Your new movie American
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire - in a few words, what is it about?
Impalement, lechery, cannibalism ... and cheese doodles.
Or, as our short synopsis reads: "A local rite goes frightfully
wrong when a group of teenage boys encounters a sinister hunting party,
a bloodthirsty tribe and a mythical beast in the backwoods of New
Expounding ever so slightly, it's a hybrid horror amalgam that pays
homage to genre tradition while also tweaking the formula. It's a
gritty, grisly, gory trip into the fringes of society - and human nature
- with hints of existentialism, transcendentalism and Darwinism.
And, of course, plenty of cheese doodles.
own feelings about the (real) American backwoods - and which group cin
your movie ould you identify with the most, the hapless youngsters, the
gun-toting hunters ... or the lost tribe of vikings even, and why?
I'm an enormous fan of the backwoods - particularly the uncharted
pockets that have somehow managed to remain unstained by the filthy hand
of mankind. But wherever man unleashes his primal nature, the
purity of Mother Nature is often compromised beyond repair. Certainly,
desecration and destruction are transpiring - and "unique"
folk lurking - in the American backwoods, and that's what we aim to
explore in the film.
As for our characters, I suppose there are shadings of my own
sensibilities amongst each faction. Having grown up in rural New
Hampshire myself, I can relate to the banality-busting, puerile
pursuits - and inevitable loss of innocence - represented by the
"hapless youngsters". As for the hunters, while I
don't personally shoot prey - be it for sport or food (be it human or
otherwise) - I can appreciate their camaraderie, competitive nature and
commitment to their "craft". And as far as our tribesman
are concerned, despite the archaic means by which they seek their ends,
I empathize with their unrelenting will to complete their mission.
In short, behind the immaturity, illegality and insanity, all of these
characters are just damaged souls longing to be loved - and aren't we
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire being a slasher movie - is that a genre
at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites/inspirations?
Prior to the conception of this film, I hadn't given serious thought to
writing/directing a slasher - but in the time that had elapsed since my
first indie feature years earlier, all signs gradually began to point in
that direction. For one, I wanted to write roles for a bunch of
friends who are collectively characterized by an intense,
blue-collar approach to artistry - so the characters and story evolved
organically from there. Factor in my desire to take a soul-sparing
sabbatical from the Hollywood hustle - coupled with the opportunity to
film in my own childhood backyard (literally) - and a throwback slasher
just seemed like a no-brainer.
Around that same time, I had taken a strong interest in New French
Extremism (Martyrs, for instance) and also began revisiting some horror
staples from my adolescence. My early exposure to the genre was
generally limited to whatever campy 80's schlock my next-door neighbor
could get ahold of on VHS back in junior high - but the film that left
the most indelible impression was the original Texas Chainsaw
Massacre (which made Gunnar Hansen's visit to our set even more
special). I also have a soft spot for Return of The Living Dead
(big Tarman fan here), and I still consider John Carpenter's The
Thing to be my favorite suspense/thriller of all time (not to
mention the practical FX, which still hold up to this day).
sources of inspiration when writing American
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire? And is any of this based on true
stories or urban legends?
Whether it's a hoax or the genuine article, I consider the
Patterson-Gimlin film from 1967 to be one of the most riveting films
ever made - and it seems that every state/region in the U.S. has its
very own resident boogeyman - so I definitely wanted to inject some of
that into our backwoods, brouhaha. Additionally, I wanted to
introduce a viable historical "threat" - something specific to
the region, a force that had either been awakened after a lengthy
dormancy or perpetuated by a modern-day cult.
In short, I can't recall precisely what inspired the film or the order
in which my ideas germinated, but I found myself extrapolating some of
the more compelling local history while simultaneously exploring some of
the more frightening aspects of the human condition. What
resulted, I hope, is a low-budget genre film that transcends both the
budget and the genre to give viewers a unique ride through
the uncharted regions of New Hampshire - and, perhaps, their own minds.
How would you describe your
directorial approach to your story at hand?
For this film, my directorial approach was decidedly laissez-faire -
partly by design, partly out of necessity. Given the budgetary
constraints, significant artistic and technical compromises were
inevitable - and since I was also producing the film and playing a larger
on-camera role than I had originally intended, when it came to
directing, it was really a matter of trusting my instincts and
preparation. While I did have a specific vision for the style and
tone, I felt that it would have defied logic - and the best
interest of the film - for me to have been too heavy-handed in search of
some specific directorial signature.
I've often said that I do a majority of my directing during casting -
and there was no exception here. Add in some good fortune by
enlisting a tiny but talented and tireless crew, and - despite the
ambitious schedule that led to the daily avulsion of multiple set-ups or
entire scenes - I was confident that we were getting what we needed to
at least Frankenstein a movie together in post.
