Your film Dropping Evil
- in a few words, what is it about?
The plot itself is about a group of high school kids who accidentally
end up in a horror movie where they're the monsters. But really, it's a
movie about intrigue. It's a movie about building ideas, giving hints, and
how that relates to your audience. It's about genre expectations.
How did the project
come into being in the first place? And how did you and your writer Louis
Doerge, and what
was your collaboration like?
Louis and I met at an amazing
video store called That's Rentertainment in Iowa City, where we both worked. We would spend our shifts together talking about our favorite films,
showing each other new material, and basically getting excited about the
idea of making something. So we decided to get off our butts and actually
do it. We started with a half-hour version of Dropping
Evil. It was an old
idea of Louis' where he'd wanted to make a horror film exploring the idea
that both the heavy and the victims perceived each other as the villains;
an experiment in perspective. We made a messy punk-rock short out of that
idea (a movie that's still incredibly near and dear to us), which
eventually evolved into the feature.
What can you tell us about the writing
process as such, and was it always the plan to morph the movie from pure
slasher into something else gradually, or did you just make it up as you
The idea was to start with the pretense that
this was a slasher film and to gradually reveal a grander and more
sinister world motivating and driving it. There was a lot of material shot
for potential sequels that unfortunately we didn't end up using, which
pushed it into more of an experimental direction. So I can see completely
how it may look as if things were being made up as they went along upon
first viewing, but it's really a matter of editing. The short films on the
disc follow up on specific characters' arcs and fill in some gaps, but we
chose to leave the larger explanations... unexplained. The idea that Louis
once noted was an ethos rooted in Japanese horror cinema -- Americans may
crave explanation and rationality, but what's wrong with building
ideological suspense simply for the sake of seeing how battered it leaves
your characters and intrigues your audience? We chose to abandon all hope
for a closed economy narrative in favor of a more impressionist
Church-backed (?) conspiracies, cyborgs,
mutants, sinister experiments, and whatnot. Honestly, could you yourself make total sense of it?
Again, this is funny, because it does make total sense to us. We know
exactly how all these pieces fit together. In the original scripts,
every element was explained. But when it came down to it, our grandiose
plan couldn't be executed with our resources. We had the choice to edit
together a sensical but mediocre film, or to switch gears entirely and
go for broke in creating the most interesting thing we could. The idea
was always to create a film that walked equally in the worlds of horror
and art-house, and so some parts are going to make very clear sense,
some parts will need to be inferred, and some parts are up for
interpretation. Personally, I'm happy it turned out that way. I think
it's a far better representation of the values we went into the project
with. If we explained everything, we would've been shooting to be simply
a low-budget genre knock-off instead of delving into the messiness of
what interested us about those genres in the first place.
Evil being a horror/sci-fi hybrid - genres you are at all
actually fond of, and some of your genre favourites?
and I think of ourselves as cinematic omnivores. We wanted to blend a lot
of our loves into one, and we're both excited to move on to more specific
focuses in the future now that we've done it. Of course we love horror
films, but the problem with that genre lately (as Louis and I once
discussed during filming) seems to be that the only people interested in
making horror movies are horror fans. When people look to the great horror
films of the past they're referencing films by writers and directors that
worked in and understood all genres (Polanski, Kubrick, Wise,
etc.). Now you have a lot of horror fanboys competing for who can get the
most tits and blood and Tarantino one-liners in their flick. So we
approached this film as horror fans, certainly, but there's as much
Cassavetes as Raimi in there.
Evil ends with a trailer for a sequel starring Fred Williamson.
And while I suspect this was not to be taken wholly seriously, could you
be persuaded to actually make this movie (provided everything else falls
into place of course)?
That footage is from a longer
sequence included in one of the short films on the DVD, but Dropping
Evil 2... who knows?
With the likes of Armin
Shimerman, Tiffany Shepis [Tiffany
Shepis interview - click here], Felissa Rose, Edwin Neal and Fred Williamson, Dropping
Evil stars quite a few well-respected genre stars - so how did
you get them, what made them perfect for their roles, and what was your
was a snowball effect, really. Louie was able to track down Tiffany and
Felissa, who attached themselves because they dug the script. Then he sent
a "this'll never happen but why not try" email to Fred's agent,
and voilà, the next day I was on the phone with her discussing the terms
of casting him. We flew to LA, shot with Fred and Felissa, who were
amazing, and then flew Tiffany into Iowa a few months later (she was also
fantastic). We were then able to attract Ed due to the fact that we'd
already shot scenes with reputable actors he'd worked with before, so Ed
flew into Iowa as well and we had a wonderful time with him. Armin wasn't
cast until the next year actually, after we'd waited another Winter out.
We'd saved the CEO scenes for last, and being maybe the two biggest Buffy-fans in the world, decided to go for broke again and
cast one of our favorite character actors from the show. Miraculously, it
worked out. Louis and I really can't say enough good things about all of
these actors -- they were completely professional, kind, and happy people
to be around, and it was a breath of fresh air to work with them amidst a
chaotic low-budget production schedule.
What can you tell us about the rest
of your cast?
