I watched both The Theta Girl and Bad Girls in the same day and they both repeatedly punched me in the brain. Seeing as how their director, Christopher Bickel, sent me them to review, I obviously knew how to track him down. And I was ready to learn more about what inspired these films. His time and great answers were really appreciated.
B&S ABOUT MOVIES: What’s the point where you go from “I watch movies” to “I make movies?”
CHRISTOPHER BICKLE: I’ve always wanted to make movies but it wasn’t really a possibility for me until cheap technology brought the means of production into an affordable realm. Once the technology was there it was only a matter of being able to make the time. If you are producing, directing, editing, and a little bit of everything else, it will suck every bit of time you have — especially if you are, like me, doing it on top of working a 40-hour day job. No one should be willing to make that kind of time commitment unless they are 100% sure it’s what they want to do, and — hopefully — sure that other people are going to have some interest in the end product.
B&S: Beyond the influences that people expect, what drives you beyond those? Is there someone who inspired you that would surprise viewers?
CB: The 70s and 80s genre influences are all pretty apparent. I’m inspired by anyone working in impossibly low budgets where they attempted to make something better than their budget should allow. I avoid “Troma” type movies that are self-aware and trying to “make a bad movie” intentionally. Tommy Faircloth (Family Possessions) and Paul Talbot (Hellblock 13) were huge influences on me simply because they are local guys that I know who demonstrated that “anyone” can do this.
B&S: Both of your movies feature female protagonists. Is this a choice or just what the story seemed to dictate? Did the actresses themselves lend any of their own voice to the roles?
CB: Working in micro-micro budgets you have to be able to offer the audience some eye candy to distract from the other rough edges. So I do like to have actors with a commanding screen presence. But that’s not the only reason. I’ve always gravitated toward movies with strong women leads. In both features I’ve produced, the women have certainly made the characters their own — usually in a far different way than I imagined before shooting. Working in a relatively small town, most talented performers tend to leave as soon as possible after graduating high school, so it is a real trick to find the talented ones who stuck around. I’ve been really lucky with who I’ve been able to cast — but it was hard work to find them. I won’t go forward with a project unless I have someone perfect for it. I have an entire scrapped movie script, Sister Vengeance, because I couldn’t find the right person. I may go back to it one day.
B&S: What’s a perfect movie? Is there one?
The perfect movie both moves you emotionally and entertains you — it has memorable characters and scenes. There’s nothing boring about it. You can’t stop thinking about it after you leave the theater. A week later you are still thinking about it. That’s all my criteria, so, to me, there are a lot of perfect movies. I don’t care all that much about technical refinements. I just want to be moved and entertained.
B&S: If you could pick a few movies that you consider perfect, even if they are imperfect, what would they be?
So, I’d say those are all perfect movies.
B&S: What’s the difference between arthouse and exploitation? Is there one?
CB: One would be considered “high brow” and one would be considered “low brow” — I love both extremes and I generally don’t care much about the stuff that exists between the two extremes. I think just as much thought goes into most exploitation movies as goes into most arthouse movies — it’s just to a different end. The best movies, to me, are the ones that can combine elements of the two. I love the term “artsploitation” and I apply it to my own work.
B&S: You’ve assembled some great casts that people may not know. Is there a dream actor you’d like to work with?
CB: I would like to work with Crispin Glover or Wynona Rider. I’d love to cast Neil Breen and Derek Savage in bit parts in a movie together.
B&S: You referred to Bad Girls as “a punk rock demo tape of a movie, made for people who love punk rock demo tapes and movies.” The music in your films is perfect. Did you write to those scenes, did it happen organically or is that just luck how well they work?
CB: Usually the music is written after the scenes are cut and I will fine-tune the edit after the music is finished. In a few cases the music is already there and I will cut to it. Working on no-budget films, the music is sometimes the most important part to get right. It’s the easiest way to elevate the perception of quality.
B&S: What religious upbringing, if any, did you have? And how did it manifest itself in your work in your own words?
CB: I was raised Catholic in a fairly strict house. I’m certain it informs my work. There’s a story in Bad Girls that’s based on a true story from Catholic school.
B&S: What’s a movie that more people should know, other than your own?
CB: Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41. It’s the perfect blend of arthouse and exploitation.
B&S: Generally, our site gives more of a pass to regional era drive-in movies and SOV VHS era stuff than modern digital point and shoot movies that are all over Amazon. Do you feel a kinship to those older eras?
CB: Yes, for sure. Not that I’m trying to make “grindhouse throwback” movies, but my favorite stuff is 70s and 80s genre pictures and it comes through in my films — even if it’s sometimes unintentional. I know what I want shots to look like and I know what I want the editing to be paced like, and it’s all informed by the stuff I love. I color grade something to my taste and it ends up looking like 1982 16mm film. It’s not an “effect” I’m putting on anything, it’s just the culmination of my (cheap) lighting and the color palettes I gravitate toward.
B&S: What’s next?
CB: I’m definitely going to do a horror film next. Bad Girls is a “road movie” — which is a difficult “sell.” There are 10,000 blogs dedicated to writing about and promoting new horror films. I don’t know of any “Road Movie Blogs.” So I think horror will be easier for me to market and promote — but also, it’s my favorite genre, I wanna do something truly scary, but with quirks and lots of practicals. I’m putting ideas together now.
B&S: What’s the best way for our readers to find your films?
CB: The Theta Girl is on Amazon, blu rays and streaming. Right now Bad Girls is only available through our Indiegogo page. Blu rays will be out in a month or so and digital copies are available right now.
B&S: So how about Danzig making a zombie western, huh?
CB: It can’t be any worse than Verotika.
Photo credit: Cover photo from Sean Rayford, Post and Courier Free Times.