Your new movie Expressway
to Your Skull - in a few words, what is it about?
The story of my film Expressway
to Your Skull centers on a young couple named Ed and Amy,
who’ve fallen on hard times. When Ed urges Amy to take an impulsive road
trip after he has “made a move” and scored a large stash of cash
through a deal he’s reluctant to elaborate on, what follows is a
drug-fueled getaway that leads them deep into the woods… Their seemingly
benign odyssey to expand their minds takes a strange and dark turn once
they cross paths with a mysterious survivalist named Charlie… and what
started out as an innocent thrill-seeking excursion turns into a
nightmarish fight for survival...
were your sources of inspiration when writing Expressway
to Your Skull?
Basically I was influenced by two main sources. The first
is reading a true crime story by the popular author Anne Rule about a
young couple who are terrorized by a psychotic and psychologically
manipulative hunter back in the 70s. That incident dealt more with the
Stockholm Syndrome effect a captor has on their captive… But I was
influenced mainly by the three characters of that story and its basic
The other influence, particularly on the title of the film was
the epic song by the legendary band Sonic Youth. Its pretty much
impossible to describe just how listening to this song affected and
influenced my ideas in crafting the screenplay but all I can say is that I
was stuck one day trying to figure out several story issues I was having.
Then I listened to that song and a bunch of ideas that ended up in the
script as well as the title for the film came from listening to it on
repeat during my script writing session.
Many other forms of media, from movies to books to visual art and
music had an overall influence on the making of the film but the two
sources above were mainly the influence for the script.
For a horror movie, Expressway
to Your Skull is very triplike at times - so what can you tell us
about that aspect of your movie?
Much of the
“trip-like” aspect as you put it came directly out of the story and
impulse and actions of the characters actually taking psychedelic drugs in
the film… specifically magic mushrooms. However I admit that I
actively wanted to make a psychedelic horror film that had surreal
stylistic elements in it. Some of my favorite films have hallucinatory
imagery in them, dream sequences and even drug-fueled hallucinations…
films like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Natural Born Killers, Fight
Eraserhead and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre to name a few.
For the sake of the
gorehounds among my readers, you also have to talk about the more bloody
bits of Expressway
to Your Skull for a bit, and how were they achieved?
scenes where some of the nastiest bloody violence take place were
difficult to shoot but totally worth it in the end when we got it all
done. I always had in mind that a scene with a sharp object thrust into
someone’s head needs to take place and blood spurting out is absolutely
essential to the visceral quality of that moment. I think we achieved that
moment well and viewers will appreciate its realism.
talk about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
it’s always been a lifelong dream of mine and a serious goal as a film
lover to make a feature film so once I educated myself enough on the
process of what the job of a director is… I then focused as much time as
I possibly could toward making this goal happen. And as far as my approach
to the story as a director is concerned I can say that I wanted the film
to be as realistic as possible but still be shot and crafted like a very
stylized movie experience. A lot of specific choices were made in order to
preserve a sense of realism to the story so the viewer will be able to
immerse themselves in it rather than feel like the stakes aren’t serious
or something like that. So, I guess one of the biggest factors in choosing
to tell this story the way I did was to concentrate heavily on its realism
can you tell us about your movie's cast and why exactly these people?
cast for Expressway
to Your Skull started with the 3 main actors, Paul S. Tracey,
Lindsay Atwood, and Mark Aaron who were actually cast in those roles well
before the actual main production was planned and then the role that Katie
Royer plays was cast very close to the start of the main production. All
of them were absolutely great to work with and brought a lot of commitment
and intensity to their roles. As to why I chose them… well… all I can
say is they all really seemed to embody each character they’re playing.
They just seemed natural to each part so that’s pretty much why I cast
Your Skull being mostly an "outdoors"-film, do talk
about your locations for a bit, and what were the advantages and
challenges filming there?
We shot the majority of the
film in various secluded wooded trails and hills in the Angeles National
Forest and Topanga Canyon near LA. Some spots took a lot of hiking to get
to which was tough. Many of these spots are not traditional places to
shoot around LA so we shot there without permits. It was a calculated risk
but everything turned out great in the end. The physical aspect of
shooting in exterior locations, like deep woods, that don’t have easy
access to bathrooms and rest areas is pretty challenging for even a small
crew as most filmmakers can tell you and our shoot was no different. The
advantage to locations like that is that you most likely don’t need to
get a permit. My specific choice was to shoot in all natural light and my
cinematographer Greg LeFevre suggested we use the Canon C300 camera which
was great for this approach.
What can you tell us about the
shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
was really challenging for a lot of reasons. Again, even with a small crew
there are a lot of logistics you have to deal with besides simply framing
up a cool shot and getting the actors to run around the woods doing crazy
horror movie stuff. But luckily my production team was really professional
and great to collaborate with so due to all the preparation and experience
we collectively had going in, even though most of us are still rather new
to the film world, we managed to pull off the majority of what we set out
to do in our 15 day shooting schedule. But… it was still stressful and
tough… I have to admit. Some days we went over schedule and had to stay
late and some days we didn’t get certain shots we needed and had to
schedule reshoots and pickups… which is fairly common though still
creatively frustrating as you might imagine.
