Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Filmmaker Interview: Andy Fortenbacher, Director of Melon Head

Congrats on all of the success of Melon Head on the festival circuit, sir! It played great at this past year's festival and it caught me reflecting about your filmmaking career as a whole. From your visionary student film, Rose Colored Glasses, back during your undergrad years at GVSU all the way up to now. How and why did you develop Melon Head?

First of all, thanks a lot for the kind words about Melon Head. October was very exciting month as we had the opportunity to be a part of 10 different festivals around the world. With the number of variables that determine how a film does on the circuit, I’m just grateful to see that the film has been received so well, and am looking forward to seeing how the film does throughout the upcoming months.

Melon Head was inspired by actual events that occurred many years ago, deep within a heavy wooded forest of Southwest Michigan…Well, maybe that’s only partially true.  Haha!! In all seriousness, the short film’s story is very loosely based on the Urban Legend of “The Melon Heads”.  A story I recall as a teenager that describes an area of woods where a group of cannibalistic children with swollen heads, known as “The Melon Heads” were rumored to live. In all reality, it was a place for teenagers to joy ride on a Friday night with the intent of scaring the daylights out of underclassman… But then again, maybe Melon Heads do exist?! 
After I looked deeper into the urban legend, I discussed it with my collaborator, Zac Page. I was interested in experimenting with blending horror and absurd comedy, and felt that an urban legend as ridiculous as “The Melon Heads” would be a great foundation for a story with wacky characters, an absurd comedic scenario, and the opportunity to play around with cinematic technique and camera grammar often used in horror films. 

Have you and Zac Page, (fellow Grand Rapids based screenwriter/director) worked together before Melon Head? I see you all are currently working on a project called Moths. Can you tell us something about it?

Zac Page and I met as students at Grand Valley State University. Although we worked together on a couple projects back then, our collaboration really took off when we developed his script, The Painter and the Wife, as one of my grad school films at Columbia University. That was a very rewarding experience for both of us, and since then we have worked nonstop, going from one project to the next. The current project that we are working on is my graduate thesis film for Columbia University, titled Moths
Moths is a drama that takes place in the Midwest in the early 1940s. It is a about a 9-year-old girl named Samantha, who despite the judgment from her peers, decides to befriend a disfigured teen-aged boy named Frank. As a result of that relationship, Samantha learns a lesson about true friendship and has an experience that changes her life forever. 
The script for Moths was inspired by a short story written by the author Chris Haven, a creative writing professor at GVSU. Zac Page initially adapted the material into a short screenplay that I read about 5 years ago, but was shelved due to a lack of time, funds, and the ability we knew we needed to complete the project. Approaching my graduate thesis work, we felt the time was right to start working on the project again, and I decided to workshop the script as a part of my thesis class at Columbia University. We have been working heavily on this project for about a year now and it is definitely the most challenging personal project to date. Right now we are crowd fundraising on to help raise the funds we need to make this film a reality.  

In your Moths fundraising video, this short movie seems incredibly ambitious and has a great many moving parts to it. Honestly, I've come to expect no less from you and your team at this point but what are some of the biggest challenges you all have faced in making Moths?

We definitely have a number of challenges ahead on this project. First of all, the story takes place in the 1940s, and that adds a level of difficulty with regards to historical accuracy in the production design of locations, set dressing, picture vehicles, props, and wardrobe. We have a need for a rather involved visual effects process to help create the Cecropia Moths shown in the film. That alone will take a few months to complete. The actor playing the part of Frank will require a prosthetic makeup procedure, which involves a lot of prep work, and time on set each day to get right. In addition, we are bringing in actors from NYC, LA, and Chicago so there are some financial and logistical challenges there. And although we’re hoping for snow in this film, shooting in the first week of January in unpredictable Michigan weather always runs the risk of getting nasty. Most importantly, I believe there is richness to the characters and drama within this story that makes it a story worth telling. My personal goal is to exemplify those story and character details amongst the technical demands we face on this project.

With graduating from Columbia University soon, and with your work having a distinct 'Michigan' vibe to it, we're wondering if you plan on returning to make more movies here? Are you working on anything else right now outside of Moths?

Michigan is home to me and I am most definitely planning on returning to make movies.  I had the opportunity to work on some of the feature films in the state a few years ago when the film tax incentive was really taking off and I hope to see more support from the state with regards to filmmaking in Michigan. Having worked on a number of projects in Michigan, I have developed a number of relationships with people over the years, and have discovered that there is an abundance of talented filmmakers, crew, and actors in the state. Not to mention there are a variety of backdrops and seasons, suitable for a multitude of stories. And from what I have experience, the community is supportive and interested in filmmaking. In addition to my thesis film, I’m currently in development on a feature length version of Melon Head which I am hoping to shoot back in Michigan after finshing up at Columbia. I am also polishing up two additional feature screenplays (a thriller and a road trip comedy) that are a part of my writing portfolio that I hope to start developing in the near future.  

Any advice you have for fellow filmmakers and for those people looking to get into the trade?

