Your new movie House
of Bad - in a few words, what is it about?
I like to call it a Haunted Heist film.
The story follows three sisters whoíve stolen a suitcase full of heroin
from the middle girlís drug dealer boyfriend Tommy. All three are very
compromised characters - Teig, the oldest, has been in and out of prison
and is on her third strike now. Sirah, the middle sister, is a stripper
who obviously has a history of bad choices in men, given her current
partner is a drug dealer. And Lily the youngest has a heroin problem,
which as you can imagine makes being around a suitcase full of heroin
sheís not allowed to touch pretty tempting. The girlsí plan is to hide
out in the remote mountain house that Teig and Sirah grew up in (Lily is
actually a half-sister, we discover) and lay low until the heat dies down
and they can go South, sell the stash and find some measure of freedom to
escape the lives theyíre stuck in.
Unfortunately the childhood house theyíve
picked as their hideaway is also where their father killed Teig and
Sirahís mother, and things quickly start to go wrong when the ghosts of
their parents begin manifesting themselves and turning the girls against
each other. Meanwhile Tommy is after his drugs, and is getting closer and
closer to finding the girls.
were your inspirations when writing House
of Bad, and what can you tell us about your co-writer Scott
Frazelle and the writing process as such?
Itís hard to pin down
what the original inspirations for the idea were. I think they were
pretty varied. Iíd actually started writing House
of Bad back in 2009 as a follow-up to my first feature Prometheus
Triumphant. I was pitching it to my distributor at the time. It was
originally imagined as something much artier - I wanted to shoot it like a
black box theater play and have all the girls wear Kabuki masksÖ which
may explain why my distributor didnít jump at the chance to finance it,
haha. Anyway, a few years passed and Iím now making somewhat more
mainstream fare, so when I revisited the script in early 2011 I started
reimagining it as the more conventional thriller it is now.
Scott Frazelle (whoís
one of the Executive Producers on the film along with his wife Dorota
Skyrzypek) came on at the 11th hour, as we were in
pre-production, to help me out of some trouble spots Iíd gotten myself
into with the narrative. Sometimes you need those fresh eyes. Most of the
basement scenes are his rewrites and thanks to him I think it now all ties
together really well.
of Bad being among other things a ghost story, is that a genre at
all dear to you, and your personal take on the paranormal as such?
love a great ghost story, yeah. One of my all-time favorite films is
Guillermo Del Toroís Devilís
Backbone, which I think is a really elegantly executed supernatural
Iíve had a few encounters over the years with
things I canít explain, having lived and/or worked in some very old
buildings in Savannah, Philadelphia, New York and Pittsburgh - one or two
interesting ones, and at least one pretty freaky one. I drew from that and
from stories told to me by a few friends to create the visual motif in the
film that the ghosts are more like shadows rather than (the more
conventional) glowing apparition-type of ghost you see in a lot of movies.
Itís almost like they create a pocket of darkness wherever they stand.
The ghosts in House
of Bad, one of them you could interpret as being benign, while the other is
obviously straight-up evil. But even the good one is so frightening that
it takes so long for anyone to get past her scary appearance, itís
almost too late.
of Bad is mostly restricted to one single location. What are the
advantages and challenges of this? And what can you tell us about your
location to begin with?
Iíd written the film
with this claustrophobic single environment in mind. The idea of three
girls trapped together in this shunted interior space and how it affects
them was always the key of the story. Of course, life always seems to find
a way to imitate art, and after about a week of filming in that exact type
of situation the cast and crew making the film definitely started getting
some serious cabin fever - which to be honest was really what I was hoping
for a bit - we were all to some degree going through what the characters
did and I think that affected the film in a positive way.
Our primary location was
a house in Pasadena (just north of LA) that actually belongs to a friend
of my wife and I. Sheís an Emmy-winning special effects coordinator, so
she knew what she was getting into allowing a film crew to take over her
house for a week, haha. But it worked out great and her house has such a
cool old-fashioned look that all we really had to do was move all of her
things out and then dress down the place and we had our disused mountain
house. The upstairs was actually a second location because the Pasadena
house didnít have a second floor. That was a smaller place near Santa
Monica, and we shot all those scenes out during a really crazy first day
Obviously the single location allowed us to shoot the film much more
rapidly by not having to pick up and move the production for most of the
filming. We were working with a very small budget, so minimizing the days
saved us in cash. With any film - but especially with low-budget
filmmaking - that kind of practicality has to enter into every stage, all
the way from the writing. Itís about balancing your creative vision with
the realities youíre faced with and finding a way to turn those
limitations into assets for the film. I think in this case it all worked
out really well, but it took some logistics to make it happen, and Scott
my producer and Jenny my AD really saved us in that regard by keeping the
train on the rails day to day.
