Q: How did you become involved with this crazy world of low-budget horror filmmaking?
I've always been attracted to the horror genre. One of my earliest memories involves watching the "Night of the Demons" television spot as a kid and being truly terrified. I remember burying my head in my couch's pillows every time Angela's demonic voice boomed from the set. I figured out early how much fun it was to be scared and as I grew up, I actively pursued similar experiences. I would tell my cousins scary stories at family functions, I would make haunted houses in my backyard at Halloween, and I never stopped watching creepy movies.
When I stumbled across the family camcorder at age eleven, my natural inclination was to make horror films because those were the films I knew and I loved. The more and more I rented horror flicks, the more I realized that there were plenty of young filmmakers across the country doing the same thing.
I learned from everything I watched, but I think the most valuable experiences came from the shot-on-video horror/cult movies from the early/mid 90s. They showed me that a horror film could be done with a bare bones budget, but still be entertaining and insightful. Even if I rented a truly horrible shot-on-video flick, it was inspirational, knowing that if I engaged myself, I could make something better.
After working on some digital shorts and featurettes, I finally decided to make an anthology film in my freshmen year of college with the main purpose being to get it distributed. We shot a film over summer and winter breaks, and it was released this past July by Brain Damage Films. Who, ironically (or maybe not so much) was one of the companies (when they were Dead Alive Productions) whose films I would watch and critique as a young film nerd.
That film was called Dead Teenagers and you can get it over at braindamagefilms.com or on amazon.com.
Q: What two films have influenced you the most?
I find most of influences come from 1980s American movies. My two favorites are probably Tom Holland's Fright Night and Fred Dekker's Monster Squad. Both of these films treat young people as people rather than marketing demographics or boring stereotypes. Monster Squad, in particular, has a neat vibe because of its standing as an ensemble film. With Book of Lore, we deliberately set out to make an ensemble film because no one was really making them anymore.
That's one thing I truly miss from our current cinema: ensemble films. Monster Squad had a sense of community and that added to the mythology of the flick. You felt like you knew a lot about these characters and therefore, the stakes were higher. You cared about them and that's what we tried to emulate with Book of Lore.
Q: BOOK OF LORE is an ambitious project you managed to pull off-and most importantly, there was good continuity! Why attack such an involved movie? Also, when I looked up DEAD TEENAGERS on the internet, "Book of Lore" comes up in its synopsis/description. Is that movie about the book as well?
We started writing Book of Lore in my junior year of college. I knew that after I graduated I wouldn't be able to afford spending a summer without working (especially as a diabetic, who the hell's going to pay for my insulin?!). So, Jimmy George, my screenwriting partner, and I decided to make the exact film we wanted to make. We tried not to worry about what locations we could/couldn't get, or how easy/difficult it would be to shoot, and instead focused on the story. We were confident if the script was solid, we'd find a way to make it into a good film."
While we were in the early stages of writing, I knew that it was our opportunity to make an epic and Jimmy agreed. I think it was an unspoken sentiment between us, but we never thought we'd finish it and there were many times when it seemed like a nightmare, like when the actor playing Evan, the pizza delivery guy, got Mono two weeks into filming.
The main reason we were able to pull it off was because of Aj Hyde. Aj, who plays Rick (the lead) was always able to shoot and was always enthusiastic about the project. His part could have made or broke the film and, honestly, we couldn't have asked for a better actor. Aj was awesome and made it possible for Jimmy and I do make the film.
Prior to writing Book of Lore, we figured out exactly what elements, characters, and scenarios had to be in the film and we made sure we worked them in. After we solidified our stories, we wrote three drafts and once we had our shooting script, we began pre-production.
As for Dead Teenagers, I produced that film while I was a freshmen/sophomore at Towson University. It's not very good (shot on a consumer camcorder with friends as actors for a collective budget of around $300), but it was my first movie and it was fun to make. But actually, it is a bit of precursor to Book of Lore, the malevolent Book of Lore tome does make a cameo appearance in Dead Teenagers.
