Your short Contact
- in a few words, what is it about?
movie follows a couple that seems very much at ease with themselves and
the world, and their adventure of procuring and taking a strange
underground drug. The woman, played by Zoë Daelman Chlanda, finds herself
plummeting into a nightmarish bad trip, and her lover tries to pull her
back out. Contact is about feelings of love and connection, but not in the
Hallmark card sense of those words. Taking risks with someone is a pretty
scary proposition. Some viewers have taken the movie to be an anti-drug
public service announcement, but for me the drugs were a vehicle for me to
get at the insecurities that are lurking under the skin of our main
Zoe Daelman Chlanda, Alan Rowe Kelly
What inspired you to
make the film, and was any of this based on your personal experiences?
few years ago, I directed a short film called The Pod about a nocturnal
drug-induced adventure, and while I was happy with some aspects of that
film, particularly genre filmmaker Larry Fessenden’s cameo as the
transgressive, philosophical dealer, in many ways we had not pushed the
material far enough. With Contact, we pared down the material to the
essential, eliminating almost all dialogue, all traces of backstory, all
exposition, we even shot this picture in black and white. Our goal was to
create a pure cinematic experience. Maybe someday, I’ll attempt the
project again as an even more experimental one-minute emotional hand
grenade. As for the personal experiences within the film, I’d prefer to
keep those personal. The movie no longer belongs to me; it’s for the
audience to interact with and interpret, should they so choose.
Robin Leigh Davis, Zoe Daelman Chlanda
personal views about (hallucinogenic) drug use?
should have total freedom, but be careful what you wish for. I know a
particularly talented and famous independent horror filmmaker who says
that if he ever took LSD again, he would probably rip his eyes out of
few words about your principal cast, some of whom had to go through some pretty
Zoe Daelman Chlanda
cast was one of the best I have ever worked with; brave and fearless and
with a very clear-eyed shared intelligence. Working with an actress like
Zoë informs the film; she attacked the role with serious discipline. We
had extensive rehearsals with her and Robb Leigh Davis, who plays her
lover, and developed the underpinnings of the relationship. By the time we
arrived on set, their characters felt very real to us, even though CONTACT
is a minimalist short film, only 10 minutes long. Minimalism only works if
you see the tip of the iceberg but vast depths underneath are suggested. I
am also grateful to Katherine O’Sullivan and Tom Reid, who play her
parents, and they reveal a great deal about the family dynamic through
very specific gestures and actions. We had a lively and thorough rehearsal
with them as well. Those rehearsal periods are when the movies really come
to life, and the process of shooting them is capturing moments in time
that we’ve explored. Working with actors is one of my great joys.
What can you tell us about the shooting of
the movie itself?
the scenes involving the parents, we used natural light coming in through
the windows at an opportune time. Cinematographer Dominick Sivilli loves
using the smoke machine, not to create a fog effect but to pick up the
beams of light coming through the window. The effect is beautiful and can
be achieved on a low budget if you are resourceful and lucky. I bring it
up only because this was the first scene we shot and it set the tone for
the entire production; we fostered a creative environment where the work
was taken seriously, and everyone was committed to being good. It was a
rigorous, lively and intense experience making the movie, but also an
incredibly happy one because I enjoyed working with all of my
collaborators. As for the scene where the lovers take the drug, that was
perhaps the most demanding set of challenges for the actor, but we worked
with a skeleton crew and did everything possible to make it a comfortable
and safe environment for them to work. They’re naked, they’re dealing
with special effects, and the material is very emotionally intense; but at
the end of the day we all felt very good about what we had shot; it was a
positive and fulfilling experience.
Nobody who has seen your movie is
likely to forget the scene in which during a kiss the lead character's
mouth is stretched beyond breaking point. Now where did that scene come
from exactly, and how was it achieved?
Zoe Daelman Chlanda
special effects were designed by Daniel J. Mazikowski, who I’d worked
with on my previous film The Pod and
on James Felix McKenney’s Satan Hates You (which I co-produced with Jim, Lisa Wisely and Larry
Fessenden). The effect was done in multiple parts, one of which was an
appendage connecting the two actors coated in layers of squishy latex that
Zoë and Robb could tug on. It demanded enormous reserves of patience from
them, as well as trust. We were all very proud of the effect in the
finished film. As for our influence, are you familiar with the painting by
Edvard Munch called The Kiss? Lovers are entwined and their faces
seem to be fused together. The image has always haunted me, and became the
starting point for Contact. The rest of the film was a build towards that moment in the
has led to you directing your debut feature, the still in-production The
Sadist. A few words about that film?