At times, House
of Bad gets pretty violent (even if much of the violence is of the
mental kind) - so how did you aproach the violent bits of your story, and
did you ever draw a line what to show and what not to show?
When it comes to
violence in my films, I always believe it should be surprising,
frightening and brutal. Not for the sake of entertainment, but because
thatís what experiencing violence firsthand is actually like, and to
romanticize or glamorize whatever violent act is happening onscreen I
think not only lessens its impact on the viewer, but also contributes to
the desensitization our modern culture is experiencing. This was the first
film Iíd directed where there were blank-firing weapons on set, and as
director I really felt an acute sense of responsibility for my cast and
crewís safety, because unfortunately we all know even blank guns can be
Having said all that, as
a writer I do take pride in coming up with gruesome scenarios that will
make an audience squirm, and I think House
has its fair share of those. I like to show things that the viewer maybe
hasnít seen before, to keep them off balance and a little worried about
where itís all going. But itís a fine line between being inventive and
being ridiculous. A few too many frames in a shot are all it takes, and
Iím always aware of that. Sometimes the best thing is to just throw it
away - treat it off-handedly and let the camera just barely glimpse the
grisly stuff, and allow the viewer to create the rest in their mind. I
donít believe in the old Ďthe scariest thing is what you donít
seeí adage. My philosophy is more like Ďthe scariest thing is the
thing you THINK you saw for a second but werenít sure and OMIGOD what
Oddly, thatís pretty much my approach to onscreen nudity as well.
to that, how would you describe your overall directorial approach to your
subject at hand?
try to keep it as simple as possible, and it starts way before the camera
rolls. First off, have a strong story with interesting and well-developed
characters so the cast and crew are all clear about exactly what movie
youíre making, and you donít have to create that on set. Then hire
good actors (not just pretty ones, although on House
of Bad we got lucky and got both) and trust your actors to do what theyíve
worked so hard to learn to do. Too many directors Iíve known try to
manipulate the performances to align with preconceptions theyíve
created. You have to let go and let your actors find the truth in what
theyíre doing, and then gently coax them towards where you need them to
go when necessary. Because the actor is laser-focused primarily on their
own character, itís your job to make sure what theyíre doing works as
an ingredient to the whole.
I think itís critical to create a safe environment for the actors.
Theyíre naked up there in front of people, emotionally (and quite often
physically in my films), and they need to feel secure that they can go
where they need to go. I think we all understand that directing is
incredibly stressful, but if youíre yelling and pouting and having some
kind of director tirade, then the actors are going to naturally close down
to protect themselves. Thatís just human nature. So you have to be the
bigger person and keep that stuff off the set. Same thing goes with the
crew, really. I try to keep it fun and friendly. Making a film is hard and
everyone is working long hours and solving any number of problems and most
of the time not being paid a fraction of what theyíre really worth, so I
see no reason why everyone canít have fun while doing it. Otherwise, why
are we all doing this, right?
I guess itís easier for me because I write
what I shoot, so I know the material pretty intimately going in. Beyond
the logistics of coordinating locations and props and makeup and wardrobes
with my team, really for me itís about having all my storyboards drawn
beforehand - so Iíve done a lot of my creative planning before I even
walk on set, basically figuring out my blocking and coverage so I know
what I need for a given scene and what I donít. That way a lot of my
heavy lifting is done and I can hopefully just focus my creativity solely
on whatís happening in the frameÖ because Iíve learned the hard way
that by the time youíre actually shooting thereís a good chance
youíll be pretty exhausted, and conserving your energies is critical.
Heather L.Tyler, Sadie Katz and Cheryl
Sands - why exactly these three women, how did you find them and what made
each perfect for her role in your eyes?
