredibly talented and experienced people who are hungry to work and try new things. I'm the luckiest director in the world because a lot of indies wind up with terrible acting by friends of the production but in this case I sat back everyday on set and was blessed to be surrounded by an amazing cast that went on to make my job a hell of a lot easier.
Q: There's also brief cameos by Debbie Rochon and Larry Fessenden, low budget horror icons.
Yes I got the chance to cast Debbie in a small role in my short, and then went on to work on another short right after that with her. She's just amazing. Her spirit and drive and commitment to working is unbelievable. She was actually the first thing we shot for the movie and we shot TONS of footage of her as the newscaster that sets up the story. Unfortunately we had to limit a lot of those scenes because the script and the story kept changing as we shot and edited the film so a lot of the events we shot with her wound up being obsolete a year later. I love having her in those scenes though and again having her on set makes it a blast to be making films. I hope we'll continue to work together on everything from here out.
Larry Fessenden has been a hero of mine and most indie genre filmmakers since I saw HABIT. I love all of his movies, but even more I love his process and his attitude towards the genre and towards filmmaking. I had asked him a few years earlier to help come on board another film I was trying to make before Mulberry Street, and he was so gracious about it generous with his time and his thoughts. Unfortunately I couldn't get the rights to that book ( it was Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires which I believe is in development now at a studio) but I tried to stay in touch and when Mulberry Street came along, his office is literally two doors down from our bar location, so we asked if he'd give us a few hours one night to get killed outside of his front door and he was game. Both Debbie and Larry are great forces in the indie horror game and it was a treat to work with both of them.
Q: How has the reaction been to MULBERRY STREET once it was released as part of Lion's Gate HORRORFEST.
The reaction has been unbelievable since we premiered in a year and a half ago. We started in Stockholm at the end of 2006 and then came to the US at SXSW. The reaction started small but kept growing and growing and catching on with fans. I think at first the attitude was that it was just a tiny film that had a crazy premise and a bunch of no name actors talking in their kitchens. Some people really hated that but after a few festivals it really caught on and people were seeing what we were trying to accomplish and that a lot of the ideas were done intentionally. Roughly sketched characterizations, an vivid sense of place, no fire arms, and a down beat ending are NOT flaws. That was the idea the whole time, and we were embracing that, not trying to compete with Hollywood. Tribeca gave us a really big boost because audiences fell head over heels for it at the festival. Then FanTasia came along and Mitch Davis championed it and really opened it up for a wider appeal. We steam rolled through a few more screenings and they literally led right up to HorrorFest last November. The reaction has been one of extremes, but that's how it's always been and I actually kind of like it that way. Some people hate the lo-fi filmmaking and the emphasis on characters, and then some love it and really appreciate it for those exact same reasons. It's been fun to see how it goes with the festival and international crowd and now we have the chance to see how it does in the rest of the country and in the rest of the world where anyone can pick up a DVD and see what it's all about.
Q: Are you working on another movie?
Nick and I just finished the latest of many drafts on COLD IN JULY, an adaptation of a phenomenal Joe Lansdale novel. It's very different from Mulberry Street (which is a good thing for my sanity) and the response has been terrific so far. Belladonna Productions is producing this one as well and we just got some great casting news last week. Nothing finalized so I can't say more unfortunately. It's a wildly entertaining story about a guy in East Texas in the late 80s who kills a burglar in self defense and then winds up being hunted by the dead man's father. And from there it takes some great twists and becomes a dark and dirty Lansdalien ride. I've been calling it a rural Western because while it has a great pulp noir feel to it, there's some really great characters and some interesting themes about fathers and sons and riding out obsessions. I'm hoping if things keep cooking like they have been that we'll be shooting by the fall of this year.