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An Interview with Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola, Directors of Blood of the Tribades

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2016

Sophia Cacciola on (re)Search my Trash

Michael J. Epstein on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Blood of the Tribades - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Blood of the Tribades is in the spirit of the melodramatic and arthouse vampire films of the early 1970s. It tells the story of the final days of a crumbling civilization set up as an idealist utopia 2000 years before by the vampire Bathor. Fear and ignorance led to segregation, scapegoating, and collapse. We wanted to use the immortality of our vampires, contrasted with their limited ability to remember the past, as a way to examine the decay of a once great society.

 

We’re excited to announce that the film’s world premiere will be at the Boston Underground Film Festival on March 27th at noon - http://bostonunderground.org/films/blood-of-the-tribades/! Vampire Easter!

 

In several scenes, Blood of the Tribades pays hommage to erotic vampire filmmaker Jean Rollin rather openly - so do talk about Rollin's influence on your movie for a bit!

 

Rollin’s voice and films are so wonderfully unique. They are dreamlike wanderings through fantastic worlds with repeated visual metaphor and interesting abstract themes about the nature of life, identity, and purpose. Rollin defined much of the visual language of the type of film we wanted to make, so it made sense for us to adopt some of that language to tell our story. We especially appreciate Rollin’s use of horror imagery in ways that aren’t frightening exactly. We’re more interested in the tragic romantic, social, and cognitive meaning of being an immortal being than in bloodsucking. Rollin explored that profound sadness and the tragedy of immortality.

We also suspect that many viewers are not familiar with Rollin’s work because of how challenging it can be for viewers looking for narrative. We hoped to make something a little more “acceptable” to a mainstream audience while paying tribute in historical context.

And unlike Rollin, we didn’t have any clowns!

 

Other sources of inspiration when dreaming up Blood of the Tribades?

 

We thought it would be worthwhile to combine the kind of abstraction and visual metaphor that is pervasive in Jean Rollin (and also some of Jess Franco’s films) with the theatrical storytelling and art design of the Hammer vampire films, particularly those of the early 70s.

Some of our favorite films of this era that served as inspiration for us:

Jean Rollin: The Nude Vampire (1970), The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), Lips of Blood (1975), Fascination (1979), Night of the Hunted (1980).

Jess Franco: Vampyros Lesbos (1971), A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973), The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein (1973).

Hammer: The Vampire Lovers (1970), Cry of the Banshee (1970), Twins of Evil (1971), Countess Dracula (1971), Lust For a Vampire (1971)

And we suspect all of these films were influenced along the way by earlier films like Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1960).

In all of the films we’ve mentioned, even when they are narrative-focused, there is significant subtext. We were hoping to achieve a film that’s rich with that subtext, but also sufficiently narrative driven for a surface watch, which is, of course, a challenging task. We also wanted to further flip some of gender-based narrative elements in these films. For example, we wanted to show scenes of the men being disrobed, tortured, and killed as blasphemers, much the way women were treated in Twins of Evil and Cry of the Banshee.

There are some very specific character elements that were inspired by these films. For Grando, we asked Seth Chatfield to take a close look at Peter Cushing’s character, Gustav Weil, in Twins of Evil. The men as a whole are fairly inspired by the Brotherhood in Twins of Evil. The idea of loss of self and culture through memory loss makes appearances in several of our influences, including Night of the Hunted and A Virgin Among the Living Dead. Planet of the Apes (1968) was a big tonal influence in its handling of very thinly veiled religious allegory. Despite its very heavy handed approach to the topic, it still feels like a fun movie with a pointed commentary, so we thought we could attempt that same sort of direct examination of the tolls of fanaticism.

So, it’s not to say that we just hoped to make a conglomerated rehash of these other films, but rather that these elements of the genre’s film language made the most sense in telling our story. Our suspicion is that these films have not been seen by most modern audiences, so we did not wish to rely on or expect any familiarity of viewers with that language.

 

Your thoughts on vampire cinema as such, and what do you think makes your movie stand out of the crowd?

 

In addition to the films we’ve mentioned, we felt inspired by Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), because it demonstrated that, despite the long film history, there are still ways to tell vampire stories that are new and meaningful. To us, vampire films succeed by being bigger than vampires and vampire lore. As we’ve worked to finish post-production, we’ve seen more and more evidence during election season that the hyperbolization of social division that we show in the film isn’t as far from our current political climate as we had thought. So, we hope the film can be seen as allegorical, and can provoke thought and inspire revisits.

