Sunday, May 17, 2009

Me and Horror, Part One

When did I start liking horror?  That's a hard question to answer.  My guess is I was probably about 4 years old and living in Tallahassee, Florida when I (or my parents, I don't remember) turned on the TV and there was this guy in a shiny silver suit battling a fierce-looking lumpy reptilian creature.  It was about the coolest thing I'd ever seen.  The show was "Ultra-Man," and I fell in love with it immediately.  

Now, I never much liked the silver suit dude -- but those creatures he fought, woo boy!  Boy, I always hoped he'd get his chrome-plated ass handed to him by those cool monsters.  He never did.  It's still a fact I regret to this very day.

Well, anyway -- Ultra Man led to Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gamra, Gidra and the Smog Monster.  I could not get enough of those Japanese men in suit movies.  And as a kid, I loved the way they kept upping the ante on these movies.  DESTROY ALL MONSTERS was like the ultimate multiple orgasm.  From then on, I'd watch anything with a monster in it.  My choices were limited to what played on TV, but fortunately once my family moved to Ithaca, New York we started to get Channel 11 WPIX -- and they showed a lot of cool 50s monster movies.  I loved REPTILICUS (having seen it recently, I really don't know why.)  But my favorites were THE DEADLY MANTIS and TARANTULA.

A few years later, I discovered the magazine "Famous Monsters of Filmland."  I thought it was so cool, but didn't particularly like the jokey captions underneath the photos.  (I took my monsters seriously.)  Needless to say, my parents didn't much like my taste.  See, I come from a fairly academic family -- my dad's an astronomer/astrophysicist, and my mom's a shrink.  And I'm sure it was my mom who seemed to think that my love of ugly creatures had something to do with my self-image and self-worth.  Aw, fuck that.  I love my mom, but my inner reasons for liking these kinds of things have always been mysterious to me -- and I prefer not to analyze.  Some people like pretty things and cute and fluffy bunny rabbits, but I liked lizards, snakes and monsters -- and I never really thought twice about it.

So I kept watching these movies, kept finding new favorites, and found some that were too damn scary for me to cope with.  HORROR EXPRESS traumatized me -- I had bad dreams about blood and fluids running out of eyeballs for years.  I probably haven't seen that movie since I was ten or eleven, but at that point it was the most horrifying, scary and traumatizing movie I'd ever watched.  

The next turning point came when one day in 1979 I went to Mayer's Smoke Shop (our local magazine store) to get the new issue of "Famous Monsters."  I bent down on my hands and knees (they always put these on the lower shelves) and started searching, when -- holy shit!  I found a new magazine.  One that would alter my life completely.  It was "Fangoria" Issue Number One, and I'd found my people.  I knew then that I wanted to direct horror films someday.  I devoured every issue of Fango -- I distinctly remember reading the same article with John Landis in it about AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON ten times before I got bored of it.  

Hold on, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  It was Fangoria that got me to go see FRIDAY THE 13th when it came out in theaters.  For all my love of giant monsters and everything else, I'd never really seen one of these movies in a theater -- and let's just say I wasn't emotionally prepared.  When the kid leaped out of the water and grabbed the chick in the canoe, I was so startled it felt like I had died.  (My dad didn't really like this either -- the movie was rated R and, being a good father, he was my guardian that night.)  I shook for three days.

In 7th grade my friend Jonathan and I made our own horror movie.  We called it THE LAWN CHAIR MASSACRE.  We shot it on Super 8 (of course) and it consisted of us crudely trying to emulate those Tom Savini blood tube gags on Jonathan's sister's friends.  We never developed the film.  My next magnum opus was an 8th grade school project.  I conned my teachers into letting me "write" (ie, made up as I went along) and direct an originally titled slasher film, FRENZY.  I did this completely unaware of the '72 Hitchcock film.  Ah, youth.  I even did a cool stop motion title sequence using chalk, a blackboard and some red food coloring.  (That film somehow never got developed, either.)  I think I passed the project on enthusiasm alone.  If either Jonathan Kramnick or Matt (I think that was his name) have these films, please let me know.