Sadie and Cheryl all came to us in different ways. Heather was friends
with my producers Scott and Dorota, and they had just seen her in a
one-woman play and were blown away. She came in and auditioned and it was
pretty much a done deal. Heather had some really tough work on this film,
charting Teigís downhill slide to madness and murder, and I think it
pushed Heather further than sheís ever gone before, but the result is
electric. Sheís a very sweet girl, but honestly, when she got into the
Teig character, everyone on set was totally intimidated by her.
had auditioned for a prior film of mine called Manhaters!,
which ended up being delayed, but I remembered her and the magic she
brings to her performances. Sadie has an incredible vulnerability in her
eyes that shoots through the camera and goes straight to your soul. All
these marginalized characters in House
you need to root for someone, and Sadie makes that easy.
was recommended to me by another actress friend of mine, Jamie Bernadette [Jamie
Bernadette interview - click here]. Theyíd done a Creep
Creepersin interview - click here] together and Jamie
couldnít say enough about her. So Cheryl had also auditioned for Manhaters!.
This time around it was really pretty much just a phone call with Cheryl,
and she was in. Cherylís so mellow and easygoing, itís hard to see how
sheís going to do what she has to on camera. But she does and it always
turns out great. And the camera loves her.
Heather, Sadie and Cheryl each brought a
different tool kit and approach to crafting their characters, but they
were all a blast to work with - totally prepared, ready to fight for their
characters because they believed in what they were doing, and of course
theyíre all gorgeous, so they were easy to light and shoot - it made our
job that much easier because none of them have a single bad angle.
A few words
about the rest of your key cast and crew?
We had a fantastic cast
and crew on House
of Bad. I know
everyone says that, but my folks are really like a little family to me and
I hope I can keep working with all of them in the future, just as an
excuse for us all to hang out again, haha.
Lisamarie Costabile and
I have worked on a lot of other productions together over the years in
various capacities, and there was a real kismet to her being pregnant and
my idea of having a pregnant ghost, which Iíve never seen in a film
before. She was a total rock star, letting herself get dragged along the
floor by the hair and pushed around just weeks and even days before giving
birth. Scott was actually ready with a car and directions to the nearest
hospital at all times when Lisamarie was doing her scenes - we were so
worried. But it all went down fine and now sheís a proud mom. We even
gave her unborn daughter a credit on IMDb, because we felt like sheíd
Jim Falkenstein is a
buddy of mine, and is actually one of the funniest people I know. We met
back when I first moved out to LA and was a production assistant. Jimís
actually a really sought-after propmaster who also writes and has been on
TV in a lot of Nickelodeon shows. Hopefully one of those kids will see
this film someday and be totally freaked out.
Clint Jung was another
actor Iíd been trying to work with for a while and Iím glad he could
be our Tommy. Heís another hilarious character who can just switch on
the scary in a way thatís, well, frightening. Clint and Heather worked
together to bring some great ideas to their fight scene, and I believe
theyíve worked together since on another project. Iím glad to have
been the catalyst of that.
We found Julia and
Madison, the two girls who played the younger Teig and Sirah in the
flashbacks, on an online casting site. This film was also my first
experience directing children. Iíve heard horror stories from peers
about working with kids, but I must have cast right because Julia and
Madison were both fantastic and totally professional and easy to work
with. Julia especially had some tough scenes where sheís being abused by
the father and I was nervous about shooting them, but Jim Falkenstein made
sure they got to know each other a little first, so that actually turned
out to be no problem. I feel sure that Julia will be doing big films as
she gets older, sheís a fearless young woman.
I could go on and on
about my crew. Chad Courtney, my DP, is a young guy but if you watch the
film you can tell heís ridiculously talented. Heís also really easy to
work with and is very generous when it comes to my obsessiveness with
details and colors etc. Heís also lightning fast - we were cranking
through twelve pages a day on this film, and there was a lot of handheld
work, so you could say Chad was maybe my best bit of casting in the whole
film. Backing him up in the camera department we had Dashiel Kulander and
Greg Mullin, who were also vital.
My other key people
include my art director Nikki Nemzer, who also handled wardrobe and did
some of the makeup as well. Sheís one of those people who can do pretty
much ANYTHING and do it with a smile and make it look easy. Sheís also a
great actress. Jenny Quam was our AD and did the heroic and thankless job
of keeping me more-or-less on schedule. Jennifer Jackson did both the
girlís beauty makeup AND the ghost makeup effects, while we had this
cool FX guy named Dr. Death handle the real gory stuff - gunshots, etc.
Augmenting those bits was Gregg Detrich our VFX artist, who also did the
real subtle Ďghost interferenceí effects, which Iím pretty happy
with. We lucked out when we got Nina Lucia, whoís edited on all of
Michael Mannís films as well as Pirates
of the Caribbean, to edit the movie. She was great to work with and a
real partner, which is good since we spent almost a year in
post-production. My producers introduced me to Terry Huud, our composer,
and working with him was a great experience. Music is everything with this
kind of film.