Although I’m still learning, I can say that the most important thing about making a good film is that you must have a great script. This is something I still struggle with because sometimes you just want to get out there and starting making your film. But seriously, take the time to work on your script.  Show it to only a few people that you know understand screenwriting and good storytelling, but don’t show it to too many people or the amount of potentially conflicting feedback will only confuse you.  Spend time revising your script until it is truly ready. Then look for the right actors for your script. If you cast someone who isn’t believable for the part or lacks the talent to make your script come to life, your film will only suffer. If you don’t have a great script and the right actors for that script, it won’t matter if you have the best lighting, a RED camera, or the coolest looking special effects in your film. The technical elements of filmmaking will not make a bad script and bad acting into a good film. I only say this because I have made these very mistakes and this is still something that I need tell myself on my own projects.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thriller! Chiller! International Genre Film Festival announces 2013 award winners!

Thriller! Chiller! International Genre Film Festival, which took place October 24-26, 2013 at the Wealthy Theatre, is Michigan’s premier film festival celebrating the genre movie.

Thriller! Chiller! screened movies from the U.S. and around the world in the categories of sci-fi, action, suspense and horror. Sixty-four movies from eight countries were represented at this year’s festival and 30% percent of the 2013 festival was comprised solely of Michigan made content.

The Groovy Awards Selection and Awarding Process.

All submissions to Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival in 2013 were pre-screened at least three times by as many as nine different filmmaking professionals and were rated based primarily on their excellence in storytelling as well as technical craftsmanship.

After the submission phase has completed, top rated screeners are suggested for entry into the festival and then programmed according to the festival directors’ discretion calculating available screening time and popular thematic interest for our audience’s full enjoyment. Accepted films are then further differentiated by their initial rating, nominated and forwarded to a jury of independent critical and community professionals for award consideration.

Thriller! Chiller! Groovy Awards are presented in the following categories: Best Feature, Best Short, Best Thrill!, Best Chill! & Best FX. The instruction to our jury is to examine a movie’s content as a whole and attempt to quantify its visceral impact as a story and how it best represents its particular genre rather than comparing genres with their fellow nominees. For instance, an action movie is evaluated within the action movie genre rather than comparing an action movie to a horror movie to a sci-fi movie, etc., etc.

And the nominees are:

Best Feature! Nominees

Dust of War (USA)
For No Eyes Only (Germany)
On Air (Germany)
Buck Wild (USA)
The Visitant (USA)

Best Short! Nominees

Echoes (USA)
Killer (UK)
Leave Us Alone (Canada)
O Coracao que Falava Demais (Brazil)
Sleepworking (UK)
Melon Head (Michigan)
Cold Turkey (Iceland)

The Radical! Nominees 

Dust of War (USA)
Buck Wild (USA)
End of the Beginning (USA)
Four Brothers. Or Three. Wait . . . Three. (USA)
The Humans are Coming (Michigan)
The Call of Farqunglu (USA)
The Quirk and the Dead (Michigan)
Love in Dead Places (Michigan)
They Will Outlive Us All (USA)

Best FX! Nominees

Cold Turkey (Iceland)
The Forever People (Michigan)
The Call of Farqunglu (USA)
End of the Beginning (USA)
NOVR (Australia)
The Bates Haunting (USA)

And the awards go to:

Best Thrill!
On Air, Germany. Directors: Carsten Vauth and Marco J. Riedl

Best Chill!
Cold Turkey, Iceland. Director: Fannar Thor Arnarsson

Best FX!
NOVR, Australia.  Director: Geoff O'Rourke

Best Short!
Killer, UK. Director: Adrian Mead

Best Feature!
For No Eyes Only, Germany. Director: Tali Barde

The Radical!
Dust of War, USA. Director: Andrew Kightlinger

Thriller! Chiller! presenting sponsor, O1 Radical Films has created a special award representing the best movie with a post apocalyptic and/or zombie theme. This Groovy award is also known as “The Radical!”

The Boomstick! Award!
Break Glass In Case Of . . ., Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Director: Jacob de la Rosa

The Boomstick! Award! has quickly become Michigan’s most unique and sought after accolade on the regional film festival circuit. This sweet baby could only be presented by Thriller! Chiller! in Grand Rapids and is awarded to the Best Michigan Movie! This award takes into account a great many factors including the fortitude necessary to create the movie despite the challenges which should have prevented it from being made in the first place.

And MANY special thanks to BEATSUITE for their $800 prize package for this year Boomstick! Award!

The Storey Award!
Ms. Shelley Irwin, WGVU Morning Show host

The Storey Award is a community award created by Thriller! Chiller! and is presented in honor of journalist, friend, and community activist Drew Storey who passed away unexpectedly in 2009. The recipient is awarded based upon their body of work, their selfless contribution and its impact on building community relationships, which promote and connect Michigan’s artists to a larger audience around the world.

