Exclusive interview with Tony Buba

Tony Buba grew up in Braddock, PA, a town that he would return to as he filmed a series of documentary shorts that dramatically showed the changes that were coming in the steel crisis of the mid 70s. After working on sound on several projects for George Romero — and appearing with his brother Pat as drug dealers in Martin and bikers in Dawn of the Dead — he made Lightning Over Braddock, a documentary that doesn’t even go deeper into Pittsburgh’s issues but found new ways to play with the documentary form itself.

Since then, Tony has made a series of documentaries that were included in a New York Anthology Film Archives retrospective on his work as part of their Sometimes Cities: Urban America Beyond NYC series. He’s an incredibly insightful voice that has not only documented the vital history of the city I call home, but also someone who was there as some of Pittsburgh’s greatest films were actually being made. You can learn more about Tony at his official site and I encourage you to watch all of his work.

After a quick introduction, some discussion of panettone, what local restaurants can trace their lineage to Vincent’s Pizza and directing commercials in Pittsburgh, we got to discussing movies. I’m in debt to him for the time he spent talking with me and how much I learned during our conversation.

B&S About Movies: I watched Lightning Over Braddock last week and it’s amazing both how much has changed in Pittsburgh and how little really has.

Tony Buba: There has been a change in terms of politics. What hasn’t changed is that the problems are still the same. Another thing that has changed is there’s no industry and you no longer see those structures or people fighting for jobs. industrial jobs — like at that time of the closures when that movie was made — I just don’t think Pittsburgh has ever really totally recovered yet. I mean, the city has some light but you get once you get beyond those narrow city borders to hit the Mon or Beaver Valley, it’s really no recovery.

B&S: As someone who lives in Monongahela and grew up in Ellwood City, I agree.

Tony: The landscape is just so much different, you know, riding on the parkway and coming into Pittsburgh and not seeing the big JNL smokestacks there. I was so disappointed when they tore them out. That should have been just left standing and become a museum. Or they could have done with these mills what they did in Germany and made those reusable. The disappearance of those structures is like the disappearance of characters I used to know and grew up with. A lot of Lightning can no longer exist today.

B&S: Speaking of characters, how much of Lightning is real?

Tony: It was really a blend. I mean, it’s what I was playing with. I was doing a lot of work with George Romero and I was also doing a lot of questioning of the documentary form. I didn’t want the film to be just the viewer consuming it. I wanted them to leave the theater and question what was real. That’s why I had people like Jimmy Roy in my films. I got them roles in George’s films too, like how Sal is in Knightriders as the pillowman selling cushions.

B&S: Sal Caru feels like a force of nature.

Tony: When I was making that movie, I became a character. I became the Tony Buba in the movie. So when I was on the TV shows being interviewed, I didn’t care what the question was, I would just sort of answer it. I knew that I could play it back on VCR to Sal later and have him respond to it. He would just go off, talking about how I left him out of the newspaper and everything else.

B&S: You’d just wind him up and let him go.

Tony: If I could write like Sal talks, I would be a screenwriter or script doctor making a lot of money. (laughs)

B&S: He’s like a Tarantino character before that was even possible.

Tony: Every time he was on a show or appeared, people were just enthralled by him. If he came around today, he’d be a multimillionaire influencer.

B&S: He reminds me of the old Italians who worked for my uncle’s refrigeration shop. I shouldn’t even say worked. They just all say around and made fun of one another and it was better than any TV show. But none of them ever really helped him fix refrigerators.

Tony: My grandfather was a shoemaker and Sal worked for him for a while. My grandmother said he never sold anything. (laughs)

B&S: What also stayed with me was when you said that a lot of millworkers would buy socialist newspapers and that’s how they got connected to the unions. Today, socialism is such a dirty word in politics. Yet Pittsburgh was such a union place and that word didn’t have the same connotation when your movie was made.

Tony: Yeah, I was working in factories in the mid 60s before I started college. All my uncles were all strong union people. What happened in the unions themselves, of course, started with the Red Scare in the 50s. They started kicking out the union members that were more socialists and Communists.

B&S: I get upset when people who live here now get negative about unions and how they had to fight for the rights we expect today. I always think, “We have a whole cemetery up in Homewood that has bodies of men and women who fought for those rights. And the Pinkerton agents they killed, too.”

Tony: I mean, it did work. In some ways, you go through towns like Braddock and some of these mill towns, they’re not a victim of failure. They’re sometimes a victim of success, because unions got these guys decent pay, so they bought houses outside of the mill town. Their kids went to college and never came back. I remember the big strike in 1959 and it went on forever. My dad cleared this property up in Braddock Hills and we planted corn to help pay the bills. But that strike is why people got big wages in the 70s and 80s. They said they wouldn’t ever do a wildcat strike again, but they also added a cost of living raise. And so what people think were exorbitant salaries in the 80s was really because of the contract. The cost of living adjustment because of the inflation at that time was like 15%. These guys automatically got that kind of raise to cover for inflation. So you had them making the big bucks and people were jealous of the steelworkers, especially people that had gone to college and weren’t making the money that the guys in a mill made.

I can never understand that sort of jealousy of someone making more than you. If someone’s collecting garbage and makes more than you, quit your job and collect garbage. Stop trying to make someone else make less than you.

B&S: My grandfather was in the furnace at J&L for 46 years. He’d come home sunburnt on one side and frostbitten on the other. He would tell me about “hell with the lid off” and I couldn’t understand working like that, but that’s how he provided for his family.

Tony: My dad spent 46 years as a boilermaker and welder. I always tried to get into the mill where he worked and today, I realize he kept me from getting hired. Maybe he thought I was a little too goofy (laughs).

B&S: When people come here now, they always say, “I’m surprised it’s so clean.” Well, it wasn’t.

Tony: There were such heavy pollutants, you would feel burning when you breathed the air. Your nose would ache. You don’t smell the rotten egg smell anymore.

B&S: Come to Monongahela. (laughs)

Tony: I love driving down that way on 837, but you can really see the devastation from the mills closing.

B&S: What was it like being here when movies weren’t just being filmed in Pittsburgh, but actually coming from here? What was the energy like with Romero making his films in the mid 70s?

Tony: There were some movies before. At the time, most of it was non-union and when ABC, NBC and CBS are doing the movies of the week, they were coming in shooting. For people like me, you wouldn’t work on them because you made more money working on industrial videos. Most of the crew on those movies came from outside the city, but when I came back from college in 76, there was so much industrial work shooting things for Westinghouse, U.S. Steel, PPG, they all had their own video units.

It was really like an explosion of talent. What an amazing group of people that were that that were here working. And that’s because of WQED. They had a program that my brother was in where he got his MFA. You basically did like two or three years of labor for almost no money but you got your MFA through Carnegie Mellon and you worked on all these PBS shows that were being produced. Plus you got your degree!

In 1976, all anyone was doing was bicentennial stuff and money for that was flowing in.

So where does the explosion of all the independent films after that come from? Tax shelters. Want to make a feature? You didn’t need much money back then, like $40,000. You could go to doctors or chiropractors, dentists, anybody who was high income. Because I think tax rate might have been 50% at the time. You could invest in high risk businesses — which film was considered (laughs) — and you got a five-to-one write-off.

If you went to the chiropractor and got him to invest like $5,000 into your film, over a five year period, he can write off $25,000.

There was a boom in independent productions but then people started cheating on it. They never completed their films but still got the tax deductions. Then they made up a title and claimed they did have a movie. So Carter got elected and all that money dried up.

B&S: And everyone went to Canada.

Tony: (laughs) Yeah. The Romero project, The Winners, that was a tax shelter project.

You had to have a Canadian percentage of your crew. That happened when a lot of filmmakers from Europe came here and wanted to shoot, too. They needed some Americans on the crew. That’s how Ed Lachman got his start because he got to shoot for Herzog.

B&S: Now it makes sense why Sal keeps flipping out over Herzog in Lightning!

Tony: They come into New York to shoot and you needed a New York union person to shoot who would bring their own camera. Ed did that and got to learn from Herzog.

B&S: Within a very short period of time, you had movies that are so important, from Martin and Dawn of the Dead to a movie your brother was part of, Effects.

Tony: They took that movie all the way to the USA Film Festival, which is now Sundance. And then it played King’s Court and then, well…

I don’t know all about the distribution history but it was a hard thing. I think it’s harder to get stuff distributed today than it was back then. Or maybe it’s harder to get stuff known. One of the big things years ago was getting the upfront money. You had all the gatekeepers on the front end and whether you’re going for grant money or investment money to really go over your project, you had to go through them. But now, there’s no problem getting it made but what do you do on the back end? How do you get anyone to see your movie when there’s so much out there?

How do you cut through all that noise if you don’t have a budget for advertising?

B&S: Martin remains so vital to me, even today. I feel like it’s the most Pittsburgh of all Romero’s films and perhaps you can understand so many of its themes, but if you didn’t spend time here, I wonder if you understand why the radio show is so important for Martin.

Tony: KDKA was a big deal here. And George saw how talk radio was just taking off and he incorporated it into his script.

When I was working with George, I was working for my brother’s company Image Works. On the sports stuff we did, I was doing mostly assistant editing working. Synching up footage. It was fun work and the pay was really good. I was also doing assistant camera work on the road and traveling so much. We got to go film Terry Bradshaw’s parents. We got to know Rocky Bleier.

Right before Martin, I was shooting a Chatham College PR spot with George. And at the same time, he was shooting inserts for this Italian splatter film called Spasmo.

B&S: Really!

Tony: They needed more sex and violence for the American version. So we ended up shooting a sequence that I’ve never seen for the American version. I don’t know if it’s even been released, but we shot all this stuff with mannequins.

B&S: George’s usual camera person was Michael Gornick. He got married and was on his honeymoon. And the other person who worked with George all the time was Nicholas Mastandrea who has gone on to an amazing career as an assistant director on films like the Scream movies and Looper.

Nick was playing Frisbee with his friends in the park and broke his arm. George then hired me to work on those two films and then we got to become friends. And then he looked at all the films that I had made about Braddock at that time, and he got entranced with Braddock to the point where it became a character almost in Martin.

Martin predicted the decline of the industry and my attraction to it was with Martin being the vampire, to me, he represented the sort of capitalism that has sucked the community dry.

It was shot in my mother’s house, too! I did a The Moth talk about it.

My grandmother stayed downstairs the entire time they shot Martin getting staked through the heart. She prayed the rosary for hours because she was sure they were going to kill him for real.

That’s also George’s comeback movie. There would be no Dawn of the Dead without Martin.

B&S: Can you explain?

Tony: He was making the sports series and all those industrials to pay off the debts from making Season of the Witch and The Crazies. He didn’t want to stiff his investors.

B&S: That explains all the Calgon commercials, which no one realized was George Romero and came from Pittsburgh.

Tony: I got lucky in the film because there were so many crew people and everybody was helping each other out.

On Lightning, you have the opening shot where J. Roy is singing under the archway. That was built by Jan Pascale, who ended up winning an Oscar for set design for Mank. If you look closely in that scene, the fog machine broke so you can see the crew running around and throwing smoke bombs.

One of those guys was Greg Funk. He kept asking, “Can I blow up a car?” He wanted to have a scene where a car blew up so he could put it on his reel.

B&S: When you were working on Dawn of the Dead, did you have idea how big it was going to be?

Tony: There are people who can verify this but one time, when we were getting ready to roll you, right before I said “Roll sound,” I also said, “This is going to be a classic.”

There was something going on with it and you could feel it in the crew. I didn’t think it was going to last for fifty years, but I did think it was going to be equivalent or bigger to what was hot then, something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Here’s what’s so interesting about making a film that nobody goes into. Whether it’s a documentary, fiction or a short, you never go in thinking your project is bad. You think, “This can be a great film.” But sometimes something takes place while you’re doing it and it turns out to have staying power or something magical about it. And other times it doesn’t and it dawned on me I really sort of felt it when we’re making Dawn. It was going to be something bigger and I had to call attention to it.

The slapstick zombie stuff got added because George didn’t think he had enough footage! He had been shooting 16mm — in addition to 35mm — so that he could see footage sooner and get a sense of the film over the holidays. We couldn’t shoot at the mall so he was editing. And he miscalculated the 35 to 16 for lengths and thought the movie was short on time, so that’s why we did all the stuff in the mall like the pie throwing.

B&S: He was ahead by using the Monroeville Mall the way he did.

Tony: There were a lot of sociology books being written about malls at the time. There’s one I remember called The Malling of America. George was able to take the mall phenomena, the way he captures news and talk shows — the same way he did talk radio in Martin — and he was always there to critique the culture and that’s where his stuff stands out versus just making splatter.

B&S: The scenes in the newsroom came back when COVID-19 coverage first started. It felt like I was watching the chaos of that scene.

Tony: He doesn’t give a big exposition on why this has happened. You’re just thrown into the middle of the situation with no explanation and this is it. He was also fed up with how the news leads to more chaos. He was playing with that at the opening of Dawn, how you just get these bits of news and it causes more panic. And, of course, he was ahead of COVID-19 with The Crazies.

ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD FILM FESTIVAL 2022: A Life On the Farm (2022)

Get ready to watch something strange.

Filmmaker Oscar Harding grew up near farmer Charles Carson. Carson would give the family his homemade video tapes, which seem like he was hosting a TV program but he was all by himself. Or he was surrounded by cows giving birth. Or puppeteering his stuffed cats. Or wheeling his dead mother around so she could see the farm one more time before she went into the ground.

Carson was…well, the jury is out. Was he an outside artist? An early adopter of posting videos online before there was the internet? Or maybe someone with some deep mental issues?

Beyond getting to see the actual videos, the film also speaks to Karen Kilgariff (My Favorite Murder), Derrick Beckles (TV Carnage), Everything Is Terrible and Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher from The Found Footage Festival to learn why the videos are artistically important while also, yes, just odd.

“There we are, that’s life on a farm.” Carson says this several times and it makes me think about how he came from a world that is a constant circle of life and also so removed from the city that he may as well be an alien. He would keep giving these tapes, stories about life on the farm to his friends and neighbors. Were they entertained? Shocked? Upset?