 

We like to sometimes violate the “rules” by having an actor deliver or look directly to the camera, or by framing action so it's directed from the edge of the frame to off-frame rather than across. There's something special and disconcerting about seeing things that call attention to the artificiality of the moment. We like to intersperse those artificial moments to alter the viewing experience. We try very hard to minimize cuts to their storytelling necessity and avoid using cross-shoulder conversation kinds of shots. This is also very consistent with the type of visual language used in the early 1970s and much less prominent presently. We hope all of the storytelling style and presentation is seen by audiences as proffered with a unique voice.

 

We also spent quite a lot of time scoring to the picture. With the help of Catherine Capozzi, we created about an hour of original music for the film. The soundtrack is available at http://soundtrack.bloodofthetribades.com/

 

How would you describe your directorial approach to your story at hand? And do talk about your collaboration on this particular project for a bit!

 

We primarily just had discussions with the cast in advance and sent them off to study some of the films we mentioned as influences to ensure that they understood the tone we wanted. We tend to let people find their characters and be as hands off as possible in that process. The men, in particular, were not terribly well defined individually in the script, and the actors kind of went in all different directions with it. We mostly decided to embrace that, and even enhance it in our direction. So long as it all serves the big picture, we’re often open to actors driving their characters in ways that are a little unexpected for us, or weren’t quite what we had imagined.

 

One of the things that really allows us to get a lot done quickly is our flexibility in matching the script to the shoot situation. If something in the script doesn’t quite work because of the location or the acting, we adjust and keep moving. If we see something on location that we can take advantage of, we try to incorporate it into the script. This also includes input from cast and crew within reason, so long as it doesn’t create narrative conflict or production delay.

 

Once we were on set, we were also the ones lighting and shooting, so we were dealing with directing cast and setting up and moving lights and cameras. It was a lot to manage, and we often traded off and one of us would talk to the actors, and the other would deal with camera and light setups. We trusted each other enough and shared a very coherent vision. It’s only ever really been a handful of times per film that we have disagreed on how we want certain lines to be delivered or certain actions to happen, and we have worked that out quickly when disagreements have arisen.

 

Almost all of the shoots were done with two cameras, and the two big shoot days were done with three cameras. So, once we had a couple of good takes, we could move on without doing too many camera setups. That helped to minimize the “hurry-up-and-wait” feel of film shoots. We’re always editing in our heads, so we usually know when we’ve got enough coverage, and we try not to spend time exceeding what we really need by too much.

 

What can you tell us about your key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Blood of the Tribades was actually originally written as a short film to appear as a segment on the anthology Grindsploitation 2: The Lost Reels - www.facebook.com/
grindsploitationthemovie/
. We wrote the climactic ritual scene first as a short, and cast Mary Widow and Seth Chatfield immediately, as we had hoped to work with both of them on a project for quite some time already. We knew Mary from the Boston performance and burlesque scenes, and we knew Seth through music, and through his existing acting work.

 

We had written the script in English, but really wanted to incorporate French elements in tribute to Rollin. There is something special about the way Rollin’s dialogue poetically functions for us when we can only understand it via the subtitles (although we have some French dialogue, we specifically intended our film for people who don’t understand French). We thought it would be amazing to be able to replicate that, but we were a little panicked about finding a bilingual actor to fill the role of Élisabeth. Chloé Cunha, who we did not know very well yet, but had begun collaborating with us on a variety show called The Encyclopedia Show - https://www.facebook.com/EncyclopediaShowBoston -, offered immediately to assist with translation if we needed. She then kind of shyly said she would also be interested in being considered for the role. We suspect that she didn’t expect that we would say yes, but we did so enthusiastically! We rounded out the cast of the short with Zach Pidgeon and Kristofer Jenson, who are both wonderful fellows and seemed just right for Grando’s henchmen. That made for five principals whom we were delighted to work with, and we knew we could achieve what we wanted with this group.

After a couple of months developing the short and planning the shoot with them, we looked at the time and money to be invested, thought about how much we loved the cast, and realized that there was already a whole story just waiting to be told based on that end scene that we had written. We asked them all if they’d be interested in doing a feature, and they all said yes. We actually don’t think the film would have happened if any of them had said no.