Q: How difficult was it getting cast and crew? Where did you find the scary Jesus Lady?
Only a handful of the cast were friends. Dan Vidor, D. Patrick Bauer, and Sean Quinn were our only friends who got main parts. Besides that, everyone else was cast through open casting calls and they most likely found out about the film through craigslist.com and actorsnews.com.
We had the auditions in a small little d.i.y. art/show space collective in Baltimore called the Charm City Art Space. It was a great location and it was a good test of how dedicated the actors would be. When one potential star came in, he looked around at the chipped paint and stained floor, and simply left like a pompous jerk.
We knew that if the cast would put up with hanging out in a smelly basement without air conditioning for a few hours, surely, they could put up with the ups-and-downs of low budget filmmaking.
As for other casting, the two babies are Jimmy's nephew, Justin and my niece, Harper. Both of our sisters were pregnant and delivered around the same time!
The police officer in the convenience store scene is a local radio DJ, Shortbus Don, on 98Rock FM and as for Herschell Gordon Lewis's voice cameo, we just wrote him a letter and he sent it to us on a mini-cassette! He was super nice. We definitely owe him a lunch for that.
Q: What aspect about making the movie did you enjoy the most?
Every part was blast. From late night screenwriting sessions with Jimmy to waking up at 5am to shoot at our local Laundromat, it's all been super fun, but if I had to pick a favorite aspect, it would probably be the actual production. There was nothing greater than being set with a committed group of actors and crew that we were really friends more than anything. Jimmy and I were truly lucky to assemble such a group and there's no way we could have finished the film without their dedication. It felt like summer camp.
Q: My only gripe about the movie is that you never see the guy and his girlfriend together-she's leaving his house at the beginning of the movie and gets offed right away--and the whole movie is about him finding out who killed her. This makes him seem distant from her and not so emotionally connected, but on the other hand it also made me think that he may have killed her himself (as serial killers tend to be disconnected personality types). What is your explanation of why you did this?
It's funny you mention that. The first draft of the screenplay had a 2-page dialogue scene between them before she leaves the house. It's a fight scene about her wanting to move away and how Rick is complacent in his Aunt's house. It ends with Rachel leaving after they fought. The scene was interesting and instills guilt in Rick's character, but it didn't particularly push the narrative any further. We re-wrote it nearly a dozen times, but it never worked. It's tough beginning a horror film with a teenage drama scene, devoid of any scares.
In all reality, the scene would have been another 3 minutes of screen time and in an 111 minute movie with as many plot points as ours, we really needed to get the story going as fast as possible.
Q: How long did it take to complete and what's happening with it now?
We started shooting Book of Lore in August 2006 and we were slated to be finished in October, but when D.Patrick got Mono after the second week of production, our schedule was out the window.
Between going to school fulltime, working 3 days a week at the Board of Elections (during the Maryland Governor's race), and shooting an ensemble film without a firm schedule, it was surprising we finished the film as soon as we did.
We ended up finishing principle photography by early December and wrapped completely by March 2007. The edit was finished in early June.
Q: How can people get a dvd?
We're currently compiling reviews and other press material so we can send the film out to distribution companies interested in purchasing the rights. If anybody out there thinks they can help, they should shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend us on myspace for constant updates.
Q: What do you plan with the next movie?
We have our next screenplay written. It's a sardonic splatter flick called Dismember the Dolls. It's vastly gorier than Book of Lore. It's a little more dark and tongue-in-cheek, but has the same energy and overall aesthetic. We're really trying to sell it rather than make it ourselves just because we want to shoot it on a higher budget, but on the same token, we may be seeking out investors if we do decide to shoot it ourselves.
Also, we're working on another horror anthology over the next few months. We hope to begin shooting the first segment by the middle of August. The two short screenplays we have for it so far are definitely in the Tales from the Crypt/Tales from the Darkside vein and anyone who grew up those shows will love it.