Q: It's been a while since your last interview on buried.com and in that time you moved from Florida to California. Was it much of an adjustment?
Not at all, I was happy to leave. Movies have always been more real to me than anything, so moving to the capital of cinema and breathing in that history seemed very natural for me. I've been here for three years now and I never want to return to Miami unless it's for the holidays. My family and friends are back there, as well as my wife's, but we both love LA so much that we don't really get homesick. I think anybody who moves to LA for the same reasons we did would feel the same. If you love movies, then Hollywood is the place for you. Miami has nightlife, sure, but I can't stand nightclubs or bars, really. Hollywood's nightlife is for cinephiles, though. On any given night you can head to the New Beverly Cinema to catch a double of grindhouse films, or the Silent Movie Theater for rare foreign goodies, or the Egyptian for their massive screen and restored classics. I'm in heaven here. Whereas in Miami all you had was the latest Hollywood blockbuster, in LA I don't think I've seen a recently released movie since The Crazies. I mostly go to see the older films, even if I own the disc. I want to see them on the screen, bigger than life, the way they were meant to be seen. So no, it wasn't a hard transition at all.
Q: You've written a few movies for the notorious The Asylum. Did that come about because they had distributed your CORPSES ARE FOREVER movie? Tell us a bit about that experience of working with the Davids.
Oh, boy. This might be a long one. The Asylum did distribute my second film, CORPSES ARE FOREVER, and while they did get it into video stores and all over the world, I wasn't very happy with the financial results. But making movies is a risk and in any case it opened a relationship with these guys. When I moved to LA, my wife and I had our first child, Abigail. It takes a while to get started in the movie business, as everyone knows, so finding myself without a job I decided to contact David Michael Latt and basically beg for a job, anything having to do with movies. Before I say anything else, I have to say I am extremely grateful for the help Latt and David Rimawi and Paul Bales gave me in hiring me on and allowing me to work in the industry, however marginally.
I was hired on as the Production Manager for THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED, their mockbuster of... well, I'm sure you can figure that out. We started with no script, no cast, no director, and they wanted me to start locking locations. We had three weeks of pre-pro and that amounted to two weeks of me and the Line Producer sitting on our hands until the script was finished. In the end, we got C. Thomas Howell on board to star and direct, plus a cameo with Judd Nelson, and a bit part for Bug Hall (Alfalfa from THE LITTLE RASCALS remake). We would have had Tom Sizemore, but he walked off the set in a drug-fueled stupor when we didn't have his pay ready for him in cash. That shoot was probably the toughest filmmaking experience of my life. Imagine being the guy who everyone goes to for problem-solving but having none of the power to really solve anything. I felt handicapped by miscommunication and a real lack of respect on the set. It was extremely disheartening, but I never quit because I needed the dough.
After that was all over, I told the Davids that I never wanted to production manage again. I was more interested in writing and directing, of course. They were very protective over the director's seat, even though I had directed twice before, however the screenwriter's slot was waiting to be filled. They were prepping an end of the world religious thriller called COUNTDOWN: JERUSALEM and they needed a writer. I wrote a 10-page sample overnight and won the job. The fact is that I think I got it more from being able to turn out a feature script in three days than for the quality of my writing. This period was as tempestuous as the production of EARTH STOPPED. I love writing and I've written enough screenplays to get to a comfortable place where my first draft, done in 3 to 4 days, will be as good as someone's third draft. The problems started with their ridiculous notes and bits of business that I had to force into a story that had no room for them. It started out as a political thriller with religious over tones set in Israel, and soon became a disaster movie thriller set mostly in LA with a reporter trying to track down her daughter (who had actually been raptured) and teaming up with an angel (who was originally a CIA agent) to stop a terrorist cell trying to bring about the end of days. In the end, Latt and I had so many disagreements over the finished script that he rewrote it to fit his tastes and made that movie. The film was well directed by Adam Silver, and that was the film's only saving grace. I still can't watch it objectively, though.
Next up was their TERMINTOR ripoff, which was to be called TERMINATORS. When these guys rip a movie off, they are boldfaced about it. I turned it down because I had no interest in suffering through another writing session with these guys, much less being responsible for churning out a mockbuster. But two weeks later, I got a call on Thanksgiving from Latt, asking me to do a rewrite on the draft they got from another writer. It was the day before Black Friday and again I need dough, so I agreed. I spent a day on it, tweaking here and there, and sent it in. I asked for no credit on the finished product, but they gave it to me anyway.
