Exclusive interview with Drew Godderis, director of L.A. AIDS Jabber

L.A. AIDS Jabber is one of the rarest and most sought-after bad taste movies of the shot on video era. It’s the story of Jeff, a mentally unstable young man diagnosed with AIDS who gets revenge on the world by injecting his blood into victims, giving them the same disease that he has.

Visual Vengeance is preparing the first wide release of the movie since it was self-distributed by director Drew Godderis himself and the blu ray will be loaded with newly produced bonus features and commentary from the original creator, Drew Godderis.

I had the true pleasure of getting to speak with Drew, who is as interesting as the movie he made.

B&S About Movies: So how did you decide to make L.A. AIDS Jabber?

Drew Godderis: It’s a project that originally was conceived back during the time when AIDS was a major pandemic. There are some very close correlations between obviously what’s going on now with the COVID because it knows no bounds and will affect anybody, as did AIDS.

I was doing a lot of character acting for five years, starting in the mid-80s and I was working quite steadily, traveling all over the country and making some pretty decent money.

My wife died at age 31. I had a two-year-old boy. I really had no family to look after the boy — he’s in the movie and did pretty well, he’s the detective’s son — but I was bound and determined to be a single parent. I needed him with me at all times because I had heard horror stories of leaving kids with other people.

I decided that I would get out of the acting game but wanted to figure out how could I keep my foot in that industry. So I said to myself, “Well, I’ve been on enough movie sets. I love writing and I’ve got an idea of how scripts were written.”

Now, I needed an idea of something that is going to be somewhat controversial. Something that people might say, “What the heck is this?” And so I was reading through the ideas and all of a sudden AIDS came into my mind. And I’m thinking this might be kind of frightening. A guy with a needle, who finds out that he is positive for HIV and back then there was no cure for it. They didn’t have a cocktail like they do now to take this thing into remission. It was a death sentence.

So the storyline is this kid who was late teens picks up a blood transfusion and probably got AIDS — which was one way to get back in the day — and decided it’s all over for him now. It’s a death sentence. Something works in his brain. And he says, “Look, I’m out of here. I’m going to take a few of those people that I don’t like, as well as some other people.”

Editor’s note: Spoiler warning in case you haven’t watched this movie yet…

At the very end, he has a chance to give himself up and he doesn’t. He rushes the cops with a needle and they shoot him. And then, we learn — after he’s laying on the ground — there was a misdiagnosis.

B&S: Were you worried about causing a controversy?

Drew: I intentionally stayed away from pointing any fingers at people’s sexuality because back then, it was considered to be a gay disease or something that only homosexuals could get. Other people were getting it from blood transfusions and heterosexual people were from having unprotected sex, but the media wouldn’t cover them. So there was this big stigma attached to people who were gay and that was really unfortunate.

I wanted to make sure when I made this movie that I wasn’t going to do that because as far as I’m concerned, people have a right to live their lives.

B&S: What was the budget like?

Drew: I had really no budget to speak of. I had already lost my house, then my son — who was two or three at the time — and I lived in a motel and eventually, even in an office that I was working in. The security guard knew we were living there, but he didn’t say anything.

When I finally finished the script, I did some casting and got a lot of young actors looking for non-union jobs, who weren’t in SAG or AFTRA yet. People — like me — would do a job for a low rate or maybe even a meal. Whatever, I was always willing to work. And they were too, because they’d walk away with footage they could show to other people and maybe get a better job somewhere.

So I was able to put this group of people together and start run and gun shooting. Everything was being done on the weekend.

I started shooting on 16-millimeter film. I had a cameraman from USC, he was looking to build a reel for himself that he could show potential companies, so I had this great 16-millimeter camera. from him. And as we were shooting it, we shot like a hundred feet of film and the thing broke down.

Thank God I was shooting video simultaneously for video feedback which saved money from buying so much film, because we could do video tests and then shoot.

So, ten minutes in, the camera doesn’t work and I just say, “Let’s shoot it on video.”

The cameraman leaves and the video assist guy became — for lack of a better word — the cinematographer. And we went on to shoot this thing on weekends and all throughout L.A.

B&S: Did that make you worry about the commercial prospects?

Drew: I had a decision to make. Am I going to continue shooting on video which limits my possibilities? The only venue I would have had before that would be either HBO or something like a video store. Now that it’s on video, HBO isn’t going to buy it. Actually, with the subject matter, they wouldn’t have bought it.

B&S: What’s it like going back and watching the blu ray?

Drew: It’s kind of like a time warp. In the extras on the blu ray, I went back to L.A. and interviewed everyone that’s still alive.

I also went to the different locations where we shot showing them what they look like now. They have graffiti all over and they’re unrecognizable! The film editor matched those scenes with the original one in the movie and you can really see how much L.A. has changed.

I have some real wild stories about some of those locations. I mean, we shot scenes with actors with real guns chasing a bad guy with no permits or permission and had we been caught…(laughs)

Not only could I have ended up in jail, but who knows what else could have happened!

