Your latest movie (and debut feature film) is called Distortion. In
a few words, what is it about?
Distortion is about the character George who begins getting visions of people
being murdered. He soon discovers that the killer is William Clark a serial
killer who had died decades earlier. He has returned from hell to hunt down
people who will one day become soldiers in the fight between good and evil.
Only he must do this before they become aware that they are these soldiers.
George has become aware early which is why he gets these visions and also the
only person who might be able to stop him.
What were your main inspirations for Distortion?
had decided back in 2002 or early 2003 that I needed to make a film. I
kept calling myself a filmmaker but had little to show for it. So at first
I decided to make a short film. I wrote it and really liked it but knew it
was going to take some work. I figured if I was going to put that much
work into something I was going to make a feature. Why not go all out?
However, since I was working in the opposite way by not having a script or
even a story I had a lot of thinking to do. You can't really force
creativity. You can help do things to try and spark it but you can't force
it to just happen. I took the title of the short film but knew I could
never turn that into a feature. Although I might actually still make that
short as part of an anthology I'm considering doing next summer. So it
took a couple of years total for me to come up with the story and write
the script. It went through several rewrites. The original script was more
of a slasher film. The problem was after the set up it was nothing more
than every other slasher film. So I took the set up and walked away from
it for a few months until one day the ending came to me from literally out
of the blue. So I had the beginning and ending of a story. Now I just
needed to fill in the gaps. And out came the current version of Distortion.
From an artistic standpoint I tend to like more of an older style. While I
do use handheld shots I don't make it shaky cam. I like fluid shots. Kind
of like John Carpenter. I love his style. But I do love a lot of editing.
Not in a rapid confusing way. Just in creating energy like George Romero.
Obviously those two are literally two of my idols. And probably the
biggest influence on me with this film. But there was also a lot of
Michael Mann influence. Manhunter was watched many times. David Fincher
was another. Not just Seven but even Zodiac which had come out during the
time I was working on the film. Robert Rodriguez was a big influence. The
way he makes his films really showed me I did not need a lot of money or a
lot of people to make something. I could list so many filmmakers but
overall stylistically you could say it was shot like a John Carpenter film
and edited like a George Romero film. Not saying I am anywhere near in the
same league as they are. Not even close. They were just very much a big
influence on me and on the film.
lead character of Distortion is a video editor, which is not too
far removed from your own profession. All the fantasy aspects of the film
aside, are there any autobiographical traits worked into Distortion?
Very much so. In everything that I write all of the
characters, at least the main characters, have several personal aspects to
them that come right out of me. Not always on the surface aspects but
their reaction to something. More emotional. I can tell what I was going
through emotionally at the time whenever I see or read something I made
during a specific time of my life. So for me the film is very personal. I
made it to work on an entertainment level but under the surface it is
personal. I don't think I could make one that wasn't. The fact that the
lead character has confusion and doubt about what he is I'm sure was a lot
of my own fears and doubts knowing this was going to be my first feature
film and my feelings as to whether or not I was going to succeed or fail
As far as I know, you made this film with virtually no crew other
than yourself. Why is that, and what did a typical day of shooting Distortion
Outside of one day, which was the last day of principal photography,
where a friend was there to help I had no crew for the duration of the
shoot. That was a decision I made early on. Because I was not shooting
consecutive days but instead everything was spread out (some weeks I even
only shot one day) so I could work around the actors' work schedules and I
knew that figuring out when to shoot with the actors working and the
availability of locations was an issue. Let alone have a crew on top of
that. If you can't pay people you can't ask them not to work either. I
knew if I had to do that for a crew as well that it would be a logistical
nightmare. Once the decision was made I just plunged ahead with the
understanding that is how it was going to be. It created a nice laid back
atmosphere too. So each day was not overly stressful. The actors could
just work on what they needed to do and I think it made it so there was no
reason for them to ever feel self conscious. I would show up with my gear
and walk through the location. and get everything prepped. The actors
would show up and we would walk through the scene. They would go off and
rehearse. I would set up and we would then shoot. As I've often said, it
was difficult but never hard. And considering I'm about to do it again I'd
say I'm ok with it for now.
Do you consider working without a crew a
handicap or does it nurture your creativity?