Everyone involved worked their butts off for very little money, because
they believed in the project and its quality, which is a wonderful compliment.
What can you
tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
Itís really a bit of
blur now, haha. Overall it went really smoothly, which is what I strive
for. We all worked together to find ways to get through the scenes as
efficiently as possible, sometimes working out how to do it in a single
shot, so we saved time. We rarely went over twelve hours, which is
something for a film our size. I remember thinking I was spending WAY too
much time shooting the scene where the girls are playing Monopoly, and I
remember spending an entire day in that tiny bathroom shooting all the
bathroom scenes, which was extra challenging because that was the only
bathroom in the house and we had a whole crew. I think people were making
trips to the Burger King down the street and not bothering us. Mostly I
remember days and days in that little house made easier with laughter and
smiles and a great team of talented people who love what they do. Thatís
a rare thing in our world.
The last couple days of principal photography were great because we could
get outside and shoot all the scenes in the woods, etc. I think everyone
needed it at that point. Shooting the exteriors reminded me of making my
first films back in Pittsburgh when I was a teenager. Just getting a girl
bloody and telling her ĎRun!í - we all had a blast.
we speak, House of Bad
has been barely released if I'm not mistaken - so what can you tell us
about critical and audience reactions so far?
What is Ommitted
The film is currently for sale through our sales rep
Paul Richís BoPaul Media, but
we havenít settled on a distributor yet. All the reactions so far have
been incredibly promising, so weíll hopefully be making an announcement
back to the beginnings of your career: As far as I know, before becoming a
filmmaker, you pursued a career as painter. So what can you tell us about
Jim Towns, the painter? And how, if at all, does painting compare to
I studied painting and illustration at Savannah College
of Art & Design. I tried to break into comics in NYC for a few years,
but it didnít happen the way I was hoping. So I turned back to fine art,
and showed in galleries for five or six years. I actually did pretty well
I have work in private collections across the US and abroad. But I started
merging into filmmaking because I sensed that I was quickly going to run
out of original things to say with painting. I still paint occasionally,
but most of my visual art has turned towards creating graphics for the
films I make, like the poster art for House of Bad.
And I also do all my own storyboards, so in a way Iím sort of creating a
comic book of the film first, then just making those still drawings move.
Thatís the key to my personal process, I think, and why I can make a
decent feature within a compressed timeframeÖ because I go in knowing
exactly what I need to tell the story, and I donít have to waste time
trying to Ďfind ití.
Flesh and Bone
What made you switch to filmmaking
eventually, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
The critical thing was
the advent of digital video and non-linear editing in the late nineties,
and the availability of digital filters that could give the video a more
filmic look. Iíd made little films throughout high school with my friend
Mike McKown [Mike McKown
interview - click here], and when I moved back to Pittsburgh from New York in í99
and he showed me what he could do, the control we could have over the
media - thatís when I started thinking about making my 2D art come to
life. That was the genesis. I never had any formal training in film, but
my background in comics and visual storytelling I think gave me the
foundation I need to do what I do. Really itís all just telling an
interesting story with a series of images.
first professional short The Sleep of Reason - what can you tell us
about that one, and lessons learned from it?
Sleep of Reason
Sleep of Reason was our first
experiment with tweaking the video to give it the distressed, organic feel
of old film. I think weíve all seen plenty of examples of that done
crappily. To do it right takes some effort and knowledge of film as a
medium, as well as an artistís eye. The story about an insane mental
patient whoís in love with the nurse administering his shock treatments
was something Iíd written years before as a comic, so it was easily
adapted. Iím still very proud of Sleep
of Reason. Iíd like to do a feature someday that captures the look
and palate of that little experiment.
have to talk about your first feature Prometheus
Triumphant for a bit - and what inspired you to make a hommage to
silent and early sound horror movies?
Triumphant could really be its own article, it was such an odyssey.
Triumphant was sort-of the
logical follow-up to Sleep of Reason.