A few words
about audience and critical reception of your movie so far?
is an interesting aspect of the process that I try not to worry about but
can’t help feeling really conflicted about how people would potentially
respond to my movie. In a couple private screenings we got generally
positive feedback… but then we applied to a large amount of festivals
and didn’t get in to the majority of them… this was back in the fall
of 2014… then a year later now that the film is being
released on DVD and VOD more critics and reviewers are seeing it and
we’re getting really positive critical reviews mostly from the indie
horror community which is our core audience… So far and overall things
have been very positive. Can’t complain really...
future projects you'd like to share?
Well, I prefer
not to discuss the specific details of new, un-finished projects I have in
development but I will say that I am actively planning another feature
project as well as a couple short film projects that I’m determined to
get off the ground starting in 2016.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on
Three of the most “formative” films
that had a HUGE influence on me growing up and learning to take filmmaking
seriously were Scorsese’s Taxi
Driver, Lynch’s Eraserhead, and
Raimi’s Evil Dead. As far as education… I did eventually apply
and get into the graduate film program at Art Center College of Design in
Pasadena. It’s a good school... though I have to stress that a
significant amount of my “education” in how to make a feature film
came almost from the opposing force of the “micro-budget indie film
world” that has been growing since the late 90s and has exploded since
the advent of affordable HD video advancements… When I got into grad
school in 2008 many of the websites that are now awesome sources for free
indie film education like “NoBudgetFilmSchool.com”,
“GuerillaFilm.com” and “NoFilmSchool.com” were not on many
people’s radar or didn’t exist … but now it's becoming more open
source and way more cost-effective to learn your craft online rather than
racking up heavy student loan debt like I did to learn how to make
films… I now believe that "formal education" in filmmaking,
meaning going to a 4 year or even 2 year college to study filmmaking is
not necessary to get a good education. My advice is for younger filmmakers
to take Dov Simens’ Film School course and Mark Stolaroff’s No Budget
Film School seminar instead and save lots of money, don’t go into debt,
while also gaining real world applicable information on how to go out and
make a feature film independently.
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to Expressway
to Your Skull?
My film work prior to Expressway
to Your Skull was much less professional and more experimental overall. I had
made 4 “official” completed short films prior to focusing on Expressway
to Your Skull… one a music-video "hybrid" and one was my thesis
short film, Terminal, for film school which won “Best Experimental Short
Film” at the Los Angeles Underground Film Festival in 2012. I loved
making short films and still do but I believe if you want to really focus
on being a film director that can be “hired” or “sought after” for
feature film work you have to actually prove yourself to this extremely
competitive industry by going out and making your own feature
How would you describe yourself
as a director?
This is difficult because I
don’t want to over-think my answer but I’ll say that I feel
like a director now that I’ve come this far even though I haven’t made
that many films overall and I’m still in the early stages of what some
might view as a "career". I’m very much focused on making
more films in the future and like one of my icons, Martin Scorsese, puts
it, maintaining a self-driven discipline as a lifelong student of cinema
at the same time as being a maker of films. I’d also like to
paraphrase David Fincher, another favorite iconic director of mine, who
describes his ongoing process as trying to simply become a better
craftsman with each film… I feel as though I’m just scratching the
surface of learning and developing as a director and serious filmmaker so
that’s about how I would sum up my status at this point.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
keep a folder on the desktop of my computer titled “The
Directors” and in that folder are these folders… Bergman, Bigelow,
Boyle, Bunuel, Chaplin, Coen Bros., Coppola, Craven, D. Aronofsky, Del
Toro, DePalma, Fellini, Fincher, Fuller, Gaspar Noe, Herzog, Hitchcock,
Innaritu, Jodorowsky, Lynch, Ken Russell, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Lynee Ramsay,
Maya Deren, R. Meyer, Oliver Stone, Raimi, Scorsese, Spielberg, Terry
Gilliam, Welles… to name a few of some of the biggest names in
history… I’m also inspired by my friends and fellow peer.
I have so so many favorite films and film
moments… One of my all time favorite horror movies is the original Texas
Chainsaw Massacre by Tobe Hooper. One of the best haunted house/ghost
story movies I’ve ever seen, which I only saw recently is The Haunting
by Robert Wise. And one of the greatest works of art in the history of the
world, that totally wrecks and inspires me every time I see it… is
... and of course, films you really
Feeling lucky ?
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I don’t like focusing on trashing other
people’s work that much so I’ll just say that there are some horror
films, especially more contemporary ones, that have almost no story or
character development and no sense of craftsmanship that seem to have been
made simply to promote shocking acts of violence and gore-filled
bloodletting with no sense of how to do that and make it stylish and
entertaining and fun (the way a classic low-budget film like Evil Dead
did) but instead make it a total fucking chore to sit through. I love it
when horror and dark twisted films are intense and fun to watch even when
they’re scaring you… you get sucked into the story and the atmosphere
because the filmmakers are doing a good job and really selling the
illusion… but I really really hate movies made by people who only
seem to be in it to make a quick buck and put little to no effort or
creativity into their work. Okay I’ll name one movie I absolutely
hated and couldn’t actually sit through the whole thing, and had to walk
out of... and that movie is Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind by Coffin
Joe — Its such a choppy, amateurish piece of crap that literally looks
like just a bunch of really strange leftover footage from 4 different
movies spliced together in the worst way. I don’t think a contemporary
viewer could honestly admit that its even a real movie at all… it's
just a total waste of time. So there you go...
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for the interview!
Thank YOU for interviewing me and
giving me this opportunity!