They say that there's the film you write, the film you shoot and the
film you edit - and all three are substantially different. From a producing
perspective, I'm incredibly proud of the film that we shot and edited. As a director, however, I'll probably always remember the film
that was written, and wonder what could have been if only we'd had more
time and money. If only ...
does feature a few quite gory scenes - so for the sake of the gorehounds
in my readership do talk about those for a bit, and how were they
Practical make-up/gore FX were handled primarily by underground horror maestro
Michael Todd Schneider, with whom I had long been planning a
collaboration. During pre-production, Michael was assisted by
colleagues in Pittsburgh, as well as a former art school chum who
handled a chunk of the design-and-build process remotely. On-set
application was again handled by Michael, with an invaluable assist by
Eric James. Both Michael and Eric also appeared in the film,
though, so scheduling FX around their shooting schedules proved
challenging - but in the end, our bare-bones team acquitted themselves
On the page, the script was wall-to-wall blood and guts. The
extent to which I detailed each gruesome killing originally read like
a coroner's report. With such a high body count, however - and
without the time and budget necessary to pull off the FX in brutally
honest fashion - there was a distinct possibility that it would not
translate on screen and we'd end up with a campy schlock fest. Now,
there's nothing wrong with a film like Dead/Alive - in fact,
it's rather delightful - but it's just not what I had in mind here.
So since we were only able to allocate about one-third of what had
been originally projected for the FX budget, I was left with little
choice but to trash a major portion of our FX list. Only the
essential elements would now be filmed - and only those successfully
executed would make the cut. From there, the emphasis shifted to
augmentation in post (via sound design/mix, musical composition and
the edit). The audience's imagination and participation - as
opposed to mere observation and inevitable desensitization - would now
become a key factor in selling the gore. Sometimes
less truly is more - and then again, sometimes you just
slash a jugular - so it really was all about striking a balance
between implication and exhibition.
What can you tell us about your key cast, and
why exactly these people?
Shoddy casting is often the death knell for what could be an otherwise
solid film. Indie horror audiences may be a forgiving bunch, but
there's no reason that they should be consistently force-fed wooden or
scenery-chewing performances. At the time that American
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire was conceived, I was
surrounded by a slew of colleagues whose collective talent I felt was
being criminally underutilized - so many of the roles were actually
written with those specific actors in mind. Then, like the Pied
Piper, I lured them out into the woods to have my way with them.
relationship with some of the cast members goes all the way back to my
first low-budget feature (Mike Apple, Brian Allen, John Joyce, for
example) and most others I met in the indie film scenes in Boston and
Los Angeles in the years since. I also held an open call in Los
Angeles, which is where I met and cast a few additional talents,
including Dayo Okeniyi (The
Hunger Games, Terminator: Genisys)
and French actresses Claire Dodin and Gaya Verneiul.
was thrilled with the collective contribution of our cast and it's
always wonderful to hear their work being applauded. I only wish
that we'd had more time to experiment - as they were typically limited
to just a couple of takes and they were often just hitting their strides
when we were forced to move on. Regardless, they deserve a ton of
credit for whatever modest success this film may achieve.
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire being mostly an outdoors movie: Where
was it filmed, why there, and what were the advantages but maybe also
challenges filming there?
Principal photography was an emaciated 16 days - and we filmed
exclusively on location at multiple properties throughout New Hampshire
and on one amazing 14-acre plot of land along the coast of Maine. About
7 or 8 days of pick-ups eventually followed - all of which were shot in
New Hampshire, with the exception of one final scene that was shot in
Big Bear Lake, CA. Even though it was an interior scene, I still
rented a cabin in the woods to simulate the vibe of the New Hampshire
backwoods as closely as possible.
The most obvious downside to filming on location was the cost of airfare
required to get our LA-based cast members to/from set - and the tangled
logistical web of transportation and lodging that it created. We
also filmed a lot of night exteriors - in prematurely frigid
October/November - and eventually the sleep deprivation and chattering
teeth began to take their toll. There was also snow on the ground
during pick-ups - which, as you might imagine, would have been a
laughable continuity error.
But for me, the palpable sense of authenticity when you're filming on
location - and the immersive energy that it engenders - can't be
replicated in a studio or in, say, the Angeles National Forest. Plus,
I'm fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive extended network
of family and friends in New Hampshire who provided immeasurably
invaluable support services that helped us to stretch a Dollar in ways
that are simply impossible in Los Angeles. So, all in all, the
anxiety and discomfort associated with a couple of missed flights and
runny noses were a small price to pay for filming on location.
What can you tell us about the
shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
It was definitely cold. And often dark. And occasionally
exhausting. And sometimes heartbreaking. Yet usually
educational. And perpetually invigorating. And infinitely
enriching. And ultimately inspiring.
