Interview with Bill Oberst Jr. — star of Painkiller!

We had the opportunity to have a few moments with Bill Oberst, Jr., the star of the recent release Painkiller. He has a great resume of theater and film parts, but most know him from his horror appearances in movies like Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies3 From Hell and Lifechanger. We had a blast connecting with him and came away with even more respect for the man and his acting ability.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: You’ve played some amazing roles. If you think about it, you’ve pretty much played some of the most important people in history between JFK, Lincoln, Jesus, General Sherman and Lewis Grizzard. What kind of head trip is it to play those major historical roles?

BILL OBERST JR.: It’s pretty tough. What I learned to do to play these people is that some of them still have objects in this world. Their families or their estates will give me shoes or glasses or a notebook or some part of the person. So I look at this stuff and I realized, that’s all we leave behind. Stuff. And, of course, ideas, words and the emotions that move on through the people we love.

These people are really famous and those emotions run through a much larger group of people. The way I approach their struggles is through their words, particularly people like Lincoln and Kennedy and Twain. Even Jesus, without the words that they left behind, it’s just a faint memory.

All of that makes me really careful about the words that I say and what I’m leaving behind. And then, if you have a script, you may have words to say. But when there’s no script and I’m just playing these famous roles, you have to be really careful and really intentional.

And that makes me think about my life. I want to be really intentional about what I say and leave behind!

B&S: Amongst these famous roles, what’s your favorite?

Bill: There are two, one on stage and one on screen. The one on stage is Jesus because of that experience of being in churches of every denomination, and in theaters, where some people who have no religious beliefs and still listen to the words of Jesus, and they say, “Wow. It’s kind of cool.”  It cuts across all those and that was astounding.

My favorite thing I’ve ever done on screen was Criminal Minds*. Because the makeup artist** had worked with Tarantino and he was even the groom in Kill Bill. And he got it, he said to me, “Let’s make your character something like Lon Chaney Sr. would have played, the wounded monster.” And the director was into it as well, so they let me create this beautiful but dangerous monster who had been made that way by the way people treated him. I had the prosthetics and a hunchback and got to do the character like a classic horror villain. Plus, I got to put barbed wire around Adrienne Barbeau’s neck!

B&S: Every actor has their dream role. What’s yours?

BILL: Phantom of the Opera, but it doesn’t have to be at the opera! The base dynamic of that role and what I like about it so much is that Eric was born that way. I hate it when movies have to have an excuse that his face is that way. Someone threw acid in his face and thats why he’s like this or he was burned. And the point of the novel is, he was born a monster, he was a freak at birth and his father would never look at him. His mother turned her face and they have him a mask before selling him to a traveling carnival. That’s how he became what he was, a magician and an outcast from society.

So I really want to play that role. I keep telling young directors that the story is in the public domain and it doesn’t have to be set at the opera. Just take the dynamic and put it somewhere.

B&S: I mean, they did it in a mall once!

Bill: Exactly! Chaney is the only one who did it with Eric being created that way. And the original ending of the 1925 film had Eric die of a broken heart and they find his skeleton slumped over the pipe organ years later. They played that for audiences and they hated it! You can’t feel sympathy for the monster! So they made the new ending where he acts like he has a grenade and they launch him into the river and everybody’s happy. But that original ending is much closer to what I’d like to do.

B&S: Did you like the Robert Englund take on it? He claims that he didn’t get to do the full vision that he had for the film.

Bill: Yes, I did. And that’s always the case with independent film. You have to make some version of the movie you think you’re gonna make. Because you know, you always run out of money. And you always run out of time. You just do the best you can.

B&S: What’s it like being in a Rob Zombie movie?

Bill: Great. He’s the coolest guy ever because he is really aware of his public persona, but he’s not like that at all. It’s not fake, you know? It’s who he is, but he sets it aside to do his film work.

He was a great director to work with because I wanted to adjust my acting to the way he wanted the role. We were on the way to the set and I asked what he wanted and shared what I thought he was looking for. And he said, “I hired you because I like what you do. I like the wounded animals that you play and that’s what I want you to do. So just take what’s written here and pour it through you. And it’ll be alright.”

I was like, “This guy is brilliant.” He just made me want to please him and give it everything. He’s great with actors.

B&S: Isn’t that why people hire actors? For what they are known for being able to do? It’s like hiring a voiceover artist and making them change their register or read when you hired them for a specific reason.

Bill: I actually started doing animated movie voiceovers during COVID-19, so that’s been fun. And they always want a higher register.

I was talking to my dad and he asked how work was. I said, “Well, yeah, you know, I got this animated thing and I’m a donkey.” He asked me for a bit of it and said, “Well, that was predictable.”

(Laughs) That’s the life of an actor! Everybody tells you what to do. But when it comes from your dad, you need to listen.

B&S: Tell us about Painkiller.

Bill: Painkiller comes from a real-life tragedy. Tom Cornell is the co-writer and executive producer. Plus, he’s one of Florida’s largest accident and insurance attorneys. You can see his face on billboards all over the state. His son was 21 and accidentally overdosed from opioids. So this script comes from trying to work through the pain and it ended up being a revenge fantasy.

It reminds me of Death Wish, the Charles Bronson-type stories, where Bronson does what you would never do but wish you could when you’re angry. Injustice has been done and someone has to pay.

My character has lost a child to accidental opioid death and he’s determined that since the government cannot do anything about it — nobody is doing anything about it — he’s going to do something about it.

It’s a revenge fantasy, just like the other one I’ve done, Stressed to Kill. In that one, the same character is killing people to keep his blood pressure down. If you think about it, when you get upset, you want to kill people and you watch these movies and you’re on the side of the vigilante. And then you think, “This is murder.” But then you get stressed out again and want people to just shut up. So you’re torn. (Laughs)

B&S: What was it like to work with Michael Paré?

Bill: Intense! He’s intense! I’m glad I didn’t have a fight scene. He would have beaten the crap out of me. He’s just I mean, he’s got the eyes. He’s got the presence. And he’s so experienced, he even tells the effects guys where to put the squibs on. It was great to work with such a powerful actor.

B&S: It sounds pretty exciting.

Bill: I want to entertain people, but I want to make them think about how long this opioid crisis has been going on and how it started. How did doctors decide to prescribe something that they knew was addictive to kids who had sports injuries? And then they ended up dying, how did we get to this point?

I hope that the movie makes people think about it and talk about it. And you know, think about what we could do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Thanks to Bill for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. You can check him out on Twitter and don’t forget to watch Painkiller.

*Oberst appeared in “Blood Relations,” which was episode 12 of season 9.

**Christopher Allen Nelson

An interview with Christopher Bickel, director of The Theta Girl and Bad Girls

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?

CB: My top 5 favorite movies of all time are:
1. Taxi Driver
2. Harold and Maude
3. The Shining
4. The Exorcist
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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 41It’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.

Joshua Reale: An Interview with the Director of Necropath

In the second week of February, we received a screener of the feature film debut by New York-based filmmaker Joshua Reale. Hopefully, you not only read our review for Necropath, but took a chance on Reale’s debut film and streamed it. It’s a stellar debut from a filmmaker to watch.

We recently sat down with Joshua Reale to discuss his journey as a budding filmmaker and seeing his first feature film receiving worldwide distribution on digital streaming platforms. You can also watch the short version of Necropath, as part of Empire State of the Dead, a 2014 anthology film.

B&S: Many of the indie-streaming filmmakers we review at B&S About Movies are born from one of two camps: The first, courtesy of the accessibility of digital filmmaking, they’ve eschewed a traditional, film school educational queue and are self-made filmmakers. In the second camp, they were able to convince their parents to pay to send them to film school. Which one is Joshua Reale?

J.R: For film school-wise, I went to a couple trade schools, but nothing fancy. A lot of my filmmaking I learned — I went to this place in Boston that lasted for a couple of weeks — but most of my filmmaking that I learned was, ironically, from watching (the AMC series) Breaking Bad. And also working with my friend, Geoff Orlowksi, who also produced Necropath, as well; he came to my Halloween attraction and asked to shoot a scene for his independent film, The Vampire (2013). I just stood on the sidelines watching him because that’s something I always wanted to get into. I wrote scripts but never knew how to approach filmmaking. Watching him do his thing, I asked if he’d would like to meet up. So we met at a cafe and starting discussing film stuff and we made Necropath.

B&S: We had a recent sit down with writer-director Eric Eichelberger of Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre and we came to learn that he made his first movie at 8 years old, out in the cornfields of Indiana. How old were you when you made your first movie and what was that first movie? Did you take photography or film classes in high school or were your film endeavors strictly extracurricular outside of school?

J.R: The first film I made, obviously, we made stuff when we were little kids, but the first stuff that counted was after high school, since my high school didn’t really didn’t offer anything — I graduated in 1999 — to do with filmmaking. Plus, living somewhere where filmmaking isn’t a big deal, like upstate New York; if you lived more on the West Coast they would probably offer stuff [in high school]. So, after high school, I started doing it on my own and just bought a camera and did the most you can do as an 18 year old with a camera.

B&S: But no cornfields — or any country fields, since you were in upstate New York — in your past?

J.R: No, I was in a more of an urban-kind of setting. I created a horror-icon character (Scag) when I got out of high school that I wanted to develop and I’ve been focused on making these short scripts; so we shot one and then we did another one. They were so low-budget; we just kind of winged it to just get into filmmaking, as our kind of practice.

A new horror icon is born: Moe Issac as Scag

B&S: In an interview, music producer Steve Albini, most notable to mainstream audiences for his work with Nirvana, discussed the issues with digital vs. analog recording. He explained, as result of the ever-changing digital realms creating software incompatibilities, he feels it’s best to record in an analog format for archival purposes, and then transfer those reels into a digital editing suite to create the final product. However, it seems the new guard of indie-digital filmmakers can’t work within the constraints of the tight shoots, with days laid out beforehand, working with less coverage, and finding crews that possess the extremely different skill sets to work with film stock vs. digital. What are your impressions and opinions on working in a digital format vs. working in 16 or 35 mm stocks? 35mm is, of course, more difficult to scan, but what about in terms of depth of field and lighting issues? What cameras were used in the making of Necropath?

J.R: We used the DSLR, the Mark III on our shoot. I used 16mm in one of my week-long film courses in New York City that had a 16mm class — and it’s a total pain. There’s a lot of limitations: you didn’t have the view finder, for one. But I guess that’s the beauty of using [a] 16mm [camera]: you get a whole different product in the end and the overall quality of film, after. But with the technology now, you can, basically, shoot something extremely well on a DSLR camera. We shot Necropath [on a DSLR] and I think it came out fantastic.

B&S: For Necropath, you eschewed a tradition music soundtrack for what’s best described, more as a subjective sound pallet of perpetual, atmospheric hums, screeches, buzzes, and distorted, disembodied voices, which, I assume, are to put the viewer inside the head of your chief antagonist, Scag. Then there’s those wailing emergency alert clarions throughout the film. If it was your intention to induce nausea in the viewer, it certainly worked on me. The first thought I had: Joshua O.D’d on New French Extreme films or, at the very least, is a fan of Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible.