Yet this movie never laughs at the man. It points out that he may have had issues, but he also saw death in a different way than we do. Perhaps by looking at it with a sense of humor, he was ahead of us, people who might look down on him and think him uneducated. I see him as a man with no guile, one with a sense of humor that could be surreal but he may have never encountered that art himself. He was, in a sense, a unique island of a man whose video output lived beyond him, made its way to people who could keep it alive and now, miles and decades away from a man long dead, we can appreciate what he left behind, even if it’s a video of him holding up a huge piece of afterbirth.

I got the opportunity to speak with Oscar Harding about this film and I’m excited to share the interview with you.

B&S About Movies: It’s interesting that within the film you had very different reactions to Carson himself, his mental state mostly.

Oscar Harding: I had someone seek me out that works in hospice care. Death positivity is a big angle to this and he was getting really excited and said, “People in my industry need to see this film.” That’s been a big reaction to Charles on that side. People who liked the film — even if they don’t like the documentary — they love him. The reviews say, “The documentary is OK, but I just want to see more of Charles.”

I completely agree, because if we had more footage, it would be a very different film, probably a stronger film. But as I’ve said before, we were interviewing his cousin Charlie who told us, “It’s a shame you didn’t come by a few years ago.” He had 200 of Charles’s tapes. He was moving and he didn’t think anyone wanted the tapes, so he threw them all out hundreds of tapes and they’re all gone. So for all I know, the little bit of footage we found in the film is all that exists of him. And I hope that’s not true. I hope someone in England sees this and realize there’s very clearly an appetite for more of his work and rightly so. I hope we find more because we spent months trying to track down as much as we could. There’s one guy who claimed he had a mixtape. He said, “I think it’s locked away in a shed somewhere.”

So every few days, we go into the shed and there was always an excuse. It was a busy weekend. The padlock is rusty. Call back a few days later. And then he just stopped answering our calls.

B&S: Was Charles literally making each person their own tape?

Oscar: You know, he’s in the middle of nowhere and he doesn’t have resources like you might in a big city. He’s doing all this at an advanced age in that place. But he’s doing it! Like it’s not easy to learn how to do this stuff. And then do custom edits for so many different people! He really took his craft seriously. And that was one of the things that really impressed us about it.

B&S: I’m obsessed with the Shot On Video era because the Cousins brothers who made Slaughter Day were making films beyond their technical abilities because they didn’t know they had those limits.

Oscar: I find that stuff so much more impressive than like a master filmmaker. You know, Scorsese was lucky he had the education. He worked with Corman and went to school but look — these guys are in London like Charles or the Uganda filmmakers that make action films like Who Killed Captain Alex? and people might make fun of the bad CGI of the helicopter crash, but that movie was directly influenced by him living through a civil war and seeing that happen for real. Those filmmakers are the most interesting to me.

B&S: They’re also pure and not in on the joke.

Oscar: It’s like the people who set out to make a bad movie thinking they’re going to make the next The Room. Meanwhile, Tommy Wiseau wasn’t trying to make a joke, he genuinely set out to make a masterpiece and it is raw, unfiltered vision. That’s why people love that. And that’s why a movie like Birdemic, well, it’s in on the joke. It just doesn’t land in the same way. It’s not authentic.

B&S: How much footage did you have to work through to find something great? The Found Footage Festival guys always bring up how much of this kind of stuff used to exist in thrift stores and it was just the work of going through boring footage to find something incredible.

Oscar: We got very lucky. And again, because we had the work of a filmmaker that he edited, he structured it intentionally. He’s got setups to gags and not all of them land. But, you know, once you get past that initial watch, I’ve said it a million times. It’s true. I think everyone who watched this for the first time and in the early section, they’re going to laugh at him and at what he made. It is bizarre and insane and you don’t get the context. But then once you start to learn more about why and how he was making these videos, you are laughing with it. Because you realize there are jokes in there that are intentional, that are meant to land.

This is the kind of filmmaking that won’t be taught in film school. This stuff is every bit as important as the French New Wave. You’ve got to learn about every aspect of filmmaking. Like you know your example. I feel like I would learn more talking to them or watching their stuff than being the millions guy watch Pulp Fiction. But you know, I really like Tarantino. (laughs)

B&S: The guys on The Cannon Canon podcast always say that most film students are going to make low budget genre film anyway. Why not study that? Study how the camera work and editing in Ninja 3: The Domination fakes a helicopter crash and doesn’t show it and you never realize it.

Oscar: We’ve all made our fair share of shit. I certainly have made some horrible stuff. But you know, they always forget to tell you that Scorsese and all these major directors all started out doing low budget crap for Roger Corman. But that’s important. They didn’t just come out of the box as master filmmakers. They made low budget trash.

I always think about the French New Wave. And I get the historical importance of it and the fact that they changed the form. I can respect all that. But I’m sorry, the auteur theory is a bunch of bullshit. Like my name is on the credits. I wasn’t present for at least half of the shoot because the pandemic, I didn’t edit the thing and I didn’t do the score. It’s an obvious humble thing to say of that everyone helps make the movie but it’s true. This is not my film. It’s a film I kind of brought to fruition with my two partners, but it sounds as good as it does and it’s got the empathy that it has because of the crew.

B&S: I love that at face value, you could just have made fun of Charles. Look at this weird farmer trying to make videos. But you allow him to be human and show that he’s actually an artist.

Oscar: We’ve found that the movie plays best at genre and horror festivals. The kind of people who get into trashy stuff and exploitation and horror, I feel they get it more because they’re more sympathetic to the context. It’s a harder sell in a festival with more conventional movies.

This is not like an award season movie. This is not a blockbuster. This is all the outsiders and the weirdos who get it because that you know, Charles is one of them. I’m one of them. You’re one and you know that the horror genre has always been a haven for black storytellers, queer storytellers and people like us It’s more accepting. And you can say more profound stuff, you know, like the political allegory in District Nine. It gets across better than just a conventional apartheid drama. You just do it in a more intelligent way.

B&S: Yet normal people will get upset and say, “They’re making Hellraiser too queer.”

Oscar: Go back and check out who wrote it and directed the first movie. (laughs)

B&S: How did you get all the big names within the found footage world?

Oscar: Back in 2019 when we started filming, we didn’t know Charles’s life story at this point. as we were working on it, COVID happened. It sucked because we sat here for months and couldn’t do anything. I thought, “This is found footage.” Let’s do some research. That’s when we found out there was the Found Footage Festival and Everything Is Terrible!

I met Nick and Joe backstage at a show and showed them footage of Charles and they didn’t know me, but they watched it and became such big supporters, introducing me to people like Karen Kilgariff and Davy Rothbart (FOUND Magazine) and backing the Kickstarter.

Koo Stark took about two years. Understandably, you know, she’s very, very careful about her image because the UK press treated her the same way they treated Princess Diana and Megan Markel. They made her life a living hell. So that took a lot of trust and developing that relationship. She’s wonderful and she got it almost instantly with Charles. She didn’t really understand that she was part of this guy’s story. She just hosted a show he won on. But she was the hardest person to get and the nicest surprise to get her right at the end.

B&S: What directors influence you?

Oscar: Kenneth Branagh, Guillermo del Toro, Edgar Wright — who grew up quite close to Charles — and Danny Boyle. Oh — Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, Sam Raimi, William Friedkin…

B&S: Raimi is the influence for every Shot On Video director I talk to.

Oscar: You know, he’s one of the weirdos who struck gold. I mean, honestly, compare any of the superhero movies now to what he’s doing with those first two Spider-Man movies where they’re just so wonderfully goofy, insincere and shot like a kinetic horror movie. I don’t want to be like yet another guy talking badly about Marvel movies, but I guess I’m just sad that they’re not making comic book movies. I miss the era of Hollywood that was trying to make stuff like The ShadowThe Phantom, Raimi made DarkmanDick Tracy is one of my favorite films of all time. They’re just comic book movies. They’re great.

I don’t like when filmmakers try to directly copy the comic book look. You can try and recreate a panel but you don’t get the exact feel of it right. When you do it frame by frame, panel by panel, it’s an expensive experiment, but I’ll just read the comic book.

B&S: Have you had any extreme reactions or upset reactions to your film?

Oscar: I think once people find out that Charles was a human being behind it all and a family man and realize that he was a lot more profound than you might think, it’s not as shocking when you just watch the footage.

B&S: You don’t sledgehammer people over the head with it though. That’s why I loved the film so much.

Oscar: We had a remarkable editor, Hannah Christensen, who should be editing every film in Hollywood right now.

There was a scene in a British TV show called Cucumber and there’s a death sequence in that show that inspired me. I really wanted to go all out hopeless and relentlessly dark when Charles’ mother dies and when he gets close to death. Hannah came in and said, “He has to find peace at the end. You need like that moment of calm, because otherwise you’re going to lose people. It’s too relentlessly bleak and cruel.”

She was bang on the money. I trusted her. And it worked a lot better the way she edited it.

B&S: That’s awesome that you can give her that credit. I think that’s part of what makes you so talented that you realize that the team can all be creative and it’s their movie, not just yours.

Oscar: Thank you. It’s not even trying to be nicer and to be humble. I mean, it’s true. This is not my film. It is our film. And, you know, my hope is that, especially Sam Paul Toms and Hannah, the next Marvel movie that comes out they’re scoring and editing it.

B&S: Do you think Charles had any influences?

Oscar: I really do think a lot of his work was just pure Charles Carson. He may have watched The Goon Show or known about Monty Python. I couldn’t say that for sure. I just love the fact that this is a guy who didn’t grow up obsessed with film and then discovered it later in life because he’s bringing in life experiences compared to the rest of us who bring in all these pop culture references.

He wasn’t inspired by anyone, like the old Hollywood directors, because he didn’t grow up watching anyone else. I would argue he — a lot of those directors — is stronger because of that. If they’ve got any influences it’s from the theater or literature or radio plays.

B&S: There’s no nostalgia in his work.

Oscar: I think one of the problems right now is that there are incredibly talented creatives. More talented than me for sure. And it’s just this kind of slightly cannibalistic thing of, I grew up on nostalgia, I’m gonna do my take on nostalgia. And then you know, everyone steals and that’s fine. But it’s just I don’t know. I think it’s harder and harder to get like interesting stuff instead of people saying,”Let’s make another Ghostbusters.” Not to sound like an old man like yelling at the cloud. (laughs)

For example, in the new Hellraiser, it’s got its issues, but I really liked it. The smartest thing they did was someone asked at the q&a, “Why isn’t Pinhead wearing leather?” They had a really intelligent response. “Clive Barker was inspired by the BDSM clubs when he was making that and Hellraiser was his thing to start with. Now, we looked at what could be the new version of that and they looked at extreme body transformation and the Cenobites are wearing their own modifications.”

I thought that’s an interesting way to update something. I think that’s how you reinvent stuff and you do it in a clever way now.

This movie was part of the Another Hole in the Head film festival, which provides a unique vehicle for independent cinema. This year’s festival takes place from December 1st – December 18th, 2022. Screenings and performances will take place at the historic Roxie Cinema, 4 Star Theatre and Stage Werks in San Francisco, CA. It will also take place On Demand on Eventive and live on Zoom for those who can not attend the live screenings. You can learn more about how to attend or watch the festival live on their Eventlive site. You can also keep up with all of my AHITH film watches with this Letterboxd list.

Exclusive interview with Joe Pickett from The Found Footage Festival

The Found Footage Festival, the life mission of Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, is to find, archive and share VHS tapes, capturing pop culture history before it disappears. They’re both huge influences on my sense of humor and my need to write for this site, trying to discover new things and share them with others.

I have no words to explain what a big deal it was to get to speak with Joe — at length, I kept him on the phone way past our scheduled time — and this interview truly makes all the work of creating this site worthwhile.

Joe and Nick as Chop and Steele

B&S About Movies: How strange is it to go from making documentaries to being in one, Chop and Steele?

Joe Pickett: Very, very strange. Especially to see it up on a big screen. But here’s the thing. I really liked the movie. Yeah. I got a draft last January. And I was afraid to watch it. I sent it to my brother first and I was like, “Can you watch this and just make sure I’m not a total jackass?” Because they spent four years with us shooting a lot of footage. And so I kind of forgot all of it.

I remember what we did, but I was like, “What is this gonna look like?”

I was scared shitless and then my brother said, “Go ahead, watch. It’s pretty good.”

I love watching it with audiences especially. I mean, it’s definitely weird, but I think I think it’s done so well. It’s edited and shot so well that I’m proud of it. And I think it’s a good lasting record of what we have and what we’ve done so far.

B&S: I can’t imagine watching it not knowing the history (editor’s note: Joe and his partner in crime Nick Prueher also created characters named Chop and Steele that appeared on morning news shows as real guests and got sued over it, which forms much of the story of the film). So I tried to put myself in the space of someone who had no idea what you did and went in open-minded versus as a fan and I loved it.

Joe: We have a very small niche loyal group of fans. But it’s definitely not a mainstream thing at all. Not everybody knows about it. So that’s good to hear that. I think it’s accessible to people who don’t even know us.

B&S: I’m sick of origin stories in movies, so you really got across how you got here, why you do what you do and then get to the court case really efficiently.

Joe: Well, that’s efficient editing. That’s because we had three editors on it. And then the last editor who came in, he’s just, oh man. It’s like A Beautiful Mind. Like, he can just see things. Originally we were thinking that the America’s Got Talent appearance was going to be last. This is our last hurrah. We thought it was going to be the end of the movie.

This editor steps in and he’s like, no, no, no, that’s the middle of the movie. He said, “I know what the ending of the movie is going to be already.”

So that’s just a genius editor and efficient editing and storytelling.

B&S: The movie gets across how harrowing that day was but it had to be worse than that to live it.

Joe: It’s still the most stressful day of my lifetime. It was just surreal. Like Tyra Banks, heavy with Tyra Banks, all while prepping for our big stunt and then actually doing it and you’re flying all the way there and we have to pull this off and it’s just nerve-wracking.