So we were stealing locations in the sense that like the reporter, she does a scene in front of a police department on the street and another one in front of the local station. I guess we’re past the statute of limitations so I can admit all the places where we shot and didn’t have any permission.

There’s one shot that was done on top of a big skyscraper in downtown L.A. that we convinced the security people that we were CNN and since I had a real professional-looking camera — and a good story, we said that we needed a panoramic shot of LA for our CNN story — they allowed us to actually go up to the top of the roof and get the shot.

B&S: Tell me about the cast.

Drew: We found a great actor in Jason Majik, who played the lead. He brought a real darkness to that thing. He was in a couple of episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and did some other work and feature films, too.

B&S: How did you get this movie out there?

Drew: I self-distributed it mostly. I also worked with a couple of other tiny companies to get it to video stores, because that’s the only place you could have this.

Back then, to have somebody do something graphically to make a box — in order for me to get this thing put out — that was a big cost. I spent $1,800 to get 1800 boxes, which was the minimum I could order. And then it cost a few hundred bucks to duplicate the VHS tapes. It had a super limited release, but it’s been out there. In fact, as video stores close, I often see copies on Amazon and I buy them to give to friends. They might have a sticker on them from a video store in St. Louis, so I guess it got out there.

B&S: The new release from Visual Vengeance is going to really get it out there. Was it also released as Jabber?

Drew: Yes, that’s because I was still concerned about the political ramifications. So I figured under the name Jabber with a big needle on the front, people would say “What the hell is this?”

It’s to Video Vengeance’s credit that they said, “Release it under the real name.”

B&S: How did the re-release happen?

Drew: It’s funny. It had been sitting on the shelf for 30 years. I wasn’t gonna do anything with it.

Blood Diner, which I was in, was coming out on blu ray and I got interviewed for the behind the scenes footage on the re-release. Somehow, the folks at Visual Vengeance knew the producer of that segment and they were interested in releasing my movie. They have a great team that put this all together, I got to go to L.A. and do the extras and now there’s this cool Collector’s Edition.

Another thing that you should know…you remember watching the movie where the detectives switch in the middle of the movie? I bet you said, “What is going on there? Maybe he didn’t like a movie very much.” The truth is that actor — he was wonderful — had a busy schedule filled with conflicts and I needed to ensure that everyone could be there every weekend we shot. So that character got killed in a drunk driving accident and now we have a new detective who was recommended by the girl playing the reporter.

B&S: What can we learn from this movie?

Drew: You can have no money, but you can write a script. You can find people that want to work and want to act. You can literally bring it to fruition. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be scrounging for money along the way to try to feed everybody or get an editor though!

The editor was a well-known guy in Hollywood. But he did he couldn’t be associated with something like L.A. AIDS Jabber. He not only edited but he composed the soundtrack and we changed his name. He’s gone on to be very successful and I still won’t reveal his name.

Can I ask you a question? What is it nowadays with a lot of the kids and shot on video movies? Do they like rough around the edge stuff?

B&S: Yeah. It’s kind of an obsession with some of us because it’s like the last bastion of movies that had no rules, where everything today has been focus-grouped and producer noted to death. You have no idea what can happen next and can actually get surprised by these movies.

It’s a miracle when movies happen and especially SOV movies are miracles because how did people find them? Where did people find them?

Drew: It’s so interesting to me because when I started acting, I did episodic TV. Then I moved to direct to video movies and you’d get like, fifty bucks a day. I was in Blood Diner and then, I met Fred Olen Ray and did is movie Deep Space.

B&S: You’re also in Jackie Kong’s other movie, The Underachievers.

Drew: I was also in Evil Spawn and Cannibal Hookers for Donald Farmer and he makes my one movie look like nothing, he’s still making movies now.

It’s wild to talk to you about this movie, thirty years after I made it. It’s about the OG pandemic and it’s no Academy Award winner. But we know that and it’s okay. It wasn’t created to be that. And while I shot it on video by necessity, that’s why people are getting ready to see it again.

L.A. AIDS Jabber is coming out in August from Visual Vengeance. It has the following extras:

  • Commentary Track with Director Drew Godderis
  • Lethal Injection: The Making of L.A. AIDS JABBER
  • Bleeding The Pack: An Interview with Lead Actor Jason Majick
  • L.A. AIDS JABBER – 2021 Locations Visit
  • Interview with Blood Diner Director Jackie Kong
  • Actress Joy Yurada Interview
  • Cast and crew Interviews
  • Liner notes by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop Magazine
  • Limited Edition Slipcover – FIRST PRINTING ONLY
  • Reversible BR sleeve featuring original VHS art
  • Collectible Mini-poster
  • “Stick your own” VHS sticker set and more

For more details on the label and updates on new releases – as well as news on upcoming releases – follow Visual Vengeance on social media – IG, Facebook or twitter

TWITTER @VisualVenVideo

INSTAGRAM visualvenvideo

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/visualvenvideo

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