The last thing I did for them, and probably the last thing I ever will do for them, was their recent horror film THE HAUNTING OF WINCHESTER. Latt came to me because I had asked him to keep me in mind if they ever went back to horror films, which they used to specialize in. Well, they were bringing them back, and I was asked to write it. It would be a traditional haunted house tale, set in the famed Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California and we were going to do it in 3D. Well, to make a long story short, I lost the director's chair to Asylum regular Mark Atkins, who's directed a ton of stuff for them, and after 2 weeks of work and 6 drafts trying to juggle their ridiculous plot impositions and notes, my script was thrown out by the director and he rewrote his own. The Davids agreed on that version and that was the one shot. I can't say I was pissed, because at this point I really didn't give a crap and I started to not like these guys very much. Latt called me up to explain what had happened, and all I said was "As long as you pay me, I don't care." They paid me and we went our separate ways. In the end, all I got was story credit, and I had to share it with the director. You don't write for The Asylum, you type for them.
I can't say that my stint there was pleasant, but I was grateful for the experience and I certainly made good friends with people I work with to this day. People who have all defected from The Asylum.
Q: I was looking on the IMDB and you have more credits as an actor than anything else. Is this something you are actively pursuing or does it just come up while working on other projects?
I actually got into movies because I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be James Bond or John Maclain. I wanted to be the hero jumping off of buildings, blasting away at bad guys and driving badass cars with hot ladies fawning over me. That's why I'm the lead in my first two films. But after that I realized I wasn't really an actor, and it was hard to concentrate on directing the crew and the rest of the actors while I was the lead.
Most of my acting credits after my first two films, were just a case of me being on set and them needing an extra body. I did get to work with the notorious Doris Wishman on her last film, and I did have a few scenes in that, which was an interesting experience. Also, a funny side note from my appearance in COUNTDOWN: JERUSALEM, I was cut out, much like the bulk of my script.
Q: Your daughter is in THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED?
Yeah, my daughter, at the time three months old, makes an appearance as the baby that saves the world. She was supposed to play a newborn, but we had to work with what we had. It was kind of a last minute save for the script, and a way to get Judd Nelson into the movie somehow. She was a great little actress, too. Everyone fell in love with her on set. I have pictures of her being held by Judd, who played her dad, and that day is actually one of my warmest filmmaking memories. My wife Jessica and I have discussed whether we want her to become an actor, but we agreed not to push her into it. It has to be her decisions, much like ours was to make movies. I want her to do whatever she wants to do. She's turning two now, and it looks like she's might actually be made for the limelight. But whatever she chooses, she will always be immortalized on film as a three-month-old newborn that saved us from a robot apocalypse.
Q: Rumor has it that you're working with Ruben Pla on a film and with Thomas Jane on a western. Tell us about your upcoming projects?
The rumors are true. My biggest thing is my western A MAGNIFICENT DEATH FROM A SHATTERED HAND, which I am developing with Thomas Jane. I got him attached to star after a chance meeting at Comic-con 2009. He loved the material, and now he's officially come on board to direct and produce it. The film is basically a down-and-dirty throwback to the Sergio Leone-style spaghetti westerns. Lost of bad men doing bad things, motivated by greed. It's going to be awesome, and I hope it manages to do what SCREAM did for horror and ushers in a new era of westerns, violent ones. We are hoping to get rolling by the end of the year, but you can never be too sure when it comes to locking funding. What we do know is Thomas is 100% on board, I'm interested in seeing what Ruben Pla can do with our dirty Mexican Eli Wallach character, and Danny Trejo and Kris Kristofferson's people have expressed interest.
Before that all happens, though, I may be working on a horror remake of my own. I'm going to be partnering up with Johnny Legend to work on a remake of the 1963 classic THE SADIST. If you guys haven't seen this film, please track it down it's awesome. The best thing is that the film is begging for a remake, because even though it is well known in obscure circles, it has been dismissed from the mainstream, making it the perfect candidate for an update. We are working on getting Arch Hall Jr.'s blessing, who starred as the titular character in the original. The plan is to keep the suspense and insanity of the original, but pile on the blood and violence.
In the meantime I have been keeping busy directing music videos and short films, trying to keep from getting rusty. It's been a while since I tackled a feature, so I want to be ready when THE SADIST starts rolling. I'm working on a musical now called THE BALLAD OF BUCK TRUCKER starring Brian Larrabee, the excellent Ruben Pla, and Zoe McLellan (from the DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS movie, and also from DIRTY SEXY MONEY). That's a short that should be out by the summer and we're plastering festivals with that one. I'm also hoping to land an agent soon, which is something that has been eluding me for a while.
All in all, it's been a great year, and it's looking better and better each day! A lot of guys who started out in micro cinema have fallen by the wayside, getting trounced by critics or the failures of their movies. But I'm here to say that if you know you don't want to do anything else but make movies, then go fucking make movies or you will regret it your whole life. Not that I'm anywhere different from when I started, at least I don't think so, but I'm working my way to exactly where I want to be.