Soon, names like "Romero," "Carpenter," "Hooper," and "Cronenberg" were as familiar to me as the names of my friends and family.  As a matter of fact, these directors whom I had never met or corresponded with felt like family.  And in a lot of ways (while it's much more complicated now), they still do.

After I graduated from high school, I went to Bennington College, where I entered my arty stage.  I started listening to a lot of Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and The Misfits and reading William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Carroll and Hubert Selby, Jr.  I still saw all of the horror movies I could and majored in drama, still hoping to direct them someday -- but I have to admit that at this time I was more interested in taking drugs, listening to punk rock and trying to get laid.  This would all change when I moved to Los Angeles...TO BE CONTINUED

Blood, guts & pussy,
Adam G

Friday, May 15, 2009

Intestinal Fortitude

It feels like I've been using this blog to shout out my opinions on the entertainment industry with an emphasis on what I know: horror.  My past blogs have been about explaining the inner workings of our business to the fans.  In the future, I definitely want to write more about my specific opinions and thoughts on my favorite horror films and maybe some of the techniques that we use to try to scare people.  But I feel I need to write now about toughness.

This business is hard.  Being a filmmaker who makes their living doing their craft is a real bitch sometimes.  It's emotionally draining, mentally exhausting, and physically -- well, to tell you the truth, you don't have to move around that much, unless your idea of exercise is driving from the Valley to Burbank or Culver City.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to pursue acting -- at least that's what I said I was going to do.  Directing was my real goal, but I had no idea how to get into that part of the business, so I thought "Acting!  I don't need to know how to type.  I was a theater major in college -- how hard could it be?"  The answer was REALLY FUCKING HARD.  I took acting classes.  Got headshots taken.  Did plenty of showcases (where actors supposedly perform in front of "industry professionals," but in truth the place is filled with our friends and other people we've corralled into coming.)  

Five years later, I got an acting agent.  A year after that, my first role (in a horror movie called "Asylum" starring Robert Patrick and Malcolm McDowell -- I don't even think it's out on DVD  Yup, that's me on the poster there).  A year later, I got another part: a couple of lines on "America's Most Wanted."  Thank God by this point in time I had met Jace -- and in 1997, we started our first script.

Two years later, we got a writing agent.  A year after that, our first writing job: we had a week to rewrite the script to "Crocodile," which was directed by Tobe Hooper.  And the rest is, shall we say, least on imdb.

My point in all this is that I moved to L.A. in 1991.  It took me almost 10 years to start making a living in this business.  But I can say with a lot of pride (and a little disbelief) that I made it through the hard times and kept trying.  It's not just me, either: almost all of my fellow horror filmmakers have gone through something similar.  They might not have been as dumb as me -- to try to use acting (one of the most difficult jobs there is to make a living at, period!) -- as a bridge to writing and directing, but they've all had their own struggles.  Mike Mendez (THE CONVENT, GRAVEDANCERS) and Dave Parker (THE DEAD HATE THE LIVING, THE HILLS RUN RED) started in lowly positions at Full Moon Entertainment.  It took them a long time to get their break.  Everybody else I know -- from Scott Kosar (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE MACHINIST) and Stephen Susco (THE GRUDGE) to Hans Rodionoff (LOST BOYS 2) and Jeffrey Reddick (FINAL DESTINATION, DAY OF THE DEAD) -- spent years working in odd jobs (production assistant, executive assistant, lifeguard) and writing script after script after script before they got their chance.

And still, every day, it doesn't get any easier.  My life is still filled with many more disappointments than triumphs.  My point here is that it takes a long time and a lot of work to even be marginally successful in this business.  So if you want to be a filmmaker (writer/director/producer), be in it for the long haul -- because it takes a long time.  Overnight success stories are the exception, not the rule -- and most of them, when you look close, aren't that "overnight" at all.  It's not impossible to make a living in this business.  It can be done -- and you can do it.  It just takes a lot of work.