Thank you all so much for a wonderful 2013 festival! We look forward to seeing you all very soon in 2014!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Filmmaker Interview: Director Michael Chrisoulakis screens two short films at Thriller! Chiller! 2013: "Kill Switch" and "The Bind"

Michael Chrisoulakis

"The Bind"
Screens at Thriller! Chiller!
Saturday, October 26, 2 pm
Shorts Block D

"Kill Switch"
Screens at Thriller! Chiller!
Friday, October 25, 4 pm
Wealthy Theatre

1) You have two movies screening at Thriller! Chiller! -- the short films “The Bind” and “Kill Switch.” Let’s start by discussing your director’s vision for the two stories. What were your goals for these stories and the images that represent them? Were you successful in achieving your vision?

Firstly, I have to say that it’s such a thrill to have two films selected for Thriller!Chiller! – couldn’t be happier! Okay, gushing done, to the questions…

As with many short film makers, I’m striving to make a transition to longer-form storytelling, whether it be features or TV, so the goal for both of these projects, and really my work in general, falls into a bigger, strategic picture of making films that are either connected to something bigger or sit in a genre and style of the kind of projects I’d like to make in the future.

“The Bind” was developed with a similar set of parameters that govern a supernatural thriller feature screenplay I have co-written with my creative partner Edmund Jory: a tormented central character, single location and, of course, plenty of atmosphere and suspense. So this was ‘designed’ in a way as a calling card to show we can produce a compelling film in a similar mould.

“Kill Switch” is a whole other beast. Co-written with friend and avid comic-book fan, Robert Gadsbey, the film was born out of, one, wanting to make something together before I left the country, and, two an interest in bringing a fresh angle to comic book-esque story.  I was drawn to the premise of a traditional ‘origin’ story flipped to a villain’s perspective, then grounding it in a reality that is more character focussed. My exposure to comic books is limited, so it was a fun experience to bring Robbie and my different storytelling approaches together and find that balance.

As for achieving my vision….as with almost everything filmmakers do, there are moments you cringe at or wish you’d done differently in retrospect, but hey, they’re screening at a great festival, so I can’t complain!

2) They are both part of my favorite genre, which I call dramatic action -- meaning, thought-provoking dramatic stories with suspenseful elements. One is a superhero origin story. The other is a suspense mystery. Both stories have characters who have suffered injuries and are trying to overcome the mental traumas associated with those experiences and cope with the aftermath. The sensibilities seem similar to me in this way. Are these specific themes that you chose to explore or is this similarity of tone something that evolved during the storytelling process only to be discovered once your body of work is looked at as a whole?

Glad to hear that’s your favourite genre…and well spotted on the connection!

For some reason I’m drawn to these stories and themes. I like it when characters have just as much going on internally as the action on screen.

It’s funny, because a little while ago I looked back at the films I’ve made and stories I’ve written and realized there was a pattern there: a psychologically unhinged, often isolated central character dealing with some kind of trauma. It really made me wonder where, in the subconscious, this pattern comes from! Who needs therapy, right?!

3) Your resume includes many suspense thrillers. Are those your favorite genres?

Suspense thrillers (and its sub-genres) are definitely among my favorites. I love watching them and especially making them, as I feel it’s a genre that you can sink your teeth into and utilize so many cinematic techniques, flexing your filmmaking muscles, not to mention having fun turning the screws on the audience!

I’ve found that no matter what genre I start with, I find myself drawing out the suspenseful elements in the story! I find it’s a great way to engage an audience and hook them into taking the ride with the character. Whether it’s a straight down the line dialogue scene, or the character’s exploring a creepy basement, I think drawing out a level of suspense keeps your viewer engaged and anticipating the next beat in the story.

4) You’re a working filmmaker in both L.A. and Australia? How does that work for you exactly? It seems challenging and rewarding at the same time.

I’ve been in L.A. for just over a year now and it’s definitely been an eye-opening adventure so far. There are so many more opportunities here and people looking for content as opposed to Australia, but that also means there are many, many more people vying for those opportunities!

My creative partners at High Noon Films are still based in Sydney and we’re in regular contact, sometimes more so than when we were living in the same city, so we’re continuing to pursue opportunities in both countries – where ever we can get our projects made!

After the initial whirlwind of moving to a new country, life has settled to a point where the creative endeavours can take center stage again.  It hasn’t all been roses of course - leaving behind family, friends and an established network has been challenging, however it was an opportunity of a life time to move here and not one to pass up!

5) I’m a big fan of filmmakers who favor visual imagery to tell the story through subtext rather than solely relying on dialogue. You’ve mastered that in these two shorts. How did you learn and develop that sensibility and what tips can you offer to other filmmakers who want to try this in their own work?

I’m also a fan of ‘visual storytelling’ and the old (but true) mantra of ‘show don’t tell!’. I’ve always been more of a ‘visual’ director and enjoy thinking up imagery that conveys different layers of the story to the audience   It amazes me sometimes on how much info you can convey in a single shot utilizing the composition in a frame, depth of field, lighting or movement. My old media teacher used to say that you should be able to watch a film with the sound down and still follow the story. I stand by that.