Throughout the day, I don’t think we talked about this in the doc, but you know, they would say “Alright, you guys are going on at noon.” And we’ve been there since like 9 AM and now we’re ready to go on at noon. Then they’re like, “Oh, wait, no, you’re not gonna go on at noon.” Then they would come in and say, “We need you guys now.” It was all day long. It was just the most fucked up day. (laughs)

B&S: What I loved about that scene is that in the past, you had all the power and were putting those morning shows at your mercy. And now, you’re thrust into the real belly of the multimedia machine and the rules have changed. There is no show I can think of that’s bigger than America’s Got Talent.

Joe: It’s the biggest one. They wanted us to be scripted and tell us what they wanted us to do. And we’re like, “No, we’re not going to go on there. We’re not going to be scripted.” Yeah, it’s just so stupid. Like why would we go on there and do what they wanted us to do? That’s the antithesis of what we would do!

B&S: It’s not reality but reality TV.

Joe: I’ve worked on reality TV. They call it scripted reality now. So you’re actually writing the dialogue. We had to do the dialogue for wildlife hunters, you know, like, we don’t know this world. We don’t know how they talk. Two guys in New York are writing the dialogue for these guys. So stilted and weird. And, you know, we’re trying to write comedy lines for non-comedy performers.

B&S: I think we’re sadly past the era of being surprised by what’s on TV.

Joe: Definitely. I think that I think there’s like a naivete that we don’t have anymore. You know, we’re so self-aware. That’s because we all have phones and we’re always on camera. You know, like probably I’m on camera almost daily whether it’s a zoom call or whatever.

If you look back on some of the old videos of sports, the camera guy in the crowd just has shots of everybody yelling “Hi mom” and trying to get on TV. Now, people don’t really give a shit. Everybody’s been on TV at least once. Probably. (laughs)

B&S: The Andy Kauffman moments on Late Night with David Letterman and Fridays wouldn’t mean as much to today’s audience but back then they did.

Joe: Yeah, that was the best. It was just more of an event and you had to see it live at the time too. It was hard to find the tapes and it wasn’t until the internet came around that you could experience it again.

B&S: I always think about the Mr. Show “Tape Trading Underground” sketch. Before the Internet, someone had to be like, “Hey guys, I got this. Do you want to see it?”

Joe: It was a different time. The heyday for tape trading was probably around 1999. I got a job at a video duplication house and I was working as a production assistant. You’d be on the shoots and everybody would talk about tapes they had. One of the guys on a shoot had the Jack Rebney tape and talked it up and kept saying, “I’ll bring it for you.” It took some time for me to get it but it was ten times better than I thought it was going to be.

Today the same excitement is lost. But I’m trying things on our show VCR Party. I love when people buy old digital cameras and send me IMG files. The thrill of the hunt is what I love. That’s lost with VHS now because they’re hardly even at thrift stores anymore. I was in Indianapolis at a Salvation Army and normally those would be fantastic. They would pick up so many tapes and now they have nothing. They have a copy of Titanic if you’re lucky.

Now that hunt is really gone. We do get a lot of people sending us tapes, so that’s cool. But I do miss that, especially the rarity. Just feeling like I have one of a few videos that nobody else has seen and I can’t wait to show people. You know, like Nick and I roomed together in college and he had that McDonald’s training video. We would have people over to watch it with us. We’d have a running commentary and that’s really how we got started. It was just us showing it to friends in our dorm. And then we lived together for a little while after college and we’d have a friend come over and be like, “Oh, you haven’t seen the John and Johnny tape?”

We come from that era where you got tapes and you couldn’t wait to show people. We hope that with our show that it’s kind of like that for people. We want to introduce them to something they’ve never seen, not even on the internet.

B&S: I have a language made up of so many of these videos.

Joe: It’s almost like a language that we speak that only a handful of people speak. For me, it’s always like John and Johnny references and Jack Rebney.

B&S: I’ve always been obsessed with training videos, too. I have to tell you, in no way have they improved since the McC video that you guys stole.

Joe: They haven’t. I think the production quality has because the cameras are better and the audio stuff is better, but the content still sucks.

Did you see that we got a whole box of Victoria’s Secret training videos from a mall in Salt Lake City?

I am confirming what you just said: they suck.

They do the reenactments. They’re cheesy, everybody’s excited. Everybody’s happy to clean the bathrooms. It’s just like not living in reality. At all. But I’m happy for them. I’m glad that those training videos haven’t changed much.

I have a fascination with unimportant things. I would rather talk about a video from the Home Shopping Network than Citizen Kane. The stuff we share says more about our culture and human beings and anthropology and what drives us more than say, you know, something considered essential. (laughs)

Sometimes I struggle with the idea of there’s so much stuff out there that’s just ending up in landfills right now. And we’re never gonna see it. There’s so much gold out there. I feel like we’ve maybe touched like 2% of the videos that came out in the golden age of VHS.

We probably just scratched the surface of what was shot.

B&S: How many more exercise videos were there?

Joe: How many celebrities started one and didn’t finish that cash grab? (laughs)

B&S: I’m amazed that something like Linda Blair in How To Get…Revenge exists.

Joe:  It’s so bad and she’s so mean spirited! It’s really dark. It’s so dark.

Even DMX and the Ruff Ryderz made an exercise video. That’s because anything could get made because they went from film being so expensive to shoot and you need a crew and it’s so much work. Suddenly, video exists and all you need to do is press the red button and shoot.

Any half-baked idea could become real. Rent-A-Friend could happen. Someone said, “I’m going to act like I’m talking to someone for 45 minutes” and sell that!

B&S: It’s even easier to make video now and it feels like less weirdness exists.

Joe: It’s like everyone is in on the joke. Once Tommy Wiseau got in on the joke, anything else he made wasn’t as special. That’s why I love American Movie so much, because it’s just limited resources with a lot of ambition. And that’s just my favorite combination in the world.

B&S: There are so many characters in the Found Footage Festival universe. Who’s your favorite?

Joe: It’s a tough question. The first one that pops into my head is Frank Pacholski.

We tracked him down and it was really mysterious. He was really weird about it.

He told us to meet him in Santa Monica and so we flew out there like the next week. We spent way too much money on this. (laughs) At first he’s like, come to my house. Then he switches it on our way over and tells us to meet him at the second lifeguard stand to the right of the Santa Monica Pier. He’s there in an outfit waiting for us and refuses to answer questions. How did he get all those old people? Why would he dance for them? And he told us nothing. It was a bit for him to not tell us! (laughs)

Before we leave, he tells us to go meet my manager at a coffee shop but no cameras. We get there and it’s him in a suit and tie and he’s a different character and refuses to break. He told us the whole story, but we had to role play and ask Frank as his manager character questions about Frank.

There’s a documentary called Committed about the guy whose real name is Vic Cohen. Howie Mandel produced it and it’s barely seen the light of day. I think it was on Amazon or you can probably buy it somewhere for like, five bucks. But it tells a whole story and just what a weirdo this guy is.

B&S: Have you noticed any of the Found Footage stuff taken into pop culture and appear in places you didn’t expect it? Like you’re kind of flowing back into pop culture?

Joe:  Well, I think with Jack Rebney, that really made a splash in pop culture and was featured in video games and in movies. But like, John and Johnny, the Avett Brothers…have you seen that music video that they did? They replicate the set of John and Johnny. They do an impression of John and Johnny. Andy Daly plays both John and Johnny and the Avett Brothers are in it playing on Home Shopping. So that was a really cool one because that was a tape that we found in a closet in a box in a warehouse in northwestern Wisconsin. We introduced that to the world and then to see a huge band and Andy Daly doing the characters that we fell in love with?

We don’t see it all the time. But every so often, you see a pop up.

B&S: Finally, as someone that’s traveled the roads of America with so much touring, how awesome is the super slab?

Joe: (laughs) Super slab super rapper coming at you know it’s all about that super slab.

Are you into trucker music?

B&S: I grew up in a town where everyone had a CB radio, a scanner and listened to trucker music. I loved the “Rappin’ Trucker” episode of Bastard Tapes so much.

Joe: I toured with Neil Hamburger and we’d go into thrift stores and buy CDs of artists that no one had ever heard of. We’d just analyze them and deconstruct them and it was so much fun. Nick and I do that with trucker music.

You should check out Dirty Country, the movie we made about Larry Pierce. We followed him for four and a half years at a small town in Indiana and he writes these dirty songs on his lunch breaks. He’s a factory worker and would perform them on the weekends for his friends and never really played on the stage before and at the end of the movie he plays a stage for his fans. So yeah, look it up. I think that especially because you appreciate truckstop music, you’ll definitely appreciate this movie.

Please visit the Found Footage Festival web site, order lots of videos, see the guys on tour and watch all of their many streaming shows. I beyond appreciate the time and energy that Joe put into this interview.

The Murder Podcast (2021) and interview with director William Bagley

Chad (Andrew McDermott) and Eddie (Cooper Bucha) want to be podcasters but no one wants to listen to a show all about ramen. A murder happens in their town and they decide to solve it with their show, except that people keep getting knocked off and they find themselves in the middle of all of it.

When they find some coins on the desk of the sheriff (Levi Burdick) that match ones at the murder site, they think they’ve found their man. Except then they watch a witch exterminate the sheriff — and she even gets the deputy (Luke Michael Williams) — before starting to chase our heroes once they take the coin.

Director and writer William Bagley does a good job balancing horror and comedy in this, as well as creating two fun leads who win you over and make you want to see them succeed, even if they’ve stoner dumb enough to anger their hometown’s law enforcement and urban legend all at the same time.

B&S About Movies: I know that true crime and podcasts about it are huge. Was that the genesis of the idea behind your movie?

William Bagley:  I had gone to Maine to work on a documentary with a friend. And while we were there, we met a dude who had just come from St. Louis and he was telling me how he heard this thing where they put coins on witches’ graves to keep their spirits at bay. That sounds like a really cool idea for a horror movie! Back home, I researched it and couldn’t find anything about it. I found one page on a website and that was all. I don’t really know if it’s true or not, but I was like, “That’s a really cool idea.”

It kind of melded with this other idea I’ve been working on about a news anchor journalist solving crimes. That wasn’t really going anywhere. And my wife had been listening to every single true crime podcast on the face of the planet and telling me all about them.

That’s when I hit on the perfect idea: podcasters.

She’s obsessed with true crime. It’s compelling sometimes, but not really my forte.

B&S: How did you go from true crime to the supernatural in the same story?

William: I just like supernatural stuff. I think it’s more fun. So instead of someone just being like, oh, legit murdered, I got to turn into something crazy. I was like, “I’m gonna be able to do cool supernatural stuff in the horror scenes.”

B&S: Are you a fan of horror movies?

William: I’ve grown into way more of a fan as I’ve gotten older. When I was in high school, horror movies used to just terrify me but I still would have fun watching them with other people. But I never watched it by myself up until probably the last few years. I definitely tend to like the more fun horror. Not necessarily like horror comedies, but when it’s super depressing, it’s usually not my thing. I don’t like it when everything’s just really sad and scary. There at least needs to be some kind of levity.

B&S: How did you work across both genres in your film? Balancing horror and comedy isn’t always easy.

William: I think the main thing was I told the actors was “Your characters and what they do is going to be where the comedy comes from. Your character doesn’t think anything that they’re doing is funny. They’re not making jokes. They’re not necessarily having fun. They’re acting very silly, but to them, that’s how they would actually act in this situation.”

I think that’s a good way to blend the hard stuff. Because, you know, if you see something really scary you’re gonna be like, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no!” (laughs) You’ll say something super like over the top. That’s kind of where I was trying to pull from. I was taking the comedy seriously.

You want the characters to believe the world that they’re in, even though we all know that’s really silly.

B&S: I really liked the shift from the real to the unreal.

William: In some of the reviews, there are some who like the third act and some who don’t.

B&S: That’s the great part of independent film, right? You didn’t have to deal with any notes.

William: When we were filming it, I had some mild anxiety. It just felt like. “Are we getting the right stuff? Is this coming across?” I didn’t really know, because I was also the editor on the film. We weren’t cutting it while we were shooting it because I was directing. Once it wrapped and I started cutting and putting it together, like actually seeing it come together, it was the coolest thing. It worked! We did a good job!

B&S: Did you start as an editor?

William: Yes. I’ve done a bunch of shorts for other people/ I used to work at a TV station as an editor. . I actually love editing and when I’m directing, I’m directing for the edit and can shoot fast because I can just say, “We’re not going to use that.”

B&S: Who are your influences?

William: Edgar Wright, which you can tell when you see the movie. I was also inspired by the first Lord of the Rings in the way they treated the ring. That was how I wanted to treat the coin and its presence.

I also really love Matthew Vaughn. I think The Kingsman is a great movie. He does a really good job of mixing in comedy with other genres.

B&S: What’s next?

William: I have two scripts I’m working on. One is called Lumberjack Samurai. It’s awesome.  It’s gonna be significantly more expensive than The Murder Podcast. So it’s probably going to take longer to make. We’re trying to figure out how to finance that thing right now. And then I have another smaller script that I wrote with the guy who actually plays the witch in the movie, Scott Hawkins. It’s significantly smaller and we may be able to do that in a couple of months. It’s interesting because Lumberjack Samurai may be more serious than The Murder Podcast.

B&S: Where do you live?

William: Atlanta, GA. I work in the film industry here, which means we were able to pull a lot of favors and get a lot of gear and stuff like that. I’ve been doing it for a long time. We were like, “Hey, can I borrow your grip truck? Is that cool?”

B&S: Where can people find The Murder Podcast?

William: www.murderpodcastmovie.com. That’s where we’ll have all the links to the streaming services we’re going to be on. You can rent the movie from Vimeo. I know we’re going to be on Amazon and Tubi soon.

If you happen to live in Springfield, Missouri or in Laredo and Corpus Christi Texas, the Alamo Drafthouse is screening the movie in late October, early November. And then hopefully we’re gonna have a screening here in Atlanta.