It can do both
actually. The downside is it can wear you down both physically and
mentally pretty quick because you have to think and do everything. And if
you're doing a 15 hour day then by the end of it you can be practically a
zombie. On the plus side though you are not wasting time explaining
everything that you want to the crew. You want something done you just do
it. If you want to try something then before you even finish the thought
you can already be setting it up. Working on pure creative instinct. I
find it quite invigorating but I also know everything that I'm doing. I
have spent years learning all of these aspects of filmmaking and several
of which I do for work. When you work on a corporate shoot for example
there may be only two of you for the shoot. You're setting up the camera,
rigging the lights, getting the sound ready. I just applied that same
technique to a narrative film. It does mean I can't do overly elaborate
shots but I can also work at almost the speed of thought.
you tell us about your cast, and how did they deal with the absence of a
The cast was incredible. I looked a long time to find
the right people and luckily I did. From the time I put out the casting
notice to when the cast was finalized was about 8 or 9 months. I warned
them in advance about the no crew aspect and at first I think some of them
were apprehensive fearing this film might be one of those ones that we see
a lot of on the independent film circuit. The ones that look horrible and
look like they were shot in someone's backyard. On the first day of
shooting I was able to show them that I knew what I was doing and that
made them feel a lot more comfortable. After a few weeks though I could
tell they were starting to wonder if the film itself looked as good as it
felt while filming. I edited a few scenes together and once they saw them
they were confident the rest of the shoot. Luckily now for future projects
I make in the same way I have Distortion as my backup. I didn't have that
before so it is comforting having a film to back up what I say. And kudos
to the actors for being the first ones to trust me under those conditions.
Your film's website, and when and where will it be
Right now Distortion is being submitted to
festivals literally all over the world. Outside of a few friends and the
cast no one has seen the film so I am both excited and terrified to have
it shown in front of an audience. Everytime the trailer has been shown in
front of an audience it has been received really well so I'm hoping people
feel that way about the film as well.
While Distortion is your debut feature
film as a director, you have been in the film industry for years, and you
have even studied film. What got you interested in film in the first
place, and what can you tell us about your beginnings as a filmmaker?
many ways the seed was planted when I was about 4 years old. My parents
took me to see Star Wars and it literally changed my life. I was forever
fascinated by the moving image. I started watching movies and television
differently. When I would play with my toys my eye became the camera and I
would go in tight for a close up on my action figures or pull back for
wide shots even before I knew what any of that meant. As I got older I
studied movies and tried to get my hands on anything and everything I
could. This was back before the internet so I had to rely on the
occasional TV special, books, and magazines for information. Specifically Fangoria. That magazine was such a find for me. They interviewed
directors, actors, special effects people, everyone. It was just a wealth
of information. Plus it was on horror films which I love. And most horror
films are low budget and independently made so I was getting those stories
at a young age. I knew I wanted to tell visual stories and when I found
out that is what the director did I knew that was what I wanted to be. I
went to film school at Columbia College Chicago where I studied all
aspects of filmmaking not just directing. I wanted to learn it all. So
when I graduated I was just ready to explode with everything I knew. But
at the time it was still a film based world. This was right before the
digital revolution took place so making anything was hard and expensive. I
tried making a feature after graduation, an action film called Drop
wanted to make it like Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi but was convinced
by people that it couldn't be done. Instead I was told to make a
promotional trailer and raise money for the feature. Well, needless to say
I have a promotional trailer to show but the feature was never made. Years
later though I was able to make a film the way I wanted to make it with Distortion. And my next film,
Dark Light, will be the action film I never
got to make. While the story is completely different than Drop Off I never
lost the desire to make an action film on this level.
the years, you have directed quite a few shorts. A few words about those?
been lucky enough to produce a few short films for some very talented
friends including the drama Broken Echoes directed by Kirk Sanders, a film
I am very proud of, and the Star Wars parody
The Skywalkers from Joseph
Hillock. More recently I have been fortunate enough to co-direct two dark
comedy short films written by a very talented writer Stephen Bastien. Both
of them, The Interrogation and The Last Option, were made in a similar
fashion as Distortion in that there was no crew. Just me, my gear, and the
actors. Each one shot in a day. Those were a lot of fun to do. Mike
Pusateri, who plays the character Sam in Distortion and will play Phillip
in my upcoming film Dark Light, introduced me to Steve who was looking for
someone to help turn his scripts into short films. So I have to thank Mike
years now, you and fellow filmmaker and frequent collaborator Kirk Sanders
have been trying to put together a futuristic adaptation of William
Shakespeare's Macbeth. Why Shakespeare, why Macbeth, and at
which point in development of the movie are you presently?
It is a long time in the works but we are determined to make sure we do
it the right way. This is very much Kirk's baby. He came up with the
original concept which takes the original play, verse and all, and sets it
in a post apocalyptic setting. We explored the characters very deeply. We
didn't just take the play and slap a different setting on it. We spent
years fleshing out the characters more and adding a strong visual sense to
the story but never changed the original story or the verse. Shakespeare
for me always felt like homework. I never really got it. Kirk was a
Shakespearean trained actor and he opened my eyes to how to understand it.