I’ll work on the process of cutting back on dialogue either during the writing process or in the edit. It also helps that dialogue is not my strong point, so the more cheesy lines I can replace with a strong image that conveys the same info the better!

I admire filmmakers who have something to say, but who also embrace cinematic techniques to tell the story. Filmmakers like David Fincher, Peter Weir and Alfonso Cuaron are huge influences on me – they seem to strike a balance between a story with juicy themes, a strong visual style and are able to entertain.

I’d say to filmmakers that they should think about what’s going on the story beyond the physical action and see if they can represent that visually. Then it’s a process of finding a balance between designing your shots to get the story across and finding visual meaning that enhances that story. Research and become familiar with film language and then use it as much as you can!

6) What are you working on next and how can fans follow your upcoming projects?

As KILL SWITCH is basically an epilogue, there is an extension of the story in the works. An established L.A. production company saw it, liked it and asked if Robbie and I could develop the story into a 6 episode web series, which is very exciting. So we’ve done that in treatment form and have submitted it…now we’re playing the waiting game.

I also have a completed supernatural thriller feature script called DARKER AFTER MIDNIGHT about a young woman being drawn into a mystery on a haunted vineyard. It has all the goodness of a classic ghost story but is set in the present day. I’m showing this around at the moment and would love to get up. And as always, lots of reading and writing!

Anyone interested in following along my adventure can like our “High Noon Films” Facebook page, follow me on twitter @cinema_sponge or have a peek at my website

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Filmmaker Interview: Marco J. Riedl Director of "On Air." Screening Thursday, October 24 and Saturday, October 26.

Marco Riedl
Carsten Vauth.
Photo courtesy of Jerome Courtois

"On Air"
Screens at 
Thriller! Chiller!
Thursday, October 24, 8 pm
Saturday,  October 26, 9 pm
Wealthy Theatre


Filmmaker Interview: "The Bates Haunting" Director Byron Turk. Movie screens Friday, October 25, 2013 at 4 pm

Director Byron Turk.
"The Bates Haunting"
Screens at Thriller! Chiller!
Friday, October 25, 4 pm
Wealthy Theatre

1) Tell me how you got the idea and developed the story that became The Bates Haunting? Obviously this haunted hayride setting is a real place. Did you start with the location and write a story around it, or, vice versa, did the story come first?

We started with the location and the rest seemed write itself. The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride is this incredible 3 part haunted attraction in Gradyville, PA. Cosimo and Jean Louise took me there one year and I was blown away. Cosimo is a long time employee and one of the key guys that owner Randy Bates depends on for wardrobe, makeup, haunt scenes, and more. He introduced us to several other very important people at the haunt who became vital to the movie. You can see one of them hanging out in the bushes during one of our kill scenes. I am extremely thankful for Randy and his family's generosity and trust in us to make a movie while not interfering with their Halloween business. There are a multitude of characters and creepy settings to draw from and I constantly asked employees and the owner for stories to keep it as authentic as we could. I wish we could have shot more of the stories that were told. Maybe down the road...

2) You have quite an extensive background in film and television including a stint as a storm chaser. I can’t imagine that a horror film would be too scary for you since you’ve had real life experiences like being a videographer for the Armed Forces in the Middle East and filming from the inside of a tornado. But, I can imagine that experience has taught you a lot about human nature and how people genuinely react to fearful situations. Tell us how those real life experiences helped you understand what works to elicit specific emotional responses from an audience that is required in order to transform those horror movie scares from the script to the screen?

Drawing from my other experiences helped me a great deal when making my first horror movie. There are a lot of universal emotions in horror movies that make them so universally appealing. Anticipation, anxiety, then dealing with a bad situation. Do you persevere through it? Do you stay calm with the threat of something terrible around the corner? Of course, you cannot forget the adrenaline rush through it all. It helped me understand what the characters feel during these traumatic experiences and how they would get through them. Then, for the sake of the movie and my own personal humor I have to add in a bit of absurdity to it all.

Storm chasing helped me bring a lot of adrenaline to the third act. When on a storm, things move fast and there are a lot of different elements to keep track of. We brought that in where we quickened up the pace and set action in multiple locations at once. Can you keep up with Agnes as she makes her way through this chaos? Also, our mission was to take an IMAX camera into dangerous tornadoes. That same element of confronting the danger in front of you pushes our heroine Agnes to take on this Haunted Hayride, it is her only option to win.

Zachary Fletcher as Junior Bates.

3) I really couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that this is your first feature and Zachary Fletcher’s (Junior Bates) first starring role? Say what? Well, consider yourselves discovered. The combination of your craftsmanship as a filmmaker and Zachary Fletcher’s performance are what really sold me on this film. Tell me some interesting facts about the first time director experience on making a feature film as well as the challenges of working with first-time actors?

Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate them.

Zachary was a friend of a friend, now a dear friend after all we have been through, and was recommended not just for his talent but also his experience. He had previously produced and directed his own feature film called Golden Times so we knew he was ready to do whatever it took to make The Bates Haunting. Most of our crew thought he was actually some sorta "off" kid we found at the haunt who would work for free. We would never do that.

