Exclusive interview with Jason Trost

Jason Trost is the director, writer and star of movies like The FP and All Superheroes Must Die, as well as their sequels FP 2: Beats of RageAll Superheroes Must Die 2: The Last SuperheroFP 3: Escape from Bako and the new FP 4VZ. From dance dance revolutioning post-apocalyptic battles to scarred and embattered superheroes, Jason has brought some amazing films to the screen. I had a blast speaking with him and was thrilled to learn that he’s a filmmaker that really understands his audience and craft.

B&S About Movies: What does it feel like to make a fourth FP movie? You’ve created your own cinematic universe.

Jason Trost: Yeah, somehow for better or worse. It just keeps going. And now I think I’m just too far deep to quit. (laughs)

B&S: I read that the original idea was that The FP sounded like The OC. And now, a decade later, you’ve outlived that reference and have moved on to even bigger and better Armageddons.

Jason: Oh, absolutely. I feel like with each movie, well, they’re all parodies, so to speak. They’re all satirical, parodying new genres and new movies every single time. So the joke just continues to evolve. At this point, the same characters are almost in completely different worlds every time.

B&S: What movie is it this time?

Jason: Obviously, a lot of Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Then there was definitely the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, Romancing the Stone, things like that. I definitely want this to be a high adventure, going after an artifact movie. I mean, the two main characters are a man and a woman who bicker with each other about their relationship.

B&S: The first film felt like almost all guys and now it’s a relationship movie.

Jason: I’m growing as a person like the characters are growing. I think that’s just kind of inevitable.

B&S: I’ve always liked spiritual sequels more than sequels.

Jason:  I just don’t ever want to make the same one twice. I think a lot of franchises really get into that problem, where they’ve just started making the same movie over and over again, but slightly different. Yeah, I know there’s a lot of people that weren’t upset that each one wasn’t just like Rocky where it’s like just another guy to beat up. But I’m like, “That’s gonna get really boring after like two or three of these. You can’t do that forever, guys.”

B&S: You’ve grown up with the series, as it’s been twenty years since you really got started, right?

Jason: It’s fully been 20 years now because I was writing the shorts and coming up with the original things way back when I was 16. And now I’m 36. So yeah, 20 years.

B&S: Are you excited to come back to The FP?

Jason: Definitely. Because every time there’s no rules. I can really just kind of do what I want with it. The only rule per se of this franchise is that each one has to be more ridiculous and the stakes have to be higher every time. If I can do that I can pretty much do whatever I want. I think that’s kind of what I’ve built and set up with this franchise. If you’re still here at this point, you kind of know that’s the deal. Every time it gets to be fresh because they get to go on an entirely new adventure. So I’m excited for that. I’m trying to force myself to make something in between The FB four and five. Something that’s completely different just because I’ve been doing these stories for almost 10 years now. I’d like to just take a second, because I also know that if I go in and make the next one, one day I’ll wake up and I’ll be 45 and will have made 20 of these movies. (laughs) But seriously, I just need some space for a second.

B&S: What’s it like to make a post-apocalyptic movie after pretty much living in post-apocalyptic times?

Jason: I was doing the post on three and four during the pandemic and lockdowns and man, it’s just like the apocalypse in slow motion. You sit there and watch it outside and it’s like the laziest zombie apocalypse ever. (laughs) None of these movies really prepare you for it, because it was very tame in comparison to what we’ve watched. I think we’ve all been built up towards something and what we got wasn’t Mad Max. (laughs)

B&S: I loved All Superheroes Must Die but it felt like you were about ten years ahead with that movie.

Jason: I was way ahead on that. But it’s funny, I still get death threats about that movie. A week goes by and it’s like, “Wow, I didn’t get something horrific.” (laughs) And then you get an email that says, “You’re the worst person ever!” It’s pretty comical at this point. That movie was like ten years ago. Let it go.

B&S: I felt like it was fresh and referenced comics like Brat Pack but it’s original.

Jason: I just wanted to make something different. It’s hard to make superhero movies. There are so many rules with the fan base. It’s like you can’t do this. You can’t do that. Like there’s all these like invisible things and I just wanted to do my own thing.

B&S: The violence in the film is way harsher than what superhero movie watchers had seen.

Jason: Yeah, which you know, I always wanted to see because even at that point, I had superhero fatigue. I had it even before the MCU really took off and it was just like, I want to do something different. All my favorite superhero stories were the dark ones that made sense and they mattered and they were small in scale. And once you start getting into saving the universe, I just start tapping out. Some of my favorite superhero stories always were very small in scale, like Batman saves a family or something. They took out one villain. Not like, the whole league of villains and they control the universe and they control the multiverse. Which is great for FP movies because I have so much content to make fun of. But if I’m talking about serious movies, I’m getting exhausted.

B&S: The superhero fatigue is funny to me because if you read comics through the multiple crises and crossovers, you already experienced that fatigue. Like how many times could a character get killed and come back or there are multiple versions of them? Then again, I grew up in the 70s and we had a TV movie Spider-Man and I realize how lucky we are to have these films. But fatigue always sets in on franchises.

Jason:  It’s inevitable. When you release the same movie six times a year, inevitably it’s going to get old to people. It’s interesting because it’s kind of like the most expensive TV series ever made with the Marvel movies, but each episode is in the theater and you only get three or four episodes a year. You can’t just drop in any more. It’s all the same TV series. And I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult. It’s just what they’ve kind of done, it’s like all one movie or TV series. I get that TV shows have good seasons and bad seasons.

B&S: Pop culture has ever had a series like this, because yes, we had James Bond, but the series changed and other actors took over the role.

Jason: I think where they really shot themselves in the foot is branching into TV. I think they needed to keep it special and just keep it in the movies. Because once they’re like, “Oh, to understand this movie you have to watch ten episodes of a TV series.” And I’m like, holy crap, guys. Like, I can carve out time for like a movie every couple of months. But now I gotta watch 15 hours of a TV show? Come on now.

B&S: I feel like that with Star Wars. The period between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back was three years with no new content, but that time gave rise to all these ripoffs and I loved that waiting. And I might love those ripoffs like Starcrash as much as the original.

Jason: It makes it special too, because I feel like when you’re waiting for something, you know you’re getting that fever pitch. You can get into fan theories. But I find when you’re constantly barraging people with new content, it takes away the specialness of it.

It also becomes the kind of entertainment where each movie was once just a single serving. And that was fine, right? And then you already forget it like the next week because just like alright. But now, if I’m watching this movie or this show to understand the next movie or TV show, they’re not single forms of entertainment. They’re pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. So when you get a quality episode, you’re not paying as much attention or caring. It’s just another episode to get through. You’re not really giving it as much of your time.

B&S: It feels like a responsibility that I have to watch this instead of me wanting to watch it.

Jason: Absolutely. When I see a runtime that’s three hours long…(laughs)

I don’t have time for that. I’ve got like 30 other shows and I’m watching movies. And I just sit there and scroll endlessly and don’t watch anything because everything’s too long. One thing is going to take up three hours of my night?

B&S: Someone asked me if they should watch Terrifier 2 and I asked if they had two plus hours. I grew up when slashers or genre films were 80 or 90 minutes.