Exclusive interview with Matt Farley of Motern Media

An American filmmaker, musician and songwriter who has released over 23,000 songs — probably more by the time you read this — Matt Farley is a creative giant that you may not know but totally should. I discovered him through his films and was stunned that his phone number appeared in the autobiographical Local Legends. Our text conversation led to the interview you’re about to read:

B&S About Movies: I always feel like there’s a finite well of movies and I worry, “Am I going to exhaust movies that are interesting?” It was amazing finding this huge block of your movies at Fantastic Fest. I’d never seen any of them before and it was like diving into the deep end of an entirely new obsession with no set order of how to start absorbing them.

Matt Farley: Everyone’s got their own journey. One thing I find is that people’s appreciation for the movies just goes up. With each one they watch, whatever they watch first, they’re kind of saying, “I’m not sure what to make of this.” And then a few movies in there like, “Okay, now I get it.”

B&S: I started with Metal Detector Maniac. I had no idea what it was going to be about and it felt like a hang-out film and then, all of a sudden, it switched up on me.

Matt: We tried to be a little sneaky about that.

B&S: In Local Legends, you discuss how audiences get upset because they think that you’re making a horror movie and you’re not. Does that reaction still happen?

Matt: Well, in the last few years, starting with Metal Detector Maniac, we’ve kind of have a different approach. Maybe there are on board. With Freaky Farley, we pushed it as a slasher even though we think it’s hilarious to sell that movie as a slasher.

B&S: What movies did you have in mind when you were making it?

Matt: Halloween and Friday the 13thwere definite but we also wanted to go deeper. Like The Pit, which is a weird Canadian horror movie. Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2, I’m a really big fan. It has a similar structure to that.

B&S: It reminds me of 70s pre-slasher movies. Regional horror. It’s just as much about the town that he lives in. Maybe more so than it is about him because you wonder, what’s beneath the surface of it?

Matt: Yeah, the director Charlie (Roxburgh) is a big fan of movies like The Horror of Party Beach.

B&S: I’m amazed at the level of your creative output. Has it always been this way or did you learn how to harness some special way of figuring out how to make things?

Matt: It’s definitely developed but I was writing novels in fourth grade and as soon as my family got a video camera I was making movies with my friends. Playing the piano, I started writing songs in my teen years, I definitely wasn’t as prolific but definitely I already had the obsessiveness the same then as it is now.

I just kept refining my approach and kind of figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. You know, it’s easier to write and record a song than it is to make a movie. There’s a lot more streamlining and refining necessary to keep making movies. If you can find an hour, you can rattle off a song. But to make a movie is soul-crushingly time-consuming, you know?

Charlie and I met in college and we were making movies. Whether consciously or not, we were kind of figuring out our method, especially because we’re working with people who are not not being paid. So much of the process is figuring out how much you can expect from a person before they stop answering your phone calls. (laughs)

It’s just always just been my dream to be constantly creating things and and then I guess, you know, the adult part of my life has been figuring out a way to do that while still being accepted in my family and community.

B&S: I get “Do you ever slow down?” from people. And no, why would I? I have a mindset that just always wants to be making things.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. ‘m always like, “Oh, wouldn’t be cool if we could do this or if we could do that?” And that’s the easy part. The hard part is actually figuring out a way to do it.

B&S: Most people have one creative thing that they’re known for. You’ve kind of integrated so many different talents. There’s this whole music side and there’s the whole movie side and like sometimes they cross over. I find that fascinating.

Matt: I have these albums that I call the No Jokes albums, which are not songs about poop or dumb songs about cities. They’re just good songs. But they do have jokes in them or comedic weirdness, you know, and I think those songs kind of compare to the movies. There’s no movie equivalent to the poop songs. I wish there was! I wish we could churn out some novelty movies that actually made us money but we haven’t figured that one out yet.

B&S: What surprises me is that you made so many movies in so short a time. Magic Spot, Heard She Got Married and Metal Detector Maniac all came out really close together.

Matt: We’re currently trying to do two movies a year and that started in 2021. So it was Metal Detector Maniac and Heard She Got Married and then this year is Magic Spot and Boston Johnny. And then we’re gonna keep on pushing. It’s kind of applying what I do with the music a little bit to the movies. Let’s really put our foot to the pedal. One of the things for the music is that like, it’s like, be undeniable, like get to the point where people don’t even want to find my songs and they accidentally do and they’re just, “Oh God. It’s that guy again.” (laughs)

I keep on creeping up in people’s feeds or in their searches and whatnot, as a way to just be like, “Gosh, darn it worked music world. I won’t let you ignore me!”

So we’re trying to apply that to the movies. It’s just that it’s so time-consuming making a movie that it doesn’t quite compare but in terms of getting noticed by people who pay attention to movies, I think you can work in that way. Where you know, just enough people start talking and say, “Oh, these guys are doing two movies a year. And I think I think they’re pretty good too.”

I guess our secret advantage is that like the previous 20 years, we were making movies quite a lot. And so we’ve gotten to the point where we have a lot of people who we know want to act with us and we know what they’re good at and we can write parts specifically for them. We know a bunch of different tricks of how we can make it seem not quite as low budget as it is Charlie and I are willing to lug lots of equipment, just the two of us, deep into the woods and get some cool shots and some things that you don’t normally see in a lot of indie movies. A lot of indie movies just take place in an apartment. We’ll push ourselves in that way and hopefully people appreciate it.

B&S: I always hear the complaint about indie films that, “Oh this would have been better if we had the budget.” I know you’d like a larger budget but I feel like the heart of your films would be different.

Matt: One way that a budget shows is when people reach too far. The example I always use is they have a scene in a hospital and they don’t have enough money to have a hospital. It’s gonna show, you know? If you’re just doing it in like a bedroom and you don’t have like all the equipment…

We try to work within what we have. And if we are reaching a little too far, that’s when we’ll poke fun at ourselves and just be like, “Alright, we know this doesn’t quite look like what it’s supposed to be, but we know it.”

B&S: You guys must have a secret language now so that you can communicate that to one another.

Matt: Before we write a scene, the first question is, “Are we going to be able to film it?” That prevents heartbreak down the road. Don’t even think about that overly ambitious idea because it’s going to break us. Have you seen something Slingshot Cops yet? We got a little ambitious. There are seven or maybe eight characters all together at the same time and get so many people to my house to stay for that long to get the shots done and then keep them quiet when they’re not in the shot, then to get them to say their lines and to feed them… (laughs)

That’s why these last three movies have been a little bit more like more refined in terms of the number of characters.

B&S: It doesn’t come across like you’re penny pinching, though.

Matt: Yeah, it’s nice and creative. It’s nice because we both grew up in suburban neighborhoods with woods behind it so we have a soft spot for that kind of location. For the most part, no one bothers you out in the woods. If you’re trying to do a scene on a busy street corner, you could be kicked out by the cops and they’d be like, “Hey, do you have a permit? Get out of here!”

The woods are nice and no one bothers us. And then we know the alleyways where nobody cares if you’re filming, which is nice.

B&S: So many of your movies take place in small towns with different names, but each of these towns by and large seem like positive places. Magic Spot feels like Americana, the whole song that your character writes about why his hometown is so important to him and why she should stay. Yet Heard She Got Married is the inverse side of that, it’s the darkness of a small town. I really love that and feel like small towns can encompass light and dark sides.

Matt: Charlie brought up a year or so ago that there’s always like a magic spot in a town and there’s always also an evil spot, you know? And so we’ve obviously been exploring that concept, the scary spot where the spooky kids hang out. Then there’s the magic spot where good things happen. So we’ve been doing that. The second movie we’re making next year is called Evil Spot. It’s a spiritual sequel.

B&S: I know that we grew up in different places, but there was a place like the Cathedral in Heard She Got Married in my town. I really felt the way the main character does in that when he comes home and sees all these old places that used to mean so much to him. I get wistful now seeing those places as those memories get further away, as you drive past them, they’re in the rearview. I love the problem of coming back home, thinking you’re going to conquer the scene and no one comes to your show. As someone who has lugged Orange amps up multiple flights of steps to play for ten people in a coffee shop, I get that too.

Matt: We did a Freaky Farley screening in New York City three days ago. And there were a few people who told me the same thing about Heard She Got Married. Specifically, there’s a scene where I’m at the bottom of the steps talking to the mailman.

That concert scene it’s funny because I really said my line. “There were only eighteen people there but did you hear them singing along?”

People were like, “Man, I felt that.”

It’s definitely a movie for bloggers and podcasters and people who are trying to keep the creative spark alive. You know, even at an age when people say, “Why are you still doing this?”

People might not say those words to me but I can feel it coming. (laughs)

What’s funny about the eighteen people is when we filmed that scene, we didn’t specifically want eighteen people at that show. It was October 2020, with things shut down and people weren’t traveling that far. That’s why we did it in an apple orchard because indoor venues weren’t really an option.

When only eighteen people came, we wrote that into the script.

It was double exciting, for me at least, because Charlie couldn’t come for that. I had two cameras and I gave them to two audience members who knew what they were doing with cameras more or less. I was like, “Guys, I want you to film. You do more close-ups. You do more wide shots. Be a little bit frantic. A little, like, go back and forth. See, you know, to kind of match the energy of the song.”

We only performed that song once but I was very pleased with the camerawork and the performance.

It’s fun to lend real life into the fiction.

B&S: I love that he thinks his songs have obscure meanings but his ex-girlfriend says, “Please stop writing songs about me.”

Matt: Yeah. Mitch Owens is an open book. He’s very petty. You know, he locks the gåçuy in the basement for a minute, just to remind him of how he was locked in the basement at the beginning of the movie.

That scene, I can feel it too. I do this annual show called the Motern Extravaganza. The next one is May 20, so keep that in mind. I mean, people come from hundreds, even thousands of miles away. We’ve never had more than a hundred people at any of these shows. So it’s a little frustrating every year. I’m like, what we’re doing is so cool. Why aren’t more people coming? This doesn’t make sense. But then on the flip side, it’s like, who cares? I mean, most people know that we’re not quote unquote a real band in terms of being signed by a label and blah, blah, blah. I think we’re doing better than most weekend warrior ockers, you know. Which is the level that we’re at, and so it’s like, hey, for weekend warriors we’re doing okay.

B&S: If you break even, you’re winning.

Matt: Frankly, just being able to have the time and the equipment to do creative stuff, if you have that you’re winning. Yeah, absolutely winning. That’s the way I look at it.

B&S: Back to movies, what filmmakers influence you?

Matt: We were just big horror fans and liked slashers. We love the look and the feel of it. We’re not that big on violence. Like once the killings start, it kind of gets boring. We like all the interaction between the weird characters before they start getting killed off, you know, with the occasional POV shot from the bushes here, the little spooky music there just to remind you that this is a horror movie.

We respect the low budget mythos. There’s a movie called Curse of the Screaming Dead which was filmed in Maryland in the early 80s. There are shots that maybe the filmmaker is embarrassed by, maybe he wishes it was better, but I know that if you want a movie to be perfect, you’re never going to finish your movie. You have to just accept that it’s never going to be exactly what you envisioned and there’s always going to be, audio problems, video problems, acting problems, a cat jumping across the screen in the middle of a shot.

Those are the influences and then in terms of more mainstream stuff, Charlie’s a big fan of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and I am too. He loves the show Get A Life with Chris Elliott. Wes Anderson, you know, we were big fans of his movies when we were in college. Pulp Fiction is a great movie.

B&S: Your movies aren’t beholden to just one genre.

Matt: Yeah, like when the girl says starts dancing, doing the pop dancing to the acoustic guitar and they’ve just met and she’s like, “I haven’t showered in a while. Can I stay here?” We’re just acting as if this is all normal. I just want to hang out in this world and check in with all these characters in their ridiculous drama. And then like, then there’s the perfunctory river beast attack. (laughs)

B&S: Thanks to the William Castle introduction and the flashes, you know when the river beast is coming.

Matt: The Riverbeast would not be scary to anyone. Like a two-year-old can watch it and not be frightened. And here we are with this distinguished man warning the people.

When horror was so popular in the 80s, there was a lot of repurposing films. Movies might have been a drama with one scary scene, but they’d put some blood on the cover and see if it sells. I mean, it’s not nice of them to do that. But I almost always responded to those films.

B&S: That was the era of the video boom where they just needed product.

Matt:  I love that because there are lofty artistic goals but then there’s just practicality. And I love when those two meet because, you know, you can feel disillusioned very quickly. Have you seen Local Legends? I got the boss version of me yelling at the artist me and and I definitely have like poking fun at lofty artistic people because as bad as a CEO might be, they just want to make money. We just want to make money too, you know?

B&S: Do those older horror movies feel more authentic?

Matt: Yeah. No shame and they’re just like, “Hey, you want to see a bunch of teenagers killed in the woods” Here you go.

B&S: They often would make a movie and run it for ten years under different titles. You’d show up at the drive-in and maybe see the same movie you already saw. Or maybe you didn’t care because you were showing up to get in the back seat.

Matt: That just shows the futility of everything. (laughs)

But then it’s freeing. It’s actually freeing. If you can get past that sadness, then it’s just like, oh, I can just follow my muse and just like do my thing and who cares? No one’s watching. So wonderful! Like, you know, if someone happens to like it, then wow, what a delight! We go into it expecting very few people to watch it and so we can just make it exactly how we want to make it. It’s so nice.

We don’t get any notes because no one’s paying us to do this. Doing two movies a year, we can say, “What if we did a movie like this?” We’re only gonna spend six months on it. Let’s just give it a try. Maybe everyone will hate it. And if not, then there’ll be another movie a few months later.

Movie equipment is pretty cheap. More people could be doing what Charlie and I are doing. I guess there are a lot of indie movies out there. We’re in the Northeast and we’re kind of like making the Northeast part of the vibe of the story. I wish more people would do that in other parts of the world.

B&S: You’re showing the rest of the world your hometown.

Matt: In Local Legends, there’s a scene where I’m being interviewed and someone asks my character, “Are you gonna go to Hollywood?” And I say, “No, I want to make them come to me.”

In another scene, we’re talking about if we were billionaires we could buy an NBA team or something but then I was like, “No! If we’re billionaires, let’s start our own league and force people to come to us.”

It’s slower. If you’re doing it the way I’m doing it, you know, this whole make them come to me…you know, I’m probably not too successful with it. But life is long. So maybe by the time I’m like 90, they’ll be coming to me. (laughs)

B&S: It allows you to document where you live and share it.