His performance was really inspiring and our third act was rewritten to feature more of him going crazy. I love Junior's psyche and the arc he takes as a guy who likes to scare people and takes it so far he practically self destructs. By the end, in our own twisted version of the movie Junior was just a sweet but misunderstood guy trying to win over the girl. Zachary and I joked during our late nights of shooting about making a sequel that was a dating game show and how Junior would delicately describe his "previous relationship". Zach would also email me old weird movie trailers on set for me to watch during our lunch break.

There were challenges working with first time actors, or actors who performed in front of the lens for the first time but I feel that those were more First Time Director challenges. I could have held hands a bit more through rough parts or given more direction and motivation but there were times when I was too consumed as a producer. My cast brought a genuine enthusiasm that could not be replaced and they did a great job.

I was constantly checking weather reports to the point that alone drove me crazy. There are few things more satisfying than making your day when you had all exterior scenes and a 50% chance of rain the night before.

Oh, here's a super funny story. I was so consumed with making the movie and getting 3 hours of sleep a night that after we wrapped I would dream about being back on set. The problem was we wrapped so I had nothing for my actors and crew to do and I had to figure it out new scenes on the spot. It was very stressful. I even yelled at my DP while sleepwalking after the wrap party for not having any lights on in the room. Filmmaking is fun.

4) You’ve spoken extensively in the past about enjoying conversations about character motivations and watching actors bring characters to life. Some of your actors have spoken about their gratefulness for you letting them play in front of the cameras and try different approaches to see what works. What is your philosophy and strategy for directing actors to both help actors achieve their best performances as well as get out of their way let them do their thing?

One thing that Zach and I spoke about a lot, and it naturally came about with my other two leads/coproducers, and that is preparation. Do not come to set expecting to explore and find your character and where the scene is going. Whatever I need from an actor for his or her character should be communicated before the shoot day, and that understanding offers more room for the actor to play in front of the cameras. Zach has this anecdote about this one well known director shooting for the first time with a great actor and he says "I really hope he doesn't expect me to direct him." Do the homework, be prepared, come to set and do your job. We did not have a lot of rehearsals with Zachary, but the other two leads were involved in the rewrites as producers so they were on point with lines and performance. You do not get a lot of takes on low budget films. Zachary was equally prepared on his own and with his character we tinkered with levels of crazy but kept it simple. We had fun. At one point he replaced dialogue with noises to crack up the crew but then we liked it so much a few takes made it in the cut. When you are prepared it gives you more room to improvise in a context that still fits the scene.

I remember watching Terry Gilliam talk about Brad Pitt’s performance in 12 Monkeys. He was a little nervous about the pretty boy coming in to the weird story, but Brad showed up with that off the wall character and killed it. His first time seeing Brad Pitt throw out middle fingers on that set must have been similar to the first time I saw Junior scratch his belly button while shooting The Bates Haunting.

Matt Mastronardi was another great find and I wish we put him in more scenes. He took a character that was partially written for him (you never know with budgets like ours who will end up on the crew) and ran with it. You can tell he was one of my favorites because we gave him a chainsaw, which is my favorite prop at the haunted hayride. Again, I was very happy with my cast.

5) I like the ‘Scream Meets Scooby Doo” tagline. Our local film critic has been known to say ‘why make a horror movie without comedy?’ (paraphrase)? He’s a fan of that particular type of storytelling that engages both the fear and laughter emotions equally through the story. There are legendary movies of that cross genre mix: Evil Dead, Fright Night, Return of the Living Dead, Slither, Night of the Creeps, Ghostbusters, etc. One of the reasons we started Thriller! Chiller! was to recapture that feeling you got the first time you watched a scary movie as a kid on late night TV or at a Drive In theater. That joy of wonder in the experience of a story well told that’s also really fun to experience. What are your favorite genres and do you find yourself wanting to make the types and style of movies that you loved as a kid?

Going through film school I had to answer "What is your favorite movie?" at the beginning of every class. Eventually I just said Slapshot. It's mostly true anyways. Different genres fit different moods but ultimately I like going to see either fun movies or ones that just consume you. You sit in the dark theater with the credits rolling, listening to the final song playing, and there is nothing on your mind at all except that last shot of the movie. I used to watch Apocalypse Now after stressful days in college to mentally reset. Ultimately, I want to be able to do that as a filmmaker.

With regards to horror movies, I really like the psycholigical aspect of it. Peeping Tom was an inspiration as much if not more than anything else. There is something to knowing what drives the killer chasing you down that makes it even more chilling and captivating. Mixing humor and horror is a natural blend because you use one to compliment the other.  The audience needs to recharge so those lighter moments allow them to catch their breath because you stab someone else. You play with the tension of scenes, teasing something bad but then disarm it as a joke. When you come back and pay it off with a spear through a face the audience is caught off guard and reacts even more. Laughing and crying are a lot closer to each other than you would think. Ultimately, you want to create a fun experience. I do enjoy that is a lot easier to throw out your more blue material when you have murderers and deviants running around.