Jason: I love it because with those sort of movies, you don’t get all this filler. It’s rare that I see these movies that are over 80 or 90 minutes. And my main note is like the last half an hour and you could see that they were padding out the running time. If you’re familiar with The Simpsons, there’s a lot of times I’m like, “When are we going to get to the fireworks factory?” (laughs)

Back in the 80s, every scene matters. That’s also because back then, people would spend years and years writing these scripts. And now like movies will have a release date before they’ve even started writing the script. So you just have your AI focus group, automatically writing the script, like a writers room programmed on computers that just goes in there and assembles an algorithm of user-friendly marketing-basec content. Two weeks later, you have your script, we start shooting and you’re like…(laughs)

B&S: The big deal of James Gunn’s reboot of the DCU is him saying, “We aren’t shooting until a script is actually finished.”

Jason: That should be a general rule across the board. You’d be shocked because I’ve worked on all these kinds of things. And a lot of my friends have worked on really big $200-300 million dollar movies. They’re never done writing the script! They’re writing the script up until the last day of shooting. It’s constantly just happening and being focus grouped all the way along.

B&S: That’s why I enjoy your films because you’re making something you want to see, not a focus group.

Jason: Thanks, I appreciate that. That’s kind of the motto. We’re like the anti-focus group. (laughs)

I’m making a movie that me and the close people around me want to make. A lot of people aren’t going to like them, but I don’t really care. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, we’re appealing to the people who like FP movies. They’re going to love these and I’m making these movies for them.

I’m not trying to make FP for everyone. I feel like there are so many movies now where they try to expand their audience and they lose the magic of what they were when they start targeting everyone. Is everyone going to like RoboCop? Probably not. But do some people love it?

B&S: What are the movies that inspire you?

Jason: They’ll come from like the 80s and 90s. Are you asking recently? Because that’s hard. (laughs)

I like all the Verhoeven stuff, James Cameron, some old Arnold movies, 70s sci fi movies, Star Wars and all of the knock offs. Like I’m the sort of person who loved David Lynch doing Dune a lot more than the new one because I thought at least his film had a personality. And a Toto soundtrack! (laughs)

I miss when people made big swings and stuff was crazy. I like being transported to a world where there’s so much creativity and people are really trying to be creative and artistic. As opposed to today, everyone is getting upset with AI generators and basically that’s what the film industry has been doing for the past 10 years. We’re in that now. I like you guys are upset about it now, but that’s kind of just been what we’ve been doing for decades.

B&S: People are just catching on because finally consumers have access.

Jason: It’s just like studios are basically punching an algorithm into a computer. I have my own conspiracy theories, because I know that there are the algorithms out there where your phone can obviously hear you and all that. See whatever your phone sees, you’re going to be targeted with ads.

But we’re getting weird now because there’s something I’ll just be thinking about and it’ll pop up! I’m being tageted with searches for things I haven’t told anyone about and it just pops up and I’m like, “OK, this is getting weird.” (laughs)

Here’s the best part: I have friends who actually grew up in the place I based the FP on and now they’re getting ads for the new movie. They’re actually like targeting people from my past that actually grew up in the town!

B&S: What was it like to work on the Slayer videos for “Repentless,” “You Against You” and “Pride in Prejudice?”

Jason: Those were a blast. It’s surreal. It’s awesome. Like my best buddy BJ McDonnell was directing those. And he was like, “Hey, come on in. Let’s do this. You want to do some Slayer videos?”

I mean, I love Slayer! I grew up on them and it was surreal to hang out with the band and kill people for them. It’s weird because I was in Studio 666 that BJ also directed and he brought me into that. During the shooting of that — I kill one of the Slayer band members, Kerry King — and he was like, “Can I get a picture with you?” And I was like, “This is ridiculous and absurd. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, man?”

B&S: That has to be crazy.

Jason: My greatest performance is not losing my shit in those situations. (laughs)

B&S: You’re in Kazaam. Are you in the Shaquille O’Neal or Sinbad one?

Jason: I was definitely in the Shaquille O’Neal one. (laughs)

Here’s how I know: I was seven or eight and I got in the movie because my dad did the special effects.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is no Mandela Effect. Jason’s dad Ron Trost did the special effects for StarmanGhoulies IVMortal Kombat and a ton of other movies.

It was over the summer so I was making a living and hanging out with my dad, brother and my sister. And so inevitably, in the background, they need kids, Well, we’re here. And even on big movies, that happens, so I have a lot of weird credits when I was young. The case was my dad was working and I was on the set. (laughs)

But like, Shaq, I have stories! One of the craziest stories — and when I tell people they think it’s fake because it’s so silly — is that Shaq was doing one of his first movies so he ended up being friends with everyone on set. And I remember one time where Shaq and I played basketball against like the crew members at lunch. And he actually put me up on his shoulders to slam dunk the ball. I was like seven years old!

B&S: So you’re the proof that Sinbad wasn’t in Kazaam.

Jason: He was not. I am. And I was there with Shaq. (laughs)

I have my own Mandela Effect! For years, whenever that scene in Independence Day happens when Will Smith punches the alien in the face, I swear he said, “Welcome to Earf!”

I swear that when he got famous, they went back in and ADR’d his voice so he says, “Welcome to Earth” because now he’s a successful actor.

It was an inside joke between me and my friends growing up as kids during high school. We went back and rewatched it again, 15 years later, and we’re like, “Wait a second.” (laughs)

I mean, that’s why in the FP movies, Earth is always Earf. Because of that moment!

B&S: I have a weakness for rappers in movies.

Jason: So how are you on Ghosts of Mars? I went back and rewatched it a couple of weeks ago for the first time in like 15 years. I had a whole new respect for it. I was like, this is exactly what I want. I want more Ice Cube. As time goes on, you kind of respect things from the past.

Lately, I feel like we didn’t really know what true suck was. We didn’t know like the corporate soul of suck!  Something objectively might have sucked, but at least it has an identity.

All these movies feel like Mad Libs now. Am I really getting older and just yelling at my lawn? (laughs)

You can check Jason Trost’s FP-4EVZ, a film about a legendary family of rhythm game warriors that must battle their way deep into the future to save what remains of a booze fueled humanity. The film is available  on VOD and digital platforms now from XYZ Films.

Exclusive interview with Scooter McCrae

With just two movies and one short, Scooter McCrae has made a major contribution to my love of film. Shatter Dead destroys all conventions of the zombie film and presents a world unlike any ever shown while Sixteen Tongues and Saint Frankenstein transform simple motel rooms into fantastic environments that challenge and inspire. 

I can’t even put into words how excited I am to share this interview and want to thank Scooter for his time, energy and amazing answers. I’m going to watch his films again just to see them through new eyes after we spoke. I recommend you get the blu ray releases of Shatter Dead and Sixteen Tongues by clicking on each title above and ordering from Saturn’s Core.

B&S About Movies: Was it a question of economics or function that had you choose the video format?

Scooter McCrae: Everything about Shatter Dead was about economics, as I had no money at all to spend on it!  I knew from my experience at film school just how expensive it was to purchase and process film stock, and then the added cost of editing, etc.  There was simply no way I could afford to do any shot-on-film project at that point, even though working with professional video gear was no cheap matter at the time either.  Keep in mind that this was before people were able to edit on their home computers, so editing had to be done with professional gear in a studio space, so there was no way to make something cheap that was legitimately cheap.  There was always some kind of cost involved no matter what the chosen format.