The Sadist came about as a direct result from showing
Contact online. It was an experiment to see if we could generate a viewership
this way instead of submitting to film festivals, and the horror
blog-o-sphere caught wind of us and was very supportive. We were fortunate
that the producers of The Sadist enjoyed our film and hired me to direct their movie,
which offers an intense and character-driven twist on the killer in the
woods movies we’ve become familiar with. Instead of considering the
movie a slasher film, I treated it instead as if we were making a
Universal horror picture. My biggest request was to hire a strong physical
actor with charisma, presence and depth as the titular villain — not
simply a stuntman or body builder. Of course we found someone who I
thought would be very good, and by God he was more than good… I’m sure
this will lead into your next question!
Creative differences between Tom Savini and
Jeremiah Kipp are resolved on the set of
stars special effects legend Tom Savini. What can you tell us about him,
and how was it to work with him?
with Tom Savini was rewarding both personally and professionally. I called
around to other directors asking what he was like to work with, and they
said he was enthusiastic, dedicated, passionate about his craft, and loved
playing movie villains. That was very much the man I encountered. If Tom
dislikes someone, it’s pretty obvious. You don’t wonder how he feels
about you. He approaches his life and his work with a refreshing candor.
But if he trusts you, he’ll go above and beyond the call of duty in ways
that are innovative and remarkable. It was a really great collaboration,
and I’d love to work with him again sometime.
You have also recently
produced Satan Hates You by James Felix McKenney. A few words about
that movie and its rather stellar cast?
was made by Glass Eye Pix, an independent production company in New York
City that specializes in bold and unique genre films. Jim was making a
movie in the style of the 1970s Christian Scare Films, which have a kind
of Old Testament fierceness to them combined with the raw, grainy
grindhouse feeling of drive-in horror movies. That was a banner
experience, and Jim creates a wonderful family atmosphere on the set. Our
cast included genre veterans such as the lovely Debbie Rochon, who is
unerringly professional, the colorful and incredibly funny Michael
Berryman, and Reggie Bannister from Phantasm, who was very much like the fun Reggie persona he plays in
those films. I loved working with Angus Scrimm previously on I Sell the
Dead, also for Glass Eye Pix, and consider him an old school
character actor from Hollywood who comes to the set knowing his lines,
very prepared, and courtly and respectful towards the people he works
with — a true gentleman.
current or future projects you'd like to talk about?
now, it’s all about post-production on The Sadist. But there are other projects waiting in the wings. We’ll be
shooting pickup shots in the spring, so in the meantime my editor Dominick
Sivilli and I will be cutting Crestfallen,
a work-for-hire short film we made out in Bloomington, Indiana for
producer Russell Penning. That afforded me the opportunity to work with
the very talented Scream Queen Deneen Melody [Deneen
Melody interview - click here], and the movie was
co-produced by Marv Blauvelt, who has been the hub of the wheel for
Midwestern horror movies lately. There are a few other projects that are
waiting to break; let’s see what the future holds. But I have a monster
movie I’d love to direct, as well as a post-apocalypse horror film
starring Jerry Murdock and Zoë Daelman Chlanda, who are fast becoming the
Tracy-Hepburn of independent horror.
to Contact, you had
already directed quite a number of shorts. Why don't you talk about those
for a bit?
wonder if it was a poor career choice to make so many short films over the
years. I am proud of how they
turned out, particularly one I made in 2003 called The Christmas Party
that toured international film festivals for three
years, including prestige fests like Cannes and Clermont-Ferrand and
generated some wonderful reviews. That led to my doing a series of
work-for-hire movies for Canon to show off their new products, including
the first film ever shot on the Canon XL2. I felt like I learned a lot
about directing, working with the camera, working with the actors, and a
lot about myself, but in retrospect I wish I had chased down some other
feature length projects. Certainly, that’s where I am at now in my
career. Someone who was quite smart about making short films was Anthony
Sumner, a talented Chicago filmmaker who put all his short films together
into an anthology film called Slices of Life. Aspiring filmmakers should really think about going
in that direction with their work instead of treating short films like
stand-alone works; they are useful as calling cards otherwise, but
You've also worked on quite a few films as
assistant director over the years. A few words about that aspect of your
career, and some of the films you've been working on?
had banner experiences working as assistant director on Glenn McQuaid’s I
Sell the Dead, Alan Rowe Kelly’s The Blood Shed [Alan
Rowe Kelly interview - click here] and James Felix McKenney’s Automatons.