6) This is the second horror film in as many years Thriller! Chiller! has screened that was set on a farm in the cornfields of Pennsylvania. Is there something in the water over there that we should be aware of?

Philly has a great film community that is sorta hidden as it blends in with New York. You have a lot of great resources and talent there and it really is a great scene for independant and guerilla cinema. As someone who survived a few winters in one of the creepiest haunted woods out there I know better than to make a something in the water comment.

7) Since you’re a hockey player, we’d like to welcome you to Michigan, home of Hockeytown. Tell us who your favorite team is. Choose wisely.

My team is the Anaheim Ducks and I will fight any Red Wings fans in the lobby if you have the guts. Actually, I was dissappointed to find out Detroit moved to the other conference. Our teams have had some epic battles in the playoffs. Some of my better friends on and off the ice are from Detroit as well. Maybe we shouldn't fight.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Filmmaker Interview: Martin-Andre Young, Director of "The Basement." Screens Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 4 pm.

Martin-Andre Young.

"The Basement"
Screens at Thriller! Chiller!
Saturday, October 26, 4 pm
Wealthy Theatre

What was your inspiration for this story?  Where did the idea come from?

What truly inspired the story was my attempt to make a feature film with my own money. In order to do so, I decided to try my hands with a horror/thriller genre film. Generally fans of this genre really don't care if there's an A list actor attached and they seem to be more forgiving in terms of the overall quality of the film as long as the film still achieves the thrills and suspense they expect. Always thinking about cost, I knew I had to tell a story in one location with a minimal cast.

One film that I drew inspiration from was a small independent film out of Canada called "Cube", where the entire film takes place in essentially one giant cube with 6 characters. It's a great example of what can be achieved with so little while still being able to tell an entertaining story. That, in a nut shell, was my goal for The Basement.

As I'm both a cinematography and an acting junkie, I'm floored by both aspects of this movie. What did you shoot it on and how did you find such marvelous talent?

We shot on the Sony F900 and overall we are extremely happy with how it turned out. From the start, we wanted to have a look similar to 16mm - high contrast and low light conditions. At the time when we shot the film, the F900 made the most sense, however, there's been such advances in digital camera technology in the past few years that if I had to shoot it again, I would probably go the way of a DSLR like the 5D mark III which would give us very similar results at a fraction of the price.

The talent was pooled from various outlets. We placed ads on, Craigslist and placed several ads in high schools and nearby colleges. Although we did several rounds of casting, we really didn't know what to expect once we started production. For most of them, this was their first feature film. In the end, the cast exceeded my expectations. They all did a fantastic job and truly made the film what it is today.

The pace in this movie is unrelenting. Part of it is due to its single location and this crushing sense of threat right outside the door, turning up the heat with each passing scene. What was it like shooting it for that two weeks of production? And be honest, who was the first person to say, "You know what, I have to go to bathroom. Can we unblock the door?"

Ok, I probably shouldn't be saying this but the bathroom issue did come up. Aside from being a complete fire hazard since we essentially kept barricading the ONLY point of entry for that location, there were no bathrooms down there. The longest we would barricade ourselves in at a time was 4 hours. No one ever complained, however, there was an incident which I only found out about after production. One of our cast members (who shall remain nameless) needed to go and didn't want to be "that person" to halt production so instead opted to pee in a bottle. Now that's commitment.
Unlock the door please. I have to pee.

Can you give us some idea of how the movie has been received on the festival circuit so far? Without spoiling it, but how have people responded to the twist at the end? It's rather mind-bending and having watched the movie a couple of times now, still gives me shivers at how well it delivers that punch.

Funny you should ask about the ending. People either love it or hate it which I find really interesting. I didn't expect the ending to have such polarizing reactions. Not to give too much away, the ending is intended to get people to talk and ask themselves "What the hell just happened?" I'm a fan of those kind of movies where after you watch it, it spurs a conversation (or argument) with your friends and everyone has their own theory. It's also one of those films that I personally think you need to watch more than once to truly get it. I've had a lot of people come up to me and say they enjoyed the film even more on the second viewing because they saw how everything comes together.

 To answer your other question, it's been going fairly well on the film festival circuit so far. We've only just begun and we've already won Best Cinematography at this year's Scare-a-Con and Best Traditional Horror Feature at the Fear Fete Horror Film Festival. No best ending award yet;)

You studied filmmaking at Harvard which seems like it would give you a unique perspective on storytelling art. Tell us about that experience and how it helped you hone your perspective as an artist and craftsman.

Just to clarify, I studied filmmaking through the New York Film Academy's program at Harvard which I would truly recommend to anyone who has the financial means to do it. I had to save up for 2 years to get the money for it but it was worth it. I think just saving up to get into that program alone makes you question how badly you want to make films. The program is intense and once you actually work in the industry you see why. The best part of the program for me however, is the contacts and friendships you build. You understand fairly quickly how essential that is in this industry.

