Exclusive interview with Archie Waugh, director of Way Bad Stone

You may have discovered by now that I’m obsessed with shot on video films and finding some of the films in that genre that aren’t as celebrated as the slashers that make up much of the form. One of those movies, Way Bad Stone, fascinates me, as it creates a fantasy world filled with great stunts, captured in camera practical magical effects and a nihilistic bloody ending that has to be seen.

Imagine my surprise that when I was doing research on the movie I learned that the director, Archie Waugh, was born literally one town over from where I call home in Monongahela, PA in the town of Eighty Four. It seemed like fate that I had to reach out and learn more. I was delighted to connect with Archie, who is quite the raconteur and had plenty of amazing insights about a movie that obsesses me.

Images in this interview come from the official Way Bad Stone Facebook page.

B&S About Movies: First off, I’m super excited to meet you. This is a real honor.

Archie Waugh: Thanks, it’s just been very amazing that after 31-32 years, there’s suddenly interest in this thing again. It really came out of nowhere. I started finding links to reviews a few years ago and I sent them to Janne (co-writer Janne Kafka) and she was amused. People got it, you know, which is fun. The movie is either one of those films where you either get it or you don’t.

B&S: There’s also a big demand for Shot On Video movies to be released in better formats now.

Archie: I’ve had several people for the last year or so nagging me: “Do you have any VHS copies left?” Outside of my personal master copy, I really don’t. We unloaded them all at Dragon Con, that’s where that picture of Janne in costume is from. That was my first Dragon Con and we made a lot of friends there that I’m still in touch with, thanks to Facebook.

Janne Kafka at Dragon Con ’91.

B&S: How did you come on board to direct?

Archie: I worked for about 15 years for Manatee County in Florida, which is where we filmed the movie. I ran their government access television channel. I had a degree in theater and communications, plus I was pretty much a self-taught graphic artist. I just happened to get hired for that job at the right time and moved up from a cameraman to running the channel. Most of what I did there was documentary stuff and live broadcasts of county commission meetings, school board meetings, stuff like that. I made my own videos for my own entertainment on my own time. 

I had these friends who were medieval fair performers and I got to see them perform and do swordplay, which is fun to watch live, but wouldn’t it be a lot more fun with blood? You can’t do that with the family audience that comes to the Medieval Fair, so I thought, “What if we make a little movie where you can let loose and they could do all their fight choreography and we can also do special effects?”

Working with a friend of mine, we made a “proof-of-concept” swordfight video that was about nine minutes long. We shot it with a static camera on a tripod, just the two of us.  When we showed it to the fair folks, everyone decided to go for it.

Janne Kafka who plays the female lead and I started writing it.  Her husband, the late Jan Skipper, who played the Wizard Aladar, produced. And then the medieval fair people started dragging all of their friends in. And then I started dragging in friends from the local theater because I realized a lot of these people could not do dialogue, so I needed a few people that could help fill it out. And I think we ended up with 65 people in the movie. (laughs)

B&S: That’s a huge cast for a shot on video movie.

Archie: The $3,000 budget, I would say two-thirds of that was catering. We would do it all day shoot and we’d have to feed everybody and sometimes the shoots would go into the evening. They spent a lot of money on food.

B&S: The costumes had to add up.

Archie: Well, most everybody had or made their own costumes. I see occasional references to blue jeans and tennis shoes in the movie when I read reviews. They’re pretty hard to spot! That never really bothered me if someone was wearing modern clothing. This wasn’t meant to be a for profit project. It was just something we were all doing for fun. And it got out of hand to the point when it was obvious that it was going to run over an hour. It’s like well, we might as well try and do something with this to try and get some of the money back. That’s why we went to Dragon Con to sell it.

B&S: You were selling it pre-internet, too.

Archie: Oh, this was way pre-internet. So it was all you know, word of mouth, friends of friends, that sort of thing.

Beyond making Way Bad Stone, I’d been acting at our local theater for a few years and continued to until the early 2000s. I kind of wore out on doing live theater. I have a terrible, terrible attitude. (laughs) I only wanted to see plays that star me. (laughs)

I’ve done a little bit of almost everything from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to Charley’s Aunt. Believe it or not, I was Billy Flynn in Chicago and I was fucking great! But my signature play is Dracula, which I first did in high school and I’ve directed or acted in six different productions. Van Helsing is my role, I played him when I was 16 and I can still play him when I’m 75.  I think I would have been a great Renfield but I always ended up getting stuck with Van Helsing because nobody else could handle the line load. It’s a very talky role. You’re on stage two-thirds of the play and you never shut up. He’s the driving force in the show, like the emcee in Cabaret, which I’ve played too.  But I got kind of burnt out on live theater and gave it up. 

Are you old enough to remember Chiller Theater?

B&S: Yes!

