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An Interview with Dylan Greenberg, Director of Wakers

by Mike Haberfelner

July 2015

Films directed by Dylan Greenberg on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Wakers - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Wakers is about a girl named Blessing living in a waking nightmare. Her world makes no sense, her mother is a materialistic religious fanatic, and someone or something sinister is killing her friends. As the adults in (and in one case, out of) her life continue to ruin it further and drive themselves to the brink of sanity, Blessing has to face the killer head on as it undergoes metamorphosis from an unseen force to a human being. It's a lot funnier than it sounds.

 

What were your inspirations when dreaming up Wakers - and to what extent do you identify with Blessing, actually?

 

My inspirations came from two very different sides of the cinema spectrum; On one end, I was inspired by conventional horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street. One the other end, I was inspired by the films of Ryan Trecartin like Center Jenny and A Family Finds Entertainment and Guy Maddin films like Archangel and Careful! In addition, a lot of the plot points came from dreams (both good and bad - and perhaps, some wet). That's why the tone of the film tends to be jarringly inconsistent, as it can shift from looking like a more conventional horror film to looking like a nonsense cluster of fuck shit (and I don't use that term as a negative).

How do I identify with Blessing... see that's interesting because the character was designed specifically for Blessing C.S. to play, considering their first names are even the same. I suppose I can identify with her in the sense that I've been in places where I feel like I'm having a nightmare I can't wake up from, but the film is not by any means a projection of my own life, or at least not an intentional one. A lot of the things Blessing says are completely improvised and at times Blessing fully immersed herself in the role, so some of what you're hearing are just things that Blessing would actually say in real life, just obviously in a completely ridiculous context.

 

Your film is rather trippy in structure - so did you ever run the risk of just losing your plot when conceiving Wakers?

 

Absolutely. To some people, I lost it entirely, and to others, I saved it from becoming dull. I think what one takes away from its plot depends on what they want to see in the first place. If you're going in expecting a horror movie, you're going to get a complete nonsense film. If you go in expecting a wacked out art film you're going to get something with a lot more of a structure then you'd expect.

 

How did the project get off the ground in the first place, and how did legendary indie studio Troma get involved?

 

I had just completed my first feature film Glamarus, and if you'd believe it it makes even less sense than Wakers. It was an interesting movie and it got a pretty warm reception, and it was also produced by Scott Shaw who is one of my filmmaking inspirations. Before Glamarus even premiered I had started thinking up a follow up film. I finally knew I COULD make a feature, so now I wanted to try something more ambitious, with special effects and a larger cast and more locations. So during the premiere of Glamarus, my friend Blessing came early. She had previously been in one of my short films Mark of Sandar and I thought she was a great scream queen, so I said to her: "I'd like you to star in my next movie." She agreed to do it, and within three weeks after the premiere of Glamarus, we're shooting Wakers.

Troma's involvement is interesting because now I'm a full time employee there. At the time I wasn't. I called the Troma office and asked if I could meet with Lloyd Kaufman about being in my film and before you know it, not only is he in my film, but they're letting me use props from their movies. To most, a 500,000 dollar movie is not a big movie, but to me it's a blockbuster, because that's 500,000 dollars more than I spent on my movie. So being able to use props from films of that caliber was a real honor. Pretty soon after that I got a job at Troma and they're helping me with the feature I'm currently in production on, and now I'm doing some of the visual effects on their new film Return to Nuke Em High Vol. 2. It's funny how Lloyd and I first met during the production of Wakers and now I see him nearly every day.

 

In Wakers you play with the conventions of the slasher genre - a genre at all dear to you, actually, and some of your genre favourites?

 

There are some slasher films I love, and many I can't stand. A Nightmare on Elm Street, as I mentioned before, is one of my favorites. They're imaginative, visually beautiful, and most importantly you can empathize with the victims. However I really do not like slasher films that make you hate the victims and make you want the monster to kill them, because what is the point of rooting for the monster? You know he's going to fucking kill them because there's usually only one or two people left, (and of course it's always the virgin white cisgender straight girl) so you might as well just take a nap. I love slasher movies that make you WANT the characters to live, because when they die, it hits you hard and makes you feel something. I guess Wakers is a bit of a play on both sides - I regret that I didn't add more dimension to some of the victims because I think they deserved that. My goal in terms of the slasher element of the film, however, was to make the audience empathize with Blessing. Her character pukes, she curses at her mother, she makes out with girls, she trips fucking balls because she isn't a Madonna. She deserves to live just as much as anyone, and my goal is for people to root for her and not the villain.

 

How would you describe your directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

I suppose my approach was, "make it happen". It's crude, and I think the movie's kind of crude, and that's part of its charm. This actually pissed some of my actors off, but often I'd just say to them, "Do this." "You're scared, be scared." I wanted them to interpret that in their own way and even if the actors didn't like having to do that I liked what they gave me and I adore the performances I got out of people. 

 

Wakers features performances by Troma-head Lloyd Kaufman and Blondie-keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen - now what was it like working with them, and how did you get them even?