You may have noticed I haven't mentioned anything about "talent."  This is because I believe that we're not born with it -- it's something we also have to work hard to achieve.  And honing our skills is the most important part of the journey.

Adam G

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Straight to DVD

The question that comes up the most, whether on Myspace or Facebook or from the clerk at Blockbuster or from the person dressed in zombie makeup at a Fangoria convention, is "Is it going theatrical?"  I'd like to think that this is an innocent question by people who really like to see movies in theaters, but it always seems to have a loaded connotation.  Things that go direct to DVD are bad, movies that come out in theaters are good.  While there is some truth to this, it is certainly not an absolute -- and these days, it's definitely NOT the way that we all should be thinking.

Let's get one thing straight -- movie theaters are the best places to watch movies.  They have big screens, good sound systems, and, well...they're movie theaters.  It's obviously a lot more immersive an experience -- not to mention the fact that you're in the dark, surrounded by people having a like experience, all hopefully feeding on each other's emotions.  Like I said -- fuck, they're movie theaters...and as filmmakers, that's where we all want our movies to be shown.

Unfortunately, these days most horror movies come out -- without much fanfare -- on DVD.  Once more, this is for primarily economic reasons.  To put a movie in wide release in theaters costs a minimum of $15 million -- usually a lot more.  Most horror movies are made for under $5 million.  It doesn't take an economic genius to figure out that putting a low budget horror movie in wide release in theaters is highly risky.  It's not hard for studios or investors to make their money back if the movie's budget is low and it comes out on DVD.  However, if it takes $15 million to put a $3 million horror film on 2500 screens and the opening weekend makes less than $8 million, voila -- you've got yourself a flop, and a lot of people just lost a lot of money.  Most big theatrical horror movies have budgets between $12 and $30 million -- this equals high production values (known actors, great sets, big special effects), so the only way they CAN make their money back is to put it in wide release.  

It should be noted that there are exceptions to this rule --  SAW, CABIN FEVER, OPEN WATER and the THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT being prime examples.  We all root for this to happen.  But let's face it -- it's rare.  Hundreds of low budget horror movies are released every year -- and maybe -- MAYBE -- one gets a big theatrical release.

So what's all this mean?  Don't expect low budget horror films to come out on 3000 screens.  It just doesn't happen often -- nor should it.  In order for a film to appeal to the masses, it can't be that edgy, risky, sloppy or bloody -- and that's what we all like from a good horror film.  Was MARTYRS at your local multiplex?  What about FRONTIERS?  Or my personal fave, BAD BIOLOGY?  Are any of these films not worth watching because they went straight to DVD?  (Actually, in BAD BIOLOGY's case it hasn't even made it to DVD...and I certainly wouldn't expect it in a multiplex anytime soon.)

In another note of interest, EVIL DEAD, HALLOWEEN, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the original DAWN OF THE DEAD were all extremely low budget films.  Most of them would now probably go direct to DVD.  Let's give some of these smaller direct-to-DVD films a chance -- there are hidden gems out there.  I was really impressed recently with SPLINTER.  My buddy Dave Parker's movie THE HILLS RUN RED will be out (on DVD!) in October, I think.  It's bitchin', so check it out.

Let's all just come to the realization that small low budget horror films will be viewed mainly on our home theater systems.  This isn't can pause to go to the bathroom, after all.  Get a drink from the fridge.  Or just because a chick has absolutely amazing breasts.  Direct to DVD should not be a stigma.  It just takes a little more work to find, but there's great shit out there.  As horror fans, let's support the genre, and not pick on the little guy.  I like to think of us as a big family.

On a personal note, the last couple of films I've been involved with -- MOTHER OF TEARS and AUTOPSY -- both got very limited theatrical releases, but most people saw them on DVD.  I was grateful to be able to watch them in a theater, but most people didn't get a chance to see them that way.  All of the other films I've been involved with as a writer went straight to DVD.  NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is due for a bigger theatrical release in October -- all I can be is grateful.  Tonight I'm going to watch THE COTTAGE -- it went straight to DVD.

Blood, guts and pussy,

Adam G