When he told me about his Macbeth adaptation I was completely blown away.
Macbeth being about as close to a horror story as Shakespeare wrote with
murder, witches, demons, ghosts, and a very dark tale that just lends
itself to a visual medium probably more than any other of his plays. That
was also one of my big attractions was how to make this film accessible,
in essence, to people like me. People who may not at first understand what
is being said. Finding ways of how to visually show what the characters
are going through in subtle ways. Kirk and I worked on the script for
years and are seeking out funding for it. We even have a promotional
trailer that we made for it which I think is just amazing and shows that
Kirk's baby is ready to be born.
next film project as a director is called Dark Light I believe.
Anything you can tell us about that movie yet?
It is the action film I have been wanting to make for a good 14 years
now. Not specifically as far as the story goes but overall the idea of
making an action film. I love movies of all kinds as a film buff but
horror and action are my two favorite genres as a filmmaker. I love drama
but I'm not so sure I could make a straight drama. I like infusing drama
into genre pieces. And this one I am really so excited about. I have
friends who tease me because they know I am a big Christopher Nolan fan so
when I announced the film a lot of them kept calling it Dark Knight. I
even debated changing the title but I came up with the title and basic
story about 7 years ago. The title is in reference to a line in the
script," ... when all that is left is the dark light of the
soul." When I first decided to make a feature I thought about making
an action film since I never got to make Drop Off. I came up with the
basic concept of Dark Light but at the time decided that I wanted to
concentrate more on horror. So Distortion came about. I still loved the
idea so when the time came for me to start thinking of doing a second film
I originally was going to do a second horror film but I felt like I was
traveling down familiar streets. So I decided that now is the time to go
back and make an action film. So I revisited the Dark Light idea and all
of these new ideas popped in my head so off I went to make it.
On the one end it is very simple. A basic revenge story where this guy
Carter comes back into town after his cousin is murdered only to discover
that the city he's coming back to is not the same one he left. Everything
is controlled by a guy named Derek Drake and Carter's cousin was just
another long line of murders committed by Drake and his men. Everyone
wants Carter, with his military background, to come in and be this big
hero and take Derek Drake out but he isn't sure he can. A lot of room for
some dramatic elements which I love plus a whole lot of action. I
literally have no clue how I will do half of it but that is the exciting
part. If I knew all the answers now then why bother? I always said that if
I'm not scared then a project isn't worth making. Well, this one is worth
making because I am terrified!
once again planning to be your whole crew on Dark Light or will you
accept some outside help this time around?
I will be
getting some outside help with certain things but overall a lot of it will
once again just be me. Mainly the dialogue scenes will be just like on Distortion. The action scenes for example there will be help with. A lot
of the stunts and fights will be done with the help of an amazing
professional stunt group in Chicago called Asylum Stunts which will really
make the film a lot more exciting and bring it to a higher level. So
overall it'll be mixed as far as extra help goes but at the end of the day
all of the technical aspects, camera, lighting, sound, will mainly be just
film projects (past, present or future) you'd like to talk about?
is one I would like to mention only because I don't usually. One day I
would love to turn this script I wrote called Another Sunrise into a film.
It would require a bit of a budget, and even a crew, so I need to keep it
on the back burner for now. But I really think it is the best thing I have
ever written. It's about a group of bank robbers wanting to pull one last
job. I just love it and can't wait to make it one day. Another script is a
werewolf script called Red Moon which I would love to do. Imagine Seven
meets The Howling. Again, I would need a big budget for that one. So
hopefully one day for those. In the near future I have two projects. One
is called Killer Talk about a talk radio host who does a show about horror
films but he becomes obsessed with a local serial killer. So much so he
tries to track him down but soon finds out that real murder is not the
same as it is in the movies. Another, which I might make this summer, is
called Strange People. Basically it is three short films I have written
over the years that I never made but oddly enough all have similar themes.
So I might make an anthology horror film which would be cool. A fun thing
to do and it's a way to not let those stories fade away. Including the
original short I wrote called Distortion which was much different than the
have pretty much worked in every capacity in filmmaking, from writing,
directing and producing to filming, editing and whatnot. What do you like
the most, what could you do without?