At the time, shooting on video was seen as a compromise and I don’t think it was taken seriously by people who did have enough of a budget to shoot on film, so that was no fun.  It’s amazing how time and technology have changed since then, and now everybody is shooting digital video instead of film.  I’d like to say I was part of an innovative aesthetic movement, but really it was just the only way to get anything done affordably.  Given the opportunity to shoot on film nowadays, I would probably choose digital video instead as it’s far easier to deal with and the image quality is excellent.

B&S: Shatter Dead feels ahead of zombie films even being made today.  When you made it, there hadn’t been a new film in that genre for some time.  What drew you to it?

Scooter: At the time that I was considering making a movie at all, one of the first points of conception was doing an ‘exquisite corpse’, so to speak – putting together something that a few friends would each handle writing and directing 10 or 15-minute segments of that could eventually be joined together into a larger, feature-length project.  And a zombie movie seemed like an ideal way to formulate such a concoction.  What happened was that when push came to shove, I ended up being the only one who took it seriously enough to produce some written pages, finally writing enough stuff to fill approximately 80 minutes of screen time.  And so from there, the group of friends agreed to go forward with the project if I could find the money to pay for it.

“Paying for it” meant getting the gear together for a shoot – which I was thankfully able to do because at the time, I was working at a professional-video rental facility called CTL Electronics in New York City, and I was able to get discounted pricing.  One of the reasons Shatter Dead looks as good as it does is that not only did Matt Howe do a great job of shooting it efficiently, but we were also shooting in Betacam SP, which was high-end production gear; the kind of stuff local TV news networks were shooting with.  It made a big difference in the look of the footage, as many other moviemakers were shooting in the S-VHS and Hi-8mm formats, and neither of those was nearly as good as broadcast quality Betacam.

B&S: I’ve seen in past articles that you hadn’t seen Messiah of Evil before making Shatter Dead.  I think it’s interesting that your film feels like it could be in the same world.  What else influenced it?

Scooter: Thanks for saying that, as I love Messiah of Evil.  I’m not sure if they inhabit the same world, but I never gave it much thought before and now I can see why you have suggested that.  I wish I could give you a list of movies that influenced Shatter Dead, but really it was mostly the zombie genre itself that was the big influence more than any specific titles.  Certainly, the Romero and Fulci films were at the top of my list, although neither of them had any real effect on my decision-making on the written page or in the visuals – especially as we were far too impoverished to have anything resembling the fantastic special effects make-up that was an integral part of what makes movies by either of them so enjoyable.  Perhaps it was the social commentary of Dawn of the Dead and the audaciously stylized storytelling of The Beyond and The Gates of Hell that had some influence on how I approached certain aspects of the project, but only peripherally in the end.

B&S: When you started Sixteen Tongues, did you have a different process or did you approach the film the same way?

Sixteen Tongues was an unusual event for me as a director.  This was the first time that someone else (producer Alex Kuciw) invested their own money into one of my projects, so that was immediately a very big difference between this one and Shatter Dead. Alex had seen and liked my first feature a lot and wanted to work together, but I didn’t have a screenplay ready to go for us to work on.  So with his enthusiasm as an instigator, I started writing Tongues and Alex was thoroughly involved in that process as I was constantly showing him new pages as I was writing them and worked off of his feedback (which was never intrusive and always supportive).  So technically it was my first-time reporting to someone else while deeply involved in the creative process, and it was a very satisfying experience.

Since I didn’t have a producer on Shatter Dead, it meant that I was in charge of every single aspect of the production; scheduling the shoot, finding the locations, making sure everybody got fed, traveling to and from locations, and so much more.  All of this in addition to having to direct the movie!  I did the best I could, and it went pretty smoothly overall, but there were a number of speedbumps along the way.  Alex producing Tongues took care of all of that and so much more, including finding our wonderful make-up EFX people, casting, etc.  He removed so many of the obstacles that prevented me from being able to concentrate more on ‘directing’ my first movie and not worrying about anything else.

All that being said, the one way I did hobble myself a little bit on Tongues was being the videographer, because I was lighting the sets (as minimally as possible) and was also my own cameraperson.  While it was wonderful to have that kind of total control over the image, it would have been better working with Matt Howe again as we have an almost telepathic link when it comes to choosing and setting up shots and it would have been one less thing for me to be concerned with when I could have concentrated more on working with the performers (even though they did a great job).  But Matt wasn’t available at the time and I didn’t want to work with anyone else, so I brought it on myself.

Otherwise, the on-set process was the same.  The actors read their lines, we figured out the best and quickest way to block a scene (as we had a lot to shoot in a very short amount of time), and then we shot it as quickly as possible – which was never easy as we were always dealing with some kind of make-up or costume effect with our tiny crew.

B&S: Even though Sixteen Tongues is from 1999, it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, the hypersexualized world feels more real than ever. Do you think you were presaging the internet of today or was it just a reaction to the world as a whole?

Scooter: From its inception, the internet was a repository of pornographic images, so I wasn’t presaging anything but commenting on what always happens whenever a new technology becomes available.  Basically, every corporation with investors gets nervous about it and dips a toe into the water, but the adult industry dives in head-first and clears the way for capitalism to jump in afterward, take over and then marginalize the real pioneers.  It continues today with OnlyFans and other sites that are friendly to pornography until they feel the need to go ‘legit’, and then condemn and ostracize the people who helped build their brand in the first place.  And it’s always under the umbrella of ‘standards’ of whatever term is in fashion to demonize sexuality and punish its practitioners and supporters.

So in that respect, nothing changes and you can count on the fact that whatever the next big leap in entertainment technology will be, pornography will be there to lead the way forward until they are kicked to the curb by the gatekeepers.

B&S: Both films can be said to be in the exploitation genre, I guess. But they both have female heroines and characters that don’t feel exploited, even if some of them have been operated on to feel that way. How do you approach your heroines or female protagonists?

Scooter: I’ve never really given it that much thought.  I’ve always been around women as friends and co-workers and have never had a problem being around them, so I guess it’s always felt natural to make them lead characters.  When I’m writing, I don’t consciously think to myself, “how would a woman react or handle this situation?,” which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what the accepted sexual politics are at any given time.  Overall, in the kind of extreme situations I tend to write, I don’t think of male or female reactions; just human ones.

I certainly have never written a wilting-flower or stupid woman; I know lazy writers need to resort to those kinds of cliches to keep their poor stories moving along at a crisp pace, but I like to think that whatever deficiencies I have a dramatist that I haven’t hit anywhere near that kind of rock-bottom yet.  And certainly it’s nice to hand a performer a script that offers them some challenges, and I very much enjoy collaborating so we can figure out what the best way is to tell the story and make the character interesting and worth spending time with.

I’ve been very lucky so far in that I’ve gotten my first-choice actresses for roles and they’ve been very cool about reading the screenplays and understanding them; not being put off by the amount of nudity or sexual situations or character arc, etc.  I’ve had discussions with many of them and most are more comfortable with an explicit (but simulated) sex scene than doing a meaninglessly shoehorned-in shower scene that has no purpose other than to provide some quick-and-easy nudity.  They’ve told me how they have turned down projects like those in the past as they seemed much creepier than anything I’ve asked them to do.

B&S: How much collaboration occurred between the actors and you?

Scooter: As much as possible!  A screenplay is an inexact blueprint to me, not a bible.  I want to hear the voice of a performer as they inhabit the words, and I’m always happy to make additions, subtractions and whatever other changes are necessary to match the words to the music of their speaking voices.  I’m not always 100% successful with making the things they say sound ‘realistic’ in the traditional sense, but I’m usually pretty happy with it by the time we’re shooting what they’re saying.

