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Ritch Yarber
Horror Interview by The Gravedigger

Q: What is your background as a filmmaker?

I'm 48 years old and have been interested in filmmaking and entertainment my whole life. When I was younger, I was planning on attending USC to learn the craft of filmmaking. I had tinkered with writing and shooting little Super 8 movies and just knew that was what I wanted to do in life. Well, life does not always turn out as we plan, so, with an enormous lack of self-confidence and the ready excuse of not wanting to leave my paraplegic Father alone in Cleveland, I turned down that opportunity and settled for the more comfortable path that most of my friends followed...local college (CSU) which I ended up dropping out of since I really did not want to become an accountant (I hate Math!), taking a blue-collar job, getting married, having kids, etc. I worked (and still do) at a job in the grocery industry for 15 years, all the while dreaming and talking about working on a movie, but, never actually doing it, then, in 2000, I was attending a film convention in Maryland and happened to meet New Jersey filmmaker Karl Petry (Ironbound Vampire). I told him about some script ideas that I had and about how I had always dreamed of making movies but could not get enough money, enough help, enough..anything..to actually start making my dream come true. He sat me down and told me to quit talking and start shooting, something, anything. He said that everybody talks, but, only a few ever actually start shooting anything. That was the key he told me. Shoot something..anything! This had a profound effect on me. I returned home and concocted a simple script that could easily be shot. I was fortunate enough to start a conversation with a couple guys at work that I did not know, but who were very interested in making movies as well. That summer we shot "Transylvania Police: Monster Squad", a parody of the television show COPS that featured classic movie monsters that were now out of work , down on their luck and running rampant in the town of Transylvania. It plays like the tv show does on Saturday night, two episodes and some fake commercials. We used Conrad Brooks as the wrap-around host (our "name" actor). We finished the movie and started selling it anywhere we could. We were shocked when we made a profit in only three days!!! We had to do more!!! The movie is now available from Alpha Home Video at www.oldies.com as the second movie in a two movie DVD along with Conrad Brooks' Gypsy Vampire 3. In 2000, we started calling ourselves TwistedSpine.com Films and started our website www.twistedspine.com, "Your premiere Micro-budget film experience!". Since that time, we have steadily increased our filmmaking efforts, always seeking to improve our quality, our scripts, our actors, our crew. We have produced "The Deep Dark Woods" a film that was shot on Hi-8 and, due to a challenge that we placed on ourselves, was shot in one long day. This was the first film we did that had actual actors we cast from a casting call, a real crew, and some actual movie equipment. The movie and it's main character, a psychopathic park ranger proved to be popular enough that it spawned a sequel "The Deep Dark Woods: No Witnesses", our first film to be shot with a professional grade camera (Canon XL) and a good efficient crew. This film was featured in several film festivals and won the award for Best Cast Performance at the 2008 Late Night Horror Film Festival in California beating out the movie "Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer" in that category which featured Hollywood veteran Robert Englund. As this movie was making it's rounds, we were already in production for "Murder Machine!", our most ambitious project to date. Our filmmaking group has a policy that opens the door to talented individuals that want to express their work and make actual significant contributions to an actual work in progress. As we learned the craft of filmmaking, without the benefit of formal training, we are giving others the same opportunity to learn and grow and show their talents in what we call "full-length resumes". A couple of our actors have since made the move to California to further their hopes and have had the chance to make some high-profile appearances with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. We really think that, in micro-budget film circles, we are the cream of the crop in Cleveland filmmaking. Our aim is to provide high quality stories, acting and entertainment to the viewer, not just slap together a pretty box cover with empty promises.

Q: What would you say are the horror movies that influenced you most?

I think that my influences are rather usual. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead", "Friday the Thirteenth" series, "Halloween", "Alien", "The Exorcist" and "The Evil Dead". However, I think that my love of all types of movies has influenced my filmmaking style overall. I grew up watching westerns, gangster movies, musicals, comedies. The quality of these movies always attracted me, regardless of the genre. Despite my love for horror movies, I would say my filmmaking is directly influenced by some of my favorite films "The Graduate", Jean-Paul Belmondo's "That Man From Rio", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", movies that took you on a journey that you did not want to end. That is my goal..to entertain the viewer from beginning to end and to leave them thinking fondly about characters or situations from the film.

Q: How did Murder Machine! come about?

Murder Machine was actually developed at the Cinema Wasteland Convention here in Cleveland, Ohio. My partners and I were looking on putting together a new twist on the typical slasher movie. We had tossed around different scenarios and had talked, jokingly, about a killer that was like a James Bond type, skilled in all facets of killing but with a psychopathic disposition. While at the convention, (I love horror conventions, particularly Cinema Wasteland) I noticed with amusement and a little trepidation the many fans of the actors of serial killer movies like Friday the Thirteenth and Halloween and how many don't say they are there to meet Kane Hodder or Dick Warlock, but rather, Jason or Michael Myers. I've heard weird tales of some of these fans devotion and attraction to these characters that literally disturbed the actual actors. As I pondered these facts, I sat in the screening room and watched feature after low-budget feature created by my fellow colleagues in micro-budget filmmaking. I took note of what the audience liked and what bored them, etc. I remembered that although this same crowd had loved my feature "The Deep Dark Woods: No Witnesses" in this very same room only a few short shows earlier, they squirmed in their seats and became bored during certain portions..the ones that had interesting character development, dialogue, etc. In short, these people want to go on a roller coaster ride and not be slowed down by too much damn talk!! I came up with the character Murder Machine, the concept of the movie and the basic storyline right there in the video screening room. My James Bond killer concept morphed into a mysterious unstoppable killing machine with a dedicated goal. Murder Machine was born!! I wrote the script, my partners loved it..we set out to cast the parts and were extremely lucky to have E. Ray Goodwin Jr attend our casting call. He not only played the character Murder Machine, but, was largely responsible for developing his look, his weaponry, movement, etc. Hell..he even hand-sewed the Murder Machine mask!! I really feel that E. Ray Goodwin and Don Kilrain, the sheriff, are two of the most talented and dedicated actors in Cleveland. I was even more fortunate to land Greg Lavelle and Mike Trivisonno in supporting roles..two more of the best top-notch actors Cleveland has to offer.