Archie: “Chilly” Billy Cardille was like my teacher. When I was a kid, I had a little black and white TV that I would hide under the covers when I wasn’t supposed to be up late and watch Chiller Theater late at night. It was actually originally on Saturday afternoons and then they moved into late night in the late 60s. And that’s where I first saw Dracula, Frankenstein, all the Universal Classics. I grew up on him and got to meet him at Monster Bash many years later and tell him what a great influence he was on me. He was a great guy. 

B&S: My introduction was the Crestwood House monster books and Chiller Theater. I miss that time when you didn’t know what was going to be on and when you’d see it again.

Archie:I had tape recordings! I made cassette tape recordings of both Frankenstein and Dracula that I just listened to endlessly until I had them memorized. I would put them on at night when I would go to sleep and just listen to them. You know, that’s why I like the versions of the original version of Dracula that haven’t had music added to it because when you really listen to just the soundtrack, you appreciate how carefully silence and the very few sound effects are used.

You have to understand that when that movie was made, there had never been an American film that had taken the supernatural seriously. All the spooky stories in the 20s and early 30s prior to Dracula end with a criminal or maniac being the person behind it. A supernatural movie was a heavy load to lay on a largely religious audience in 1931. People did scream and were shocked by the movie. There’s no way we can recapture that innocence and naivete that the original audience brought to it, but you have to kind of take that into account when you’re watching it. This was The Exorcist of 1931!

B&S: Back to Way Bad Stone. Is it ever going to be released again?

Archie: We recently sold it to American Genre Film Archive. They’re working on it now and it’ll be coming out in about a year on disc. Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Now, there’s a way for any niche genre thing to find an audience.

B&S: My theory is that we’re so used to Hollywood scripts that are frequently a set formula that shot on video films are nearly alien to us now, movies that have no rules at all. That’s why I love your film because everyone was making slashers and you made a sword and sorcery movie.

Archie: So many people were trying to make their first movie then. For some reason, I guess they made horror movies because we all grew up on this stuff. Hell, my first 8mm home movies as a teenager were little ten minute versions of Frankenstein and Dracula! Or they all want to make science fiction films, but it’s like, you’re on a budget for that. You don’t have the technology to make it look like anything other than crap. This was the genre where I felt we could do something that would look okay. We can develop a look for it.

AGFA has the best master tapes, so I imagine that they will go through it shot by shot to clean it up. I have a feeling what they’ll turn out will look better than I’ve ever seen it before. Which is satisfying, but of course, the better you make it look, the more flaws show up. (laughs)  I don’t want it to be like the Sony reissued Godzilla movies where you can suddenly see all the wires you never could before! (laughs)

B&S: What were your influences on Way Bad Stone?

Archie: I liked stuff like Sword and the Sorcerer, Deathstalker and Beastmaster a lot. But I also grew up on peplum films. When I was a kid, that was my Saturday afternoon, watching Hercules or Machiste or whatever they renamed them in the U.S. I appreciated the frank amount of gore that had in them for the time. That’s probably why they disappeared in the early 70s when there was a  fuss about too much violence on television. Those movies kind of disappeared and now they’re surfacing again. You go back and look at them and think, “You know, that’s really really cool.”

The Universal stuff was big for me and so were the Friday the 13th movies, all that sort of thing. You know, we were the first era, from the late 70s through the early 80s, where slasher movies really emerged as a genre. With the exception of Night of the Living Dead, not that many movies were that graphic.  They started getting away with a lot more. I was living in Hollywood in the 70s right out of college and I got to see a lot of them in their rough release cuts. I saw Friday the 13th before Paramount got ahold of it and cleaned it up a little bit. It was definitely a little nastier.

There were fifteen theaters on Hollywood Boulevard then so I saw everything that came out then.

B&S: When you were making Way Bad Stone, was there a moment where you realized that this could be something more than just a movie for fun?

Archie: I’ve always described it as a home movie that got out of hand. Because we really had no more intention to do anything with it other than make it for ourselves. And then once it was shot, I don’t want to go into personalities, but there were let us say some interpersonal conflicts, so to speak. And at one point, I was left to my own devices and left to finish things. There were a lot of voices in my ear, though, that had an idea of what I should do, but I stuck very close to the shooting script as I edited it, which was done with two VCRs.

If I was off by two frames, I’d have to do it again. It was analog and linear with no room for mistakes. That’s why it took so many months to finish the picture. And then at night, I was working on the musical score with Catt Kafka (Janne’s sister) and her husband Don Oliver, both very talented musicians. You can hear my voice singing backup on the end title song, I’m the lead tenor!

We worked on the soundtrack segment by segment and it was all done using a sequencer, a little guitar and somebody laid in a couple of drum tracks. And as I recall the final night, when we did the transfer, it was pretty complicated.