J.R: As a far as the style of filmmaking that I did: it’s my first film, making Necropath. I just wanted to make a film the way I felt a movie should be made. It just got put together the way it did, in a very nontraditional way of making a movie, with our shots and style of the audio. You hit it right on the head when you said you felt like you were in the mind of the antagonist and what he feels. We achieved that with the audio and the droning in various scenes and made it more of an entrancing kind of tone throughout the movie. So, with that, and the shots and everything, we made Necropath. It’s a unique kind of film that might catch a lot of people off guard; whether they like it or not like it: it’s just what we did. We wanted to do something different; a different approach on zombie films and I think [Joshua and Geoff] achieved it well.

B&S: Did you conceive Necropath prior to its entry in the 2014 Scare-a-con Film Festival or was your narrative born by the festival’s Empire State of Dead short film contest? What was the purpose of the contest and what were the rules contestants had to adhere to for submission?

J.R: The purpose and rules were that you had to make a zombie film and it has to be short and not over this-many-minutes and it has to be shot in New York, hence the Empire State of the Dead. So, my friend, Geoff, when he came to my Halloween attraction (learn more at Cayo Industrial) and shot [The Vampire] there, he mentioned the contest. We decided we can do the contest together; we met and got an idea for working together, you know, do a short film that’s nothing long and drawn out. And that was Empire State of the Dead. So we ended up working together on each other’s films: I made Necropath and I helped him with his film, Occupied. His won 2nd place and Necropath won 1st place.

B&S: While Necropath — the feature film — isn’t an anthology film, it’s actually three award-winning shorts edited together to create an hour and a half narrative. What were those other two films? Based on the seamless nature of the feature film version Necropath, I’m assuming they’re pseudo-sequels to each other. How much newer footage, if any, was shot as connective material to thread the shorts into a fluid narrative?

J.R: In 2014 we shot the first 15 minutes of the movie; the short that was in Empire State of the Dead. After that success, I couldn’t stop thinking of the idea and the Scag character, the main horror-icon character of the film, and just the different ideas I had. So I decided to make another one. So I wrote the next one, which was the next 30 minutes of the film (aka Necropath II). We shot that one a year later. We shot the third sequence, the third short, which starts when we see the man walking with his family [on a bombed-out city street], two years later. So the whole film was shot over the course of 2014 to 2018. We just complied it all together and the whole film is out of those shorts.

B&S: As I watched Necropath, aside from the New French Extreme, I saw the psychedelic, ambiguous influences of Bigas Luna, Alejandro Jodoroswky, and José Mojica Marins. I know those references are dated for some, but how far am I off the mark with that analysis? The directors of the Italian-zom ’80s in our post-George Romero world is a foregone conclusion. What filmmakers are behind your narrative vision?

J.R: My biggest influence, ironically, has nothing to do with, well, I don’t want to say nothing to do with horror, but James Cameron was a big influence, as I grew up with The Terminator and T2. It was how he emphasized all of his shots, and his action scenes, and the realism; in Terminator he used Stan Winston Studios. But [Cameron] was probably the biggest influence on me. And just growing up, watching random horror movies. I’m more of an ’80s kind of horror guy. I’m not really into new, new horror movies with the CGI ghosts and stuff like that. Those [horror films] also had an influence in my approach to filmmaking.

B&S: Where did you find all of your amazing actors? Moe Isaac and Natalie Colvin are absolutely outstanding in their zombie roles, as you feel Scag’s mental anguish and Crack Hag’s pre-zom longing for a child of her own. I, myself, have worked on a couple shorts where, the child was cast, and in need of an adult actor, the parent rose to the challenge to fill out the cast. Did you cast Lillian first, and then her mother, Natalie, came along, or you got them at the same time as a pair?

J.R: Pretty much the same time. Lillian was actually in a couple of videos that I made for my Halloween attraction. I think she was like 6 years old at time. When she did Necropath, she was 11 or 12. When I was doing the casting, I asked Geoff if we could cast Natalie, too, so they could work together. The other actors in the film: Moe Issac, who played Scag, the main character; he was a friend of Geoff’s when I was helping him out on [Occupied] for Empire State of the Dead. Moe was on set helping me string lights; as I put up a light, the ladder shook. I look down and Moe was holding the ladder. He grabs at his face and ends up pulling his teeth out: I didn’t realize that he had dentures! And I was like, ‘Oh, my god, you want to be Scag, the main character in my film?’ and we ended up casting him right on the spot.

Crack Hag to the set! Natalie Colvin

B&S: How did you manage to get the most notable members of your cast, Nathan Faudree and Cassandra Hayes?

J.R: Yeah, I have to give Geoff Orlowski credit for casting those two actors who act professionally (Faudree has appeared in the Law and Order franchise; Hayes in the low-budget Amityville-verse). They both helped Geoff out with scenes in [The Vampire] that he was shooting. When I was writing Necropath III: I couldn’t help but picture Nathan Faudree as the father-figure. We were trying to cast it with other people [unsuccessfully] and Geoff was telling me that I wasn’t happy with anybody because I wrote this scene specifically for Nathan, which I did: 100%. I was so glad that Nathan came up from New York City to be in [Necropath].

Nice now . . . post-apoc a-hole later. Nathan Faudree, with cast member Brandy Cihocki

B&S: Your newest film as a producer is Planewalker, which is written and directed by Geoffrey Orlowksi, your producer on Necropath. Can you share with our readers the plot of that sci-fi film?

J.R: Yeah, Planewalker is Geoff’s film. That is kind of hard to explain, the concept behind it. We did that shoot in 2017. I’m not entirely sure of [what inspired] the concept behind the film that Geoff wrote.

B&S: Science fiction is not an easy genre to create on an indie low-budget. And since that genre, in most cases, requires CGI work, it’s difficult for the indie guy to create convincing CGI. Since you’re on a budget, are you and Geoffrey eschewing CGI for more traditional, in-camera effects?

J.R: Well, you can do mapping now. Say, if you do a shoot in a warehouse district, you can add all of these different elements to it. I believe Geoff was going to go that route with the various scenes that he has.

B&S: Before we go, how is Necropath doing in the streaming-verse? Are horror fans discovering the film and what are their responses?

J.R: We’ve get a lot of personable people who say they love the film. I know it’s new to a lot of people, for the style of what Necropath is. I know people are looking to see a more traditional kind of movie. We made Necropath, not to pave the way to a new kind of horror style; we just wanted to do to our own thing. Obviously, there’s people who appreciate it and people that don’t appreciate it. And people that are caught of guard and people who are in love with the new look of it.

B&S: Joshua, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. And I really enjoyed your film. A lot. It was a real pleasure to review. I wish you the best with Planewalker. Please keep us posted on the film so we can review it at B&S About Movies.

J.R: At the moment, I am not sure if Geoff is on hiatus with that particular film. We set it aside to [concentrate] on Necropath, but we will let you know.

Necropath is currently available on all digital platforms from Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight. You also can learn more about the career of Joshua Reale at Cayo Industrial Horror Realm’s official Facebook page and website. You can also visit the film’s official Facebook and Instagram pages for more photo stills.

You can read our full review of Necropath at B&S About Movies.

Our thanks to Gravitas Ventures and October Coast for their coordination of this interview.

* All images courtesy of Joshua Real/Cayo Industrial.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

Eric Eichelberger: An Interview with the Director of Exploit This! The Complete History of Exploitation Cinema in America

Be it the films of yore or films from the new turks on the scene, low-budget and independent cinema is our jam at B&S About Movies. And one of those movies by one of those new turks who tickled our “brains” was writer and director Eric Eichelberger with the comedic horror Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre. His feature film debut, it paid a dual homage to ’70s grindhouse and exploitation flicks and ’80s Italian zombie flicks.

So it makes sense that Eric’s next feature film would be a documentary to honor the filmmakers and films that lead to the creation of GSZM. And when he announced the kickoff of his Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign to fiance the project, we knew we had to do our part to get the word out to you, the lovers of the same movies we love.

Exploit This! The Complete History of Exploitation Cinema in America is a currently-in-development documentary that will explore the history of the exploitation film from its development with the birth of cinema itself, to its golden age in the 1940s and 1950s, its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, its death and then makeover in the 1980s, and ultimately, to its revitalization in the present. Exploit This! features interviews with all the major players in the exploitation film business, as well as film experts, Hollywood directors and actors, and those of what is now known as “adult cinema.”

We had the opportunity to sit down with Eric to discuss his latest project — and understand how a nice kid from Northwest Indiana who graduated from Chicago’s Columbia College ended up making movies about zombified girl scouts giving birth to ravenous zombie babies.

B&S: To prepare for the interview, I re-watched Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre, this afternoon. Eric, you’ve got problems, man. You’re damaged. Just one too many viewings of Basket Case and Brain Damage.

E.E: I think you’ve understood the movie more than any [reviewer] I’ve seen write about the film. I appreciate that.

B&S: That’s the one thing that perturbs me when I watch a movie: I read the reviews and wonder if the commenter actually watched the movie. I think the issues with streamers today is that they’re younger than you and I, so they don’t have the same reference points that we do. They’ve probably never seen Basket Case and can’t make the connections. Your film requires a deeper set of film references.

E.E: Yeah, the people that have reviewed it, just didn’t understand it [for those reasons], mostly. They’re looking for a more ‘traditional’ horror film.

B&S: So, it all started at the age of 8 in a cornfield? I can hear your mom, ‘What’s Eric doing all day in those cornfields?’ I am hoping life didn’t imitate art. Anything you want to clear off your chest, Eric?

E.E: No, no. There’s no bodies out there. There was just nothing to do [as kids], so we just played in the cornfields, you know hide-and-seek, in the cornfields of Indiana. That’s what we’re known for: cornfields, Axl Rose, Kurt Vonnegut, and Larry Bird. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot do out there, except play in the cornfields.

B&S: But those cornfields inspired your filmmaking, to make movies out there?

E.E: Not so much the cornfields, but I was just attracted to films that were spooky, since I was born on Halloween. So, at age four, I was watching movies like Poltergeist and getting spooked. And I like that: watching scary movies. My parents weren’t concerned, so I could watch what I wanted. By the time I was in my preteens, I watched most of the Jason and Freddy movies, Hellraiser, and all the major horror films. When I got a little older as a teenager, I became interested in [Alejandro Jodorowsky’s] El Topo and those weird art movies, like Peter Jackson’s movies at the time, with Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste.

B&S: And what about the J-Horror cycle?

E.E: Yeah, I liked The Eye, The Ring series, and Takashi Miike with Visitor Q, and Battle Royale. There was a guy I knew — I grew up an hour and change from Chicago — that I’d see at Cons and he got me into all of these horror movies; he had a Starlight Video bootleg catalog with everything off Japanese laser discs that he duped onto video tapes. So I would find stuff through him and buy it. In fact, I spent all of my paper route money on it.

B&S: You continued to make films in high school. Did you take photography classes in high school or did they have a film program? What were the titles of some of those films?