Again, bravo on the terrific movie!  We very much look forward to meeting you and Michael Luckett at the festival. What are you all working on next?

Wow, thanks! I'm really glad you liked it. You can catch Michael in the upcoming SyFy channel's original series "Bitten," based on the critically acclaimed series of novels from Kelley Armstrong. Check it out in early 2014. For myself, I'm currently working on my next thriller/horror feature film script. Although, making The Basement with my own funds was certainly a freeing experience, I think I'll try the way of crowd/private funding for the next one. Hopefully we can make it happen.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Filmmaker Interview: Paulo Biscaia Filho Director of "O Coracao que Falava Demais" ("The Heart That Told Too Much"). Screens Saturday Oct 26, 2013, 6 pm

"O Coracao que Falava Demais"
Screens at Thriller! Chiller!
Saturday, October 26,  6 pm
Wealthy Theatre

Paula Biscaia Filho.
Photo All right reserved VigorMortis

1)    Poe is a well worn path in the horror community and difficult to do well. I’d like to congratulate you on your choice of story and its execution. I’ve seen probably 100 different EAP short film interpretations over the years and only one other was as good as yours (and it was a Thriller! Chiller! award nominee and fan favorite interpretation of "The Raven"). Why did you pick an Edgar Allan Poe storyline for your movie? In fact one of the most famous EAP stories?

Wow. Thank you so much for the kind words. This film is actually  a kind of a remake of a video I made 13 years ago on a saturday afternoon with my first digital camera. I had always enjoyed that experience and wanted to go back to it. My relationship with Poe's works dates even further back. I started my theatre career in 1991 staging several Poe adaptations. In a way he has always been in my works. The cataleptic from Morgue Story (my first feature film) is an hommage to all Poe's cataleptics and I guess there is something from "Never Bet The Devil Your Head" in Nervo Craniano Zero. In this case, the original Poe story "The Tell-Tale Heart" always sounded to me like a confession to the police. So my original idea was an interview to a second class 'crime news show', which are very popular in Brazil. I always wanted to play with the mockumentary style, so I just put things together and here it is.

2)    Your story is very modern. When you envisioned the story did you picture it in a modern setting right away or did you consider shooting the story in the setting of the era in which Poe had written it?

In 2010 I made a series of four Poe film adaptations called "Nevermore - Three nightmares and one delirium by Edgar Allan Poe". Those included Morella, Berenice, Ligea and The Raven. They had a period setting and they were all about Poe's obsessions for women. I always loved Tell Tale Heart. The structure for this short story is mathematically and emotionally perfect. However, I knew it was on a different world from those in "Nevermore". It had to be a different project, with a different style and a different type of acting. Instead of  using Poe as a "headline", I used his work as an excuse to tell a story. I must confess sometimes, during the rehearsals and shooting, I even forgot I was making a poe adaptation. I got carried away watching the cast as they brought those characters to life and I started to see that that as a new story. Like I said before, the idea of doing this short story as a mockumantary is over a decade old, but I wanted to dive deeper into those possibilities. When I did the first 'amateurish' version, we were able to broadcast it on a local TV station. A friend from the actor's brother watched it and immediatelly rang him saying "Turn on channel 9, your brother did some serious shit. He is saying he killed someone". I guess that's what every filmmaker wants: to get the audience so carried away, the suspension of disbelief gets suspended over the clouds. In order to get that, the concept of doing it in a modern setting was crucial and then came the main thing: making that narrator criminal a really flesh and bone creature. Someone believable, passionate, touching and insane. Just like Poe's original narrative suggests.

3)    The story is very subtle in its unveiling. You play it up as a documentary and it’s revealed that it is indeed fiction based on a reworking of “The Tell Tale Heart.” As a viewer, the discovery of enjoying your story for what it was and then linking it to the classic Poe added an extra layer to the viewing experience and made me appreciate the depth of the history of the horror genre and how much it’s relevant to our lives both past and present. Why did you decide to let people discover the Poe in your interpretation rather that indicate it up front?

I suppose North American audiences will pick it up instantly, but Brazilian audiences are not that much acquainted to Poe's work. So the perceptions will be different. Regardless, I always had in mind that the fake reality would blend into true fiction as the story unfolds. As much as people get that that is a Poe adaptation, audiences will gradually understand that that is not a real documentary. Horror fans in particular are over saturated with "found footage" and "fake reality" movies. Even I questioned myself about doing the mockumentary format, but then I said to myself: "It makes perfect sense and I've never done anything like that. Let's go!". I wanted to play with the format in a way that the audience should be holding hands with me. Wherever we go, we would go together and enjoy it as the great story that it is, regardless of the way it is being told. In fact, the main concern here was to get a believable and involving  cast who would really become those characters.

4)    When you read the short story, what part of the short story hooked you and made you decide you wanted to make your own version of the story for the screen?