Matt: People always ask what junior beef sandwiches are. When people visit, they ask, “Why is there a roast beef shop on every corner?” It’s just a hamburger roll with a big pile of sliced roast beef and then some toppings if you want, but I was like, “Wow, like, you know, you grow up around here and everyone knows about junior beef.” We got the junior beef, the Magic Spot, the beach pizza, which is even more localized. There are only two beach pizza places that I know on Earth that have those square pizzas with a slice of provolone on them. It’s very strange.

B&S: We have a pizza here that they cook the crust and then put tomatoes and a pound of mozzarella in it. Cold mozzarella.

Matt: I want to try it but I think I don’t know if I like it! I like when you go somewhere and everything is corporate and globalized but you can try something that you can only get there. I like the second option.

A few years ago, we offered a walking tour in Manchester where Charlie and I would walk you through all the different spots we shot and we printed out pictures of the stills from the movie so people could compare it to a location. Three people took us up on the offer. We had arranged that different actors in the movies would be waiting at different spots around town. We’d round the corner and say, “Hey, it’s Jim Farley, the actor who played Ito Hootkins in Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You!” By the end of the tour, there were more tour guides than there were people on the tour. But it was fun.

B&S: We started talking because I saw your number in Local Legends and I was watching you on screen and talking to you at the same time. That’s the most interactive I think a movie will ever be.

Matt: Let’s make life more interesting. Wouldn’t it be cool if movie directors put their number out there? The idea came from Curse of the Screaming Undead. Charlie and I watched it and in the credits, they listed a store where they got their supplies with the phone number. I called it but it was out of service. From that point on, I was like, “Charlie, put my number in the credits.”

B&S: How much of that movie is true?

Matt: The story arc is more imaginary but it’s kind of like every little thing is based on actual experiences I’ve had. I mean, I did hire a girl to take the stats of my one on one basketball games. I mean, she was friends with us so it wasn’t out of left field. Otherwise, she didn’t resemble the character at all.

The Billy Joel situation happened in college. For real, a girl invited me over to see her Billy Joel collection and she only had Greatest Hits. So I was like, “Okay, I gotta use that you know?”

In essence, it’s incredibly realistic and my wife plays the girl I end up with. That’s not how I met her. But I definitely offered her a free DVD I’m sure shortly after I did meet her. (laughs)

B&S: I’ve totally had music moments like that that soured me on a date.

Matt: But you wouldn’t shun them, right?

B&S: I would. I ended up marrying someone that doesn’t listen to anything I like and she listens to a lot that I don’t like. So that’s maybe that’s true love right?

Matt: Opposites attract.

B&S: In that scene, you’re confronted with someone who experiences music differently than you. And you’re thinking, well, there are so many more albums than greatest hits. The Stranger has four out of ten songs being singles and like, seven of those nine are on the radio right now somewhere. Albums had so many singles then, like Rumors is all hits.

Matt: I was at a food truck place and “Dreams” was playing on the speakers and I was just like, “Man, this song they got it.” You know, sometimes I rail against spending too much time in the studio and perfecting things, but I’ll confess Lindsey Buckingham, he did a good job on that one. So it’s like, sometimes it’s worth it.

B&S: There’s like, maybe a self-inflicted pressure to like cool independent things and it doesn’t get more mainstream than Fleetwood Mac. But they’re so good.

Matt: It gets to the point where it’s so mainstream that suddenly it’s rebellious to like them, you know. I personally have a soft spot for early 80s easy listening because that’s all my parents had playing on the radio when I was growing up. I had no choice. Not that I’m known as being very edgy, but I’m even softer than my persona.

B&S: I grew up with my parents playing a lot of Barry Manilow.

Matt: I was afraid you’d look down on me! (laughs) I really love “Weekend In New England.” (sings) “When will I hold you again…”

On the flip side, I’m a big Bob Dylan fan. Unlike Fleetwood Mac, he’s very much let’s just go and try to capture some magic. For several reasons, I subscribe more to that approach when I’m making music. I don’t have the luxury of a sleek studio that I can use for months at a time. Luckily, you know, there are moments when a band just captures the magic on one take and that’s what I aim for mostly.

Maybe if I spend six weeks on it, maybe it would be 1% better, but that’s not a good use of six weeks.

B&S: How do you get everyone to be in your movies?

Matt: We were filming Boston Johnny with Kevin McGee. In all our movies, we tried to like, you know, pay him back any way we can. And so this time, he said, “I gotta close the pool after we film. Can I get a little help.” So, you know, we’ve filmed for four hours and then he gives us some nets and we’re skimming the pool. We’re dragging tarps and tying things together. And it was hilarious.

B&S: Kevin is a big star amongst fans of your films.

Matt: I only knew him a little while before we started filming. He’s a bodybuilder. So like, he’s an imposing force. He’s a tall guy. He’s athletic. And so we kind of work that into it and so often he gets to play the villain because of that. He can keep that straight face like nobody else and deliver a line but what some people might not know is that the rest of the time he’s joking. The way he’s portrayed on screen doesn’t really match the way he is.

We know what he’s capable of. People like him. And it’s fun to take a guy who lives out in the suburbs and be like, “We’re going to make you an independent movie superstar.” And it’s been happening!

He ended up flying down to New York for that screening on Thursday night. We had so much fun, because he’s been so generous with us with his time. So many years, just us showing up at his house, and he doesn’t get that much out of it, you know. But for him to see an almost full house loving it and then he’s up there doing the questions and answers and posing for pictures with people.

This is great. I’m so happy that he gets to see that because he’s not online that much. He’s not reading reviews or anything like that.

B&S: People were tweeting that he was coming to the screening.

Matt: It’s great. Why do we pay attention to Timothée Chalamet? Yeah, like he gets enough attention. Pay attention to Kevin McGee.

B&S: Do you still put out DVDs and CDs for people to find?

Matt: I mean, I’m running low. So I don’t do it quite as much as I used to. And frankly, like, you give someone a DVD and they’re like, “Oh, what do I want this thing? Like, is it streaming?”

I’ve definitely put down thousands of DVDs and CDs over the years. Ten to fifteen years ago, there weren’t many options of getting your stuff out there. So I’d go to where those weekly newspapers were, open it up and put a DVD in there. People that read those are into arty stuff but the response rate was very low.

Some people had gotten in touch with me and some got in touch with me like eight, ten or twelve years after the fact. You know, I got this DVD, it sat on my shelf for seven year and I finally watched it.

B&S: Do they give you advice on your movie like the guy in Local Legends?

Matt: That’s 100% a true story. 100% it actually happened. And I couldn’t. I mean, I was loving it as it was happening. I was like, “Oh, this is so great. I gotta put this in the movie some da.” Literally as he’s talking to me. Charlie and I were talking about it and people have no qualms about stating their opinion. Right? And yet when you’re trying to be nice, it’s even worse. When you can tell they hated it and they’re like, “Well, it definitely seems like some people would possibly enjoy the thing that you made.” Because they can’t say I liked it.

B&S: Like your relatives who gave you the book on how to make movies.

Matt: I was really happy with that. Just to be able to bring that back. And it’s funny to think that the businessman side of me is suddenly like, “You know what? We need a character arc.” I love that.

B&S: What’s next?

Matt: Yeah, we’re gonna keep it up. Definitely. I mean, we’re pretty much within days of being done with Boston Johnny and then editing. We’re doing a secret sequel next spring. I’ll won’t tell you what it is until May 20 when we premiere it at my extravaganza show. Nobody’s guessing it. It’s a sequel that no one’s expecting which is great. And then after, we’re doing Evil Spot in the second half of next year. And then Evil Puddle. I mean, just the title. It’s like, who cares what’s in the movie! Just to have made a movie called Evil Puddle, which was my wife’s suggestion. I was telling her about that Evil Spot and Magic Spot. And she was like, “What about an evil puddle?” I sent Charlie a text immediately! Charlie: We got to make a movie called Evil Puddle. (laughs)

It’s gonna be kind of a going back to the more ensemble Riverbeast style, you know, where it’s not just one evil puddle. It’s several and so we can check in with different characters. It’s going to have elements of a disaster movie. And I guess to have like, all these different characters in high drama, you have to get to the drama of each character as quickly as possible. We love that Hallmark TV movie style, like shorthand. And we’ve been studying that and studying disaster movies. They’re due for a revival, you know?

What we’ll usually do for something like that is my character will be the one who interacts with everybody, because I’m obviously always going to be there for filming. You write a scene that involves three people, like the odds of getting all three people in the same place at the same time are very slim. And then if you need those people for additional scenes, I mean…we’re not in our twenties anymore where our friends are just hanging out watching TV and we can show up at their house and be like, “Hey come out and do a scene.” Now they have to get babysitters. So it’s a lot different.

B&S: The secret is that the worst part of getting older is all the planning.

Matt: Yeah, it does. Absolutely. But one thing about making the movies is like, we wouldn’t see each other period without the movies.  I wouldn’t just say to my wife, “I’m gonna go walk around with Charlie.” He lives three hours away. I can’t tell her, “I’m gonna go spend a day walking in Connecticut with Charlie.” Like she’d be here taking care of the house and I’m leaving her to walk with your buddy. But if I say, “I’m going down to walk around with Charlie, but we’re gonna have cameras with us and filming scenes. Then it’s okay.”

B&S: The end of Heard She Got Married has a long walk away and it’s pretty heartbreaking. It really got to me.

Matt: We had a vague idea of doing that. When we were at the place, Charlie realized he could climb up the mountain or the hill to a certain level. It had the Cathedral building, a bunch of rocks and power lines. And with us growing up in a place like that, we knew the power lines are the places where kids hang out. It’s where you see Ozzy Osbourne spraypainted on the rocks. Charlie saw the place, knew he could shoot that and it matched the vibe. In the song, I’m even singing about wanting to leave town but not wanting to leave town so it matches.

B&S: Where should people go to get your movies?

Matt: You can go to Gold Ninja. They’re amazing and I’m a big fan. You can get Local LegendsDon’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! and Metal Detector Maniac from them.

We’re gonna get the most money if you purchase a movie on Vimeo. I think the most expensive ones are twelve bucks on Vimeo and then some of the older ones are a little cheaper. So if you want to support the cause, just get it to get it from Vimeo and just keep in mind, you probably spend $15 on movie tickets for a corporate movie and then they want you to buy the DVD when it comes out and then you might buy it again on a streaming service. You’re very supportive of corporate entertainment.

Somehow it feels different when you’re in a face-to-face, person-to-person situation. People sometimes need to be reminded to go the extra mile and that it’s okay to spend twelve bucks on a Vimeo. That represents a month of Netflix, I know, but you’re supporting independent creators and it’s handmade. That being said, we’re total suckers and we just want people to watch them. So if Tubi is your best option — Freaky Farley and Monsters, Marriage and Murder In Manchvegas are there — we do make a little bit of money off it.

If you can afford it, get it on Vimeo or Gold Ninja.

If you can’t afford it, check it out on TV or something and we’re grateful.

For more information on everything Matt Farley, visit the official Motern Media website.

Exclusive interview with Todd Sheets, director of Visual Vengeance’s new re-release Moonchild

Todd Sheets (Dreaming Purple NeonClownadoSorority Babes in the Dance-a-Thon of Death) has been making horror movies since 1985. He’s one of the directors that Visual Vengeance has decided to spotlight with their new line of shot on video craziness. The first release from Sheets on the label will be Moonchild, a mind-boggling, sprawling SOV horror/ sci-fi/ action/ martial arts epic.

This was a huge opportunity to speak to someone who has kept making his own unique take on horror movies for decades. I can’t tell you how excited I was to get to spend so much time speaking with Todd.

B&S About Movies: How did the Visual Vengeance releases happen?

Todd Sheets: I’ve known Rob for years and met him at Cinema Wasteland. We hit it off. And he really loves this stuff. You know, his office has posters from my movies in it — and other people’s too — and he collects things from this era. He loves it. He loves these movies. You can’t ask for a better deal than that. It’s not all about the money. It’s about doing a good job.

He’s just a laid back guy. He really cares about me. He cares about us as filmmakers. He cares about the people involved in the process and he cares about the movies.

You couldn’t ask for more because so many people today, when they look back on these things, they don’t like them very much. They’re cheap and grungy looking and were made for like forty-two cents. All of that is true.

I think we also got some pretty cool stuff coming out of that era. A lot of charm came out of that stuff and people were trying their hardest with no resources to make something good.

B&S: SOV is the last gasp of regional filmmaking where people that have no connection to Hollywood made whatever they wanted.

Todd: You’re absolutely right. The team I was working with — and still work with — in our hearts we want to entertain people. We have stories that we wanted to tell and we wanted to do the best we could on no money and no budget. We just were trying to give people a good time. That’s what it was all about.

B&S: Moonchild is really big for the budget. You’ve got a lot of locations. And a pretty huge story. There’s a lot happening in it.

Todd: We were a bit naive. You know, people nowadays would say you can’t do this and they would probably be discouraged because you know, we had like $300. We tried to tell an insane story for literally no money with all those costumes and locations and props. I don’t know what the heck we were thinking, but I’m kind of glad we pulled it off.

B&S: You didn’t know you couldn’t do it.

Todd:  I think we were just too stubborn to say no. We were gonna make this movie whether you like it or not kind of thing. And we did and it was a real team effort. We all pulled together to do it and I know everybody really cared and put a lot of passion and heart into it. For me, I consider my first real movie Zombie Bloodbath, even though that was from 93. But we had made a ton of movies before that and those are pretty bad. Moonchild was my first attempt to really stand up and say, “Hey, man, we’re gonna do something different. Something original, and I’m gonna put everything I’ve learned to the test here.”

I think we did that. From me down to the crew, the cast and everybody gave 110% all of the time.

B&S: Were you influenced by post-apocalyptic movies or did you just do your own thing?

Todd: The weird thing is I was influenced by the Mad Max rip offs more than Mad Max. I like the Italain stuff better like Warriors of the Wasteland. A little bit of that was creeping in there because I’m all about trying to pay homage to my past, but also, you know, I have my heroes, and a lot of my heroes were European filmmakers. They made stuff to play to drive-ins and indoor grindhouses and that’s what I loved.