E.E: When I was in middle school, my friend and I made films; we were making comedic films, shorts really. In freshman year of high school, I made a film in a class called Freshman Seminar. It was a class where you were allowed to explore what you wanted to do for a career: I wanted to make horror films. So I made a little horror short called Flesh and a little horror documentary.

Through a friend, I met someone who had and a [Commodore] Amiga 2000 which ran the NewTek Video Toaster, which is a very early film editor before Final Cut. He put together these clips [for the documentary] that I taped-to-tape on video tape, then he allowed me to put my voice-over on them. One of the girls in my class was a very serious Christian and she was so offended by the clips; there were clips from Faces from Death, as there was a whole section on Mondo Films. The teacher gave me an ‘F’ on the assignment. And since the film was the whole purpose of the class, I failed the class. I thought I did something really cool: this little short-form documentary about cult and exploitation movies, sort of what I am doing now [with Exploit This!]. But the grade was based on the [offensive] content and not the work itself. But I went on and made more, anyway, on my own.

B&S: And how did you handle your home-grown gore effects? Back in the day, I learned from the master, Tom Savini: All you needed was Elmer’s Glue, Wheaties, Karo Syrup, and red food coloring. Oh, the memories of Mom banging on the bathroom door, ‘Richard, what are you doing?’ ‘Nothing Mom! Making blood.

E.E: Yes. We used Karo Syrup and red food coloring. For the guts we’d use spaghetti. I had a friend back in high school who was a very serious special effects fan; he wanted to get into that for a career, and he helped out with the more complicated stuff.

B&S: Then, at the age of 18, off you went to Chicago’s Columbia College to study film, which lead to your first feature film, the shot-on-video Cannibal Teenage Riot. Did you shoot-on-video out of financial necessity or was the format in homage to the SOV format that born such direct-to-VHS classics such as Blood Cult and Spine?

E.E: I have seen some of those films. I didn’t see Spine until later and I really liked that a lot. But I did see SOV films like Boarding House and Gourmet Zombie Chef from Hell, so I knew I could shoot on video. But yeah, it was also out of necessity. We didn’t have a budget, we just had a Hi-8 camera, you know, before Mini-DV, but after Super-8. It was the first, sort of, video format after VHS, you know, the real big, blocky cameras. Hi-8s were a little bit smaller. So we shot on that.

But that inspired me to expand on the six-minute short Flesh I made in freshman year. The idea behind [Cannibal Teenage Riot] is that there’s a town of cannibals. Everyone in this town are cannibals and it’s a known secret. So a family moves into the town and there’s a high-school peer pressure situation for the girl to become part of the cannibals. Initially, I wrote a short story called Dinner Party and adapted that into Flesh. Then, when we made Cannibal Teenage Riot and expanded on that, we made it more funny and sort of campy. Someday, I’d like to make a more serious, a more dark-comedy version of [Cannibal Teenage Riot], that will be more, sort of like The Night of the Living Dead.

B&S: Are there any other ideas or concepts that went unfinished that you may also bring back?

E.E: I have a couple of concepts. I wrote another movie in high school, more of an idea for a movie, based on an urban legend in our town called Old Man Dewey. He went crazy — like in The Crazies — and kills his family with an axe; then the whole movie is about high school kids, again. They dare each other to spend a night in the Dewey House. But these kids take psychedelics and go to the house to spend the night and things start happening. You’re not quite sure if Old Man Dewey is back or is it a copy cat killer or is it hallucinations. But that’s the film, Old Man Dewey.

B&S: Then, after college, you came to work with the author and director of Hellraiser and Nightbreed, Clive Barker, and Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame. How did you come to work on Gordon’s King of the Ants (2003), and what was the project that you worked on with Clive Barker?

E.E: I met Clive Barker while I was still in college when I was around 20 or 21. I was a huge fan of his and read all of his comics and his books and saw his movies. I went to this convention in Atlanta called Dragon Con. One year they decided to do a Barker Con. Clive was there for the three-day affair. So I went to that while still in college. I met Clive there and had him sign things, like at a regular convention. There was one night where Clive and Doug Bradley, and a few of us from the convention, went to a nightclub with a BDSM theme. What was funny is that Doug Bradley got really squeamish about the blood, considering he’s Pinhead from Hellraiser.

But I got to know Clive and his producer, at the time, Rob. So, when I took a road trip out to L.A., I went to see The Cult [in concert] with Rob and just got to know the guy a little bit and stayed in touch. When I moved to L.A. from Chicago, I took a meeting with Rob and asked to intern with Clive’s company. So I ended up being Clive’s assistant, going out on photo shoots and production meetings and stuff. I was helping him setting up his paints, anything he needed. Though Clive, I began to make connections with fans within his fan-based community, and got involved in festivals of his work.

That’s how I got in touch with Stuart Gordon: I had a friend from that world who knew Stuart and I requested a showing of Re-Animator. Stuart ended up coming to the festival. The next year, he came back and showed Dagon, which he was promoting at the time. After Dagon, I stayed in touch with Stuart and asked what his next project was and that I would love to work on one of his projects. The next project he had in the pipeline was King of the Ants. It’s a great film, an underrated one. It stars George Wendt, you know, Norm from Cheers and House. It’s a $500,000 movie and Stuart’s wife made sandwiches. Daniel Baldwin (Stealing Candy, Trees Lounge) was in it and he, I think felt bad we were eating these grilled cheese sandwiches, so he bought Starbucks for the cast and crew.

B&S: In December 2019, when Walt Disney Studios announced director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy film series) was hired to direct an untitled fourth film in the Planet of the Apes franchise, we did an “Ape Week” blowout reviewing all of the official ape movies and all of the knockoffs and ripoffs. And one of the films we reviewed was Lou Vockell’s Planet of Erotic Ape (2002), where you worked as the Second Unit Director. How did you end up in Cincinnati and come to work with Lou?

E.E: That’s an interesting film, a piece-together. You know how Al Adamson would make these movies where he’s putting in other footage and gives it a new title. There was a guy who I worked for several times, named Mike Roscoe, who ran a company, EI Independent Cinema. Now they’re called Alternative Cinema. I worked for those guys several times making a number of different films. Well, they had a production that was short and they wanted to stretch out the time. So I went to San Francisco and filmed some actors, where we filmed these little vignettes to include in the film. So it was one of those weird ‘Al Adamson’ type of things.

B&S: The great Jim Wynorski is, of course, royalty at the B&S offices — and by working with Lou Vockell, you were one degree away from the man who made Chopping Mall. So cool! How amazing was it to work with Julie Strain (Psycho Cop Returns, Naked Gun 33 1/3, Beverly Hills Cop II, Battle Queen 2020) and Monique Gabrielle (Jim Wynorski’s Transylvania Twist, 976-Evil II, Munchie) on Planet of Erotic Ape?

E.E: I worked with Julie Strain, but not on that. I worked on a movie, Blood Gnome (2004), and she was in that movie that shot in L.A. I also have a scene in the movie with my wife, who was acting at the time. I met Julie for the first time, there. I was writing for a website at the time, B-Movie, where we had different stories and articles each month about a particular Scream Queen. We were going to do a whole spread on her, so I went to her house. She was so nice. She was living at the time with Kevin Eastman who created the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. And he was so nice, as well. So we went into her backyard, I had a professional photographer with me, and she just took her clothes off. I was in shock. Later, recently [for Exploit This!], when I interviewed Debbie Rochon, I mentioned working with Julie Stain and the interview. She told me that Julie just wants to be naked all the time! At the Shock-a-Go Go Festival that I did, we ended up showing Blood Gnome. But, yeah. That’s how I ended up working with Julie. Babes in Kong Land was the title [at the time], but it had alternate titles.

B&S: Then you followed up Cannibal Teenage Riot with your second feature film, Fear of a Limp Planet. What year was that shot and released? Did you shoot on video or 16mm or 35mm? Could you tell our readers about the plot?

E.E: It was shot in 2002 and it had a very small, festival release and played in Indianapolis and L.A. a few times. It was shot on Mini-DV, as we couldn’t afford 16 or 35. It was funded by William Hellfire and his company, Factory 2000. He has several movies, but I met him because I was a huge fan of his movie Caress of the Vampire 2 (1996). I found his contact on an old video tape that I had and called the number and they put me into contact with him. I told him that if he came to Los Angeles I’d love co-directing a movie with him; that I wrote a sequel to his movie. He ended up flying out to work on a different movie; but we worked on [Fear of a Limp Planet], as it was meant to be part of the Caress of the Vampire series. EI Cinema, that is, Alternative Cinema, bought the film. So the film ends up with a distribution deal at Walmart [with other EI titles]. A huge deal. So Walmart made these promises they didn’t keep and returned all of this product and almost bankrupted SRS Cinema, the distributor.

So, I’ve got this movie. And I reached back out to Mike Roscoe, who initially didn’t want the film. So he took the movie and gave it a small release, a self-release. Things went down hill from there, as [the studio] went into hardcore and got away from B-Movies. So [Fear of a Limp Planet] basically sat on the shelf. They bought it and didn’t release it, at least not in a wide release. So that movie is still owned by them, as they bought the rights in perpetuity. Unless they go out of business, I really can’t do anything with the movie.

B&S: Then, starting in 2010, we’re assuming to pay the bills and ‘work’ as a filmmaker, you moved into the world of reality TV, where you worked in the suites as an assistant editor. Two of the series you worked on was Steven Seagal: Lawman and UFC Ultimate Insider. You usually don’t rub elbows with the talent or celebrities in the suites, but did you get lucky and meet any UFC fighters? Is there a Seagal-Eichelberger selfie you Smartphone-sling to impress your friends?

E.E: No, not really. Steven did come, once, to the office. That was a weird show. Steven was accused of human trafficking and they had to shut down the show in the second season — and they had worked up a whole third season. There was a giant scandal. It was huge at the time, with TMZ and all. But, yeah, around the time [my wife and I] had kids. I had been working on sets a lot and I needed to so something in the industry that wasn’t so crazy with the hours; many of the jobs I’ve had, like in the art department, I was working 18 hour days — long days — all the time. It took its toll and I needed something that wasn’t so crazy now that we had a kid. So I got into editing and have done a lot of post-production work in the last ten years. But Steven’s Lawman show was really the first show I worked on in post and I basically learned AVID on that show. It was a fun experience and fun show to work and those people are still my friends. But I didn’t really interact with Steven and there’s no selfies. To tell you to truth: he was kind of a jerk. He’d say some pretty outrageous stuff. And he was mic’d 24/7 and it was my job to go through all of that footage and edit it down.

But I still do editing. I just worked on a pretty fun film, a horror film last year: Dolly Deadly 2: Run, Dolly, Run (read our “Ten Evil Dolls” featurette). Its about a kid who grows up playing with dolls and becomes a drag queen serial killer. It was a whole lot of fun to edit. I do editing as a day job and I also teach. I’m a film professor, but not a full professor, yet. And I make movies.

B&S: Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre seems to have taken forever to make and get into the streaming-verse. I am sure your actors, as well as yourself, are ecstatic — and relieved — over the film’s reception.