Q: How did you go about casting the movie?

Apart from the role of Agent Abernathy which was played by one of my filmmaking partners, Kevin Sopata, all of the cast were chosen from a casting call we had at North Coast Central Casting in Cleveland, Ohio. Owner Ray Szuch and his great casting facility always deliver for us. He is always extending his help and services to the local independent filmmakers and his yearly event "The Indie Gathering" is a great local connection for aspiring actor, writers, make-up artists, etc, to meet and network and get stuff made. He also provides screening opportunities there for many low-budget projects that have a hard time gaining visibility due to lack of publicity money. North Coast Central Casting is THE SHIT as far as TwistedSpine.com Films is concerned.

Q: What was the most difficult part of making the movie?

The hardest part of making the movie was finding great locations that would put up with our demands and yet, let us use them for free. Luckily, In Cleveland, many people are excited about the opportunity to be a part of a movie and so, with a little work and begging, we were able to secure some pretty kick-ass locations that gave us high screen value for little to no cost. It also took a lot of legwork to find and create the costuming for the cast. We aim for the highest realism that we can get and our standards are pretty high..we just don't want to pay much for them. Flea markets, estate sales, thrift stores are my second home when I am filmmaking. We believe that top-notch entertainment can be made on a shoe-string budget..but it takes a lot of effort to make it happen. Many filmmakers won't go this extra yard.they say "it's good enough". I don't want to hear that on my set..ever!

Q: What is your favorite scene and why?

I love all of the scenes in the movie that take place in the old horse stable that we shot in. I love them because I remember how dark, dirty and dank that place was, ..how cold and miserable..the long nights of shooting as we had to wait for the place to shut down for the day to begin shooting..it is a real up and running horse operation. All of these feelings came out in the atmosphere that shrouds all of the scenes in the last part of the movie, in my opinion. It worked really great!!! I also love the fight scenes between Murder Machine and the sheriff, in his retro-80's Murder Machine costume, as I think it reflects the contrast between slasher movies that I grew up with and the movies of today.

Q: Any interesting anecdotes about the movie?

One night while filming in the old horse stable, at about 5am in the morning, I felt exhausted and leaned back against the gate to one of the horse stalls. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move. Upon further investigation, I discovered that one of the customers of the barn that housed a horse in the establishment, discovered that we were shooting a horror movie there at night. Afraid that we would mess up the "karma" of her horse, she stowed away under a blanket in the stall and stayed with her horse all night. We reassured her that we weren't harming the animals, or really even paying much attention to them at all, gave her some coffee and convinced her that she could leave. She reluctantly did, but later lodged a complaint with the owners which they just attributed to her crack-pot tendencies.

My stunt choreographer surprised me with bringing in a professional knife thrower for the scene where the knife just misses Murder Machine's head. I almost shit myself because all during practice for the scene, the knife didn't stick or missed it's mark, etc. The guy was upset with himself and cursing all the while. The time came to shoot the scene and it worked perfectly on the first take (the knife was moved a little closer digitally however in the movie) with the knife sticking in the wall close to E. Ray Goodwin's head. I hope the guy was just messing with me.

I also like the fact that, while filming in a city street in downtown Cleveland without a permit, a city street crew gave us the keys to operate the huge sewer blower units that were pumping fresh air down into the manholes. We complained that they were messing with our sound. They gave us the keys and said to just turn the machines back on when we left and leave the keys under a rock. Only in Cleveland!!!

Q: What is your next project?

Our next project is a horror comedy that will be a parody of two well known classic horror films of the black and white era. In keeping with our plans to be innovative, the movie will be shot with some very specific approaches and will feature some unusual creative elements that we don't think will be expected in a film of this type. It is going to be a strict micro-budget project that has a specific target audience and goal. I can't say much more due to the fact that the local film scene has become very competitive with some filmmakers "borrowing" ideas when they can't come up with their own. This will, most likely, be our last venture into this type of filmmaking as Murder Machine! has pushed us into wanting to develop the next stage of our filmmaking goals..to make slightly higher-end productions aimed at gaining a more marketable position.

Q: How can people find the movie?

Murder Machine! can be found on our website, www.twistedspine.com and, in the near future, will be available at Amazon.com and other sites. We would love people to drop by the site, send us a message and help us get the word out about our approach to micro-budget filmmaking. Thank you for this amazing opportunity!

find information about Ritch Yarber at imdb.com find horror stuff by Ritch Yarber

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