I’ve had one or two actresses ask me not to shoot them from a certain angle or we’ve had discussions about how much nakedness is needed for certain scenes, etc.  In the original Sixteen Tongues script the lead actor was supposed to ejaculate blood on the face of one of the lead actresses during their simulated sex scene, but the actress wasn’t comfortable with it on-set.  We reached a compromise, in which she suggested that the fake penis ejaculates on her bare breasts instead, and we even joked about how this compromise actually gave us even more nudity in the end, which we both found amusing.  But she was more comfortable this way, and to me it’s very important to make performers comfortable on-camera so they can do their best work.  Making people uncomfortable does not make the work better or more “real” or whatever stupid nonsense some asshole director might say to make themselves seem more important in the collaborative process.  A director is a mediator, and the performers are trusting you to capture their best possible work if you’re doing your job correctly.

B&S: How did you decide you wanted to make movies?

Scooter: I was too short to be a drug dealer.

I really wish I had a specific answer to that question because it is just so much damned work to make a movie that I have no idea why anybody wants to go through all the hard work it takes to get a movie written, produced, edited, scored and finally released.  It’s absolutely draining, and you can feel years of your life being sapped out of you during the process, yet somehow it’s an addictive and compelling experience that you want to do as often as possible. Kind of like sex that involves punching yourself in the face periodically.

I guess I decided to do it because there was a certain type of movie that I wanted to see that wasn’t available for me to see any other way, so in the end I had to make it for myself.  I like my movies.  I know a lot of moviemakers say they don’t like their own movies for whatever reason, and I feel sorry for them because, after all the work you put into a project, I would hate to think that it would be a lousy revisit for any of the artists involved.  Maybe it’s because I’m not an artist at all, but just some deluded schmuck who’s making expensive home movies, and I like to revisit them to see the “family” of people I’ve worked with over the years.  Visible flaws and all, it’s still a fun revisit even when I wince at some of the shortcuts that had to be taken because we just did not have the budget to pull something off in a conventionally proper manner.

B&S: How did working with Frank Henenlotter prep you for making films?

Working together was a fantastic and grueling experience, as Frank insists on getting everything about the project completely worked out at the script stage; if it doesn’t work on the page, it simply does not work.  I don’t think his passionate fanbase realizes just how much blood, sweat and tears he puts into the scripting stage of all of his movies, but it is there. He introduced me to Billy Wilder’s body of work, and that was the high level of accomplishment we were trying to live up to. We wrote three screenplays together that never got produced, but it was a fertile creative period, and I had a total blast working together over the course of a couple of years and it was a great learning experience.

I’m paraphrasing, but one of Wilder’s best screenwriting comments was that if the story isn’t working in the third act, the problem is in the first act – and he was correct! If we ran into a problem late in the screenplay writing process, we’d take a look back at the beginning to try and find what the problem was that was tripping us up in the final third. The people who love Frank’s movies probably don’t realize just how much work he puts into the script, which is probably a good thing as he’s great at bringing a breezy excellence to the story construction that most other genre writers never come close to touching. So every time I sit down to write my own projects, I like to imagine Frank and Billy looking over my shoulder and slapping me across the back of my head whenever I make a storytelling mistake that needs to be fixed before going forward.

B&S: I know that you’ve gone into how difficult making a movie is, but do you plan on making another?

Scooter:  Interesting question.  As of the time I’m responding to this, I am – in fact – actively working to try and get a new feature-length project off the ground, but I’m loathe to go into any details until things are so concrete that we’re actually done shooting and the footage is in the can (or at least archived on a hard drive).

To your point, I will say that it is difficult and a total pain in the ass to make a movie, and it hasn’t gotten any easier with age or the current cultural climate (or is it a swamp?) that we’re being dragged through. My stuff has never exactly been ‘commercial’ or user-friendly to begin with and trying to get something off the ground now is more difficult than it has ever been. But if all goes well, hopefully we’ll be doing another interview together all about it in early 2023 and I’ll be happy to go into all the details.

B&S: How does it feel having boutique blu ray releases of your movies?

Scooter: It’s absolutely amazing.  Restoring Shatter Dead for Blu-Ray took months of hard work, and thankfully Sixteen Tongues was a lot easier to deal with. It was also invigorating to revisit, reconstitute and fully restore a number of my student films (no really – they were shot on film!) in order to have them finally digitally archived so I could completely walk away from them for good.  That was an important part of the whole process for me, and one of the main things that attracted me to want to get everything preserved on Blu-Ray. I’m not getting any younger and it’s nice to put a period at the end of the sentence when it comes to all the work I’ve done so far, as I’d like to move forward with some new stuff without worrying about what came before.

I treated these two Blu-Rays as restorations of old home movies and made sure that the content on both was first and foremost pleasing to me. Does anyone want to listen to the ridiculous number of commentaries or watch all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that are presented on these discs? Probably not (to say the least!). But I created them with me in mind, and figured that when I’m finally retired I might like to revisit these home movies with as many bells and whistles as would fit on the discs, as it would be like spending time with old friends. It’s one of the main reasons that the screenplay books for both movies also came out around the same time.  It’s nice to reach a certain age and look back on old achievements with a certain sense of satisfaction before moving on.

I guess the worst-case scenario is that I drop dead tomorrow and never make anything ever again, but at least now if that is the situation, I don’t have to worry about making sure the stuff I’ve done is around for those select few who enjoy it and want to see it for at least a few more years. It’s a good feeling, and I’m really thankful and appreciative to Vinegar Syndrome and Saturn’s Core for giving me enough rope to hang myself.

I can’t thank Scooter enough for the time and energy he put into answering all of my questions. The best I way I know to repay his kindness is to suggest that you follow these links to buy your own blu ray copies of Shatter Dead and Sixteen Tongues from Saturn’s Core, a Vinegar Syndrome partner label.

Exclusive interview with Archie Waugh, director of Way Bad Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janne Kafka at Dragon Con ’91.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B&S: The costumes had to add up.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you old enough to remember Chiller Theater?

B&S: Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exclusive interview with Joseph Zaso

I discovered Joseph Zaso through two movies he did when he was still a teenager, Screambook and Screambook 2. Watching them, I felt like he was a kindred spirit and wanted to learn how he made the film, about his career and how movies like those two and It’s Only a Movie! got made. I’m happy to report that Joesph lived up to my expectations and then some. To learn more about Joesph, visit his official site.

Note: Main image courtesy of Jay Jorgensen.

A moment from Screambook.

B&S About Movies: I found your movies on YouTube and just fell in love with them. They have such an energy to them for being made by a teenager.

Joseph Zaso: You picked the right time, because they’re going to be available not just on YouTube soon enough! I’m sworn to secrecy but you’ll find out soon enough!

B&S: How old were you when you made Screambook?

Joseph: I had just turned 13. It was the beginning of 1984 and my birthday is in November…it was like a zillion years ago! I just keep thinking how everything in it is green! But yes, that’s my first movie even though I made little ones before. It’s the first time I did a feature. I was just having fun, really, and I had this camera that was the size of your computer. Maybe bigger! (laughs)

I had to use two VCRs to edit it. It stars my little classmates and it’s like Bugsy Malone does Creepshow with a 99 cent store budget!