When you’re working with a strong director, the assistant job feels like
you’re paving the road for something special. My most recent great
experience was working on a Dutch-American co-production called Somewhere
Tonight starring John Turturro. Watching him do scene work, the way he
carried himself on set and the way he shaped his performance, was
beautiful to observe; and when he spoke about his character’s
intentions, I’d never heard anything so poetic yet so clear. In some
ways, my assistant director career has taken a backseat to producing and
especially directing, but I’m still open to working on project I believe
did you get into the film industry in the first place?
high school, I made hundreds of terrible movies in my backyard. And I had
my heart set on going to New York University, I think because Martin
Scorsese had gone there. I chased after every grant and scholarship I
could get my hands on, and compiled a three-minute reel of my lousy
movies. Those, combined with my strong SAT scores, got me into college; I
was a poor kid done good. After film school, I was fortunate enough to get
a job right away doing production coordinating for a documentary
production company that made movies about art, architecture, music and
dance—they were making a doc about Philip Glass and other New York
composers at the time. That launched me into the film industry, and I’ve
been there ever since.
the years, you've pretty much done it all, writing, directing, producing,
assisting, and who knows what else. What do you like the most, what could
you do without?
I love making movies. Sometimes the low budget world can grind you into
despair, especially as a freelancer. It is a tough racket. Making movies
at this level will test your stamina, your finances, your soul. Directing
movies is a passion of mine, producing and assisting is a vocation, and
writing can be both the loneliest place and the most comfortable, since
that is where you have the most freedom; writing words on the page costs
nothing but creative resources. I would love to find the time to write
more often. But right now, directing and producing take up most of my
Throughout your career, you seem to
return to the horror genre quite regularly. Is this just coincidence or is
horror a genre dear to you?
have loved the horror genre ever since I was a child. There is an early
picture of me as a toddler standing next to a blackboard having drawn
pictures of Frankenstein,
The Wolf Man, and my first home
movies were horror movies, with zombies in the backyard using all the kids
from the neighborhood and space ships made out of the washer/dryer and my
grandfather’s metallic sculpture collection. I have always loved the
possibilities inherent in the horror film; it unlocks the imagination.
Directors who really inspire
we were making The Sadist, I was
watching a lot of John McTiernan (Predator),
Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) and
Samuel Fuller films — smart B-movies that grabbed you and never let you
go. But I also love the actor-driven freedom of directors such as Robert
Altman and Mike Leigh. It would be great to see more horror films using
their techniques. And during Contact,
I am sure I had David Lynch and David Cronenberg on my mind, though I was
more looking at photographs by Gregory Crewdson and paintings by Edvard
You favourite movies?
the top of my head, I love Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop,
Carol Reed’s The Third Man, Mike
Leigh’s Naked, Andrzej
Zulawski’s Possession, John
Carpenter’s The Thing, Ingmar
Bergman’s Shame, anything with
James Cagney, and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, but this is far from a definitive list. I love watching The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn
of the Dead, Videodrome… all the usual horror classics were
incredibly important to me. The original King
Kong… Son of Frankenstein…
could go on and on with this.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
course, movies you really deplored?
really, really hate Home Alone.
I find it stupid, irresponsible and not funny. Horror films are always
attacked for their amoral content, but I feel like the characters in this
movie behave like leeches. It’s easier to attack genre films because
they aren’t hidden under a sugary-sweet coating that often covers the
most reprehensible movies.
Facebook, MySpace, whatever else?
don’t have a Web site, but here are some links to my work.
CONTACT (short film): http://vimeo.com/16334767
THE SADIST (trailer): http://vimeo.com/14663470
CALVIN KLEIN spec commercial: http://vimeo.com/9811101
ARMANI EXCHANGE spec commercial:
THE CHRISTMAS PARTY (short film): http://www.facebook.com/?sk=messages&tid=1532134393274#!/video/video.php?
APARTMENT (short film): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPRsK5QksLk
MY FACEBOOK PAGE: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=708994855
Anything else you are
just dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
covered a lot of ground, don’t you think?
for the interview!