I tend to let people introduce themselves, so this space here is reserved for just that purpose. Go nuts!
I was born on the Peninsula in the California sun, sprinkled by silicon in the shadow of Black Mountain. I was not properly equipped with the goods to maintain a positive mental attitude and had to claw my way to some semblance of sanity in adulthood. Making motion pictures helped me. Film as art? Self-help tool? I say yes to both!
At an early age I fell in love with motion pictures. TV was my babysitter. Then it was the VCR. I watched everything. My dad was an a/v enthusiast and once I got to fourth grade he trusted me enough to let me use his expensive and bulky equipment.
Since then my work hasn't changed that much. I am committed to a no-fi aesthetic. It is direct and intimate and the most exciting approach for me. I don't think movies need to cost so much money to make. There are no-fi masterpieces to be made, things that can have impact on audiences on a Citizen Kane or Casablanca level. Let's make them! Viva la underground!
I just want to start off asking about Bumps because I remember that absurd pregnancy pact news and wanted to thank you for making a proper ridiculous movie about it, which is something even Lifetime fumbled with. So, I guess this isn't so much a question as me asking you to tell all the readers about Bumps (which you all can watch here)!
Yeah, I read about it and the story fascinated me. But the info was limited and conflicting depending on the sources. And then the press coverage just sort of got shut down. So I kind of ran with it. I remember very well what it felt like being an early, mid teen. It sucked! You felt alienated and alone. Well, I felt that way. Until I found my way into a tightly knit community of friends. We were all creating new families. What if a tightly knit community of friends decided to start a family? It makes sense to raise children in a community with access to more resources than what two parental units may be able to provide. As a kid, you're not so much in the spotlight that way and that's kind of a nice thing. As a parent you've got a little more room and more resources to help out. It's kind of a great idea! But also, you're pretty young and dumb at 16. Or at least I was. I was very very dumb. I would have been a horrible dad!
But BUMPS came together very organically. Anita, who played Marcy, was a friend of a mutual friend, but the rest of the actors I found on craigslist. The ages ranged from 15 to 21. I think Anita was the oldest. I see BUMPS as their movie. Once the cast was assembled I gave everyone their character outline and the outline for the movie and they ran with it. They did everything. I just caught it on camera and gave some direction sometimes. The end result reminds me of a John Cassavetes movie but with a bunch of young women instead of obnoxious, middle aged, entitled, alcoholic philanderers.
BUMPS was an example where I had a fantastic group of actors who were creatively invested in the story we were trying to tell. Those ladies rocked the thing. As soon as the camera was rolling, they were on. I really enjoyed making that movie. I feel like I got to witness a world I could never be part of as an older white dude. In high school I had girls who were close friends in a platonic way, but even with them I was not let into that deep and private world. Those women let me into that place and let me film it, which is a very brave thing to do. It was an amazing experience. I am thankful for the actors' generosity and openness.
I love your work because it feels like its been dipped into a veneer of seventies grindhouse, yet it isn't pigeonholed in peddling shock. I am not really doing your films justice, but this is kind of my way of goading you to kind of tell me a little bit about your style/influences/motivations.
As of now, shock has been done to death. It's a great tactic, but not a very mature one. I mean, who really needs to see horrible things done to babies or animals or whatever? I understand the cathartic thrills of transgression, but it's all been done. How gross can you get?
The implicit threat, menace, and horror of those old Universal monster movies still contain a real magic. You have to use your imagination. Today we live in a very automated world. Everything is done for us by machines. You can't even unlock your car door without a computer. So it's almost a novelty going back to those older methods where the murder takes place off screen or the monster is never fully revealed because what we can imagine is so much worse than anything we are shown.
I'm not a big fan of movies that revel in the gutter for no other reason than to shock. Gaspar Noe presents shocking imagery in his work, but there is a transcendent element to it. He is trying to open minds, not piss all over them. That's very different than just shocking people. And nothing's shocking anymore anyway, so why bother? There are so many ways to communicate things. It's good sometimes to stay away from the overused, overdone stuff.
I really love the DIY spirit of some of the Bay Area garage rock bands from the 90's like the Mummies, the Brentwoods, and the Trashwomen. They were just free and open and in love with the thrill of rock n roll. They did not give one single poo about money or fame. They were in it for the sheer joy of it and they shared it with their fans, and most of their fans were their friends. They were accessible people. Their shows were always more like parties. They knew all about the greatest F word: fun.
I enjoy what used to be called "cult movies". These movies developed an audience because they didn't really fall into the regular old genre classifications. A movie like El Topo is a mystical western with dramatic and horror elements. It's tough to classify. Paul Bartel's work is a lot like that, too. Those are the movies I've always strived to make, where a whole bunch of different elements converge into one thing that is entirely it's own universe. Genre conventions sort of make no sense to me.
Irina is my favorite influence. We watch stuff together and we talk about everything. It's fun having a partner you can formulate your world view with. She's an artist, too, so I can always ask her for advice and what I get is always honest and useful.
I feel you and I are kindred spirits with regard to not doing what we do with the goal of making money. How freeing is it to let art just exist?