B&S: There’s some maniac energy in both films, but the birthday party scene in Screambook 2 is incredible.

Joseph: It was whatever was going on in my teenage head!

B&S: That kind of scene is why I love shot on video movies. You don’t expect it at all. And I love that these things get out into the world and we get a chance to see them maybe decades after they were intended.

Joseph: 40 years basically. That blows my mind. It’s like it took 40 years for people to like them. So you’re in Pittsburgh, right? I always thought it was bigger than it is, because when I visited there once, it seemed tiny.

Joe gets surprised.

B&S: You’re just seeing how amazing it looks in Striking Distance. (laughs)

Joseph: When I first started acting in the early 90s, I remember there was this phone number you would call to see what movies had work. One had a recording that said: “Now filming…Three Rivers with Bruce Willis. Please contact the William Penn Hotel to be an extra.” 

You have Tom Atkins from there! How is he 87? He looks like he’s twenty years younger!

And that other actor — Bingo O’Malley!

B&S: He was the most important stage actor we had here.

Joseph: He was the consummate character actor and was in a lot of big movies. You need to write about him because he was the best character actor that no one knows!

If you see Bingo in a movie, you knew it was shot in Pittsburgh and not Toronto. (laughs)

B&S: Shot on video is sometimes a hard sell to younger audiences, as they’re used to seeing things in pristine quality now.

Joesph: You’re talking to somebody who didn’t know the difference between SLP and SP.

Does Joe live in the home of The Sentinel?

B&S: How did you make the jump from being really into movies to wanting to make them?

Joseph: I always had a fascination with movies. Even when I was a little kid I used to pretend the refrigerator was like a movie marquee and put the magnets on there.  Titles like Shampoo. My brother, who’s a doctor, made some Super 8mm movies. He was just clowning around, but I acted in them and I started getting the bug.

I did direct those movies you mentioned, as well as It’s Only a Movie!, Maligno and Guilty Pleasures, but I’m really more about the acting these days. Not so much the producing anymore. That takes a special person to handle that.

B&S: What was it like working with Andreas Schnaas?

Joseph: I very much enjoyed working with him on Demonium in Rome with mainly Italian and German production people.  It’s probably the closest I will ever come to appearing in a spaghetti co-production.  As for Nikos the Impaler – no comment…

Credit Jay Jorgensen

B&S: It’s funny, coming from advertising, I was just talking to a creative director who was saying that the bidding and everything leading up to the shooting is so much work and then after all that, the shooting is even worse!

Joseph: I think Brian DePalma said he enjoyed the preparation of a movie, but not the actual shooting. That’s when you lose control.

B&S: Argento always worried about losing control over his movies. Have you read his book Fear? It’s kind of crazy because he’s like, “I’ve never been to therapy. My therapy is making my films.”

Joseph: Mothers are always monsters in his movies!

B&S: When he made Four Flies On Grey Velvet, he said, “I never realized that I made a movie about a woman who looks like my first wife who is trying to kill her husband who looks like me.” You didn’t? Then again, this is the man who was upset people thought he was too rough on women, so his pro-women movie is Tenebre.

Joseph: A movie in which beautiful women die horribly. Perhaps another bit of therapy that needs to be worked out?

B&S: Argento and DePalma are two sides of the same coin.

Joseph: They were both born in 1940. And both had meltdowns in their early 40s. They both treated their wives badly. You know, maybe they got too successful too quickly and dealt with an early midlife crisis? Now they’re just mellow. DePalma doesn’t live far from where I live and I’ve seen him in the street, walking back from a bakery and he looks almost childlike. (laughs)

B&S: To his credit, he got me into puberty fast after I saw Dressed to Kill. People still hate that movie!

Joseph: Growing up, my parents said “you can see as much blood and gore as you want, but you can’t see nudity and sex.”

B&S: I used to go through our Catholic newspaper and circle all the movies that received the O rating for morally objectionable. The movies they rated O in 1981 are the basis of what I love in movies. Like Amityville II: The Possession.

Joseph: I’m editing a book on that movie! My friend Bryan Norton is the author and I have been transcribing interviews for it. The book is hopefully coming out this October and it’s going to be a beautiful coffee table book. I know more about Dino De Laurentiis and Damiano Damiani than you can imagine. 

It’s Damiani’s only horror film. He mostly made dramas and films that referenced the political and civil unrest of Italy at the time. And you know, that’s why he was a good choice to make it. Because it’s, you know, it’s a freaky movie.

B&S: It’s the most anti-Catholic movie of all time.

Joseph: Not to give anything away, but he made that differently than a genre director would have been and that’s why so much of the Catholic guilt is in it.

When this book comes out, there are so many little details you’ll love. Like why is it called Amityville II: The Possession instead of just Amityville Horror II? It’s just amazing. I mean, the poor town of Amityville really didn’t like all the business they were getting. It was like their town was made into a mockery. 

B&S: Italians in America is my favorite genre. They’re maniacs making movies in America with American crews that have no idea what they’re saying or are trying to get across.

Joseph: And they’re always making movies in Florida and the south, like Nightmare Beach and The Visitor. That movie is like fifty different movies in one and none of it makes sense but somehow we can’t take our eyes off of it either.

B&S: I’m fascinated by the Americanized names of Italian directors.

Joseph: Actor Bobby Rhodes (from Demons) I was sure that was a fake name. He was on my cooking show and he has such a thick accent because he’s Italian. I asked, “Is that your stage name?” No. His father was a GI from Baltimore and his mother was an Italian girl from Sicily. It just sounds like a deliberately made up name.

Joe cooking with Bobby Rhodes

B&S: Are you still acting?

Joseph: I still enjoy it, but I have a day job. So instead of doing twenty crappy things, I’m just looking for one slightly better role here and there. I have more perspective now. 

I have a different perspective. I know how to act better or differently. There are more subtle ways to approach a role or maybe not so heavy handed way

B&S: What’s the Horror Himbo all about? 

Joseph: A few journalists referred to me as a “Horror Himbo” (a male bimbo of horror movies).  About 12 years back, I decided to start a cooking blog and then later a Youtube show and then multiple cookbooks.  I chose the alias of Café Himbo.  That name has become something of a brand and synonymous with campy, sexy, silly fun in the kitchen.

B&S: When you made It’s Only a Movie you really went for it. I mean, there’s a whole gospel choir.

Joseph: I happened to have a crew member/friend from Harlem and he had access to a choir and church that was used for the movie. I had fun with that movie because we just went big with it. No one was supervising us.

I was interested in things like Phantom of the Paradise and Little Shop of Horrors. I can’t sing and dance to save my life. But I was into musicals, musical theater, and that was always inside my head at the time. No one was watching us to say, “Don’t do that!”

Also, I’m not sure if it comes through, but I was really into Demons at the time. (laughs)

Exclusive interview with Dusty Nelson

There was a time when movies weren’t just made in Pittsburgh but actually came from Pittsburgh. Dusty Nelson is one of the people that made one of the best ones, Effects. The rest of the world may have taken forty years or so to figure that out, but now it’s recognized as the work of art that it is.

Starting his filmmaking career at Carnegie Mellon University, Dusty has worked as a director, writer and cinematographer on numerous commercials, documentaries, TV series and feature films like Tales from the DarksideSakura KillersWhite PhantomNecromancer and Inferno.

His company The Image Works, along with Pat Buba and John Harrison, is a major part of the history of not just Pittsburgh film, but also its marketing and advertising.