I also loved werewolves. So I was like, “Hey, man, I’m gonna put together this weird stuff with some of these martial arts influences and this weird samurai stuff and then put in the kitchen sink.”

When I wrote the script, I saw the whole movie in my mind. I had these ideas I could see like on a big drive-in screen. I think we did it to varying degrees of success. We did okay, especially considering we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were kids, you know.

B&S: I think the Italians were the best at post-apocalyptic movies because they were just making westerns with cars instead of horses.

Todd: There’s heart and soul in those movies and they may have been done quick to make a buck, but they were made by people who really did care about the craft. Like, Lucio Fulci, even his worse movies, I can sit and watch them over and over because he knew what he was doing and he cared.

B&S: I hate when people don’t understand Fulci. They laugh at how long people wait to be killed or how long it takes a spider to eat someone’s face. And then they say, “These movies don’t make sense!”

Todd: As get to know his aesthetic, he’s giving you all these answers just in his own weird way. He’s my favorite Italian director and I was lucky enough to meet him one time because my friend Sage Stallone introduced me. That was a wonderful time and you’ll never get that experience again. You know, I got to watch one of his movies with him. So fantastic. And the things he was yelling out were so funny. People were yelling back at him to shut up and they didn’t realize that it was Fulci! They thought it was just some crotchety old guy in the back who wouldn’t shut up.

B&S: They were right! (laughs)

Todd: I loved him. He was definitely one of a kind. When I made House of Secrets, I was made it as a tribute to him. I got to work with Fabio Frizzi who did so many of those great soundtracks. That turned out to be a fantastic time. I just wanted him to do the theme song and he said, “Send me the script and send me the rough cut.”

And then I didn’t hear anything back.

I’m like, “Oh, God, he hates that. He’s not gonna do it.”

All of a sudden I hear back. He says, “Okay, I’m gonna do the whole movie for that same cost.”

He said that Fulci would be so proud of this movie and well, it was my homage to the Maestro and my big comeback after my heart attack and everything.

I almost died and that was my comeback movie. And I wanted it to be special. So I wanted Fabio to do the theme song and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. He was fantastic.

We did it on Skype at three in the morning. It was amazing.

B&S: What was it like to come back after being gone so long?

Todd: You have to be really dedicated and love the process and the story you’re trying to tell or you aren’t going to finish it because it’s an uphill battle. Sometimes a mountain depending on the project. Something like Moonchild was definitely a mountain but I had so many great people that we didn’t even realize we were climbing it. It was so much fun and so creative. I’m not saying it was easy but they made it seem easy because we were all pulling each other up that mountain.

B&S: I really liked Final Caller, too.

Todd: Thank you. Final Caller was weird because like we were on the verge of the COVID thing. We were right on the line. Yeah, we started it and then we had to finish it during COVID. And basically it was us being bored because we hadn’t done anything since we were locked down and I really was itching to do something but I didn’t want to deal with the whole Indiegogo thing of trying to raise money. So we did it for like $500 bucks on a credit card, you know, tried to make this thing the best we could possibly make it and I really liked it the way it turned out. I thought the performances were good and I was really happy with the lighting.

For me, I was looking at it from the standpoint of performances first. I want to make sure that I’ve shot it well, the composition is good, the lighting is good and that it doesn’t distract. I really liked the music and so I was really happy with the outcome. I was like, “Wow, this movie kind of has a story. I kind of like it.”

B&S: There’s a lot in there. I wasn’t expecting all of the relationships.

Todd: It was just a couple of sets, too. We had about five sets and the killer’s apartment, but I liked keeping it contained and intimate. I wanted to get to know these people and then I wanted to throw some twists just to kind of mess with you.

B&S: There’s a character turn that totally surprised me.

Todd: That was a surprise to me because when I was writing it, I didn’t know I was gonna do it. And then I was like, You know what? I think she’s she’s gonna be about half-cracked. And we’re gonna do this! I had kind of a crazy ex-girlfriend at the time and I was like, “You know what, what would be the 10th power of that crazy?” I took it and just threw it in there and it was like, “Wow, I really like that.”

So I kept it.

B&S: Do you let the characters dictate where they go?

Todd: Sometimes. You have to let the characters take the story sometimes away from you only because otherwise it feels contrived. It feels like you’ve almost done this to manipulate the story for your own good and sometimes I think the story doesn’t need to be manipulated. Let it go where it’s gonna go. If you fight with what’s natural, you’re gonna come up with a story and that’s why sometimes you’ll watch a movie and you think, “They were pushing the wrong way and it feels weird.”

That was Final Caller. I just wanted it to kind of go, you know? I wanted it to be as natural as possible and organic and I kind of felt like this is how it would go.

B&S: Your movies are authentic. I have an issue with a lot of modern horror because they get you to a certain point and then have no idea how to end.

Todd: That’s really true. I’ve noticed that too. I always give everyone credit for finishing a film but there are some modern horror films lately that I really feel like even on the scripted page how could they not have seen this whole film is hinging on something and now it doesn’t work because they’ve let it fall apart?

B&S: I feel like I wasted 90 minutes of my life.

Todd: It’s weird because I’m weird. I don’t ever like to put down anyone’s art but at the same time as a horror fan, I feel like can we get rid of the pretentious bullshit? I just want to go back to like enjoying a horror film without all the pretentious political overtones and this and that and all this stuff and I just want to see a movie where someone’s you know, I saw X and I thought it was great. But then I didn’t enjoy Pearl. I don’t know why. It just didn’t work with me.I

I felt it was kind of overlong and really long-winded and I just didn’t love Pearl. But I loved X. And I love the filmmaker Ti West. I just don’t know why that one didn’t work for me. Maybe it was too pretentious. There’s just so much of that art for art’s sake going on that I’m not sure how I feel.

I like Mia Goth too. She produced it. She wrote part of it. She did all this and she’s a great actress and she’s fantastic. But that whole movie stops for like a twenty-minute monologue. I just didn’t feel it.

I mean, I’ve been yelled at by people who say I’ve got too much dialogue in the movie and I’m like, “Whoa, hold on. I never had any twenty-minute speeches!”

B&S: Maybe you need that for the next movie.

Todd: (laughs) Maybe that’s it.

B&S: What I love about your films is that they remind me of the movies I watched in the 80s. Isn’t it strange that a movie like Hell Night came out in 1981 and it wasn’t like a top tier slasher and you watch it today and it’s way better than anything new?

Todd: Terror Train is like that. Fantastic movie. And, you know, I think we took it for granted at the time. All these like slashers that no one really even talked about during that time, like The Prowler, which is now a classic.

I frickin love that movie. I saw the theater twice and I just loved it. But no one knows really. Until now, of course, people bring it up but at the time no one liked it. There were ten people in the theater! So many were coming out at the same time, so you had Happy Birthday to MeMy Bloody Valentine, all these great movies all at once. Or even Savage Weekend.

Those movies had so much going for them even though they were cheap slasher movies. They were made by people that knew how to make a movie. Well, not all of them. (laughs) Like Don’t Go In the Woods. It’s kind of rough, but at the same time, I love that movie.

There was so much in the 80s and not just slashers. I mean, you have my favorite American director John Carpenter. He and Dean Cundy were a team from hell. They could do no wrong.

B&S: Dean Cundy made those movies look way more expensive than they were.

Todd: Gary Graver is another guy who could do that. He worked with Fred Olen Ray and he made those movies look like a million bucks.

I recently worked with Fred finally. We’ve known each other for years and I finally was gifted enough that he and I got to work together. He produced a project that we’re doing as a TV series and it’s like a throwback action movie. I’ll be talking more about in the future when I can. Like an urban action thing, kind of a throwback to the 70s, Dolomite and Foxy Brown and all that stuff.

We had such a good time and it was such a grueling shoot because of COVID and because of bad weather. We got nine and a half weeks behind because of rain and it was just a terrible situation. But we still had a great time and I learned so much. You know, I thought I knew something and then I did this thing and now I’m like, “Well, I didn’t know anything compared to now.”

Because every day on a set — like I’ve told everybody — you have to learn something new or else it’s a wasted day of your life on the set. So every day I learned something. I learned a bunch of new things on Final Caller even. And Fred was kind of helping me behind the scenes with some ideas on that too with the lighting and stuff.

We started working together on this other thing and it’s coming out soon and it’s gorgeous. It’s breathtaking. I’m very proud of what we did on that with almost no money. We lost most of our budget and I figured, well, I own all of my own equipment. Let’s just do it.

I’ve never taken a salary for anything I’ve ever done. Because I just figure with our budgets. If I take a salary, I just lost my monster.

I give everything I’ve got to give to these things.

B&S: Clownado was a success, right?

Todd: It’s weird because it was even on Entertainment Tonight. The thing was, we weren’t really trying to rip off anything. What happened with that was my co-worker and I were joking about titles for future movies. He and I just made Bone Hill Road.

He was like, you should make a clown movie because clowns are scary. Make a clown tornado. And I looked at him and said, “Holy shit. Clownado. That’s a cool title. I don’t know why I like it, but I do.”

I challenged myself to come up with a script for that title. We did an Indiegogo and wanted to see if we could get enough money to make it right. Well, we never did get enough money to do it right. (laughs)

We didn’t have the money for the miniatures because the miniatures were going to cost about $2,000. That was what killed us. We didn’t have enough money for the miniatures because it had to look real. You don’t want to look like a Play-Doh house. So I had to teach myself how to do visual effects and make a tornado.

I’ve never done anything like that. Filming and teaching myself how to use these programs to do all the tornado stuff and then when I got done, you know it’s not perfect, but I was kind of proud because it looks as good if not a little bit better than stuff I see on SyFy Channel.

B&S: And you got Linnea for it!

Todd: I’ve been friends with her for years. We did Bone Hill Road and had such a good time. I told her at the premiere that we’re going to work together. I’m gonna write a part that you’re really going to like.

I decided to write whatever happened to Spider (from Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama) and she had the best time. We even shot stuff where she was on a Harley that didn’t get into the movie. We really enjoy working together. She’s a really good person. We have a mutual love for animals.

B&S: Jean Silver is there too!

Todd: Yeah! I met her at Cinema Wasteland and hung out all weekend with her and 42nd Street Pete. I was fascinated with her. I wanted to put in a scene where she takes off her leg and beats a guy with it.

She’s incredible. She’s been through a lot in her life and she’s got an amazing story and to have gone through all that and come out with such positive energy, I just really have nothing but praise for her. I think the world of her.

B&S: What’s next?

Todd: There’s more stuff coming out with Visual Vengeance. The thirtieth anniversary of the Zombie Bloodbath trilogy is next year. Violent New Breed, which is my personal favorite of my older movies because it has Rudy Ray Moore. That one has been meticulously recreated and re-edited.

Also, people are gonna love this: the original Goblin. I was able to go back and find the original master tapes. So that’s been restored. Probably about 90% of the film, because a couple of the tapes were so bad that they just were breaking apart. I couldn’t even use them. But that film has been completely restored to its original version that nobody’s ever seen. And it’s gorgeous. There are going to be like three versions of the movie on there. And Zombie Rampage, my first movie, we’ve got that in the can and that’s got like four different versions! The original version was called Blood of the Undead and I went back and meticulously was able to put that back together. You know, I had an old workprint and I could just go over that with the original footage and make it beautiful and fix it.

I also did a movie that no one has really seen called Whispers of the Gloom with Art Bell.

B&S: Woah! Really!

Todd: You know that famous Area 51 call? This was our take on that. If you like the old wild cat line calls, you’ll love the movie because it’s based all around what if that call was real. We created this crazy movie and were the first micro-budget group to do full creatures and CGI.

We had some really cool spaceships and creatures and stuff in the script. And some of them are models and some of them are CGI, but it looks pretty good.

Every one of these is going to have meticulous behind-the-scenes stuff we’ve been putting together. I’ve been pulling out footage I found, old news footage of Rudy Ray Moore when he was in town filming with us and just lots of cool stuff.

These things are as packed as Moonchild if not more and you know all the cool stuff that’s on the Moonchild disk, the documentaries and everything. We’ve got that on all of these and they’re all beautifully remastered.

That takes a lot of time when you go back to those cameras, because you have to match frame by frame all the cuts. And I just want it to look as good as possible on blu ray and really take advantage of that format. Because these may have been shot on beta cam or a three-quarter inch or hi-8. That doesn’t mean we can’t make them look as good as possible by taking that original first-generation camera master, matching that. It’s never going to look better ever.

I’m not a fan of Goblin at all. I just own it but I know there are people that do love it. And because of that I took the time to go in and reconstruct this original version of Goblin for everybody. And those are all coming out with Visual Vengeance. And then we’ve got a werewolf and space movie that we’re working on for the future. It’s going to start shooting pretty soon. And then this new series which as soon as I can, I’ll be letting the cat out of the bag. I’m under a little bit of a gag order because we’re doing it for a major streaming company. That is a big deal. I think people are going to be crazy when they find out what that is.

B&S: You’re still into making movies.

Todd: I’m excited. I love the fact that I’m telling a story that someone is enjoying because I’m giving something back. When I was a kid I’d have a bad day and you know you would go to the movie and watch Phantasm or Slithis or whatever and forget about it for a couple hours. At least I did and I hope to do that for someone else. That’s the whole reason I’m doing this and it’s really great to find out that some people get that escape from my movies.

FANTASTIC FEST: Unidentified Objects (2022) and interview with director Juan Felipe Zuleta and musician Sebastian Zuleta

Peter (Matthew Jeffers) is an alien in so many worlds based on how people see both his dwarfism and sexual identity as a gay man. Therefore, he avoids nearly everyone. But his neighbor Winona (Sarah Hay, The Mortuary Collection) pushes past that and asks him for a ride to Canada to meet up with the aliens that abducted her in her teens and go back home with them. The money she offers helps.