We were taking what weíd learned from that and seeing if we could hold
the viewer for 90 minutes with nothing but a musical score and intertitle
cards. In keeping with the period look we were going for, I wanted to take
themes from all the great horror films from the 20ís and 30ís - movies
like Nosferatu, Cabinet of Caligari, Phantom
of the Opera, and Frankenstein -
and combine them to create a gothic world built out of what all those
great films have in common. Prometheus
Triumphant took Mike McKown and I something like six years to shoot
and edit. We spent weekends in abandoned lunatic asylums, disused steel
mills, and ruined houses all around the Pittsburgh area. Basically the
scariest places you can imagine. Thinking back about the audacity of
creating a silent feature (a decade before The
Artist got adulations for basically doing the same thing) Iím amazed
at our pluck. It certainly was a niche film - a lot of people really
donít get it, but Iím proud of the unique thing we accomplished. It
was released by Cinema Epoch in 2009 and is available online on Amazon and
Other films of
yours you want to talk about? Any future projects you'd like to share?
have two projects in motion right now, and am just waiting to see which
one gets the green light first. A
Man with a Gun is loosely based on the myth of Orpheus and is about a
western gunfighter who travels through Purgatory to rescue the souls of
his dead wife and son. We have Tony Todd (Candyman)
& Dani Lennon (Bite Me)
signed on already, so weíre hoping that will happen soon.
13 Girls is a supernatural
story about a troubled cop (played by House of Badís
Sadie Katz) investigating a mass suicide of students at an all-girlsí
Catholic school, who is then caught up in the middle of an endless battle
between ancient forces of light and darkness. Itís pretty intense stuff.
would you describe yourself as a director?
Iíve been told Iím pretty low key and mellow
overall. I try not to let things upset me, but instead focus on how to
work around whatever obstacle has cropped up at any given moment - because
the problems are going to keep happening whether you get angry or not. I
like to think I can talk to actors in their own language, to cameramen in
their unique dialect, etc., and thatís really just me having filled all
those roles at one time or another in my career. I think I go into
shooting with a very precise vision of the film in my head already, and
itís really just about recording that vision and making it real. To that
end Iím pretty intense when it comes to making sure that actually
happens, because I have to be. It wonít happen on itís own. I like to
think of the film as my boss, and from that perspective itís my job to
do my very best work in service of the film.
who inspire you?
I have directors I look to for different kinds of
inspiration - some inspire me with the visual stories they tell - guys like
Guillermo Del Toro, Tim Burton, Tony Scott, Jean-Pierre Jeunet - real
artists whoís films I enjoy watching over and over again, studying the
color, compositions, editing, etc. Then there are other filmmakers whose
struggles to realize a vision against odds always inspire me - people
like George Miller, Don Coscarelli, Tod Browning, and even Ed Wood [Ed
Wood bio - click here]. Then
thereís just the old guys who are icons like Howard Hawks and Michael
Curtiz. My film school has been just watching what these guys have done
with the means at their disposal, taking whatís useful, and finding out
what works for me as a filmmaker.
Your favourite movies?
Of the top of my head: Nosferatu,
Seven Samurai, Yojimbo,
Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), pretty much
ALL the old Universal
monster films, King
Kong, The Frighteners, Bubba Ho
Tep, Man on Fire, Richard Donnerís Superman, Terminator. Iím forgetting two-thirds of my favorites,
probably. This is just stuff I can see on my shelf from where Iím
sitting right now. Some of them maybe arenít the BEST films ever, but
theyíre ones I can watch over and over and still find new things to
love. Also, Iím an 80ís child so naturally all the original Star
Wars and Indiana Jones films had a formative effect on me. Like so many
artists of my generation, those two trilogies were my first experience in
understanding that people actually CRAFTED these movies I enjoyed so much
the men behind the curtain, so to speak.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Thatíd mostly be films you see that are obviously
born in the stockholdersí offices - films that are targeted to
demographics and created with formulas for a big opening weekend and
thatís all. Disposable art thatís too common right now to even list.
They take advantage of our weakness for movies and exploit it, making us
waste two hours of our life on gimmicky insulting crap when we could have
been watching something rewarding like Stake
Land. Thereís a few directors out there doing stuff that I
absolutely despise, of course, but I know that to some degree decisions
are taken away from the director so itís hard to know how much blame is
deserved. I just hope that if and when I work my way up to that point I
can hold onto the ideals Iíve been talking about here and make things
that people remember.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Please like our official
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/badhouse2012
The official sales page
for House of Bad is:
Triumphant is available through Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B001NH4CIU
You can watch Sleep of Reason
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
I think we pretty much
Thanks for the talk and I hope to do it again after the next
film is done!
for the interview!