E.E: Yeah, it took about nine years from the time of the idea, to the script, to the casting, and then raising funds, which we did with a trailer to promote the film. A lot of it was post-issues. We finished the principal photography in 2012, so it was a long time in post, it was mainly a post nightmare. And there’s the issue of finding the right distribution and the right fit and festivals. We started releasing the movie to festivals in 2018, so that’s why, on some platforms, you see the date of 2018, because that’s when it played festivals.

Ghoul Scout played in a lot of festivals. There were a couple in India and one in the Amazon Rainforest. There was one in Wisconsin. One in New York. We had a big premiere in New York at a theater in Brooklyn and Lloyd Kaufman came. He never made an offer, but shortly after that premiere, I was contacted by the guy who handled the festival distribution. And that got me in touch with Boobs and Blood, which runs a festival and also a distribution platform. They’ve been really great getting it out on all of the streaming platforms and brick-and-mortar stores with physical media. And they’re going to expand onto pay cable platforms, like Comcast. And iTunes is next, along with Blu-ray. (Another B&B release we’ve recently reviewed is Blood Freaks.)

B&S: Now it’s time to the complete history of exploitation cinema in America through the lens of the people who lived that history. And for the past 13 years, between your various projects, you’ve complied interviews with the movers and shakers of exploitation cinema. The cast of filmmakers you’ve secured is impressive: Roger Corman, Hershell Gordon Lewis, Jack Hill, Fred Olen Ray, Joel M. Reed, David F. Freidman, Larry Cohen, Ted V. Mikels. Then there’s the actors: Mary Woronov, Rhonda Shear, Debra De Liso, Brinke Stevens, and Debbie Rochon. How difficult is it to get a sit down with all of those celluloid icons. From the looks of your fundraiser trailer, they all certainly seem welcoming to your vision.

E.E: It really started out with these festivals that I worked on from 2001 to 2004. We filmed Clive Barker back then. I became friends with Joel M. Reed. When we showed Blood Feast 2, I met Hershel Gordon Lewis. When I was in Florida vacationing with my family, I traveled three hours from Orlando to Hershell’s condo to film. David F. Friedman came to the festival when we showed She Freak. We we went out to Las Vegas to film Ted V. Mikels. At the time, Ray Dennis Steckler owned a little video store in Vegas and we filmed him.

B&S: So, then you’re looking at a late 2022 release.

E.E: Yeah, with the editing and all, definitely 2022.

B&S: Well, hopefully, when we post this interview — with the Kickstarter link — and with your B-Movie pedigree, I believe readers will say, ‘This guy’s really cool,’ and will want to support the film and make a contribution.

E.E: Yeah, our goal is $12,500. The Kickstarter journey has been a crazy ride. Just yesterday, we had a stranger donate $7000 and then, hours later, retract the donation and disappear. It felt like a roller coaster: one minute, we’re funded, we made it!? And the next minute: it’s back to the drawing board. It’s an emotional journey because this project is all or nothing. So, please if anyone can donate and share our dream. We are almost at $8000 and our goal is $12,500 and we have 6 more days.

I really appreciate how you looked at the [Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre], R.D. You really understood it and you’re the ‘audience’ of the film, for sure. And I think you’ll be the audience for the documentary, too. I feel it’s going to be the most interesting and most comprehensive documentary on the subject of cult movies and grindhouse movies. I can say that with an almost certainty.

Many thanks to Eric Eichelberger for sitting down with us and giving B&S About Movies the opportunity to spread the word about his exciting project. And when Exploit This! hits the streaming-verse, you’ll hear about it first at B&S.

If you love the films that Eric loves, you can help him make the film a reality, with a target release date sometime in 2022. You can learn more on how to pledge to fiance the film’s post-production by visiting the film’s official Kickstarter page — which features a preliminary trailer and more information about the production. You can learn more about Exploit This!, Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre, and Eric’s other works at Anxiety Films. There’s more information about the film — and the gifts you can receive for donating to the production — at the film’s official Facebook page.

And don’t forget to check out our review of Ghoul Scout Zombie Massacre.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

Volcanic UFO Mysteries (2021) plus an interview with Darcy Weir and Stephen Bassett

Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings didn’t start with Kenneth Arnold in 1947. They’ve been part of our history as long as it has been recorded. Yet they’ve always been top secret at best and ridiculed at worst.

As the Pentagon released declassified information and videos about potential alien craft visiting our planet — yes, this happened and it was buried amongst all the other insanity that was 2020 — are we closer to disclosure than ever before?

We had the opportunity to spend some time with Volcanic UFO Mysteries director Darcy Weir and Stephen Bassett to discuss the film, UFOs in pop culture and exactly what Jackie Gleason has to do with alien lifeforms.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: What was the impetus behind me making this movie?

DARCY WEIR: The subject matter of UFOs showing up around active volcanoes is underrepresented. Furthermore, UFO sightings in Latin America are both pretty prevalent and very much under-represented. I wanted to share that story and bring Stephen in with me to talk about his work on ending the truth embargo and the disclosure of the UFO presence from the government to the public.

I find him to be a fascinating subject. All the work he’s been doing in terms of UFO reporting and journalism for over 40 years is very interesting to me.

B&S: It’s intriguing because you always see footage of UFOs around military bases or nuclear power plants.

DARCY: Let’s take the Pentagon’s release of the videos that came out. They were first revealed through the To The Stars Academy (editor’s note: the group formed by Tom DeLonge, Harold E. Puthoff and Jim Semivan) in 2017. The “Gimbal” video or the “Tic Tac” video, which was fully unclassified and confirmed by the Pentagon in April 2020.

Those videos are recorded on aircraft, you know, state of the art military aircraft, in infrared light, in a light spectrum we can see and they are recorded with state of the art cameras that basically are supposed to track objects that move really, really fast.

When when you see a video like that come out, and you hear pilots say, “That’s not one of ours,” and then eventually the government confirms that suspicion. You look, you listen, you learn and you take it seriously.

With the UFO videos that we’re capturing around volcanoes in Latin America, these volcanoes are active. And you, for example, can see a UFO that flies through an ash cloud slowly,. It just hovers through and then it waits by a volcanic crater as erupting pyroclastic molten lava shoots rocks into the air, with the environment at probably 1000s of degrees Fahrenheit. And this object just flies through it. No civilian or military aircraft that we know of can perform in that environment.

What is it? Is it ours? What’s it doing there? And that’s a really strange mystery.

The UFO phenomenon is just not limited to the United States. But the United States has some of the most incredible cases. I’ve made a documentary about UFOs in space, you know, that NASA has recorded. I’ve made documentaries with events that have happened in Australia, China and Latin America. And I kind of want to tell even more of those stories that people haven’t heard as much here in the United States.

B&S: Stephen, what do you feel the importance of this movie is?

STEPHEN BASSETT: Darcy is what I call a content provider. In the UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon)/E.T./research activist journalism genre, the government has been denying the truth of this issue now for 74 years. And so the people were on their own.

They had to do the research, create and write their own books, magazines, documentaries, podcasts, broadcasts and so forth. In spite of the fact that the government said, “No, there’s nothing to this.”

These content providers have kept the issue alive, expanded public awareness worldwide and helped to ensure that ultimately we will get a confirmation from the government of this E.T. presence.

Darcy, of late, has been quite prolific* creating documentaries. I’ve been wanting to do a documentary for twelve years and I haven’t gotten to it yet. He’s made seven or eight in the last two years.

And so I’m here to support. I’m supporting that and happy to join him. Because these docs are critical to people getting a reasonable understanding of this issue. But also, I should mention — given you are all obviously cinephiles you may or may not know this — but I did a research project in 2013. Essentially, I researched every great high grossing film. In fact, I basically researched the top, I don’t know 5-800 films in terms of their gross international take and then converted that to today’s inflation.

Anyway, the upshot is that the most lucrative genre in all of film — in terms of gross revenue — is films with E.T.s in them. Not just science fiction. Just films with E.T.s in them. That tells you a lot, doesn’t it? Think of all the billions of people that have watched films with extraterrestrials in them over the last 50 years. Obviously, the idea of them existing does not seem particularly striking at all anymore, does it?

B&S: I remember first hearing the theory — probably around the first or second season of The X-Files — that alien-related mass media is all about preparing and opening people’s minds up to eventual contact. How do you feel about that theory?

DARCY: I think that, well, whether it was intended or not all of the sci-fi films about extraterrestrials, in one form or another, have helped to acclimate the world to the idea of extraterrestrials. Plus, as you know, the film’s got better the CGI got better.

These movies, for some time now, all the way back to Star Wars, literally take us out into space. They take us to other planets with strange beings. We’ve all been there. Now it’s being done with virtual reality on Oculus. So yeah, it’s acclimatization.

Was it intentional? I think most of it was Hollywood producers making money.

Again, it’s the most lucrative genre and all of film. You’re going to make lots of these movies and you’re going to spend more and more money on them. In fact, the two top-grossing movies of all time, maybe three are Avatar and the two Avengers movies. So yeah (laughs). You’re gonna make money.

Now, it’s possible that the government has somehow encouraged something. The government has been cooperative on some of these movies. And there’s been a CIA Film Industry Liaison for a long time.

To be honest with you, there have been other efforts in which the government has given this field information, some of which was in fact intended to bump things along and some of it was disinformation. By and large, the acclimation comes from the creative geniuses of Hollywood and the desire to make lots of money.

A lot of Hollywood writers are very in touch with the theories, the sort of conspiracy theories and possible facts that are surrounding this subject. You know, I was talking on another podcast the other day. I was asked, what one documentary or one fictional science fiction film do you think gets the closest to reality?

For sure, Fire In the Sky. It’s based on the book that’s about his encounter. That said, it got turned more into a horror movie with the case of how he was abducted, and them shoving things and stuff into him, strapping him down to a table in the movie version. But in the book and his lectures, none of that happened. He was not dragged by his feet around a dirty alien ship by these monstrous fiendish looking things. They looked like humans, a group of them that he saw, and another group looks like grey aliens.

That’s an example of a real tale that has manifested in Hollywood. Another one is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the French character that is represented as one of the head scientists, hunting down abductees or experiencers, The French character, that scientist is, he’s based on Jacques Vallée. He was doing the real thing for different government groups and NATO trying to figure out the UFO issue.

Noy everything in that film is based on reality. But there are hints and elements here that prove that Steven Spielberg is very interested in the UFO question.

If you look at his film resume, obviously, he’s been gearing for disclosure in some way or another by bringing out so many films that are based on extraterrestrial science fiction.

He’s been in touch with generals and pilots and all kinds of things, met so many different people to have his films be closer to real things that have happened in this history.

Fire in the Sky

STEPHEN: There are no theatrical films — there are documentaries — that are that significant to this subject in my opinion. There’s the Paul Davids’ Roswell: The UFO Cover-Up where there was very little embellishment. It played it straight with history and it got very close. But by and large, the movies that are true to an actual extraterrestrial experience are few.

The reason is — and this is cool — is that the phenomena as it’s been recorded and researched, the truth is that it’s not interesting enough.