Director Juan Felipe Zuleta and writer Leland Frankel have put together a film that defies expectations. Sure, it’s a road trip where two mismatched people come together and learn from each other, yet it’s so good as works its way to its conclusion, with strange moments out of reality as Peter meets an alien cop or how he comes to understand Winona’s sex work career.

Neither character is presented as perfect and that’s what’s perfect about this movie. And the audio atmosphere created by Zuleta’s brother Sebastian gives this a sound all its own in the same way that the film looks like nothing else. Jeffers and Hay are such a perfect match as two people who should not be. I wish I had more time to spend with their characters, which is the mark of a great movie.

I had the opportunity to speak to director andco-writer Juan Felipe Zuleta and Sebastian Zuleta, who scored the film. It really added a lot to my enjoyment of this film.

B&S About Movies: One of the things that was really striking in youyr film was that there’s a lot of ways to look at aliens, whether it’s people that are outsiders within their culture because of their bodies or their choices. Was that intentional?

Juan Felipe Zuleta: Yes, absolutely. It’s funny that you say that because Sebastian and I are from born and raised in Colombia and we both had green cards for some time that had a number that identified us as aliens. Official aliens of the United States. (laughs)

Since then, I’ve been incredibly interested in the word alien as away to categorize outsiders, misfits, people who don’t belong. People who are alien to a territory or a place and yet, there’s so many of them. Unidentified Objects is a about those aliens in the world, those on Earth and those out of Earth. It’s kind of like an exploration of that what that means.

B&S: There’s a real feeling of the other here. Some things are real or maybe not real. Like when the alien cop pulls them over, you wonder, did it happen?

Juan: That’s definitely a language that was initiated from the script. I wanted that ambiguity to reinforce the way we filmed it and also come through the music escape that my brother Sebastian created. It was the tone in general. I do feel I tend to love movies that have ambiguity and that manage to keep that tone throughout.

B&S: The music is perfect.

Sebastian Zuleta: It was all tailor made. The process was by far — I’ve worked with my brother on many, many projects since like his very first short film — and this is by far the best collaboration I’ve had with with with him. Just seeing him grow as a director, making a feature but also just the process. Since from the onset from when I got the script, I read it and I started already talking to my brother and brainstorming about sounds and where do we want to go. And then aliens!

I’ve never really worked with analog synthesizers so I just dove in and started getting a few. I was sending sounds to Juan and getting feedback during production. By the time they finished, we had a sizeable library of original sounds for the film. We had themes and ideas and figured out where they should go. This allowed my brother while he was working with the editor to place some things and have anchors throughout.

Then, I got some cuts and started writing to picture.

One of the things I enjoyed most was finding out whenever you’d use an adjective to describe music, everyone still intrerpreted it differently. Even though I’ve known my brother all my life, like how we see and hear music is different. Hwo can we fine tune and understand one anotehr better? So if he says,  I want it to be dark or emotional, what does that mean in music? What does cold mean? What chord progressions can do that?

It was fun to keep digging deeper into our relationship not only as brothers but as filmmakers.

B&S: You also have a famous song in the bar scene.

Juan: The surreal elements are inspired by David Lynch, like how he used music in Blue Velvet. I knew from the script that I wanted to use Roy Orbison, just as Lynch did in his films. “Crying” was actually the song we used on set. It’s just an emotion and yes, that’s the name of the song, but there are so many laters behind it. It was perfect for the tone we were trying to accomplish.

There are other songs that are alien-like. I wish we could have had some David Bowie in the film, but there is some Electric Light Orchestra.

B&S: Other than Lynch, who influences you?

Juan: So particularly in this film, I think Lynch obvious. A little bit of Luis Buñuel. There are a lot of movies in the road trip genre but I love Little Miss Sunshine and Y tu mamá también. They are two of my favorite movies ever, especially Y tu mamá también because it isn’t overdesigned or overedited.

To get an alien point of view or an elevated state, I decided to shoot with anamorphic lenses so then I started to stylize it a little bit more. That comes from influences like the Coen Brothers. If you look at The Big Lebowski there’s some sequences there that inspired me.

What I like about Lynch is the little messages, the dark comedy, the dry humor. The characters seem to be super self-conscious and self-aware about. their own circumstances. So it’s not always funny, but his movies seem to be more tragedies that just happen to be funny. (laughs)

Last, but not least, the ambiguity that we spoke about earlier, includingthe tone of the music there’s a lot of inspiration there from Jóhann Jóhannsson, like how you can allow the audience’s imagination to play detective and make the music part of the storytelling.

My brother went to the NASA library as well, so there are times in this movie when you are hearing what it sounds like to be in space. He processed the sounds of what it sounds like on Mars and they’re in the movie.

B&S: Have you guys ever taken a road trip together?

Juan: I was probably like seven. Our parents had a 1994 Toyota and we drove from our hometown to the Colombian coast to a city called Santa Marta which is a fourteen hour frive. It was very much Y tu mamá también. (laughs)

Sebastian: All our luggage was on the top with the surfboards. (laughs)

Juan: I want to say that my brother is a genius. He would go off in his little world and then he would email me sounds at night and I would be like like a little kid opening a gift and Christmas.

(To Sebastian) Every time you send me stuff and that was so special.

We poured our hearts into it and I hope it comes through.

Sebastian: My brother is the best brother in the world. It really is a blessing to have such a talented brother. He’s a serious filmmaker and I get to work with him. I feel lucky.

Exclusive interview with Jonathan Mumm, director of Blood of the Chupacabras and Revenge of the Chupacabras

Visual Vengeance has just unleashed a double feature of director Jonathan Mumm’s shot on video movies Blood of the Chupacabras and Revenge of the Chupacabras. I was so excited to sit down with Jonathan and learn how these movies came to be.

B&S About Movies: What has it been like re-releasing your movies with Visual Vengeance?

Jonathan Mumm: It’s really, really nice. They’ve been available streaming but to have them come out with the poster art and all these extras and commentary tracks is very, very cool.  It’s like a low budget horror movie version of a Criterion Collection release

B&S: How did you get into directing from acting?

Jonathan: I started in broadcasting but always wanted to be an actor. My uncle, Claude Akins was a successful actor and he let me stay with him and his family when I went to Hollywood.  I got small parts in big things and big parts in small things and for awhile made my living as a voice-over artist.  I thought my big break had come when Brookside Winery hired me to do a series of radio commercials for them.  They had never advertised before and told me if sales went up, they would hire me full-time to be their spokesperson. Well, that kind of a regular job is the Holy Grail for commercial voice-over actors.  So, the production company that made the spots and I kept watch on how the company’s sales were going.  They went up 14% and we started celebrating, ready for the call that would tell us when our day job was going to start.  That call never came.  Instead, one day I’m driving home listening to the radio and here’s an ad for Brookside Winery voiced by none other than Vincent Price!  I guess they figured if sales would go up with a nobody, they’d really go up with a movie star somebody! I went back to broadcasting.  

I did keep my hand in Hollywood, though, taking those reporter parts you often see in movies and TV shows when crews would shoot on location in Sacramento where I worked as a reporter for a TV station.

And then one day I read an article on this Puerto Rican-Mexican-South American myth about a creature that supposedly killed goats, sucking their blood. It was called the Chupacabras which, in Spanish, literally means “sucker of goats” (hence the “s” at the end).

B&S: And that moment inspired these movies?

Jonathan: It was an editorial taken from the New York Times and it was about this creature — at this point no one in the United States had really heard of it — and I thought that if somebody made a movie about it, they could be the first to showcase a brand new monster. So why couldn’t that be me?

I wrote a script and John Alexander Jimenez, one of the guys I worked with, had a 16-millimeter camera and he came on as our DP. We shot a couple of scenes that we used to find investors. We knew once people saw these scenes and recognized the potential, they would just throw money at us.  Of course, that didn’t happen.

Nobody seemed interested in dipping into their bank accounts.  I did think it was a good sign when one of the investors asked for a copy of the script, but then he said, “I want to give it to my son because he really likes these movies.” (laughs)

We put the film cans on a shelf for a year because I didn’t have the money to finish it on my own. And then Mike Strange, one of the engineers at the TV station where I worked, came up to me and asked, “Are you ever going to finish your movie?”

I told him I wanted to but didn’t have the money.  Well, he had just bought one of the early digital video cameras,  a Canon XL 1. He said, “I’ll loan you the camera to finish shooting your movie on one condition. When you’re done, you teach me how to use it!”

I said, “Sure. We can do that!” And suddenly the movie was back on.

B&S: So the whole inspiration came from articles you read on the Chupacabras.

Jonathan: Yeah, it really was that! Once I had read this editorial, I looked up everything I could about the Chupacabras and threw it all into the script.  Some viewers didn’t like the fact that I tied it up with earlier sightings of a creature called the Mocha Vampire, but actually that’s part of the legend in Puerto Rico.  So is the Mago, the white witch. 

I’ve always been into low budget, schlocky horror movies since I was a kid.  I didn’t want to make a modern day gory horror film. I wanted to make a throwback to the old Roger Corman drive-in movies I got a kick out of back in the 60s.

B&S: That’s the Corman influence I thought I saw. It’s just as much about the town as it is about the monster!

Jonathan: There’s that sequence in there where they go down the river and they’re in that old World War Two vehicle, the amphibious duck.  Well, the reason that that’s even in there is because the fellow who owned it, Mike Mattos, had a military vehicle and tank collection he would loan out to Hollywood.  His vehicles were in the Robert Mitchum TV miniseries War and Remembrance and the movie The Second Civil War.  He told me he had a friend who had a yacht we could use for our scene. So we show up. No friend. No yacht. And he says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got something.”

And here comes this amphibious duck. (laughs)

B&S: The second movie feels more like a traditional monster movie.

Jonathan: That’s due in large part to the way our distributor advertised the first movie. One of the actors in the movie — Kevin Hale, who has gone on to become quite a successful movie editor these days in Hollywood — kept checking their web site for signs the movie was coming out. He called me and said, “Well, there’s a Chupacabras movie on the website but it doesn’t look like our movie. It doesn’t even have the same title.”

It was our movie! The cover of the DVD had this horrible-looking, hideous creature, you know? And they’re giving you the impression that you’re about to see a really gory movie. Ours was tongue in cheek, this was out for blood!

I do think a lot of people were disappointed that the movie they watched did not quite match the advertising.

Now I admit, if we had seen their drawing before we made the movie, I think we would have made the monster look more like that!  Still, it was in keeping with our Roger Corman approach.  I mean, how many eyes do you think his The Beast with a Million Eyes really had? Now reaction online may have been vicious, but interestingly all the print reviewers seemed to get a kick out of it including Fangoria Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, Mick Martin’s DVD and Movie Guide and even a punk newspaper called The New York Waste.

In the midst of all the bad internet attention though, I realized other low budget independent movie makers might find themselves in the same boat, so I wrote an article called On Getting a Bad Review that was published by Indy Slate Magazine.  And a few months later one of the actors in the film, Mark Halverson, asked me, “Do you think the distributor would be interested in a sequel?”

Almost to spite all the naysayers I wrote to the distributor and asked if they’d be interested in part two? Well, boy, I’ll tell you what, they must have made some money off our movie because I got an answer right away.  They even sent a letter of intent.

For the second film, we actually had a production schedule. We actually had a production budget. We actually held auditions for the roles. It’s still super, super low budget and done really fast, but our computer effects guy, Rob Neep, went to town on the monster which this time looks like the monster on the cover of the first movie. We also used better, more sophisticated equipment and 16×9 framing.

B&S: You answered your critics.

Jonathan: The monster appears a lot in the second one because of people complaining how little it appeared in the first movie. I wasn’t sure how effective the monster was in the first movie so I limited its appearance.

Oh — you know in the first movie when the monster bites the landlord? That was a head that we’d had made to decide if we liked the way a rubber monster suit might look. Our make up artist, Mike Arbios, said he could make the suit for the amazingly low price of $800 which didn’t seem all that amazingly low to me. So I said, “Go ahead and make the head first.” It looked great. But it didn’t have room for someone to put their head in it, it just had a small hole at the bottom of the neck. He said, “Oh, it’s not the real head, it’s just a mock up.” Well, I paid $75 for it.  When you make a movie for as low a budget as this one, you can’t afford to pay $75 for a mock up.  We used it like a puppet for that scene!

Our main set in the second movie was the Preston Castle which as the Preston School of Industry was the first boys’ reformatory in California. It was built in 1890 and in use up to the 60s. There were a lot of famous wards of the state that went to the Preston School of Industry including country singer Merle Haggard and actor Rory Calhoun.  After it closed down, it was pretty much abandoned.  In later years, a non-profit group, the Preston Castle Foundation bought it and has been working for years to refurbish it.  But back when we shot there, it was still a condemned building. The first day we were delayed getting there to check it out and didn’t arrive until after sunset. The electricity wasn’t on and I’m walking through this creepy place with a flashlight when a bat comes flying right at me.

When we came out to shoot, we fixed up the rooms with furniture we bought at thrift stores and even wallpapered some of the walls. It looked good, but no going upstairs. Watch out for huge holes in the floors of upstairs rooms! We call it the Hagerthy Psychiatric Institution in the movie which is kind of an inside joke.  It’s named after an old Hollywood pal of mine, Mike Hagerthy. We did an episode of the Movin’ On TV show together and plays at the Glendale Center Theatre.

I think Blood of the Chupacabras was the first movie ever shot at the Preston Castle, but it’s been in at least a few low budget movies since and even some TV shows like Ghost Adventures.

B&S: Any plans to return for more stories of the chupacabras?

Jonathan: I don’t know.  I’ve dabbled around with an idea for a third. It would be much different than the first two. But I ask myself, you know, since those are the only two movies I ever directed do I really want my legacy to be that all I ever did were Chupacabras movies?

By the way, if you’d like to see more of the crazy things that happened behind the scenes, check out the extras on the Blu Ray and visit my website: shootingchupacabras.com

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SLAUGHTER DAY FILMMAKERS BLAKE AND BRENT COUSINS

Slaughter Day may be thirty years old but it feels fresher and more original than any movie that’s come out in 2022. I had the amazing opportunity to chat with its creators, Brent and Blake Cousins, and discover they put their lives — and the lives of their friends — on the line to create their own blend of zombies, kung fu and great smelling gore, as well as how it rose from the grave to make its way to blu ray from Visual Vengeance.