He’s also someone kind enough to sit down for several conversations with me. I’m elated to share the results here.

Thanks to Tony Buba for his help in setting up this opportunity.

B&S About Movies: When you were first starting out, what were some of the filmmakers or films that influenced you?

Dusty Nelson: I had started watching a lot of the French New Wave, like Godard and Truffaut. They were making black and white movies in France that weren’t Hollywood movies at all but instead they were doing these kinds of artsy existential movies starring actors who became big names but back then, you didn’t know who they were.

B&S: They were the first generation that experienced film before making it, often even being critics before directing.

Nelson: They were analyzing what does and doesn’t work in film. These films were not what filmmaking was. Filmmaking was Hollywood.

B&S: It’s why I gravitate so often to Eurohorror and shot on video. I want to be surprised and not see the formula coming.

Nelson: Did you know that’s exactly where I was coming from with Effects? And I kept thinking, “How do I tell a story in a different way and have it still be a story?”

Well, that was fine. Except the people that are selling movies to drive-ins really didn’t want a story. They just wanted to know if every five or six minutes, “Could you kill someone, please?” (laughs)

It was an interesting realization that we were literally trying to tell a story here. You have this twisted character Lacey who was making not just one movie, but two movies, except nobody else knew that he was hiding cameras and making his own film.

B&S: Even though you made Effects back in the late 70s, there are a lot of themes that are relevant today. After #Me Too, people know a bit more, but sets weren’t always safe places for people, especially women. A lot of that comes out in the film. Actors make themselves vulnerable and Lacey is taking advantage of that. Was that intentional?

Nelson: I was thinking that that’s just the way the world is. And, of course, there were these men taking advantage of females. That’s the way the world still is. And that’s certainly the way it was then and that’s certainly the way it was in Hollywood.

B&S: You spent all this time and energy creating a film that was different and then you meet people who make it into commerce. Like you said, they only care how many murders are in the movie.

Nelson: I used to be sad about that. But as time went on, I thought, “I might be making a movie, but these people are just selling shoes or whatever.” It’s just a product, you know, and they put out a certain amount of money and want to make their money back. If that’s all you know, it’s that simple. You have to pay the rent.

B&S: Still, it doesn’t feel like any other horror movie made in 1979. You were right in the middle of the slasher boom. Who were you looking at when you made it?

Nelson: The directors that I was paying attention to were Truffaut, Antonioni and Fellini. I don’t know how they actually affect it. I never said to myself, “Oh here’s a shot that I want to use.”

Those were the people who had influenced me, but mostly what I was trying to do is just tell the story and to make sure that we did it in a way where everything is just seamless. I wanted to make something simple that told a story.

B&S: At the time, the person in the U.S. making thrillers instead of slashers was De Palma, but he was indulging in split screens and so many camera moves that get away from simplicity. By comparison, Effects has an almost documentary feel.

Nelson: The whole last scene, when they drive out to the woods in the truck, from that point on until the end of the film, everything is shot handheld. Not every shot, but almost every shot in the woods is. That’s because that’s the only way we could afford to do it was literally just running through the woods and grabbing shots. But, again, it wasn’t like I was trying to say anything by doing that. I was just trying to create something visually interesting and continue to tell the story.

B&S: I don’t mean this as an insult, but it’s a movie that’s too arty to be a slasher and too much of a slasher to be an art film.

Nelson: The kill in the middle, in black and white, that was certainly slasher-esque and that was deliberate. Then they have a discussion afterward, where they discuss the merits of it and ask, “How could you kill someone on camera?” Then the other guy says, “Would you know if it was special effects?”

You actually don’t know! And like I said to you, I’ve had people tell me that they don’t believe that the black and white movie within the movie isn’t a real murder!

B&S: As someone who has watched hundreds of slashers, Effects was the first movie that made me consider, “Am I actually enjoying watching people die?” and “What if these deaths were real? They look real enough.”

Nelson: At the end, Lacey could have been caught and arrested.

But he wasn’t. He got away with it.

My whole thing was that special effects are so sophisticated. And we’re so used to seeing people being killed and abused that we just accept it.

What would happen if it was real? How wouldn’t we know the difference?

B&S: To raise that point to the audience, you had the best special effects person in the world working on the film in Tom Savini.

Nelson: We had a great time creating stuff with Tom. We grew up in films together so there was a kinship there. That was just great.

B&S: Snuff films have always been this legend and you have movies with real death in them like Twilight Zone: The Movie and I have no interest in watching that scene.

Nelson:  I have no desire to. You know, a lot of the stuff I’ve done, a lot of the TV commercials we did a lot of car stuff that was extraordinarily dangerous. I never wanted to be shooting footage when someone was hurt or killed, much less using it afterward to sell something.

B&S: Today, we see death in a different way. In the 80s, to see it, you needed to know someone to see the Bud Dwyer tape or caught it live. The internet lets us see death whenever we want but in 15-second clips with no context.

Nelson: You have to realize that Effects was forty years ago. When we made it, we were dealing with ideas that nobody was dealing with at the time. The whole notion of hidden cameras is something that people take for granted now. But that wasn’t true then. People born today are used to being under constant surveillance.

B&S: Everyone put in so much effort and time into the film, which played a few theaters and the pre-Sundance USA Film Festival. And then the movie disappeared. Was it an emotional time?

Nelson: (laughs) Well, let’s see. Within three months, I was divorced. It was very emotional because I knew that we had something that was well done.

But I also knew that it was not marketable and that was just really hard.

That was hard to take from a personal point of view. And also, certainly, from all the people who had worked on it. I wanted everybody to be part of something that was successful.

And there was just no way that it was going to be successful.

That was a really rude awakening. I didn’t know until we started dealing with distributors and heard what they had to say about it. It was kind of obvious.

But you know, when I was doing it, all I was trying to do was craft. I was just thinking about the craft.

I couldn’t have done Effects without Pat Buba and John Harrison.

Like I said, it was just a rude awakening. People were saying, “This is really well done, but we can’t sell it.” That was really hard to take. I thought to myself, “Okay, well, now what? You obviously kind of know what you’re doing, but it’s not commercial.” (laughs)

B&S: What happened next?

Nelson: Not long after that, I moved to LA thinking, “Okay, I’ll just go sell out. Because I know the craft.  I know how to do it.”

And you know, that was kind of difficult but I fell into doing advertising and commercials. I would go on the road for three weeks and work like crazy and make a ton of money. Then, I’d come home and realize that all I cared about was the conversation that I just had about investing my money.

Finally, one day I just looked in the mirror and said, “My God, I got married, had a child and this is not the place I want to raise my son. What the hell am I doing? This isn’t why I got into this.”

So we moved to Santa Cruz, up into the mountains, up into the redwoods. And it was incredible. It was absolutely beautiful and it was a great place for my son to grow up, but my so-called career kind of went south. (laughs)

The next thing I knew it was kind of like all I could do to make a little industrial here and there to try to pay the rent.

B&S: It’s hard to give up on the advertising life and the rush of it.

Nelson: Every job, here’s a first class airplane ticket. You’re gonna go here and stay in this great hotel and we’re gonna pay you a ton of money and you’re gonna go do this. And then you’ve done and you’ve got all this money in the bank. To get by, I lost myself in the craft, shooting in particular. I had a lot of fun with that. I loved the crews I got to work with and I loved the equipment I got to use. So that’s what I used to do. Just concentrate on my craft.