In other words, if you made a straight film about a particular case, pick Rendlesham Forest, you would really struggle to make it that kind of compelling, dramatic thing. And so they don’t do it.

There’s this thought with the E.T. issue, they think that everybody is afraid and going to panic when the truth is known. But the real truth is that the fundamental elements and aspects of the actual E.T. reality, including most contact and abductions, is that the truth is not interesting enough or dramatic enough for Hollywood.

So that tells you something, doesn’t it? And another reason why the truth embargo** really has become quite absurd.

B&S: You brought up Spielberg. E.T. started as a much darker script called Night Skies. And the sequel would have been even darker. But for some reason, Spielberg went to the lighter side, telling us that the aliens would be our friends. And that hanged a lot of mass media after that.

DARCY: Yeah, absolutely. E.T. was supposed to be much darker. And there was also going to be a Man In Black that worked for the government who wanted to capture him and his craft.

That’s the biggest secret fact about the UFO issue. We have captured crafts, we have possibly captured entities and found dead bodies. And all of that is Steven Spielberg writing reality.

He’s trying to put that into the cinema because it’s a little-known fact that he wants to expose people to something that’s stranger than fiction. Sometimes that can be fact, you know?

Obviously, he went for the happy family movie, right? You don’t want to make people’s stomachs churn and question reality and not want to go to work the next day after they watch the dark version.

Rick Baker’s abandoned Night Skies alien makeup.

B&S: Speaking of the truth, your documentary is about the truth being unveiled. What do you think the next step is?

DARCY: I’ll leave that one for Mr. Bassett. He has 74 years and thousands of books magazine articles, research reports, hundreds and hundreds of documentaries, hundreds of thousands of millions of websites. And so many articles, probably as many as 40,000 articles in the English language. So he’s got some great insights into where disclosure may go from here.

STEPHEN: I think the truth embargo is about to end.

That’s based upon developments of the last three years which I’m following pretty closely. Let me alert your readers. Watch very carefully for any new developments in the media on the E.T. issue involving politicians and scientists.

The craziness of the last four years is not over yet. After the Trump trial in the Senate is over — that’s going to completely preoccupy the Congress, along with obviously some of the early actions to the Biden administration — I would have expected this to happen already.

I believe the stage has been set in advance now for hearings to finally take place in the U.S. Congress, on the extraterrestrial and UAP issue. And these would be the real thing, not not like the last hearing that we had in 1968 that lasted one day.

These will be extensive hearings and multiple committees, the witnesses will almost exclusively be military, either active or retired personnel, discussing a range of encounters and phenomena, primarily from the context of national security. Once this series has been underway for a while — and they will be viewed by countless millions of people around the world — I think the situation will be such as the President can finally confirm the E.T. presence to the American people and the world.

It is very possible that we’re going to have disclosure and final confirmation of E.T. presence this spring, which I’m pretty sure is going to generate a rather substantial number of scripts pouring into producers all over Hollywood. And we will hit the golden age of extraterrestrial cinema.

When I did that research on the highest-grossing movies, that was just English language movies. I did not include foreign language films related to E.T. subjects. So the total number that these movies have made in profit is billions of dollars.

These films are in the consciousness. Everything is there. And they have been pouring into the human consciousness for pretty much every developed country. Actually, even less developed countries, given the availability of TV and video so forth for decades.

So to me, the idea that people are going to be shocked when they’re told that extraterrestrials exist, that the real ones are here and have been since the beginning, well…it was silly. Now it’s absolutely ludicrous.

It’s time for the people to know.

By the way, let me add that the big shots in Hollywood, particularly the science fiction ones like George Lucas and Christ Carter and Spielberg, they’re the ones that are informed. They have people lined up outside their office all day to tell them things. They mix with high-level politicians.

When Spielberg’s Taken miniseries premiered in 2002, it was at the Ronald Regan Building in Washington, DC. I was there — it was an event with white-gloved waiters and fantastic hors d’oeuvres.

I can say with high confidence that every one of the people I’ve just mentioned and others absolutely know. Now, I’m not suggesting that they were taken to the Pentagon and shown bodies or anything. I’m simply saying they were tipped. But it’s not in their interest to challenge the government’s embargo. But it is in their interest to make movies about the E.T. issue.

One of the reasons that these movies generate so much money is because there are some people who are convinced already that the E.T. presence is real or that it would be cool if it was. So Guardians of the Galaxy comes out and they have to see it.

On the other hand, contrast that with the E.T.-related journalists who have been working so hard for seventy years who make no money doing this and pay a heavy sacrifice. It hasn’t been a picnic for these people. Yet their work has generated a mindset that Hollywood has turned into an industry that makes billions.

How much has Hollywood invested in the disclosure activism? How much have they paid into the cause to end this embargo and bring the truth to the American people? To my knowledge? Nothing.

B&S: I think the first celebrity I ever heard that was interested in it, strangely enough, as Jackie Gleason, who early on was really pushing to learn more from politicians.

STEPHEN:  I don’t think he pushed. But it’s a great story. It’s a wonderful story.

He told the story to his wife, who told it to Shirley MacLaine, who told me and put it out in her book.

Gleason was a legend back then and he was a good friend of Nixon. I imagine he supported him politically. I’m not positive, but I think he did. And  Nixon was a Florida guy. He would visit Florida all of the time, where Gleason lived and they would play golf together. So one night after they played, he called him up and said,  “Hey Jackie. Come with me.” And he picked him up! Nixon is driving, he must have slipped his Secret Service and they went to an Air Force Base*** to see the bodies.

He knew that Jackie had a huge interest on this subject, he had one of the largest private libraries of books on this subject****

It was a way of showing off to his buddy a little bit. He knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t talk about it. And basically, he didn’t, but eventually, it came out.

It’s a fantastic story. So that confirms that Nixon was pretty much briefed. He knew about the E.T. issue. He was probably given substantial inside classified information. And they knew Nixon would never go public, because Dick was a statesman. He was a pure politician as well. The Cold War was still underway. The embargo was in place, primarily because of that Cold War. He had a good relationship with the military. And so he had plenty of things on his plate, China and everything else.

Of course, then he got embroiled in some pretty awful scandals. And so the idea that he would suddenly decide, I think I’m gonna engage the E.T. issue, well, absolutely not. He would have viewed it as another huge negative on his legacy, which he desperately wanted to rebuild.

But as President, he got brief. We know some Presidents got briefed and some didn’t. Some got nothing at all. Some were actually denied and stonewalled information, which by the way, is not Constitutional. It violates the norms of the way our government is supposed to run, but it was all justified on the basis of national security as so much else was.

Footage from Volcanic UFO Mysteries.

B&S: So often conspiracy theory and UFO theories go hand-in-hand just because of the way that the media treats them. We’ve had a crazy last four years where conspiracy has dominated the news. So how do you think people are going to truly react to disclosure? Are they going to believe it? Are they going to think it’s just fake news?

DARCY: That’s a really important question. Because, as you know, we have flat earthers that are now a huge thing. I’ve spoken about this and Steve says, “Leave the flat earthers alone.”

But you know, I believe the flat earthers and Q on those two examples of stupid conspiracies. They are a byproduct of the distrust that’s at an all-time high with the governments of the world and their citizens. People are watching everything that’s going on right now. And they’re saying, you know, I’ve got a story. I think this is more true than what’s going on in reality, but the fact is that there’s too much noise. There’s too much disinformation out there, like Q-Anon.

Don’t get me wrong. People like Jeffrey Epstein are real. They did have their pedophile rings. But Q-Anon extends into this grand and crazy conspiracy. And with flat earth, there are so many things that disprove that.

If UFOs are coming here and are piloted by extraterrestrials, then they have to come from another planet just like ours, another spherical planetoid.

Yet people are super paranoid and these ideas run rampant. They allow their imaginations to get away from them too much.

The truth embargo issue is already enough to deal with. And that requires some imagination for many people. And I think with disclosure, that will actually allow for some trust and an opening for the government to buy back some goodwill.

They’re investing in a future where the public can trust them a bit more . And disclosure is a good starting point. It’s going to be a place where they can say, “Look, we have kept this quiet for a long time. We weren’t sure fully sure about it. But here’s what we can tell you.” And that will be nice, you know, that will vindicate a lot of people out there that have been studying this for their whole lives.

Stephen Bassett, he’s seventy-four years old. I’m thirty-six. And he wants to see this in his lifetime. So do I. I think it’s a hopeful thing.

If it comes from the government, I think it’s going to be something for people to look at, listen and learn about more. So as things develop, as we become a spacefaring nation and as we start going into the stars and trying to colonize other planets in our solar system, we’re going to be learning about what’s actually out there waiting for us. And there’s some hope surrounding that. There are some great advantages to the possible technologies that we will eventually have that will make our lives easier, healthier and safer.

STEPHEN: The last twenty-five years have been interesting to say the least. But there has been a very significant confluence of two very important trends.

One trend has been going on for some time getting all the way back to the 60s. And that’s the erosion of trust in the United States government, which eventually started spreading to other institutions outside of government. It’s reached a point where it’s actually threatening the country, it’s threatening the republic. It’s a real problem.

But then you have the onset of the Internet, and then even bulletin boards and email, and then ultimately, social media. And so the combination of this diminishing trust in government, combined with the ability of virtually everybody in the developed world to interact with everybody else in the developed world in real-time and give their opinion about anything — or create something out of nothing — while operating behind anonymous handles has created the golden age of populist driven — or citizen-driven — propaganda.

We’ve always had corporate propaganda and government propaganda. Now we have a situation where everybody can be a propagandist. And as a result, the internet has become a polluted river.

It’s a massive river of information, which is significantly polluted. And it’s polluted to the point where if you just drink the water and don’t filter it, it’ll kill you. And this is a huge problem, right?

It isn’t going to be solved anytime soon.

But the good news is that the extraterrestrial reality, the truth embargo itself is not a conspiracy. So don’t worry about Q-Anon pushing it. It’s not. It’s simply a legal policy of the United States government, instituted and formulated between 1947 and 1952, and carried forward to this day for national security reasons.

It’s not illegal. So it’s not a conspiracy. I always try to object to this — whenever conspiracy theories are attached to the E.T. issue — I try to correct them that the government conspired with some illegality to fake a moon landing or the moon landings. That would be a conspiracy, though not an awful one. But it would be a conspiracy.

However, that might have been justified by national security, of course. So all I can say is, folks if you want to get away from misinformation, disinformation and a whole lot of nonsense on the internet and focus on the extraterrestrial issue…and the high-end authors, researchers and so forth on this, well, there’s a hell of a lot of truth there. And while there is some silliness to be sure, as things go these days, it’s some of the better water in that river.

B&S: Finally, how much stock should we put into Whitley Strieber?

STEPHEN: I’ll answer that quickly, but his story is a very complex story. Very complex. He’s a brilliant man and he was a highly successful New York Times bestselling author in the genre of, I guess you could say paranormal. And he’s a contactee, of which I have no doubt whatsoever.

So here you have an example, and this is one of the interesting things about the contact phenomenon, of the fact that E.T.s pretty democratic. They directly interact in these encounters we call contacts. And some of those contacts take the form of what people would probably justifiably call abductions.