Few things are as subjective as art. Who determines the worth of it and how they determine it is so beyond the realm of my interest and so very boring. I just leave all that junk alone. I just want to make my movies and give them to the people who will appreciate them.
I am a deep person, dang it. I have lived life. I have something to say. And it's in my movies. They are a gift. They are an offering of true love to the human race. I am very lucky to do what I get to do. I have a job outside the film industry which makes me feel like I am doing something with my life. It pays the bills and contributes fuel to my work. I am not dependent on my art bringing home the bacon. My art can be free to be exactly what it is. Being able to make the kinds of movies I make is an exhilarating, intoxicating freedom for me.
Some of my movies have gore effects, but I always do those in a contained environment. I don't want to traumatize strangers on the street or trigger some serious PTSD. Generally, though, I'm more into the human elements like characters, motivations, and behaviors. Whenever I can get away with a chase scene in public, I'm pretty happy. I shot a music video for Eat Skull with Ben Popp back in Portland and we had a guy in "fuck society" t-shirt, a mask, and a very phony machete walk into a 7-11 and people were flipping out and calling the cops
EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU GOTTA CHECK THAT VIDEO OUT HERE.
It's good to bring a little bit of surrealism into people's lives. We shot a fairly extensive car chase for Brainbox, but that was back in 1996. Nobody hassled us, we were left alone. But those were different times. Everybody's freaking out over everything these days. Oh, and then there was the time we shot a sex scene in the back of an unmarked police car with a guy dressed up like a cop for PALACE OF STAINS. We got a helicopter escort for that one.
Those Golan-Globus films are great. I especially loved the 80's Sho Kosugi ninja flicks. A perfect action scene needs suspense and tension and a payoff; a build up to an orgasmic climax. The audience has to be invested in the characters. The rhythm of the editing and the composition of the shots are integral. I am amazed when I see non CGI-ed stunts where I fear for the stunt person's life. Like, oh my God did they really do that?!?!?! I've got to look this up on IMDB to see if the person died doing this stunt! But for me the big one is always that famous car chase in Bullitt. So simple and beautiful. That thing is a symphony. There's no music whatsoever, just the sound of those revving engines. That scene is just pure magic. There's real intimacy to it. There are many many action scenes from other movies that outdo it for sheer visceral impact, but to me the car chase from Bullitt is the big banana. One of the things I saw early in my life which ignited my love for cinema.
Switching gears, and stroking my vanity: is there anything you wanted to ask me?
Not only do I make underground movies but I am a big fan of them. I found some really cool filmmakers I've never heard of on your blog. You seem to be one of the people brave enough to venture out into this realm and find value in it. What got you interested in this kind of stuff? Who are some of your favorite underground filmmakers and why?
I legitimately don't think there was ever a time I wasn't interested in the underground. I actually took forever to post this interview because I was pondering this question. It just feels coded into my DNA to find the craziest, most interesting thing I can. I am driven to know just what kind of cool things are being done out there, and with the less risks Hollywood is taking lately, the more I feel I have to go down alternate routes.
A huge component has to do with my love of campy trash. I am convinced John Waters is my spirit animal. Look. I DVR Lifetime Original movies. I am obsessed with Pretty Little Liars. I own pretty much every Heavy Metal Horror movie ever released in some form. I still haven't gotten over them canceling Passions. That kind of patent ridiculousness is in the lifeblood of the underground. You can have so much more fun with a movie when you aren't focused on making a billion dollars in order to break even.
And, that freedom knife cuts both ways. The underground can throw just so much darker than the mainstream. You can really probe into horrifying, intriguing, and unpleasant aspects of humanity that just go so much deeper into the human condition than you'll see in The Avengers.
Finally, though, and this is probably my biggest sticking point: genre films still exist in the underground. For example, if you are a huge horror fan? Every single sub-genre under that umbrella is thriving in underground cinema. Do you still appreciate fight choreography and practical stunts? Some of the best action directors today are doing limited release or even direct to video films. Basically, I love the underground because it remembers. For every bit of homogenization going on in Hollywood, the underground diversifies even more, and I'm always discovering more new sub-genres.
Now to name favorites, I will have to cheat a little and name people I already interviewed
I'm double cheating with Nadine because we are pals, but she is basically the second coming of Troma, only with an even more punk rock edge. She unabashedly tickles that need to see something gross, ridiculous, and horrific, with that little wink that lets you know everyone's in on the joke.
Milan is basically trying to start a revolution in Serbia, and I can't respect that more.
Well that sure was a torrent of words. To end this interview in a way where you get the last word, and not my big dumb ego, any parting words for the audience reading this?
There is a very diverse and expanding community of filmmakers who have no intention of joining the Hollywood ranks. People who are perfectly content making things that have "no commercial value." An audience exists for this type of work. But people have to work a little bit to discover it. It's not backed by big money that and forced down out throats, which is a beautiful thing. I suggest seeking out channels on vimeo labelled underground or experimental. There are tons of great things out there ready to be discovered by the thrill seeking cineaste. Think about it as foraging in the forest for mushrooms or truffles. It's fun and yummy.
Keep your mind open. Seek out bold, new, and challenging audio visual works. If you like what you see, then share it with others.