B&S: You did some films in that period, right?

Nelson: I did a movie in Taiwan called White Phantom. It was really terrific. This was before I was doing the advertising stuff. I didn’t get paid much money but it was really amazing to go to Taiwan and work with these karate people on this thing. It was just fabulous.

Then I got this chance to do some stuff with cars for Honda. I made more money on one spot than I did making White Phantom and the movie that came before it, Sakura Warriors. (laughs)

B&S: You did another movie around the same time that I really like called Necromancer.

Nelson: (laughs) I totally forgot about that. It was really fun. It may have been completely formulaic but the crew was fabulous. That was really fun to work on because you have all of these incredibly talented people that are not working at Warner Brothers or whatever, but they’re good. There are just too many people who are really good out there but not everybody can work on the really big stuff.

It was an interesting job because I was already editing it and it didn’t work. They fired the director and came to me and said, “Here’s the deal. We’ll pay you the same amount of money to write these scenes and direct them as we’re paying you to edit it. Do you want to do it?”

And I said, “Sure, man, my rent is due. I’ll do whatever.”

These guys were basically distributors who were trying to get into production. And they were grabbing what they could and they had very little money. But they had this little studio space, this little sort of office studio space in Hollywood. And it was you know, again, you’re out there just finding trying to find a gig. I was lucky enough to walk in there and I showed him Effects and they really liked it.

We literally would look at it and then the producers and the executive producers would say, “We need something. Tie in this and this. Go write it.” I would go write and two days later, we would shoot it. You know, it was crazy. It was completely crazy.

Exclusive interview with John Harrison

John Harrison has had an incredible life in the movies. From performing music for George Romero’s films and TV series to playing performed as Sir Pelinore in Knightriders, then working as the 1st Assistant Director for Creepshow and Day of the Dead — not to mention his stunning turn as the villain of Effects — he has done so much. He’s still doing it, writing and directing episodes of the Shudder series Creepshow. He’s also been a touring and recording musician, worked on several TV series and oh yeah — made two ground-breaking Dune mini-series.

I had the amazing opportunity to speak with John for an extended period. I thank him for his time, his openness and all he’s done not just for film, but to get the spirit of Pittsburgh out into the entertainment world.

Thanks to both Dusty Nelson and Tony Buba for their assistance in setting up this interview.

You can learn even more at his official site.

B&S About Movies: What’s it like to have Effects being more celebrated now and a new 4K release coming from AGFA?

John Harrison: Dusty (Nelson) has been working on it with the guys down there. And I think it’s going to be a great release. It is kind of amazing to both of us. All these years later, it’s coming — you know, it’s been revived several times over the past ten years — but after having basically come out in just a few drive-ins and a few small theaters when it first came out and then falling off the grid for all these years, it feels good.

B&S: There’s also the great After Effects blu ray.

Harrison: I gotta give Michael Felsher a lot of credit. He put it out and he did a terrific job on that. He was very responsible for getting Effects revived. I was doing a signing for some of my scores that I did for Romero at a place called Dark Delicacies in Burbank and a guy came up to me and said, “Hey, whatever happened to Effects? It’s like, a cult treasure, and everybody talks about it, but nobody can find it.”

I gave him the whole story about the film and its distribution and the guy said, I know a guy at Anchor Bay, which happened to be Michael. I met him and he was actually leaving Anchor Bay and he said, “I know Synapse and I’ll bet you they’d love to release your movie.” And they did. And when we put out the DVD, I went and did a bunch of interviews with all of us that were involved in it at the time. I had everybody over to my house that day, including George, Joe Pilato, Dusty, Pat Buba and everybody. We filmed it and then sent all this stuff to Michael and he made that documentary. I think it’s terrific.

B&S: I’ve bought the DVD, the blu ray, the After Effects blu, so…yeah, I’m ready to upgrade again. (laughs)

Harrison:  I’m just glad that a new generation has found our film. You know, we run into people that weren’t even born when we made this movie. I’m just so happy that people are seeing it because we put a lot of time and effort into that thing. It was a great time in our careers, really when we were just getting started. Obviously, there was also our relationship with George and then deciding to strike out on our own. It was a special time. We didn’t have any money. All we had was energy.

B&S: Yet sometimes, those days are more memorable than when you do have money and been doing this for some time.

Harrison: It was a great time. Everybody that was trying to do it. And so everybody was really supportive of everybody else, working on each other’s films, going to see them and commenting on them, trying to help get them made. It was really a lovely time. And we were fortunate that George was there and kind of took us under his wing. We were doing very much the same things with our company. Image Works that he was doing with Latent Image. We were doing industrials and commercials and just trying to make a living. But we always had the intention of trying to do a feature-length film. And we just said, “What’s stopping us?” We went around and borrowed and stole and ended up with like 50 grand and some unused shorts ends of film stock. We went out and made it.

B&S: Today, movies get shot here, but they don’t get made here.

Harrison: There was George. There was a company called TPC, which was a commercial production house but one of the first video tape production houses in the country and they had really sophisticated equipment. That’s where we shot all the stuff that’s supposedly in Lacey’s basement where he has all the video recording gear set up. We actually shot that in TPC’s control room. And then there was WQED and they were doing all kinds of production at the time. And you’re right, a lot of it was being originated in Pittsburgh, the writing and the production. And I’m glad that people are still coming into the city to make movies because first of all, I love the city. It’s my hometown. And I love that there’s enough work to support crews and so forth. But it would be great if people could originate material from there like we used to.

B&S: How did your music career start? Was it on a parallel path to filmmaking?

Harrison: Well, it’s kind of it’s really odd. When I was growing up, I was always a musician. I had professional experience pretty much all through my life either working in church choirs or singing. I had a band all through high school, we played around and then I was on the road with them in the late 60s and early 70s. That band broke up and I moved back to Pittsburgh because I got serious about my filmmaking career. I didn’t see myself as Mick Jagger and trying to crank out a living as a musician.

It was always part of my life and getting involved in the music of the films was really an accidental enterprise because I was the guy with the piano. Everybody knew that and when I was working with George, for example, we were doing Creepshow and he wanted to use library tracks originally for the score, which is how he had done all his movies in the past. But a lot of those cues weren’t really working out and I told him that I could come up with some interstitial material that might bridge the gaps and enhance some of them.

He said, “Well, look, I need a theme. I need a title music.”

I ended up scoring most of the film. And you know, that just led to more. When we were doing commercials with Image Works, I would do the jingles and stuff like that. And then I was on the road with a guitarist named Roy Buchanan for about four years. My friend Jay Reich was his manager and he brought me into the band so it was kind of a parallel track there for a while. But I never intended to make a career out of scoring movies. It was really just something that happened. And I was lucky enough to have opportunities to do it for George and then for Effects and then for my own stuff when I did Tales from the Darkside, both the movie and the TV show. But for a long time, I guess you could say that it was kind of a parallel thing, but it wasn’t something that I was going to do exclusively.

B&S: Was Tales from the Darkside a major learning experience?

Harrison: I’ve said this many times before, but it was the best film school I ever could have gone to. I never went to film school, so having that opportunity with George and then Richard Rubinstein was an opportunity to basically do everything. They were low budget, so we didn’t have any money and we had to do everything ourselves. I wrote, directed and did the music for my episodes and, as I said, it was the best film school I could have had because.