Directing is always my
full passion. I love being the storyteller. For me the other things are
just extensions of directing. I produce what I need as a director. I shoot
what I see as a director. I edit how I feel as a director. Out of all of
them I hate producing but it is a necessary evil. Ironically one that I
probably won't give up because I do like to keep a certain amount of
control over projects I am involved with. I won't lie. I can be a bit of a
control freak. Producing gives me that. I love editing. I really do. Those
moments when it's 2am and you just finished editing a scene and you sit
back and watch it is like a high. A creative high. Something that just
can't be replicated. I think it's why I don't do drugs and even rarely
drink. Nothing comes close to the high when you have just created
something. And I experience that while editing. Shooting is the only thing
I'm not fully sold on. I love working the camera but lighting is not my
strongest thing. I admit that. While I am good at it, I don't mean that to
sound conceded, I know what I can and cannot do and I know I can light
something good. But I can never be great. I am amazed when I work with a
really talented cinematographer and see how they come up with how to light
something. If I had to give something up I would give that up because
there are so many people who can do a better job than I can. But for right
now I must admit I am enjoying it. One thing I wish I did do more of was
acting. I love to act and have in a several things over the years. Also
studied it back in school. When I told an acting teacher that I only took
the class to be a better director she insisted that I not give it up and
pursue it which was such a compliment. I do love doing it and hope to do a
A man with as much
experience in every aspect in filmmaking as you, do you have any advice
for rookie or wannabe filmmakers?
The key is to just go do
it. Get whatever you can and make your film. Put the word out if you don't
have immediate access to stuff. You'd be surprised what you will find.
Don't have a camera? Find a DP that has their own. Don't have editing
equipment? Find an up and coming editor who needs stuff for their reel. If
you have a script or an idea for a movie but you need to raise money for
it then don't make that one yet. Make something that you know you can make
right now with whatever you have access to. Make a name for yourself on
some level. Then you can go for the bigger project. When someone asks you
what you've done you can tell them you've made this film or that film.
Trust me. It's better than saying nothing. You don't need a lot of money
or a lot of people to make a film. Just know what you have and use it. And
don't be afraid to ask people for help. You will be surprised what you can
get. Always be polite. And always ALWAYS have food around. If you can't
pay people then feed them. If you do spend money on something I cannot
stress how important it is to get production insurance. I know it's a lot
money up front but having it, and you can get a blanket coverage that
lasts for a year, will cover any injuries to the actors that might happen,
any damage to equipment or locations, but it also opens doors. You go into
a business or restaurant and ask to shoot your film in their location and
you don't have money to pay them but if you tell them you have insurance
then people are much more receptive to it. I just hope the way I've made
my films inspires people to go make their films. You don't need a lot of
money, people, or even a lot of equipment. You need the knowledge and the
dedication. No one will work harder on your film than you. At the end of
the day it is just you and your film. You will face hardship,
disappointment, fatigue, stress, and possibly self doubt. But at the end
of the day you can sit back and have your film right there in front of
you. That is a sense of accomplishment that no one can take from you.
Getting there though is no picnic but if I can do it then you can too.
Directors who inspire
There are so many to list. I'll try and list a few
that I have admired the longest or have had the strongest impact on me. In
alphabetical order - Dario Argento, James Cameron, John Carpenter, Larry
Cohen [Larry Cohen bio - click
here], Francis Ford Coppola, David Cronenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley
Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, George Lucas, Michael Mann, Robert Rodriguez,
George A. Romero, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino,
John Woo. Oh man. I really need to stop or I'll keep naming people.
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Your favourite movies?
have found my weakness and that is making lists of things I like. This can
get out of hand so easily. I love movies of all kinds but I'll try and
keep the list short and to the point if I can. A few would be - Casablanca,
A Clockwork Orange, Creepshow, Dawn Of The
Dead, Escape From
New York, The Exorcist,
For A Few Dollars More, The French Connection, A
Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, The Godfather, Heat,
The Killer, Manhunter, Pulp Fiction, Raiders Of The Lost
Ark, Rear Window,
Seven Samurai, Singin' In The Rain, Star Wars, Suspiria,
Taxi Driver, The
Terminator, The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre, The Third Man, The Wild Bunch, Videodrome. Ah! I really need to stop or I'll keep going.
... and of
course, films you really deplored?
Haha I have to admit
while there are films I don't like I can learn something from them. Even
if it's what not to do.
Facebook, whatever else?
Thank you so much for asking. My
website is richarddiaz.com. I also have one for each of the films at
distortionmovie.com and darklightthemovie.com. And people can friend me on
Facebook at facebook.com/richard.diaz. Plus both of the movies have
Facebook pages as well.
Anything else you are dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
I just need to
give a shout out to all of the people that constantly support me. I don't
want to start naming names because I know I'll forget someone but they
know who they are. I am just one guy at the moment trying to get these
films made so outside of making the films on my own I am also the only one
promoting them. So all of their support, and the support I get from people
on Facebook and Twitter, is something I can never be grateful for enough.
has been a real pleasure for me and I seriously cannot thank you enough