 

They're both absolutely fantastic people. Lloyd was so accommodating and really helped me out. Matt came all the way out to my parent's house to shoot his scenes which I really appreciate. I mentioned earlier how I got Lloyd. Lloyd agrees to be in most people's movies. With Matt, I met him and his wonderful wife Laurel during a performance of theirs at an art gallery that my godmother Reverend Jen (who plays the psychic in the movie) was reading at. Matt's just an all around cool guy so when I asked him to be in my movie and showed him some stills, he was pretty into it. I'm really grateful to both Lloyd and Matt for helping me out and seeing the value in a no-budget movie like this.

 

What can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Why not these people?

There's a pretty big cast (I think 35 or so people) so I doubt I can cover everyone individually for risk of making this interview the length of a novel. A lot of them were young queer people who I knew because young queer people in the city all kind of know each other a little bit. A lot of them had also appeared in my movie Glamarus. Rose Cosenza and Christian Saravia in particular have an interesting backstory. I met Rose in Long Island and for my first movie Glamarus I have some scenes where, basically, I followed her around with an Iphone camera, saying hardly anything. She brought me into probably the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life, an abandoned squat by the old railroad tracks in Long Island. I found a license plate on the ground that said "GLAMARUS" and I named the movie after it. Pretty soon after that, she started dating this really nice kid Christian and I suppose they became to my films what "Brangelina" is to Hollywood, so they appear together as a couple in Wakers. They were, at the point of our shooting, homeless but are now raising money to live with their new adopted parents at http://gofundme.com/transfamily - so if anyone reading this could, I'd appreciate if you could help them out.

Reverend Jen, who plays the psychic, as I mentioned before is my real life godmother. She wrote and starred in her own movie Satan Hold My Hand and she recently published an absolutely fantastic book, June, a semi autobiographical account of her life in the sex industry. Robert Prichard who plays Bug Lord in some of the film's most nonsensical scenes was in The Toxic Avenger, and the star of Class of Nuke Em High. Since then he's owned his own theater and now has his own radio station called Radio Free Brooklyn, where he gives underground NYC artists the chance to broadcast all the crazy beautiful shit mainstream radio won't air. Azul Zorilla who plays the first victim (shocker, the character's named Azul) actually starred in a much bigger budget film Stand Clear of the Closing Doors"that was the darling of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. Max Husten is also an amazing ambient musician who does both music and acts as the "Information Man" in the movie.

I do wish I could get to everyone but there are a lot of them. They're all awesome and interesting and certainly  and I'm grateful to everyone who appeared in the film.

 

Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!

 

I think Blessing said it best in the short documentary about the film (now available as part of the Wakers VOD Special Features package on VHX!! Order now at disckpictures.vhx.tv!!), we had a very very loose environment where no one had to worry about being yelled at if they were late, there were no higher-ups to answer to. It was me, a camera, and the actors. My favorite shoot was probably during the final "battle" scene. Blessing and I rode a taxi to the set which for me is a big deal because I hardly ever ride in cabs (nor do I shoot on actual sets). That day felt like we were shooting a bigger movie, as we had lights and a big space and this beautiful huge wheel my friend Kat Green built as well as a giant light up skull. It was like a Batman villain's lair. The dream sequence scene where Blessing hallucinates "Death's Temptress", a girl with blue lips and horns, was also interesting, because at that point principal photography of the movie was nearly over, so the cast and I were walking around Manhattan and we saw this wild art gallery. I asked the guy if I could shoot in the space, and he was about to leave to get a slice of pizza, but he said "sure, why not?" and he stuck around for 10 minutes. So suddenly everyone's back in costume and we're shooting in this beautiful gallery with a wide angle lens. So I guess a lot of the shoot was like "let's do this and let's try to make it crazy. Here's what we have to work with, let's go."

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Wakers yet?

 

A lot of artists or people interested in underground stuff loved the film, a lot of horror fans hated it. I can see why. I look at it as a horror film but really it's a completely experimental movie playing off of horror tropes. I do believe it's a good film (although I can't say I'm not biased) and I'm happy that there's a small group of people who really like it and I'm hoping with my next movie I can reach a wider audience by retaining the experimental side but making the film a bit easier to watch.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Yes! I am very close to finishing filming on my third feature Dark Prism, which is three connecting stories about people thrust into some really crazy situations. I think the best thing to compare it to is Cloud Atlas or Black Mirror, so imagine that with no budget and my visual style, and a lot more nudity and blood. It pays homage to new horror like Carrie and Rosemary's Baby, horror comedy like Troma films and Killer Klowns and the like, and old horror like The Old Dark House and the Corman Edgar Allen Poe films. It's a unique experience because I'm approaching the film as if I'm three different directors so although the stories are very closely related they're also completely different in pacing, visuals and even acting. I'm pretty excited about it and I think it's one of my strongest projects.