I didn’t come out of it with just training to be a director. I came out of it having to do everything, learning from it and you couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

B&S: It came at the right time, for you and for horror.

Harrison: It spawned a bunch of other things. I mean, Spielberg saw it and he created Amazing Stories. (laughs) You’ve got Tales from the Crypt and even now Greg Nicotero is doing the new Creepshow on Shudder, Guillermo del Toro has Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix, there was Masters of Horror. It’s great that people love anthologies and I liked them because if you can find an umbrella theme for the idea and then put in individual stories, you know, as opposed to just single movies, you can make it work. Short stories are really a whole different kind of narrative discipline. You’ve got to really tell the story quick.

B&S: You have so much experience in them — the series and movie Tales from the Darkside, series and movie CreepshowMonsters… What I love about the Tales from the Darkside movie is that the wraparound story is so strong. It’s not just shorts thrown in without any reason.

I have to confess, the first time I saw the Raw Dawn Chong ending, it was in the middle of the night, I was a teenager and probably drunk and it freaked me out so badly that I stayed away from the movie for some time. It’s really scary. It really works.

Harrison: I’m very proud of that movie. And again, it blows my mind that we made that thing in 1991 and it’s still popular. I mean, it’s always on TV somewhere and then at Halloween, it’s on every day.

The other day, I spoke with a popular romance and horror writer named Cynthia Pelayo and she was just raving about it and how it affected her when she was young. It was one of the most important things in her life. I don’t go to horror conventions very often, but I’ve been to a couple and people come up to me to tell me how much they love that movie. It’s like thirty years old now.

B&S: Savini is a fan. He says it should have been Creepshow 3.

Harrison: Yes, he said that to me.

B&S: The cast is so strong, too.

Harrison: I have to really credit the producers with that. Richard Rubinstein and Mitchel Galin were really determined. It was Julianne Moore’s first movie role.  They went after names and they were lucky to get people like Christian Slater, William Hickey, Steve Buscemi and Debbie Harry.


B&S: Was doing Tales from the Crypt different?

Harrison: On Tales from the Cryptwe obviously had much bigger budgets. They were a little harder-edged than Tales from the Darkside. On HBO, you could get away with more. I will say this: those episodes had great crews and great writers and I’m really fond of the ones that I did for them.

Then Creepshow came along for Shudder. I will say that Nicotero has been determined to maintain the style and spirit of the original movie. And I think he has pulled it off and I really applaud that. We haven’t tried to invent something new or turn it into something that it isn’t.

B&S: Creepshow came around in my life at the right time, as EC Comics were being reprinted and that movie is the best realization of a comic to film.

Harrison:  Stephen (King) and George (Romero) were very specific about how they wanted to bring a comic book to life.

B&S: You also have worked on a major franchise, as you did two mini-series of Dune for SyFy.

Harrison: They’re kind of like the crowning achievement of my career. I had a great time doing those and it was a book that I loved. I was able to put together a team of artists that were really fantastic.

It’s really hard to get anything made. I did a couple of TV movies that I had written which turned out well, but I never pursued series television. I might have made a hell of a lot more money. (laughs)

But in the 2000s I met a producer named Dean Devlin and I did a show called Kindred. And Dean produced Godzilla and Independence Day. Huge Hollywood movies. We met and he loved me, we became friends and I’ve done a lot of work for him on Leverage and The Librarians. I also did a TV movie for him, Blank Slate.

Back to Dune: In the late 90s, it came along and that took about four years of my life. Doing both of those films were fantastic experiences. And now, with the new movies, people are rediscovering them and that’s great. We brought the whole franchise back after David Lynch’s movie. People kept thinking that Dune was not a movie that could be translated to film. I was lucky because the producers wanted to do a mini-series, so it was really fantastic.

B&S: In Jodorowsky’s Dune, Jodorowsky says how nervous he was to see Lynch’s Dune. Did you feel that way seeing Denis Villeneuve’s movie?

Harrison: I don’t think I’m being arrogant saying this, but I think that the success of my mini-series gave people the idea that well, maybe we could get this translated. Maybe we could do a movie again. And so we went through that process because I was still attached to it. Richard Rubinstein and I were still attached to the process. We went through a bunch of trial and error trying to find somebody who could do it. Some of the attempts were really miserable, so I was kind of worried about it. I do like this director quite a lot. I’ve loved all his movies. So I was kind of excited when I heard he was interested in doing it. So it’s very different, you know, and I’m okay with that. I’m really glad that he has another movie to do the story because the first one was only part of the story. And I would have been really disappointed if it ended then. Because there was so much.

But you know, they’re different and mine will always be there. People still talk about it and they still love it and watch it so I’m okay with it.

B&S: That’s a really healthy attitude to have. If people like that movie, they’re going to find yours.

Harrison: I hope so. Yeah. I mean, the differences are that the new movie is very poetic, cinematically, and obviously he had a lot more money than I ever did. So he could do some things that I would have never been able to do.

The important part of it was that I had brilliant artists working with me. I had Vittorio Storaro and all these people to help me. I was concentrating on making the story coherent and do it all in six hours. So it was much more important to me to have the story be really compelling.

B&S: When you saw the Lynch one in the theater, they have you a pamphlet so you could understand what was happening.

Harrison: That was a bummer. There was some beautiful imagery in his film, but it’s not the book.

I read the book and I knew what was going on and I was still lost.

B&S: It’s a weird idea to think Dune can be a toy-selling movie.

Harrison: Lynch is just an artist of a different color.

B&S: You’ve also acted in a few films.

Harrison: Well, you know, I did start out going to Emerson College studying acting for a while, and I quickly realized that I would rather be behind the camera than in front of the camera.

I wanted more control. I wanted more. I wanted to control my destiny a little bit more. But, you know, I think I’m not unhappy that I did it because I think it’s given me a way of communicating to actors, because I know what’s going on.  I know what they’re going through. I know what I expect and how to talk to them. So it’s all been worthwhile to do it.

In Effects, Dusty and Pat wanted me to be in it and I had no intention of acting in the movie. I was only reading against other actors during auditions. But I guess we saved some money by having me play Lacey. (laughs)

B&S: Dusty told me he thinks you’re the reason the movie works.

Harrison: I give him credit for it then, because he directed me in a way and told me what he wanted out of the character. So I appreciate that.

You know I never had any illusions that I was going to go on to a fabulous career as a movie icon or anything like that. But you know, I enjoy it. I’ve done a few big parts here and there for different things over the years. I always enjoy it because I don’t have the pressure of being the director and instead of having to worry about everything, I just come in and do what they tell me.

B&S: You’re in Rowdy Harrington’s Jack’s Back.

Harrison: That’s the movie that put him on the map.

I was in Striking Distance too, but I got cut.

I was a suicide jumper on the Ninth Street Bridge that Bruce Willis gets pissed off at when he comes up on the boat. He says, “Look, man, if you’re gonna jump, just do it. I don’t have time.” And then he starts shooting off his guns and at me, I don’t jump and just say, “Forget it.”

But it didn’t make it into the final version.

B&S: Your wildest credit is being listed as a writer on some Gorillaz songs.

Harrison: They just sampled some of the Day of the Dead score. It was also used in Stranger Things and in Grindhouse. They sampled it, they got the rights to it and they put me in the credits as a writer. It made me seem kind of cool to my kids. (laughs)

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.

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.


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.