They don’t take a general. They’ll take a cashier at Denny’s. And they’ll have a politician, a writer, a guy working on a shrimp boat. Whatever their agenda is, it’s fairly democratic. So imagine that you are somebody who is just a basic person, maybe you’re a garage mechanic, and you’ve been taken by E.T.s since you were five years old. Imagine how that might unfold in your life, how it manifests.

Now, imagine if you’re a nuclear physicist.

Now imagine if you’re a brilliant writer, maybe even a fantasy writer. And so one of the things people don’t take into account is that the way it worked the way it manifests and the way then is reported by people who have gone through this.

There is an enormous spectrum of reports and interpretations.

Whitley’s was extremely complex and very literary. And for that reason, a lot of people say, wait a minute, that’s just wildly crazy. I mean, this, this nice waitress that I know is a contactee and she told me a story. And it was pretty basic.

Hey, Whitley is Whitley. So I think you have to respect all contactees in their stories before challenging their veracity. And that Whitley’s, the problem was that his complex accounts of what happened to him, they challenge people. And so they push back.

Now, that doesn’t mean that as a contact that he’s not capable of misinterpreting what happened to him. Remember, these are extraordinary events. In most people, their memories are actually blocked by the E.T.s themselves.

They’re able to do that and suppress it. For many people, they never even know that they were contactees. Something comes out in dreams, sometimes it comes out in flashes or something. And so this idea that they might misinterpret what’s happened to them. Obviously, that could happen. Nothing surprising there. But because of the truth embargo, and the fact that the government has denied, there’s no there there. The contactees have had a rough time. They’ve been ridiculed.

It’s been getting better, but you go back 20-30 years and it was brutal. They’re victims of the government truth embargo. There have been many. So I always defer to their stories and am very respectful. And unless I’m confronted with some really compelling evidence that something’s being made up…

Look, I realize there have been some, they want attention. But until I realize they’re lying — and I’m given compelling evidence that they are — I feel that I have to be very respectful of their stories and I’m prepared to take them at face value.

As for the movie, it features director Weir helping Jaime Maussan to uncover the truth behind a series of UFO sightings at active volcanos throughout Latin America, as well as Mr. Bassett as he works to break through the truth embargo.

This film has some astounding footage of the volcano UFO visitations. It also raises the question if these same interplanetary craft have been visiting and depleting nuclear weapon stockpiles around the globe.

Between the believer side that is Maussan and Bassett’s more political take on the reason why UFOs have remained part of our hidden history, it’s a fascinating watch. And I have to state for the record how truly honored I was to get to speak to both of these experts.

*We reviewed his movie Sasquatch Among the Wildmen last year.

**The “truth embargo” is a term that Stephen Bassett uses to refer to the government silence in regards to extraterrestrial visitation.

***According to the National Enquirer article that came out in 1983, the base would be Homestead Air Force Base. Supposedly, Gleason only told his ex-wife Beverly, who told the tabloid before a planned book, and Larry Warren, who was an eyewitness to the Rendlesham Forest UFO and a subject of some controversy. And even he didn’t spill the beans. Instead, the story started because of Timothy Green Beckley and this article.

****He really did. It’s part of the University of Miami’s Jackie Gleason Collection, which “consists of approximately 1,700 volumes of books, journals, proceedings, pamphlets and publications in the field of parapsychology.”

To watch the movie:

Volcanic UFO Mysteries is available now on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Video On-Demand.

More information: 

Follow Darcy Weir on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

For more about Stephen Basset and his quest to end the truth embargo, visit Paradigm Research Group and listen to his new podcast The Disclosure Wire. That new show also has a Facebook page that has even more info.

Keep an open mind and watch the skies.

Interview with Quinn Armstrong, writer and director of Survival Skills

We raved about Survival Skills a few weeks ago, a movie that combines a 1980’s VCR-era training guide with a dark ride into the soul of a police officer not properly armed when it comes to facing off with an uncaring society. Quinn Armstrong, the writer and director of the film was kind enough to sit down with us to discuss the inspiration behind the film, which includes the era of Satanic Panic, baffling training videos, how men can’t confront their emotions and some surprising comfort films.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: First things first, this seems like a really complicated project to undertake. How long did it take?

QUINN ARMSTRONG: The actual production wasn’t that long. It was maybe a three or four-week thing. But the post process took forever, because we did the VHS thing, which took a solid year and a half. But I wrote the script all the way back in 2016, so it’s been a while.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: And now you’re seeing the fruits of your labors…

QUINN ARMSTRONG: Yeah, it’s weird to be seeing other people see it, critics and people in general, and how they recontextualize it for you. Because you change over time. For example, a big thing for me is that I went on anti-depressants since I made this movie. And now, when I’m watching people watch this movie, I realize, “Oh, I’m really angry with this movie.” It’s a much more aggressive movie than I thought it was.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: That’s funny to hear. Because watching it, I know that you made it before this last year and it could have had the potential to be even angrier with what’s been going on.

QUINN ARMSTRONG: It’s tricky. And I was really worried about that when Fantasia Fest got in touch and programmed us right after the murder of George Floyd. Because that’s not my lane. It’s not reasonable for me to come forward as a voice for people who have been brutalized by the police. I can talk about domestic violence because I have a long background in that world. However, in a way, I’m glad we made the movie before all this happened. Because I think, I don’t know if I would have felt compelled to address it.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: It’s funny. If anything, the film really comes off as sympathetic to what a lot of officers have to deal with. Because a lot of times, especially when they come into domestic violence situations, their hands are tied. So I think that’s kind of he’s like at the end of the film, saying, “There’s nothing I can really do.”

QUINN ARMSTRONG: You know, there are very few people, I think, in this dialogue, who are general genuinely saying, “Every police officer is a bad person” I think those are sort of fringe voices. I think the more reasonable position a lot of people have taken is that because of the way the system is constructed, officers are called upon to do more than they are trained to do.  So they end up in positions where they are making bad choices systemically. I think that saying that all police officers are bad is just kind of lazy thinking. I’m not saying that there aren’t problems, but to say it’s just because they are bad people just doesn’t make sense to me.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: You could almost build a timeline of Jim, where it’s like, you can see the burnout of him and the other officers. And at the end, Stacy Keach pretty much says, “I’ve been through this and it’s going to destroy you.”

QUINN ARMSTRONG: Well, he’s the one who has the toy car at the end and it goes off the cliff.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: What influences a movie like this? Did you seen a lot of training videos and thought, I wonder what these police training videos were like to make?

QUINN ARMSTRONG: The first thing that happened was I wrote a full-length version of this story as a straight drama.You know, cop gets involved in domestic violence and things go wrong.  And it was very well researched. And it was very earnest. And it was very boring.

I put it aside and then a year or so later, a friend of mine sent me a link to Surviving Edged Weapons, which is the weirdest training video. It is so strange, it’s so much. You have no idea.

We were going to be very tame, but then I watched Surviving Edged Weapons. And as my brain is kind of wanting to do, I sort of went, “What’s the stupidest thing I could do in this situation?” And it turned out to be combining a light funny parody of police training videos and an earnest drama about domestic violence. Nobody stopped me. I kept waiting for people to stop me from doing what I was doing. But here we are. Like I said, nobody stopped me.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: That’s what drew me to the movie. I’m obsessed with training tapes. Survival Skills has elements of that and then found footage as well…

QUINN ARMSTRONG: Found footage is so interesting to me because it has a much longer history than a lot of people think it does. For example, Dracula is an epistolary novel. It’s letters  — we’re reading those letters and it’s kind of found art — and there are even bits in The Bible that are fictional narratives presented as people finding letters, scrolls and stuff. And it’s fascinating that the sheen of reality and found footage stretches that far back.

That’s why Surviving Edged Weapons is so fascinating. It’s like a police department gave some kid like fresh out of film school $30,000 and this kid was like, “I’m gonna make a masterpiece.” I swear to God, so it opens with two cavemen in an argument, and one of the cavemen takes a sharp rock and stabs the other and then the narrator comes in and says, “Since the dawn of time, men have been using edged weapons to kill each other”

It’s so weird. It’s so profoundly weird. I can’t get over it.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: That reminds me of the “Killology” videos and how police departments are using that for training now.

QUINN ARMSTRONG: What I feel is significant about presenting Survival Skills the way we did, was that we could have gotten away with doing just a parody of police training videos from the 80s. And you know, it would have gone over pretty well, and people would have liked it. It would have been funny. Cool, you know?

But for me, pointing out the sort of racism and xenophobia and paranoia of the 80s…there’s something really disingenuous about pointing that out as though it’s a thing of the past. Because the Killology Institute, which is really just Dave Grossman, keeps running around and being creepy, that comes from exactly the same place. And in some ways, it’s worse. In some ways, it’s more sort of articulate. And he has all this pseudo-science behind it explaining why you should train policemen like soldiers. I think this guy is so successful training so many precincts and I think he’s trained at the FBI as well. And we’re seeing the results of that all over the country.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: The movie also gets the Satanic Panic perfect. Because every police department had a Satanic expert. Who trained these experts in Satanism and in D&D?

QUINN ARMSTRONG: There’s another great training video where they have an expert who goes to a public park that has had known Satanic activity. And he’s pointing out all these things that are like Satanic symbols that they clearly just put there. One of my favorite moments in the whole thing is he walks up to a tree that has just a star spray-painted on it. And he looks at it, he goes right here, this is a pentagram, and you can tell that he expected it to be a pentagram, but whoever they sprayed it, they sprayed it right side up, so it’s a star. Oh, I love it.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: Moving on to Jim, the main character, he kind of starts off as this impersonal NPC, as someone you can project your feelings on, then he becomes his own person. Yet by the end, he’s retreated back into that everyman NPC role to protect himself.

QUINN ARMSTRONG: One of my causes is looking at the concept of masculinity and the messages that we sent culturally to young men, particularly about what you’re supposed to be. And I know guys, like, Jim, guys who are only slightly less robotic, who have no actual principles of their own, and who are just sort of executing different versions of what they have been led to believe a man should be.

I think that that’s because men are encouraged not to be emotionally literate. That’s all they can do. They don’t have the vocabulary, they don’t have the support to actually wrestle with their emotions and come to an honest appreciation of themselves and an appreciation of their vulnerability and weaknesses. They just lock themselves up and say, “I’m going to be Captain America or I’m going to be, you know, Bruce Willis from Die Hard. Whatever the thing is, it sucks as a way to live a life.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: It’s like people, police officers especially, who embrace The Punisher character. He’s not the hero. He’s a serial killer.

QUINN ARMSTRONG: Yeah, he’s very explicitly a psychopath. The thing is, it’s all about strength. As long as they’re strong, not like they can just kill people, but as long as they have sort of the appearance of moral strength and certainty…

Because reasonable people, we question ourselves, and we kind of go, “Oh, am I doing the right thing? Or, oh, I was wrong about that?” And I get the attraction of someone who is just like, “No, I’m right. All the time. I’m gonna shoot people. I’m gonna, like, throw my weight around. I’m gonna take whatever I want. Like the Punisher.”