Speaking of three directors, I'm also the co-director, cinematographer and editor on an upcoming film called Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space, which is written by Reverend Jen who also directs the film. It's a slapstick comedy parody of horror sci-fi films where werewolf women from the planet Uranus (you can imagine the puns already) descend to Earth to kill evil or annoying people, largely asshole men. It's certainly not a "Dylan Greenberg movie" per se, as I stepped in to co-direct midway through the production (before that I was doing some music for the film and I had a supporting role). It's a Reverend Jen movie, and if you haven't seen her stuff I'd suggest looking it up, especially her new book June and her last feature Satan Hold My Hand. She's an incredibly talented NYC artist and as I mentioned before she is my godmother.

 

What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?

 

I got into filmmaking when I was about 4 or so. I was watching Free to Be You and Me, and there is a scene during the movie's musical number "Brothers and Sisters" where the singers start disappearing on stage. I was bewildered, because I didn't know what a stop cut was. I asked my mom how they made the people disappear like that, and she didn't really understand what I meant, because I was four. Since then I just couldn't stop with movies. I picked up this old VHS camera my mom won in a raffle and started making these awful little creations on it, taking this giant camera everywhere I went in arms that could barely hold it. My mom ended up getting a little digital camera for pictures and I found out it took video too, and quickly enough I figured out how to import into our old computer and eventually how to edit on Windows Movie Maker. I kept making movies and kept editing constantly and all the time, amassing over 300 videos on my old YouTube channel (although a lot of them are not very good, I had it since I was 9, so its just kind of an interesting chronicle of my stuff). I recieved some formal education by attending weekend classes at the New York Film Academy but most of what I learned was self taught. See, the trick to teaching yourself to be a prolific filmmaker from a young age is to not have any friends for a very long time.

 


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Wakers?

 

Well I directed a feature film before this called Glamarus which is even harder to understand than Wakers. It's completely experimental and not horror influenced at all. It creates a certain mood that kind of feels like you're floating. Well, at least it makes me feel that. It has a lot of the same castmembers as Wakers. I've also directed numerous short films which are on my youtube channel youtube.com/dyli which has many of my videos from when I was 9 to now. One of my favorites is a horror comedy short called Mark of Sandar which was the first film I ever made that stars Blessing. If it weren't for Mark of Sandar there wouldn't be Wakers.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

That's such a hard question to answer without sounding really pretentious, for me at least. I guess I would describe myself as very efficient but also completely impractical. Like I've always thought of myself as a Roger Corman type [Roger Corman bio - click here] because I can work and film very quickly with a tight budget, but that's also me being egotistical. The difference is that the stuff I create doesn't make any sense and doesn't appeal to most mainstream audiences. I'm really proud of my visual style however and I think I'm starting to find a signature look.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Alright, Guy Maddin, Nick Zedd, Roger Corman [Roger Corman bio - click here], Eric Fournier, Samuel Shanahoy, John Waters, Dario Argento, Ryan Trecartin, Jim Sharman, Jim Henson, Godfrey Ho [Godfrey Ho bio - click here], Don Dohler, Jim Wynorski [Jim Wynorski interview - click here], Harmony Korine, Lloyd Kaufman, and George Melies. There's probably more I just forget.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Right now? I think one of my favorites is Guy Maddin's films Archangel and Careful!Gummo, (ugh I know everyone and their mother likes Gummo), Trecartin's films A Family Finds Entertainment and Center Jenny, Argento's Phenomena, and probably Shock Treatment.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

I really dislike The Dark Knight and I think it ruined the superhero genre, although I don't hate Christopher Nolan. However, I DO hate Clint Eastwood and everything he has ever directed and I think he is the king of dumpster shit people who ruins movies for everyone. American Sniper belongs in the dirtiest dumpster along with Mr. Eastwood's other garbage monstrosities such as Gran Torino and Trouble with the Curve as well as Jersey Boys, which is a movie better suited for a man made from cheese than an actual human being. I hope Clint Eastwood falls down a flight of stairs and I think he is a morally bankrupt sad excuse for a human being and certainly a director. Him and his garbage conservative propaganda films can go to Hell, which is probably where Clint Eastwood, the overlord of Hollywood scum, came from in the first place.

 



Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

My website is: http://disckmediagroup.co.vu

To stream my movies Wakers or Glamarus go to http://disckpictures.vhx.tv. You can now stream either the 94 minute cut or the original 2 hour cut of Wakers.

My Facebook page where I post about all my projects, both cinema and musical, as well as many weird little 15 second videos can be found at https://www.facebook.com/DisckMusic

 

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Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

I guess I didn't mention I'm also a musician! I just released an album called Come On! Come On! Betty Bomb! that's on Itunes/Spotify/everything else now, and I released one before that called really secret elevator which is a pretty fun little pop album. I also wrote a children's book about being nonbinary called Sid Doesn't Feel Like a Boy or a Girl! which is available on amazon as well as downloadable as a free educational resource in pdf format at nonbinarybook.blogspot.com. Lastly I am now branching out and distributing other people's work (especially movies) for a 25% distribution fee so if anyone would be interested in not making a ton of money but having someone honest and actually reachable distribute their work, hit me up at thisisdylangreenberg@gmail.com.

Also, if Clint Eastwood, ultimate cinematic piss boy, is reading this right now, fuck you, useless imp.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
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A Killer Conversation

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