 

So, we wrote the rest of the script, put out casting calls, sifted through many, many applications, and held auditions for most of the rest of the roles. A few changes happened in casting. For example, Giltine was originally intended to be a very short, spry acrobat with a smaller, more passive role, but once we met the tall Sindy Katrotic, we knew she was just right. And once we started working with her, we realized that Giltine would likely be a standout character, so we added a little more combat, and a lot more biting for her.

We also had a doctor character that would be shadowed by the twin lab assistants, but that character got dropped in favor of featuring the twins as doctor scientists.

We’re very big on casting for the script and then adapting the script to the cast. We had several torture scenes written, but still had one unknown remaining when Scott Dezrah Blinn put in an application for a role. We had seen him do glass walking as part of his magic work, so we cast him and wrote that into the film for him. And yes, it was real glass.

Tymisha “Tush” Harris is good friends with Seth Chatfield (Grando), and he really wanted to find a way to convince her to visit from Florida. She sent us a video audition and we really loved it, and thought she could give us a really strong performance of what we needed, so we flew her up for the part. Otherwise, everyone is from the Boston region, and auditioned and met in person prior to their casting.

There were also special considerations for several of the roles. The film has a lot of nudity and The Nephites all had to be willing to dye their hair bright red, so we had to spend a little extra energy to find the right people for all of those roles.

In all, this was the largest cast we have ever worked with, and they were all really a pleasure to direct.

 

You also have to talk about your wonderful locations, and what was it like filming there? And how did you find them even?

 

This was the biggest challenge of our whole production. We wanted to create the ruins of medieval France in the Northeastern U.S. We scoured and searched and scoured and searched some more to find and get access to our filming locations, of which there were many! Budget was especially a big obstacle for us. The film was made on a shoestring budget, and some of the spaces we looked at wanted 50% of our full production budget for a single day of access, so those were out!

 

We filmed quite a lot in parks throughout the northeast with appropriate stone structures. We filmed on a beautiful estate in Rhode Island owned by a relative of one of the actors. We traveled to western New York State for the waterfalls. It was really just a matter of going with anything that we could make work, and using any tricks we needed to in order to facilitate access and the viability of the spaces. While many of the locations were beautiful and fit the motif, Michael also had to do quite a lot of post-production work to remove telephone poles and power lines from shots. We frequently joked that it would have just been easier to fly everyone to France to film. Still, once we found the right places, it was really fun and magical to see actors performing in front of these large stone structures. It helped to set the tone and mood for the performances.

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

 

We had very small shoots, often just the two of us, our makeup artist Pearl Lung, and the cast for the day. Sometimes we also had a PA or two assisting or the actors assisted with crew duties when they were not on screen, which was great and much appreciated. We often all traveled together in a single seven-passenger van to locations, so it was a very intimate and low-key shoot primarily.

 

There were only really two large-scale shoot days with bigger crews and nearly the full cast. We shot all of the men’s and women’s gathering scenes on those days. Those were very tough, sixteen hour days with few breaks. For financial and time considerations, cramming all of those scenes into those two days was the only feasible way to get the movie done, so we powered through it.

 

The remaining eight days of the ten-day shoot were spread out over the course of a few months of weekends. The days were around eight to twelve hours with travel, but we rarely felt too rushed or overwhelmed. They were fairly laid back as shoots go. Everyone did a wonderful job learning their lines and settling into their roles, so we were able to move through scenes quickly. We did have a lot of outdoor shoots, so we had to contend with problems with sunlight and rain at times, but other than rescheduling one shoot day due to rain and working on and off through another, there was nothing too disastrous.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Blood of the Tribades yet?

 

You are one of the very few people to have seen and reviewed it so far! Thank you!

We also felt very honored to receive a wonderful review from Daniel XIII at Famous Monsters - http://famousmonsters.com/archives/20977. It makes us feel really good to see thus far that people are responding to the elements we put a lot of effort into, like worldbuilding, locations, and costuming. These were big challenges for us, so we like seeing that at least some people feel that our efforts in those areas paid off!

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

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We also have a segment on the upcoming anthology, 60 Seconds to Die - https://www.facebook.com/60secondstodie.

We’re developing our next film, Albatross, a horror/sci-fi story in which a woman tries to cross interdimensional spacetime to reunite her family after they are killed in an accident. The story was inspired by a birdlike, demonic-looking stain in our bathtub.

 

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

 

Web site: http://www.bloodofthetribades.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BloodoftheTribades/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BloodofTribades

Soundtrack: http://soundtrack.launchover.com/album/blood-of-the-tribades

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/156998558

 

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

 

The Blood is the Life!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
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