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: What was it like to work with Stacy Keach?

QUINN ARMSTRONG: Stacy Keach is exactly who you want him to be. He is simultaneously an absolute teddy bear and the sweetest guy in the world and a total professional, while also being the scariest man I’ve ever met. He’s not even trying to be scary or anything. He’s Stacy Keach and has that voice.

We blocked out two days for him to do his whole thing. And I did so much prep the night before. I made notes everywhere in my script. He walked in, sat down, nailed the first day, nailed the second take, nailed the third take. And by halfway through the day, I was like, “I have to start giving this guy notes.”

I mean, I’m just sitting here and he’s so good. So I just started doing like alternate versions. Because both of the days when Stacy was on set, we left three hours early.

I tend to work with theater actors, because my background is in theater. And so I like the ability to work with someone technically. Film actors are great. But oftentimes, you have to like, imagine you’re, under enemy fire and you have to do these scenarios, and all that sort of thing. Whereas with theater actors, you can say, “Just pace it up a little bit.”

There was a real range of experience on this on this set. And it was fast, because I’m really proud of the casting and I worked with some great actors. Vayu O’Donnell, who plays Jim, gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a really difficult part. That’s a really tough role to play. And the funny thing with Stacey, it’s not a matter of bringing the thunder in the big emotional moments. It’s a matter of tiny little adjustments that he makes for the camera that makes everything so much smoother. And that’s just, you know, that’s just experience. Yeah, I can’t say enough good things about him.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: I love the scene where he’s standing outside the car and keeps snapping his fingers to change the different stages of reality. It’s the most amazing thing in the movie.

QUINN ARMSTRONG: It wasn’t supposed to be like that. What happened was, we went through our main phase of production. And then we shot Stacy and ended up not having the budget to shoot a car chase scene where Jim chases down Mark and runs him off the road.

I actually like it much better this way. Because it’s now this funny thing where as we pull back more layers of reality, as we move away from the VHS, we move out of the 4:3 into the 16:9 aspect ratio and things become simultaneously more real and more theatrical. The finger snap is a very sort of theatrical gesture and something I like setting up. There’s something pleasantly sort of…there’s a pleasant energy to setting up things that are extremely real and extremely artificial side-by-side and letting them play with each other. But I really liked the way that actually ended up turning out here.

I’m a big believer in playing to your strengths. If we had $5 million, we could do a good car chase, but we didn’t have the money and all that scene would do is just try to satisfy the genre. And that’s not a good enough reason to do something.

The sort of meta-textual stuff is all about subversion. They only work if they’re tied to a grounded character arc. Otherwise, it’s just sort of smart and clever for the sake of being smart and clever. That’s really what I wanted to try to avoid. I wanted all of the deconstructed elements to be related to Jim’s emotional collapse. Otherwise, yeah, it gets too clever and becomes sort of dismissible.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: What influences your directing wisely? Is it something or someone unexpected?

QUINN ARMSTRONG: The hardest thing about this movie is that we could never be elegant. We could never do things you usually do on set when you’re running behind, like combine shots and finish a scene to cut down on the coverage because we couldn’t do anything fancy. We were really stuck with the style of training videos. But there were a couple of influences.

Like any young white filmmaker, you know that I loved the Twin Peaks return. In the final episodes,  there’s this really amazing road trip that that Cooper takes with Diane and it’s very silent the way the sound design drops out. That final drive with Jim and the narrator was influenced by that.

The person who’s always been always going to be influencing me on the set is Billy Wilder. You’re not going to see his influence directly, but when it comes to things like narrative economy, that’s when he comes in. Instead of me saying, “We’re going to have a car chase,” the Billy Wilder influence instead answers, “No. Stacy is just going to snap his fingers.”

There’s a great bit at the end of Some Like It Hot, where we have characters who are all split apart from each other, and we have like, two minutes of screen time left to reconcile them. Generally speaking in a romantic comedy, you would have to have several scenes with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe where she slowly forgave him while he tearfully confessed and all that stuff. And Billy Wilder, all he does is he has Tony Curtis confess, Marilyn Monroe accepts it and then he says, “Why?” And she says, “I told you, I’m not that bright.” And that’s it. That’s the whole reconciliation. And it’s amazingly well crafted and tight.

In Survival Skills, there are narrative dead ends on purpose. You know, there are scenes that  feel like filler. And they have dramatic importance. They’re there to give a chunky feel to the whole thing, which should not be a smooth ride.

I get asked this question and the answer is always different, but today, let’s go with Billy Wilder. It can change every day. And it’s funny, because as I was working on this movie, my absolute cinema comfort food was Magic Mike XL. I’ve never seen the first one, but the sequel is such a sweet film and I watched it throughout. And as I was screening it for my distributor, I stepped back and was like, “That shot. I stole it from Magic Mike XL.”

There are people who can prepare and show up on set and have it all figured out, savants like Kubrick and Fincher. But for me, you know, I like there being a subconscious element to it. I’m sort of a more emotional director…influenced by Billy Wilder and Magic Mike XL.

The job of the directors is essentially management. Coordinating departments so that everyone’s on the same page making the same thing. And it’s a lot more fun for everyone else. And especially for me, if rather than going up to the DP and being like, “Okay, let’s get on the 70 millimeter lens. I want you over here, I want to feel like here, I want to bounce here…” Instead I can tell them, this is what the characters are about to say and here’s how I want this to feel. Do your job now, but this is how the movie should be emotionally instead of just technically.

Allie Schultz, who was the cinematographer on the movie, she did such great work and got so many amazing shots and I just…I drowned them in VHS in post.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: The thing that struck me is…we get so many movies to review a month. And so many are smaller budgets and they always have excuses, like…we only had so much money. Your film feels different in that there’s a point of view and art. Because a great camera angle or an actual idea in the script doesn’t cost anything.

QUINN ARMSTRONG: I consider myself incredibly lucky. Because temperamentally, I’m inclined towards high concept material in vaguely genre realms and that’s something that you can do real cheap and make your money back. And I know people who are temperamentally inclined towards like space operas. And, you know, I’m sure that you’ve seen a dozen people who watch Star Wars as a kid who wanted to make a Star Wars movie for, you know, 300 bucks in their backyard. Like, gotta, you got to scale it down and deal with the resources you have.

If you don’t have an original idea, then you have to compete on the basis of your presentation and your execution. And if you’re competing on that basis, you have to have a lot of money. Because you’re not going to beat Disney. You can’t outspend them, so you’ve got to do it on ideas.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: But if you look at the shelves at Walmart, it’s all similar movies.

QUINN ARMSTRONG: With us talking to distributors and sales agents, I talked to a number of pretty big name companies who were like, “We love the movie, but we have no idea how to sell it.” It’s not for them to figure out how to sell Survival Skills, which would take a lot of time and effort because there’s no map. They don’t want to do that and I totally get it, you know, their businesses, it doesn’t make sense for them. They could knock off a slasher movie with a farmhouse, shoot it, cut it, send it out and it sells.

I bemoan the state of the industry often, but at the end of the day, it’s, it’s what people will buy and how people value their time. We just have to give them the option of something better.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES: Because people want safety and something they’ve seen before.

QUINN ARMSTONG: I get it. I’ve watched Bob’s Burgers eight or nine times the whole way through. Sometimes, I want to see something comfortable. I get it.

We want to thank Quinn for doing this interview and AJ Feuerman for setting it up. Also, we urge you to watch this movie, which is now available everywhere movies are streaming. You can learn more on the official Facebook and Instagram pages for Survival Skills.

Rowdy Herrington interview part 4

In the final chapter of our interview, Rowdy gets into what movies he’s working on now and what Hollywood is doing today.

B&S: What’s the last movie that impressed you?

ROWDY: I really liked Roma. I know that it is what it is. I also liked Green Book a lot. I like the values in it. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs — that was a hoot. I wasn’t a fan of A Star Is Born. After the love story took off, it was a trainwreck. I didn’t love it. But Roma — the man (Alfonso Cuarón) is a great artist. 

B&S: Any projects you’d like us to know about?

ROWDY: I’ve got a lot of stuff happening. I pitched three limited series ideas to Warner Brothers last week and I have a project called The Unseen that CAA is taking to Netflix, which I wrote with two friends. It’s about a maximum-security prison in Alaska and there’s a blizzard on the associate warden’s last day on the job. The new guy coming in is a prick and then there’s an earthquake — a 9.2 — and it busts the whole prison open. You have the rival factions inside the prison all at war, but then out of the crack, this prehistoric creature emerges! (Laughs) They all have to work together to fight the thing. 

B&S: I love that that’s the last part of your pitch. And oh, by the way, there’s this prehistoric creature. 

ROWDY: The prison was built in a place the Inuits would never go because it was the place of the Unseen. If anyone did go there, they never came back. So they built a prison there and, well, boom. 

Netflix is interested in interactive features where the audience gets to choose places in the story that can go different directions. This one is being pitched like that, as an interactive feature. I’m encouraged, so we’ll see. 

I’m also doing a rewrite on that movie I mentioned earlier, with Nick Cassavetes directing and Scott Eastwood as the lead. It’s going to be fun.

At Christmas, I have a book coming out set in a coal mining town in the 1930’s. It’s a true story about my mother and I’m very proud of it. It’s a novella. I wrote it as a script first but I wasn’t able to sell it because it’s about a young girl finding out the truth about Santa Claus. Hard to make a holiday film when the kids find out Santa doesn’t exist! But it’s a great coming of age story, so I wrote it as a book. Look for it — it’s called Father Christmas. Help me out! Spread the word!

Thanks to Rowdy Herrington for sitting down and spending so much time with us. We’ll share more info on his latest projects when he has more to tell about them!

Rowdy Herrington interview part 3

In this installment of our interview with Rowdy Herrington, he discusses some of the better relationships that he’s had in Hollywood.

B&S: You’ve worked with so many actors on more than one film. Like James Spader…

ROWDY: Jimmy is a very good friend of mine. My favorite movie we did together was The Stickup, we did that up in Canada for like $4 million bucks. That’s where he met Leslie Stefanson who he has a son with and they’ve been together ever since. He’s a fabulous actor and I told Leslie once, “Jimmy is the second-best actor in Hollywood.” She said, “Who’s the best?” And I said, “I have no idea. There’s always somebody better! But he’s right up there!”

B&S: You’ve worked with some great ones, so you’d know.

ROWDY: He’s my favorite. Without question. Jim Caviezel is phenomenal. He was a gem and I really enjoyed working with him. Really a fine actor and a nice man. 

Patrick Swayze? Are you kidding me? As good as they come. He could do everything. He could fight, dance, fuck…(Laughs)

Robert Loggia! He was a trip, 

Brian Dennehy — he’s a fabulous actor. 

Tom Berenger, Cuba Gooding, they’re all great. 

But Spader and I are joined at the hip. Jack’s Back was his first starring role and my first movie. We bonded. We’re friends and that’s a lovely thing. It’s great to work with your friends. 

