Actor/Director/Producer Joe Zaso is one of the more prolific individuals working in the independent horror genre, primarily because he doesn't do just "one" thing. In true independent film fashion he directs and produces his own projects and acts in other independent films when time permits. Within in the next six months he will be seen in no less than three new direct-to-video horror films and will have completed his new production, MACHINES OF LOVE AND HATE. A veritable "Scream King" in his own right, he remains one of the most visible individuals in the U.S. Underground film movement.
Q: How long have you been making independent movies? Tell us a bit about your company
ZASO: My company, Cinema Image Productions, is a New York-based company which I formed back in 1986 when I was still a student, making a video feature called, "MALIGNO" (which won an award at the 1987 Suffolk County Film/Video Competition now known as the Long Island Film Festival). I am the president who mainly produces feature films. Back in 1990, I produced a less-than-stellar musical horror comedy called, "IT'S ONLY A MOVIE!" and then a Christmas music video in 1991. I spent the new few years working mostly as an actor in various indie projects before I meet up with filmmaker Joseph F. Parda. He is my partner who usually writes and directs the feature film projects that we both develop. We both work on our projects between Manhattan and Long Island.
Q: How did you meet collaborator Joe Parda?
ZASO: Joe Parda and I met back in 1992, when we were both film students at The New York Institute of Technology. Through mutual colleagues, we were both acting in a 16mm grad film project called, "Frankenstein Reborn" (sadly never completed) which was an homage to Hammer horror films. As both enjoy European horror films, we eventually became good friends and one day back in early 1994, Joe handed me a script to a giallo film called, "Five Dead on the Crimson Canvas," which he wrote. I immediately enjoyed the script and elected to produce it for him. We both decided that he direct the film and that I play the lead role of Bill Streeb. I helped develop the plot a little bit more and after two VERY strenuous years, this Super 8mm feature film was finally completed in 1996. Since then, Joe and I have worked on two video anthology films including, "GUILTY PLEASURES" (1997) and "EVIL STREETS" (1998), for which Joe and I contributed an episode entitled, "Szamota's Mistress." Joe Parda now has his own little production company which will merge with Cinema Image Productions for upcoming projects
Q: When you are in pre-production on a movie do you write roles specifically for yourself to play?
ZASO: Actually, no. I don't work to develop specific roles for myself. It is great when I get to produce a project that holds a great role for me to play. Joe Parda cast me in "5 DEAD" and "Szamota's Mistress" (from EVIL STREETS) because he thought I'd be good for the main roles. However, one day, Joe and I had a meeting to discuss the development of "GUILTY PLEASURES." I had just come from working out at the gym and Joe uttered, "You go to the gym EVERY day? You're crazy, you're a narcissist!" And that gave him the idea for my insane character of his episode of "GUILTY PLEASURES" called "Nocturnal Emissions." I wrote and directed the second episode, "METHOD TO THE MADNESS," but I did not act in it. I don't like to act in the films I write and direct.
Q: How was it doing a nude scene with "Scream Queen" Tina Krause?
ZASO: It was actually a lot fun. But as countless other actors and actresses have mentioned before, the actually shooting of these scenes is mainly a lot of repetitious choreography. Tina Krause and I did snicker a lot on the set. She's terrific to work with.
Q: What is your new project?
ZASO: Our new project is a 16mm black and white feature called, "MACHINES OF LOVE AND HATE". I can't reveal too much but I will mention that it combines paranoia, stalking, intense sexuality, hatred and a little voodoo into a wild, surreal plot too complicated to explain this briefly. I'll keep you posted. "MACHINES OF LOVE AND HATE" is produced by me and Joe Parda wrote, directed and co-produced.
Q: What is the favorite film you have worked on?
ZASO: My favorite film to work on was "5 DEAD ON THE CRIMSON CANVAS" because of the team spirit I felt. We had a really special group on that one and it was such a long haul. It will always have a special place in my heart. The other film I am proud of is my episode of "GUILTY PLEASURES." I would really like to see that film get wider distribution than it is getting now.
Q: What is the strangest experience you've ever had while working on a film?
ZASO: EVERY film I work on has given me strange experiences. I think any of the things I did in "GUILTY PLEASURES" would qualify the most.
Q: Which famous director would you like to work with?
ZASO: If given the chances, DEFINITELY Dario Argento. I visit Rome every year or so, and hopefully I will be there when he is working on a new project. Behind or in-front of the scenes, I'm sure I would enjoy any opportunity offered. I would love to work with Jessica Harper (as her producer or co-star). Also, Daria Nicolodi and Asia Argento. You can see the Italian horror/mainstream scene is where my heart is at. As for non-genre personalities, I would love to act for Woody Allen and any director one over at Miramax.
Q: Why do you make movies?
ZASO: I make movies simply because it's always been something I've desired to do more than anything. Since I was a child. Movies, for some reason, have always been something of an obsession with me. Many of the friends and acquaintances I've made and many of the craziest experiences I've encountered have been because of movies. No matter what, I always find myself drawn to working on film projects. I believe it's where I do my absolute best work because it's truly an undeniable passion for me. When I'm not making films or acting, I need to do something creative. It's an impulse. I consider most non-creative work to be a necessary evil and nothing more.
Q: Tell us about your recent acting roles¦
ZASO: The characters I played in "ADDICTED TO MURDER 3: BLOODLUST" and "DATE WITH A VAMPIRE" were rather brief. In all honesty, the directors of these films called me for one day each, so I really didn't become involved with much of the project or the characters. Although, I'll admit working just one day on each of these films was fun. I just did "DATE WITH A VAMPIRE" for director Jeffrey Arsenault, who I've always wanted to work with. I did this film as a favor and basically, the night's shoot involved me getting a pretty nasty vampire make-over and then tearing the tank top off an actress before biting her neck while standing in the pit of an old boiler room. Not your typical Thursday night. For "ADDICTED TO MURDER 3," I was able to work with Sarah K. Lippman who is a terrific actress. I also met actor/filmmaker Santo Marotta on the set of that film and a couple of months later, he offered me the role of his brother in the upcoming werewolf film, "RAGE OF THE WEREWOLF." That was a film I enjoyed doing because I was able to rehearse quite a bit and basically get absorbed by the entire project. My character of the evil "Lazlo" was one of the most amusing roles I've been able to play, and I enjoyed working with Sasha Graham and Debbie Rochon again.
Q: Where do you think you'll be five years from now?
ZASO: In 5 years, who can say? But I would at least like to be working comfortably as actor and/or producer, making a steady income. That's enough for me, for now.