The lead character/narrator. His madness. His continuous belief that he is not mad and that his acute hearing is actually making him hear his victim's heartbeat. The way he gets obsessed by that sick eye and that is reason enough to make him a killer. His unconscious insanity makes him create a perfectly logical world which we find strange, but it is very normal to him. He is nevertheless very human. That peculiar face of humanity was the reason to explore this story.

Paulo Biscaia Filho with his 2012 Thriller! Chiller! Groovy Award
for Best FX! for the feature "Nervo Craniano Zero."
5)    You’ve screened with us a few times now. (Winning Best FX in 2012 for the feature “Nervo Craniano Zero”). How did you hear about Thriller! Chiller!??

It is an honour to be at Thriller! Chiller! again. The award Nervo Craniano Zero got last year is one of the coolest awards I've ever seen and I proudly hang it over my fireplace. I first heard about the festival from the withoutabox search engine, but now its website is already on my bookmarks. I just wish I could go there some day an enjoy every screening. The selection is always so fantastic and the vibe feels amazing. Maybe next year, if I behave. haha.

6)    For those who might not have seen it yet, I would describe “Nervo Craniano Zero” as similar to “Reanimator” but with strong female leads. It’s great to see such strong female roles in the horror genre. Tell me about developing that story and your experience working with the two lead actors?

I just love to work the story from the actors. I guess my theatre background makes me use this starting point. Actually I do not know how else could I start. It's just the way it feels right to me. When a movie I make get an award, it is great, but when it gets a performer award (Nervo got a best actress award for Uyara Torrente at the Montevideo Fantastico and best actress for co-star Guenia Lemos at the Tabloid Witch Awards) , it is just THE most awesome thing. Nervo was originally a stage play and I adapted it to the screen. Many things changed on the way. The first thing was the cast. I wanted to make a brand new thing. So I carefully selected the lead actors for an even better experience than I had with the stage version. Guenia is a fabulous actress who worked in the USA and now moved back to Brazil. She played DeSilva's sister in Law and Order Criminal Intent and has a vast stage experience. She is very creative and loves to collaborate. Uyara Torrente is now well known all over Brazil as the lead singer for A Banda Mais Bonita da Cidade. I had invited her to do the film before the band went big and we shot just a few weeks after they had millions of views on their Youtube hit video. She remained loyal and never gave up on making this crazy horror film even though they were being called for gigs all over the country and in Europe.  I knew her long before that as a student at the Drama School where I teach and from her theatre performances. She always had that charisma, that star-quality we are always looking for, and she, as well as Guenia, is a blast to work with.
Guenia Lemos and Uyara Torrente in "Nervo Craniano Zero."

For Nervo Craniano Zero, I wanted to create a nostalgic feel with campy acting. It was strange to tell the actors not to act too well, but to search that delightfully artificial sound that makes that serious tone become ridiculously funny. The whole cast got that tone. The actresses as well as Leandro Daniel Colombo, who has been working with me for 16 years and already knows the rules for this game. I needed a different approach for O Coração que Falava Demais. The cast had to deliver their acting in a somewhat realistic manner because of the mockumentary style. I gave them lines, but they improvised most of it. Specially  lead actor Cleydson Nascimento. He devoured that character and became him. All we needed to do was to ask him what happened and it felt like those were his own memories he was telling us.

7)    You’ve come up with and implemented some remarkable promotional ideas for your feature “Nervo Craniano Zero.” Tell us about your journey to reach a wider audience with that film and bring us up-to-date with where you are at with it currently?

The act of watching a film became terribly trivial. We watch it at home, during a flight and even on iPhones. I became obsessed with the idea that the film should be an experience and not only a screening. As much as possible,  we try to create some unique experiences to make that moment last forever. We started with the Blood-o-Rama. We sprayed fake blood over the audience ( they received plastic ponchos before) along with bloody scenes from the movie. Some people avoided the poncho and wanted to get soaked in blood. Then we did some live performances inserted in the screening. The original cast was on stage and the performance was memorable. We even had everyone on stage singing Bonnie Tyler at the end of the movie.  The we dis the Zombie Walk In. Along with the local zombie walk, which happens during the carnival days in my city, we screened the movie in open air and right in front of some old ruins. The sound was transmitted via FM and people had to bring their own radios.  It was an awesome experience.

"Nervo Craniano Zero" Blood-o-rama crowd.
Photo All rights reserved by Vigor Mortis.

Now with O Coração que Falava Demais, we created a second story to sustain the fact that that was a documentary. We posted online a video saying that the film had been banned and that we could only distribute the film with a guerrilla action. We then left boxes with the DVD all over the city and posted clues on our Facebook page. Every box was collected and people sent pictures of them with the boxes. Just beautiful to see people on an Easter egg hunt for a face documentary.

I also have to tell about our ongoing crowdfunding campaign going on. We are raising money for a special DVD collector's edition. The contributions star at only R$10(which means about R$4,00) and they get your name on the credits. For 20 Brazilian reais you can get a DVD when it's ready. And yes, we ship overseas!  Go now to http://catarse.me

To keep in touch with Paulo Biscaia Filho, follow his work at