Your movie The
Scarlet Worm - in a few words, what is it about?
A poetic assassin is hired to kill an abortionist.
And lots of people get killed.
did the project come into being in the first place?
A feature-length Western had been in the back of my
mind for years. I would
collaborate with screenwriter David Lambert [David
Lambert interview - click here] on possibilities, but they
would usually fall through even with a completed script in place.
The main problem would be creating something practical within our
budget constraints. I finally
thought it best to start over fresh with a new script, and I gave Lambert
cart blanche to write whatever he wanted as long as it would be
something we could make within our limited resources.
The result was The
very basic question: Why a Western, and is this a genre especially dear to
you? And your genre favourites?
I never really liked Westerns when I first got into
film. Maybe it was just the
genre being unpopular at the time, but I just didn’t feel any connection
there. I was mostly into crime
films. It wasn’t until I saw
that they share similar motifs and plotlines (desperate men, the shootout,
etc.) that I gained an appreciation for the genre and started to pay
closer attention. It’s still
not my favorite, but damn close. My
preference leans towards the usual suspects (Leone, Peckinpah, Corbucci,
etc.), so I’ll mention some lesser darlings: The Culepepper Cattle
Co., The Hunting Party, Bad Company, Keoma and the much maligned
Django Kill! While there are some very good pre-60s entries, I prefer the
visceral thrills and ambiguity the later films offered.
How would you describe
your directorial approach to the subject, and did you use any classic (or
not so classic) Westerns as templates at all?
There was always a Spaghetti Western vibe attached to
the project ever since it was casted, but it was never intended as an
homage (or at least there was no conscious effort to mimic that style).
To me, the script was a throwback to the revisionist Westerns of
the 70s, and with that in mind, the goal was to make this project look,
feel and sweat like one. As
far as a classic template, I’ll mention a favorite among the crew from
pre to post-production: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Many Peckinpah techniques (long shots, slow-mo squibs,
cross-cutting, etc.) were employed on set and in the editing room in
addition to the moral complexity already in the script.
you tell me about your writer and co-producer David Lambert [David
Lambert interview - click here], and what was
your collaboration like?
David Lambert is an encyclopedia of Old West knowledge,
and I completely trust his judgment. I’m
familiar with his previous works so I knew exactly what to expect in terms
of style and quality when I asked him to write the script.
As for the writing process, he would write a few scenes, send them
to me for comments, then he would write some more.
He was very much involved in the pre-production process from
scouting locations to building sets. Unfortunately,
we live about 400 miles apart so all communication prior to filming was
done via email and Facebook.
What can you tell us about your
lead actor Aaron Stielstra, who's a regular of your movies I understand, and the
very unique character he plays?
Casting Print Harris required a careful combination of
elegance, madness and delusion. Stielstra
specializes in playing deviants, psychos, transients, lunatics, et al. so
there was no doubt he’d capture the more eccentric aspects of the
character. There were many
times I had to tell him to hold back in the performance to keep that sense
of reality in check, but he definitely delivered in the end.
It’s difficult to balance that kind of big acting with the
traditional leading man qualities. He
made it work.
Dan van Husen
Scarlet Worm also features quite a few spaghetti Western veterans,
like Montgomery Ford, Dan van Husen, Michael Forest and Ted Rusoff - how
and why did you get them, and what was it like working with them?
these guys were accessible and everyone in the crew is big fan of their
work. Many of us already
established a working relationship with them, too, so it was only natural
they be in the movie. It also
didn’t hurt that they were excited with the script making it easy for us
to get a commitment out of them. And
if van Husen had not agreed to play Heinrich Kley, we would have forced
him at gunpoint. He was too perfect. The
production went so fast that working with them seems like a blur now (we
wrapped Montgomery Ford’s 30+ pages of script in one day).
It only hits you later when you’re watching some random Lucio
Fulci movie and one of their faces pops up and you say, “hey, I directed
that guy!” It’s almost
few words about the rest of your cast?
The big supporting parts such as Hank (Kevin Giffin),
Gus (Eric Zaldivar) and Lee (Derek Hertig) were cast and planned far in
advance. For many other
supporting roles, it was a race to find someone before their scenes
appeared on the shooting schedule. Robert
Amstler (who plays The Rifleman) was called the night before he was to
shoot, and to Rita Rey’s credit (who plays Annabelle), she had to
prepare for the female lead in about two days’ time.
Not only in my
opinion, one of the key elements of a Western is finding the right
locations. So what can you tell us about yours?