And when I wasn't throwing a tantrum or forgetting my lines or worrying
that my cast and crew was regretting every second of the experience, we
even shared a laugh from time to time. If you get your hands on
our DVD, check out the gag reel and audio commentary for evidence.
A few words
about critical and audience reception so far?
We enjoyed a brief festival run, got nominated for a few awards, and
received recognition from Rue Morgue Magazine for "Goriest Scene Of
The Year" - all humbling and encouraging, indeed. We've held
a handful of public screenings as well, and while we certainly have
left some viewers scratching their heads (or occasionally walking out),
we've had just as many repeat viewers, and the prevailing post-show
reaction has been visceral - which we obviously hope is indicative
of what to expect from the hardcore horror base.
Critical reception to date has been predominantly positive, as well,
with well over a dozen flattering reviews - and with virtually every
reviewer praising the film for its gore. We understand that not
everyone is going to embrace or enjoy the film, but we feel confident
that those who really love their indie horror gory but not gimmicky -
and familiar but non-formulaic - will really dig the experience.
projects you'd like to share?
I've been developing a project with Matt Hish (Officer Girth in American
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire). It's a psychological
thriller/horror that spans the course of about 15 years back in the 70s
and 80s. It's pretty heavy, heady material; art-house but
commercially viable - at least that's the plan. The script is
several drafts deep, but it'll require a relatively substantial budget,
so it may take some time set in motion.
I've also been collaborating on a project with PJ Hennigan (Pinksock in American
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire). We're adapting a script that
was originally written about a decade ago by a friend back in New
Hampshire, and the plan is for it to become the next installment in the American
Backwoods franchise. It's not a direct sequel to American
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire, but there is connective tissue between the worlds
explored in both films - only this one will be set in neighboring
Vermont and will explore a different horror sub-genre or two.
Aside from that, I am always available for hire as a writer/director,
actor or circus clown with no discernible talent.
Going through your
biography, you seem to have had a very colourful past life - so do shed
light on some of your career highlights? And what got you into filmmaking
eventually, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
Full disclosure: A portion of my IMDb bio is actually utter
nonsense. I wrote it as a gag several years ago and never bothered
to change it. Though I did actually appear in a commercial
with Jessica Alba once - and was subsequently sought out for an
interview by a Jessica Alba fan site in France. I told them that
she smelled nice. It was truly sublime stuff.
As for legitimate career highlights, aside from being cast as a
carjacker thrice in a year, I'm not sure that I have any. After
all, I've spent far more money as a filmmaker and actor than I've
ever made, so I'm not sure that qualifies as a "career."
If it does, then I suppose I am actually a biathlete, a game show
host and a bicep model (as noted in my IMDb bio) - because at least I'm
breaking even in those fields.
As for formal filmmaking training, aside from a few film theory/history
electives in college, I've got none to speak of. This might
explain why I'm supposedly a "genius" to those who enjoy my
work; and why I'm every bit the "f*cking hack" that my
detractors vociferously declare me to be.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to American
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire?
Mutual Admiration Society (feature, dark comedy, 2002) -
Anvil Pants (feature, music doc, 2008) -
American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire (feature, horror, 2013) -
*and a bunch of inconsequential comedic/music/experimental videos and TV
pilots in between.
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
But generally adequate.
Filmmakers who inspire
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
I've never really pledged my unwavering allegiance to
any particular director's entire body of work, but I have been most
consistently awed/inspired by the work of Kubrick, Lynch, PTA, Scorsese,
Refn, Von Trier and Sean Penn. For horror, I'd argue that
masterpieces outweigh missteps in the catalogues of Carpenter and
Cronenberg. If I achieve even a fraction of the success that those
men feel when they defecate, then I'll know that I've accomplished
something in life.
Your favourite movies?
Clockwork Orange, Boogie
Nights, Heat, The Deer Hunter, Tombstone, Dancer
In The Dark, American Psycho, Taxi
Driver, Mulholland Drive, The King of Comedy, Martyrs,
The Thing ...
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
I reserve a particular
disdain for the career of Cameron Diaz. I find her to be unusually
abhorrent. And I'm still furious with whomever greenlit Weekend
At Bernie's 2. I mean, enough is enough. The corpse has to
rot at some point, right? Cremate the poor bastard already.
website, Facebook, whatever else?
Official Full-Length Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YE9pRK6WBk
Anything else you're
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Backwoods: Slew Hampshire
is currently available on numerous digital
platforms throughout North America - including select cable providers
(VOD), Amazon Instant, Itunes, Vudu, and Hoopla! Also, the DVD -
featuring 5.1 surround sound, gag reel and audio commentary - is available
for purchase through Amazon:
for the interview!
Thank you for your interest in the film,
Michael - We genuinely appreciate your support!