They're awesome people. Zachary Lint, aka
Coolzey, was actually someone Louis and I knew from working in the
independent music scene in Iowa City. Coolzey's an indie rapper and I'd
done a few shows with him, and Louis and I knew that the energy he brought
to stage would work really well with a idiosyncratic character like Nancy.
Tom Taylor (Mike) was an absolute pro who worked his ass off and put
himself through the ringer for us -- he did all of his own stunts with
gusto and energy, completely embodied his character in every single scene
we shot, no matter how small, and always made his fellow actors feel at
home. I'm not sure I've ever worked with such a dynamic and physical
actor. Rachel Howell (Samantha) was just perfect casting as far as I'm
concerned -- she brought this incredible punk energy with a sweet interior
that made Samantha feel like someone we'd all known and had a crush on
since high school. And Cassandra Powell (Becky) gave us her absolute all
-- she pulled off this amazing transformation from nerd to villain and
ALWAYS stayed Becky. Sadly, we don't get to see a lot of that in Dropping
Evil itself, but the short on the DVD Becky's the Boss gives
you a taste of the depth of her character arc and performance. Truly an
emotional roller-coaster that she rode and rode amazingly. Basically, I
love our cast. We worked together for years and they all gave us so much
emotionally, physically, time-wise, everything. We couldn't have worked
with better people.
How did you approach your story from
a directorial point of view?
I would sit down with the
script, often with Louis, and read through many many many times. I'd set
myself up a rough storyboard (stricter for action sequences), and we'd
shoot to the storyboard and then spend the rest of the time just rolling
and rolling. I did all the camera myself, and many times I shot with
actors just me and them. So it was very important to have one-on-one time
with actors before and during shoots, and to just spend time talking about
what was going on. We always wanted this world to feel like its own
existence, and these characters to feel like real people who we'd just
stumbled upon at a significant time in their life. So there was a lot of
just talking about who these characters WERE, separate from plot. Louis of
course had a vision as well and we were very collaborative when it came to
that aspect. The actual shooting though was a combination of planning and
on-the-spot inspiration. I'd estimate we shot every scene an average of
6-8 times before we called it. I felt my role as a director was a
facilitator. I generally knew what I wanted the scene to look like, but we
all discovered what the scene would feel like together.
What can you tell us about
the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?
was jokes flying around and everyone laughing just hanging out. Sometimes
it was incredibly stressful and rushed, like when we lost an exterior
location due to -20 degree windchill the weekend Tiffany was shooting and
had to rearrange our entire shooting schedule into one day on the fly. But
overall, everyone knew what boat we were in, and we were in it together.
You're gonna have your easy days and you're gonna have your hard days, but
as long as everyone's on the same page you're gonna be fine.
What can you
tell us about critical and audience reception of your movie so far?
been good. Some people have loved it, some people have hated it, and
that's what we expected. We never thought we were making a movie for
everyone. We took a risk in combining two extremely disparate worlds
(horror and art-house), and so for some people it's too arty and for some
people it's too gory. But the thing is, that makes us very happy, is that
the general critic's reception of it seems to get it. What I mean
to say is that despite our low-budget and obvious set-backs with money and
production value, critics see what we set out to do. They see the ideas
and they see the energy we threw into it. I was terrified nobody would
understand it at all, but it turns out that people get it and actually appreciate
what we tried to create. So we're feeling very happy with it.
go back to the beginnings of your careers: What got you into moviemaking
in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the
Louis and I both studied Cinema and Comparative
Literature, as the major was once called, at the University of Iowa. The
UI doesn't have a very great film production program for narrative
features, but it has one of the best film theory programs in the
US. Louis and I had been shooting and making home movies since high school
though, so we didn't mind. We knew how to work a camera and how to
structure a script. We always thought that learning how to analyze a
film's parts, understand theory and watching as much as possible was the
best way to learn how to make movies. I think we both wanted to be
filmmakers for as long as we can remember. For me, the moment was trying
to make monster movies with my dad's VHS-camcorder when I was 8. My mom
helped make the fake blood. I suppose you can blame that on Goosebumps
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior
to Dropping Evil?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
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I'd made a lot of little shorts with friends. A horror series called
The Fine Art of Being Cautious that I made with my friend Will
in high school was essentially just us experimenting with how to make
things scary and how to make cool gore effects. Those were so incredibly
fun to do. A short film called God Hates Fags I made with my
friend Niki in 2004 when we were high school seniors was a documentary on
the Westboro Baptist Church after they came to Iowa City to protest a
local production of The Laramie Project. We road-tripped to Topeka and
interviewed them and did our best to remain neutral and apolitical as
filmmakers, which was a challenge.
future projects you'd like to talk about?
Louis and I
cannot wait for the chance to work together again, but that's all I'll say
How would you
describe yourself as filmmaker?
That's a tough question.
filmmakers, whatever else who inspire you?
In regards to
this film, I was inspired a lot by Cassavetes, Raimi, Woo, Greengrass, and
Godard. But really, inspired by so many million things in music and films
and everything it's impossible to hammer down a concrete list.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
for the interview!