I instructed Lambert to write the script around
locations he knew we could get: this
would mostly include private property (where we also built interiors)
owned by his relatives. When
it came time to expand the visuals, we filmed on two big sets: Pioneertown
and The Wooden Nickel. Luckily,
the majority of our filming was done in and around Nuevo (which is
naturally a dirty, rundown hellhole of a town) that saved us time in set
dressing and gave us that old-time feel.
Pick-up shots were done on the Paramount Ranch.
there's The Scarlet Worm's
haunting musical score, written by your lead Aaron Stielstra, right? You
just have to talk about the score for a bit!
Stielstra has always contributed music to my projects
so when this one came around, it was already non-verbally established that
he’d be doing the music. I
was initially a bit apprehensive at the idea since his prior scores are so
far removed from any kind of Western-type music, I couldn’t really see
how it could work. When the
rough cut was finished, I made clear to him I was interested in more
natural-sounding tracks this time around (his previous contributions can
best be described as a weird hybrid of metal, synth and funk).
It was difficult to imagine his distinct style applied to a Western
setting, but the gamble paid off. The
score has a much more organic feel than anything he’s composed yet it
still contains many of his old habits.
As far as I
know, The Scarlet Worm
has so far only played a few festivals. What can you tell us about
audience and critical reception so far?
Critical and audience reception has been very positive
so far. Even though the genre
is still dead, there has been a small breath of theatrical Westerns that
revived it for a short time. The
window was open and the timing was just right, but I think people also see
it as a unique entry with something different (and obscene) to offer,
hence the attention from horror fans.
Let's go back to
the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in the first
place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
There was no formal training or classes or anything of
the sort. My film school
consisted of years of movie watching, which is fine, but it teaches you
nothing about how to actually make a movie.
For that, you learn from picking up a camera and doing it the way
you think it should be done. Enough
mistakes will be made that you eventually figure out what not to do.
The process will repeat itself until you’re finally comfortable
doing a feature. And even
then, there’s still a lot to learn.
first feature film was called Pale Blue Balloons, right? What can
you tell us about that one, and the lessons learned from it?
As amateurish that film may look, it was still the
result of about three years of practice making shorts.
There was only one other person on the crew and I was wearing every
hat including the lead actor. I
really got a crash course from every perspective.
like you to talk about a few of your other films I have chosen mostly by
title I have to admit ...
I’ll be brief.
Xenobites is a surreal hybrid of sci-fi, film noir and
modern crime. A private
investigator is hired to retrieve an incriminating tape in the hands of
the Yakuza in a futuristic society where demons have replaced law
enforcement and have orders to punish with extreme prejudice.
The Minstrel Killer is a throwback to grindhouse
exploitation about a killer in blackface makeup who murders his victims in the
tradition of old minstrel shows. My
first period film (set in the 70s) which may turn some viewers off due to a
bleak and uncompromising look at racism and violence.
The Big Sleaze?
The Big Sleaze resembles my very first shorts.
It’s an irreverent, incomprehensible comedy that innocently
celebrates violence and hatred in a new way.
It takes a unique sense of humor to appreciate.
Apocrypha is a vampire film injected with an amnesia
theme. The current backlash and
contempt for vampires has become such a cliché it actually annoys me more than
the worst Twilight movie, so this one should be visited a few years from now
when all the hatred has died down.
usually also appear in your films (and a few others) as an actor. What can
you tell us about Michael Fredianelli, the thespian?
He shows up on time and never complains.
The acting came out of necessity because in independent film it’s
very difficult to rely on an unpaid actor, especially in a lead role where
you’d need him at your beckon call everyday.
Since I was already there to direct, I’d take on the role myself
to relieve myself of the unneeded stress.
Quickly, the egomaniac inside me took over and I started writing
roles for myself. Though
acting has still not replaced my directing ambitions.
who inspire you?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Friedkin, Sidney Lumet, Sam Peckinpah, Jean-Pierre Melville, John Frankenheimer,
Billy Wilder, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick,
Don Siegel, Walter Hill, Francis Ford Coppola, Sergio Leone, Enzo G. Castellari [Enzo
G.Castellari bio - click here].
Your favourite movies?
The French Connection,
To Live and Die in L.A., Twelve
Angry Men, The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo
Garcia, Citizen Kane, Rififi, The Friends of Eddie
Coyle, Point Blank, 2001, Psycho, Taxi
Driver, The Exorcist,
Dr. Strangelove, Le Trou, Le Samourai, Chinatown,
The Wages of Fear, The Hidden.
and of course, movies you really deplore?
Superstar, The Searchers, Scary Movie 3, Thor.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Scarlet Worm comes out on DVD and Blu-ray
April 24, 2012. Buy it.
for the interview!