B&S About Movies: So how did you get started making movies?

Brent Cousins: We had this new technology and we realized that we can actually make something out of a consumer camera and yeah, it shot like a potato but we wondered, “What’s the best thing to start experimenting with?” The horror genre, like all these other big directors started in.

So if we make a horror movie, we need a bad guy. We don’t have really much material in our neck of the woods here in Hawaii and as far as studios are concerned, anybody involved in any kind of moviemaking does not exist on the islands. We had to figure it out ourselves.

The idea was this bad guy was named John Jones and to figure out who he was, we kind of went to our deepest recesses because we were pretty traumatized with movies like Halloween. But we always wondered, “Why don’t they just cut this guy into pieces so he never comes back and be done with it?”

John Jones could still reattach and reanimate and be the ultimate bad guy but in our backyard.

And that’s how we started making our films.

B&S: So when was this?

Brent: I think we started in 1986. We were about 16 years old and started bringing in our classmates or friends. We had a lot of time on our hands and it’s a good way to build friendships by saying, “Hey guys, we’re making this movie. Come down here to the big island and let’s have fun with all these abandoned buildings.”

And when we had the first video done and showed it, that was it. Our friends just couldn’t get enough of it.

B&S: So how did you come up with the effects? Were you reading the Dick Smith and Tom Savini books?

Blake Cousins: We never heard of those books, you know? We just worked with magic when we were kids and performed these magic shows. Parents, friends, whoever would come over for dinner, we’d create these illusions.

We grew up on the beach so we had access to digging holes and figured out how to bury people up to their heads and create this illusion of beheading. We already knew how to do magic tricks, but now we had to figure out how to show the impact, separation and blood splatter all at the same time, and do it all in one camera shot. It was a technical challenge but it just needed a little bit of ingenuity.

We had a lot of gore wrapped around the neck and torso but we’d heard that some movies used real animal guts and we didn’t want to attract flies. It’s going to smell disgusting. So is ketchup. But we had this abandoned house and everything was falling apart and we shredded this couch, shredded the foam and mixed in our concoction of Kool-Aid powder, paint and water. We figured out a non-toxic way of making gory movies.

B&S: That’s way better than how I learned, Karo food syrup, peanut butter and red food coloring.

Brent: When someone gets punched in our movies, we liked to have blood spray out of their mouths. We had enough strawberry Kool-Aid and everyone was looking forward to getting punched in the mouth because it tasted so good.

It was crazy because you look and there’s all this gore but it smells good.

Blake: The gore smells like strawberries.

B&S: You’re ahead of the Texas guys like Tobe Hooper and Bret McCormick who just used guts.

Blake: Strawberry Kool-Aid is the way to go.

B&S: I got the sense watching Slaughter Day that you got different influences culturally on the islands than we got on the mainland.

Brent: We grew up in a sugar plantation in a community that started in the 1870s. A lot of traditions exist here because a lot of immigrants came to the plantations to work. We grew up around a lot of people from the Philippines, Japan, Portugal and the Hawaiian culture.

Every Friday night there will be this thing called Black Belt Theater, so we’d stay up late at night and look forward to it so much. We’d just stay up and watch these Chinese kung fu movies.

Blake: These Chinese directors always had blood coming out of people’s mouths during the action sequences!

Brent: We were definitely influenced by those films, like Master Killer. That was one of the best kung fu movies out there and it was such a big influence because everyone in it had superpowers, they could fly 12 to 15 feet up trees and do these acrobatics. So we tried to throw that in there.

If you see somebody get hit, they’re getting bounced by this huge industrial inner tube. It’s subtle, but it has some extra effort in that it makes things like when John Jones throws people look so much better because it’s all in camera and it’s real. You’re seeing it in real time in front of the camera with no strings attached — someone is getting thrown five feet into the air or slammed against a wall!

A lot of it comes from Black Belt Theater. And in Hawaii, growing up there we were minorities so we had a lot of fights in public school. We brought that to the table.

B&S: It feels like you had everyone putting their life on the line.

Blake: We just watched it for the first time in probably 20 years the other night. And we were looking at how much we abused ourselves! There are so many times where we’re landing on the ground and not cushions. Throwing ourselves up against walls, falling off things, fighting on a moving flatbed truck!

Brent: And I was hanging off the edge of the truck, getting those shots and that was pretty wild.

Blake: We’re lucky no one got hurt.

B&S: Were your parents upset that you used the family camera?

Brent: Not at all! They bought the camera exclusively for us to start to experiment. Actually, we had to go through a couple! We destroyed one during the first couple of days of shooting! We were really happy that we had this super VHS technology. So we’re going with super VHS and we have this fisheye on it because we wanted to kind of emulate Robert Rodriguez, so we’re using that and following John Jones on this tracking shot and boom, the camera gets destroyed in five minutes. And then on another shot, I wasn’t paying attention and almost dropped off the rocks and that would have been two cameras in one day.

B&S:  I was really astounded by the camera placement. It’s well beyond what someone just learning how to make a movie should be able to do. Who were your influences?

Brent: Sam Raimi, Rodriguez, John Carpenter. hat’s what we wanted. We didn’t want to be normal with any of our shots.

Blake:  I grew up reading comic books and I’m an artist myself, so I was for our camera to frame things the same way as comic book panels.

B&S: Like in the truck fighting scene, the camera is all the way to the right and under the truck and it just creates such a dynamic framing.

Brent: I think a thing that is amazing to me today is that we had to make our own camera cranes and Dolly systems because they weren’t really available on the consumer market. The internet didn’t exist. So we had to build a tracking system and dollies, but there was one, in particular, we created for the shot you’re referencing. We had to develop the camera operation where we had Styrofoam sliders on poles and then duct tape the camera to this jury-rigged system.

Blake: We’d each be holding a side of the pole and could move and slide it and get those shots with it.

Brent: We’d talk back and forth as we did it and create this dynamic look, but to get it right it was kind of a little like ballet dancing! Like now, there’s the gimbal stabilizer but everything is preset in cameras. We were doing those things with our own tools and SVHS camera.

B&S: When you watch an older film, you can tell their budget by the aerial shots and today, everyone has one.

Blake: Everyone has a drone shot now so you kind of avoid them!

B&S: What else inspired you?

Brent: Big Trouble In Little China was big.

Blake: We won a John Carpenter award! This magazine called Video Review had a movie contest that we were unaware of and one of teachers sent Slaughter Day. And three months after he sent it, we won this contest. That was also inspiring and gave us more reason to go on, two kids in middle school in Hawaii somehow won a contest in a magazine published in New York.

B&S: You mentioned that this was all pre-internet, too.

Brent: It’s easier to make films today. But with everything being so accessible, people aren’t trying as hard as we did. There might be a missing element of filmmaking today, some lazy filmmaking because we did so much without all this technology thirty years ago. Then again, with the budget, it’s hard to find dedicated actors like we did.

B&S: How did the movie get to Visual Vengeance?

Blake: We considered that it was never going to be seen again. We had it on our master tape and it was collecting mildew for 28 years and then get this call from Rob from Wild Eye. He did his research!

Brent: We had no idea what Visual Vengeance was going to do with the packaging. They said they needed us to maybe do commentary, so we shared some history, but man, they went crazy with the extras. A poster, a sticker, the cover art looks so good…

Blake: It’s even playing at Nitehawk Cinema and we’re going to do a live Zoom to take questions from the audience.

B&S: I love everything Visual Vengeance has released because these movies are like the last of regional cinema. People like you guys, so far away from the mainland and filled with energy and influences unlike anywhere else and you made an artistic vision that is unique.

Brent: Watching it again and yeah, the movie is all action sequences but at the core, I think there’s a story in there. We were impressed looking back and surprised.

Blake: How did 58 minutes of running time somehow add up and we get this whole story? We need to go take notes on the original and have that same energy if we ever do a reboot.

Brent: Let’s not overthink it. Obviously, step it up and even though we’ve come a long way since then, we’ve still never put down the camera and we’re editing over 31 years later. Our techniques now are at another level.

Maybe it’s like how you go from Evil Dead to Evil Dead 2. You repurpose the first act in the first few minutes and then keep it going.

It’s just like man, I felt engaged watching since 20 years ago seen it since the last time I saw it. There is something kind of special to this movie.

Blake: And all the angles and the editing that was involved. And there’s another edit there that was put into this sequence and shoot I don’t even remember!

Also: I’ve already seen some people say that they can hear us talking! (laughs) When we sent the audio, we had a mono track that didn’t have us giving direction, but they went with the mixed one and well, you can hear us! “Go! Go!”

I think it’s kind of interesting because you kind of feel to get into the director’s head and the shot that we’re trying to get.

B&S: That’s what I really liked about it. I thought that it was you know, that’s just part of the charm of it.

You guys have made a name for yourself in documentaries as well.

Brent: Over the past 14 years, our YouTube channel Third Phase of the Moon has gotten around 800,000 subscribers and millions of views. And what we do is we speak to actual UFO witnesses and let them share their videos and their stories.

Blake: So like, you’re in Pittsburgh. You film a UFO and say, “Nobody is watching this on my YouTube channel.” We’ll share it, if it’s good, and give you credit. What we do is we get their permissions and we share, discuss, enhance and analyze their UFO videos. We’re pretty much the number one channel and we’ve also done these documentaries and we have access to top UFOlogists, politicians, experts, astronauts, you name it.

We have one video on Amazon Prime, Countdown to Disclosure: The Secret Technology Behind the Space Force and Above Top Secret and these are the biggest documentaries on there and iTunes. Not just in the genre, but on both services.

Brent: It’s pretty amazing that two guys in Hawaii will go shoot a documentary for seven days, edit it for ten days and we’re beating Academy Award-winning documentaries. Our budget is small but the budget is high! We just wrapped up a new one, UFO Endgame Disclosure in Washington, DC a few weeks ago. It’s been a really good ride.

Blake: YouTube is incredible too and given us such an opportunity. We want to go down in history as being the people behind disclosure, whether that’s finding out that there’s nothing or that there is something extraterrestrial in nature. That’s our mission.

We prove disclosure, we got our feet wet with fake Kool-Aid blood and now maybe it’s the time to reboot Slaughter Day.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Catherane Skillen, director of AVA: A Twist In the Road

I really loved the movie AVA: A Twist in the Road and keep talking it up to people. It left me with so many questions, so I had to speak to its creator. You can watch this film on Tubi. To learn more, visit the official Facebook page.

B&S About Movies: What I really liked about your movie is that it doesn’t feel like any other movie that I’ve seen this year. It doesn’t feel like a Hollywood movie. Instead, it feels very personal and very much from the heart. How much of you is in the movie?

Catherane Skillen: It is not autobiographical. Over the years I’ve observed people who depend on a partner,  you know…whether it’s a married person depending on their spouse, an adult child,  or a significant other, and they end up at the caregiver’s beck and call .

I could never understand how someone could give up their right to live their own life and reach their own potential. What do they have to give up? I mean, I think part of it is, of course, the financial reason…not having to work…having an easy life…being able to buy whatever you want, for instance.  But on the other hand, you sacrifice yourself in some ways because one is so dependent. That was one of the questions, or dilemmas, I had while writing this.

B&S: How hard was it to do a million different jobs on this movie?

Catherane: (laughs) It is really, really, really hard. And I did it in two different periods because I didn’t have the money. So, I did the first half with the cameraman and then the second half a couple years later with a different cameraman and different cameras (the first one was the Sony A7S and the second one was the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K).

My cameraman helped me a lot in terms of setting up the scenes because I was in those scenes when we filmed them. We had monitors but the monitor broke for the first shoot, so I wasn’t able to watch. It’s also so fast. We had to work so fast because of the time allotted for the locations with a lot of pages to shoot. I was really fortunate about some of these locations that were given to me, like the condo that the couple lived in. That wonderful, gorgeous condo with all the art. The owners just let me use it. We were there for four days and they told us that they were going on vacation and that we could use it only while they were gone. Then, their friends and family said, “Are you out of your mind letting this person come in with equipment and you aren’t there?” But they held firm, gratefully.

The art studio was actually two separate garages, a one-car garage and a two-car garage that were at the back of a property. The woman who owned the space had rented them out to two artists who allowed us to film there.  I  think the art studio is gorgeous and worked really well. Now, it’s no longer there. The house has been sold. The condo is no longer available either,  also sold. It’s all gone. We were so fortunate.

B&S: What was going on in your life to inspire this?

Catherane: I’m an actress and I wasn’t working. I’d always heard everybody say, “Make your own movie.” I had this idea for a really long time and started working on it, but I just didn’t really believe in myself and I didn’t know how I would film it. I didn’t know how to get the money to do it, and so I was kind of a dilettante about it.

I worked on it in dribs and drabs and kind of began to save a little bit of money. I had been telling myself I’d make it for years,  but didn’t. I finally got to the place where I thought, “If I don’t really jump in and do this, I could die before I do it,  and  how would I feel if I did not accomplish this?” I didn’t want to have regrets at my last moment.

So that really got me in gear and I really worked hard for two years to put this together.

B&S: You did acting before this, right?

Catherane: My first job was on Columbo. I played a waitress in the Jack Cassidy episode where he’s a magician. People are always…like…contacting me and saying, “Oh my gosh, you’re so beautiful”, which is nice to hear but they seem to be confusing me with the blonde assistant. I have to tell them, “No, I was the brunette waitress.” (laughs)

B&S: What was your intention with the ending?

Catherane: There’s that bracelet that Ava said she would never take off. It’s a symbol of their love and connection. Through her journey, she finally gets to the place where she’s ready to let it go. I see it as the beginning of a new chapter in her life, a whole new road ahead.

I think the big motivator in turning her life around was the promise she made to her mother. You know, as her mother was dying, the promise she made, and she always felt guilty about that.  So, hopefully, that came out. I was trying to reinforce that without getting too heavy-handed.

You can watch AVA: A Twist in the Road on Tubi and for free on Indie Rights Movies after October 14. Visit Catherane’s YouTube Channel to learn more.