B&S: Both Jack’s Back and Striking Distance feel different than most American thrillers, with a hero suspected of the crimes. Is that how you like to present heroes?

ROWDY: You know, I can’t really say. Jack’s Back started out with the idea that one twin is murdered and the other sees it in his dream. That’s a documented thing — twins have known the exact circumstances and time of death of their sibling. And I thought — that’s really interesting for a murder mystery. Then, I went to research serial killers and I saw that Jack the Ripper committed his crimes in 1888 and it was 1987. I realize — it’s going to be the hundredth anniversary, so the copycat angle was a no-brainer. 

You want to always have your main character in jeopardy. 

I hadn’t thought about the parallels between those two stories. And in A Murder of Crows, the main character is accused of the murders that are in the book that he plagiarized.

B&S: I’ve always loved that the killer in Striking Distance taunted victims with Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ “Little Red Riding Hood.” That feels like an element that other movies lifted. 

ROWDY: It’s an interesting process. I still have bits and pieces that never made it into the movie that I still think are interesting plot turns that might show up in the future. I just got tired of murder mysteries. That was dark and The Stickup, I said, “I’m over these dark stories.” But then, it’s another of my characters accused of a crime! (Laughs)

I like that movie because of the humor. I think that it’s my most successful movie, because when it first played at these big screenings in Hollywood, every person reacted exactly as I wanted them to with each turn of the story. That’s very satisfying as a storyteller to feel that. 

B&S: Do you prefer writing or directing? Or do you find they go hand in hand?

ROWDY: They do, but the difference is that writing is purely creative. It’s solitary. And directing is interpretative and it’s not solitary. You have a crew that you have to work with. So the advantage of going on to direct the picture once you’ve written it is that you really have a clear sense of every part of it. The disadvantage is that you can get blindsided. That means that there might be something that you like, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work. You have to be careful. 

But it’s really rewarding to take a picture from behind your desk at a computer to watching it in a theater or seeing your billboard on Sunset Boulevard. That’s a pretty nice feeling. 

B&S: That’s such a long process.

ROWDY: The very first script I wrote, when I came out to Los Angeles, an agent at CAA got it from a friend of mine. She loved it and she couldn’t sell it. It was called Best Seller. It’s the story that ended up being A Murder of Crows about fifteen years later. 

The interesting thing was, she told me, “This is a really good idea, but you’re not a good enough writer yet to pull it off.” It kind of made me mad, but she was right! 

After I made my first four movies, I went back to it and got it. Time to fix this! It ended up being one of my favorite scripts. 

In our final chapter, we’ll get into what Herrington is working on today and what he thinks about today’s films.

Rowdy Herrington interview part 2

In part two of our interview, Rowdy gets into the movie that he’s most famous for, the Patrick Swayze-starring Roadhouse.

B&S: Jack’s Back recently was re-released on blu ray and is streaming, so it’s picked up a new audience. Are you surprised when movies get a new life like that?

ROWDY: Well, you know the movie that I worked on that will never go away? Roadhouse. American Cinematheque just had a thirtieth-anniversary celebration at the Egyptian in Hollywood and we had five hundred people in the audience. They knew every line! It was crazy. I was there with Dean Cundy who was the cinematographer, Tim who was the executive producer on the picture, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliot couldn’t make it and of course, Patrick is gone…We had some of these guys who played the bouncers and the bad guys, too. 

That movie broke the record for the most television viewings of any movie in history. It’s just on all the time!

B&S: There are so many interesting people in that movie. Terry Funk shows up in it!

ROWDY: Yeah! He was a trip. I loved Terry.

B&S: Is there any truth to the story that Bill Murray and his brothers call Kelly Lynch’s husband every time it airs?

ROWDY: Yes. (Laughs) Bill Murray said that to Anthony Bourdain when they were eating together, I saw a video of him saying that “Roadhouse was pretty much a perfect movie.” (Laughs) My attitude is that it’s better than it had to be!

B&S: It’s never gone away. You can turn on a TV and find it once a day, on some channel, anywhere in the world. 

ROWDY: I wouldn’t have guessed it. I knew it had broad appeal. If you watch it, I had the art direction do a lot of primary colors because I thought that it was kind of a cartoon. “Pain don’t hurt?” That movie…it’s out there.

B&S: Did some of the zen come from your days working on martial arts movies?

ROWDY: A little bit of it. I had input on the script. He was always a zen bouncer with a philosophy degree. We knew what we had. We just tried to play it straight. Nobody did that better than Patrick Swayze and Ben Gazzara. That villain is bigger than life and he played it as straight as he could. I was pleased to get him in the picture. He was happy to come back to the United States, he had been working in Italy and one of my favorite movies is Saint Jack. So I recommended him and said, “Let’s get him in here.” He did a fabulous job.

B&S: Obviously, people around the world know you for Roadhouse. In Pittsburgh, it’s Striking Distance. How did it feel to come back here and shoot a major film?

ROWDY: I was pretty excited about it. I had a lot of my friends on the movie, a lot of the guys that I worked with at WQED and I think we made the city look fabulous. The interesting thing about that picture was, when I sold it to Columbia, we got Robert Deniro attached. So I worked three months with Bob rewriting the script and his taste ran to the darker side. And he really wasn’t interested in the killer or the action. He said to me, “You know, Rowdy, at the end of the movie, when we know who the killer is, why do we have to chase him?”

After all that work, the studio hated the new script and wondered what happened to the script that they bought with the humor and action. So Deniro pulled out, gave me a hug and he said, “Get Mel Gibson.” 

Mel was busy. We made an offer to Michael Douglas, who said, “I just kinda played this guy in Black Rain.” My agent represented Bruce Willis.

The next thing I know, Bruce wants to do the picture.

Which makes it a go movie. 

But to put it nicely, we didn’t get along. He wanted to make the Deniro version of the script. How he got it, I don’t know. We had a lot of interesting conversations where he’d bring in scenes that I already wrote that were in a different movie now. It was kind of painful. I didn’t like him. He’s not a nice man. I’ll leave it at that.

I met him in a restaurant in Malibu and I saw him walk to the table and I thought to myself, “I get it. I see why he’s a movie star!” He had that presence. The first thing he said to me was, “Everybody says that I’m hard to work with. And that’s not true.” And you know what? It is true.

B&S: So there really is another cut of the movie when it was still Three Rivers?

ROWDY: No, that was the title of the script. The marketing people at Columbia — in their wisdom — called it Striking Distance. And I’ve always hated the title. My logline was “One killer. Two cops. Three Rivers.” 

When you get in the studio system…the independent films that I made were way more satisfying to me. I always had to fight and you never get final cut. Even Roadhouse had more vulgarity added back into it after my cut. I figured, Patrick Swayze coming off Dirty Dancing, more young girls are going to be coming into my movie. Why turn them off with something outrageous? It’s always a battle and the marketing drives the movie. And today — marketing decides what’s going to get made. 

In tomorrow’s part, Rowdy discusses some of the more rewarding relationships that he’s had with actors.

Rowdy Herrington interview part 1

Rowdy L. Herrington was born in Pittsburgh and made his fortune in Hollywood without ever forgetting his roots. After all, how else do you explain Striking Distance? I’ve been a big fan of his films for years, so after tracking him down — let’s not say stalking — I was pleased that he agreed to sit down for nearly an hour-long chat that covered a wide range of topics. He was beyond warm and kind, which made this interview a pleasure.

B&S ABOUT MOVIES:  Where are you from in Pittsburgh? 

ROWDY HERRINGTON:  I was born in East Liberty and when I was about 11 or 12, we moved to Penn Hills. My parents bought a house out there, I went to high school in Penn Hills, and then Penn State. 

B&S: How does one get from Pittsburgh to directing in Hollywood? You worked at WQED? NOTE: WQED is the public broadcasting station in Pittsburgh where Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was filmed.

ROWDY: I was a television major at Penn State and I bounced around for a while. I was an English major because I was interested in writing, but then when I took the English courses that they offered, I switched to Television. When I got out of school, it was tough to get work in television. I took a job with my brother at the steel mill in Homestead and I worked about six months before I finally got a part-time job on the production crew at WQED. I got my foreman at the mill to schedule me around that job so that WQED had first call on the days that I worked. It started to get a little tough the more hours I got, so I eventually had to quit the mill. They were surprised — they said, this is the best job you’ll ever have. And about five or eight years later, all of the mills were shut down. 

B&S: How did you make the move from public broadcasting to Hollywood?

ROWDY: WQED had funding issues and I got laid off, so I moved to Washington, DC. They cut way back so I went down to visit another brother, who was a Secret Service agent. I started to get freelance work and eventually, I worked on a movie starring Ossie Davis (NOTE: 1979’s Benjamin Banneker: The Man Who Loved the Stars). I worked on that and there were people there who had worked on some bigger movies, so I talked to them and asked, “If I want to do this, what should I do?” They replied, “You either need to move to New York or Los Angeles.” California seemed like a much more interesting place for me. 

B&S: What was the first thing you worked on?

ROWDY: The first job I got — I met a guy who was a gaffer — which I did at WQED, he hung lights and I had knowledge of movie lights, so I got a job as an electrician on a kung fu movie. This gaffer that I met, his regular crew didn’t want to do it because the pay was so lousy, but it was great for me. I worked my way into his crew and then, little by little, I started working with another gaffer, became a best boy, then I started gaffing…

In between — these are non-union movies, so some of them were four-week shoots, some were five or six, a really good one was seven or right. I’d get off work and write screenplays. I managed to option a few things that I wrote. 

Finally, I worked with this key grip a lot named Tim Moore and we were very good friends. He was on one film and I was on another and I had just finished the script for Jack’s Back. I sent it to him — he was in Hawaii — and he was working with this producer named Elliott Kastner (NOTE: producer of Where Eagles Dare, Angel Heart, the 1988 remake of The Blob and many other films). Elliot would come to Tim, who was a really sharp guy, and he would ask him, “Is this movie going to make its day?” Tim was a fountain of information for him, so one day he asked, “What do you really want to do, Tim?” And he answered, “Well, I really want to become a producer.”

His advice? Get a good piece of material and get it to someone like me.

When Tim read my script for Jack’s Back, he thought that it was ready to shoot. He got it to Elliot and the first page said: “One hundred years ago in the city of London, a man shocked the world by murdering, raping and mutilating five women. He was never caught.” Turn the page and it says, “Jack’s Back.” Elliot handed it back to Tim and said, “Make it for $900,000.”

We ended up with Elliot’s stepson Cassian Elwes (NOTE: brother of Cary and producer of tons of movies like Nomads, Psycho Cop, Crispin Glover’s What Is It?, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Reach Me, The Stranger and more — he’s also a pimp in Jack’s Back) co-producing. And Tim? He’s currently the producer for Clint Eastwood. 

We’ve also done four or five movies together and we’re still working on things together. I’ve been re-writing things for him and we’re about to start on a movie called Looking for Water together. We just got more notes, so I’m doing another pass on the script. We think Nick Cassavetes may direct and I’m looking forward to that. 

Part two — coming tomorrow — will cover Roadhouse, perhaps the film that Herrington is best known for.