If you recall, VHS had two ways to do audio. You had the linear audio tracks, which were two tracks on either side of the tape. And then you had the hifi track, which is the track that’s actually interpolated with the video and the picture. Well, you can’t edit that but you can edit the linear tracks. And what we ended up doing was re-recording the soundtrack that had all the vocals and the sound effects. That’s me doing the Foley work and doing the best I could with crunchy celery and stabbing heads of lettuce. (laughs)

There was one version that on one track had all the sound effects and on the other track had all the dialogue and live ambiance. So that got mixed down to one track on one side and then we had to dupe it back onto the master tape while live transferring and mixing the music score in one continuous 72-minute take with no mistakes! I think it took us five or six tries in one night. We worked on it until four in the morning until we got it balanced and as right as we possibly could. So then all of the duplicates were made from that master tape. The playback was from the linear audio tracks, not the hifi track. But of course, the audio fidelity is not as good, so you have more hiss and crackle and noise, but that also covers a lot of sins. The wall-too-wall music helped too.

B&S: What makes me love the movie is the last ten minutes. It’s non-stop bloodshed.

Archie: We went through six gallons of stage blood! That was kind of the whole point, the plot was just to get us to there. Everyone wanted to show off their fight choreography. I had to fight a lot with them on how to shoot it and I didn’t always get my way.

The long shots look very stagy to me and I would have liked to have done more intercutting of close-up action. I didn’t get my way on everything because I wasn’t the power player on set, but when I was editing, I was in control. I did the best I could with what I had, which was a total of 22 videotapes of shot footage, as I recall.

If somebody was insane enough, in theory, they could go back to those master tapes — which were in fact shot on Super VHS — and create a better looking copy. But I can’t imagine why anybody would do all that work. I certainly wouldn’t! After almost eight months of doing it the first time I just can’t see me going through that again!

So many of the effects were done in very non-conventional ways. People asked, “How did you do those CGI credits?” There’s no fucking CGI in this! Those were all hand-cut. I designed the lettering myself and hand-drew it! The entire alphabet — capitals and smalls and it all done on a photocopy machine, copying and pasting white text on black and then I lit it with some amber light and shot it with a soft focus filter so that the text looks like it was glowing. I pulled focus to get the kind of zoom-up effect and then a couple of dissolves. Because that was the one thing I could do on that, by freeze framing at a certain point and then fading over the next shot. It was a very primitive technique, but I think it came out looking pretty cool.

The castle shots at the beginning were a toy castle shot against black cardboard with pinholes in it lit from behind to make the stars.  I filmed that on my bedroom dresser!

B&S: Was there a conscious decision of shooting on video over film?

Archie: We never thought about doing it on film. That never even crossed our minds. You know, that would have been $20,000 to do on 16 millimeter!

It was always going to be on video and it was never meant to be 82 minutes long. I had maybe 20-25 minutes in mind. The script kept growing because we decided to put so much backstory in to introduce all the individual characters.

The very first night we filmed the sex scene between the zoftig woman and the really good looking blonde guy that’s humping her. I was figuring the camera angles and I said, “Well, you know, to get this right, we’re just gonna have we got to see your bum a little bit.” And he just ripped his shorts off! (laughs) He didn’t care. I was like, “Oh seriously, this is where we’re going?”

We shot that first scene and it really came out looking kind of amazing. I used to have fog filter on it to give it a soft glow and lots of candlelight. Everybody was so enthused by how that one scene came out that it just kind of took off from there. Then everyone wanted their own scene like that.

The bar scene where the guys were playing that strip game is fun, too. My mom and my late sister are the two barmaids. My mom’s the toothless barmaid. We blacked out a couple of her teeth!  My sister’s the very buxom barmaid that kept leaning over to show off her bosoms. That scene is special to me because she passed away 22 years ago after having leukemia for twenty-some years. She was diagnosed in 1980, she was given two years to live and she lived twenty, so that was a blessing. Oddly, I have a lot of pictures of her, but the only video that I have of her is Way Bad Stone.

B&S: You never had the urge to make another film?

Archie: Not a feature, no. I was so burned out. I realized that I would never want to go through having to do as much work again. There were too many layers of responsibility laid on me, you know, directing, editing and I did all the photography except for the shots that I’m in and those shots I set up ahead of time on a tripod. I even designed the box art.  It was such an ordeal that I couldn’t get the energy together to get another project. If I did something again it would have been three people sitting around the kitchen table talking. It would have been something more like a straight drama than something that involved a lot of production values.

Filmmaking is harder than stage work because of the boredom factor. There’s so much downtime, where you’re waiting around on stuff. And that’s discouraging and you don’t get any reaction. It’s weeks or months later before you see what you did. Whereas if you’re out on stage, you’re hanging by your ass and you’re doing the best you can and you feed off of the audience and you fine tune your performance after a few nights just based on that audience response.

Especially in comedy! You know what they say: Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. (laughs)

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