Your upcoming movie Slay Utterly - in a few words, what is it about?
centers around an FBI agent called in to assist local law enforcement
investigate a crime scene where six children and two adults were axed to death
in their beds. The agent soon discovers the murders are not unique, and that
thereís a serial mass murderer on the loose.
As far as I know, Slay Utterly is inspired by a true crime
from more than a century ago - so how close do you stick to the facts, how
much research went into this aspect of your movie, and what fascinated you
about the particular crime in the first place?
itís a modern horror-thriller inspired by the Villisca (Iowa) ax murders
of 1912. Villisca is pretty well known these days, thanks to ghost-hunting
shows on TV. It was actually the paranormal aspect that lured several of
us to spend a night in the house. But in the end, it was really the murder
case itself that was far more compelling to me. If it hadnít actually
happened, I think people would probably say our script isnít believable
the months that followed our visit, I pored over quite a bit of research
material, including things like the coronerís inquest, grand jury
testimony, and even tracked down a descendent of one of the top suspects.
As a result of having absorbed just about every piece of available
information, the research has inadvertently made me one of surprisingly
few experts on the subject.
rather than taking a lot of liberties, I do feel Iíve been rather
faithful to what we know about the case. But there are unknowns, too, and
thatís where I get to have a little fun with some fictional exploration.
For example, weíll probably never know who the real killer was, so I had
to choose who it would be in the film, and what somebody capable of such
things might be like, both in public and behind closed doors.
a lot that fascinates me about the case, but I guess the main thing most
people donít realize is that Villisca was not a one-off massacre. Based
on strikingly-similar signatures, such as covered mirrors, left at other
crime scenes throughout the Midwest during a two-year stretch, itís
clear that as many as two-dozen murders were the work of one ritualistic
then thereís always the question as to how one would go about
bludgeoning eight people to death in a relatively small house, on a silent
country night, without anyone waking up.
sources of inspiration for Slay Utterly?
from the real case, Iíd have to tip my hat to Thomas Harris, who gave
the gift of Hannibal Lecter to the world. I certainly borrowed his pattern
of focusing on a troubled FBI
agent on the trail of an enigmatic killer.
in mind that Slay Utterly is based on some very gruesome murders,
how would you describe your approach to horror (as in atmosphere vs blood
and guts, suspense vs sudden shocks and the like)?
a huge fan of horror, but blood and gore isnít my personal style of
approaching the genre. I prefer the psychological aspects. But to pull
that off, I think you need strong character development that slasher films
typically lack. So, itís a very character-driven piece. What I hope will
scare viewers the most is that we essentially hold up a mirror to the
audience, forcing them to see themselves in even the worst kinds of
monsters. But by doing this, I think it can also make an atrocious
character very sympathetic to an audience. I like to challenge my viewers,
and leave them with an unsettled feeling long after theyíve watched a
would you describe the film's intended look and feel?
period piece would be out of the question, but to preserve that rustic,
old-timey feel of the case, weíre shooting primarily in rural locations.
The only real contrast to that will be in the FBI agentís world, which
will appear quite modern. Most of the music will have a kind of rustic
feel, too. Iím working with Paul Baker, a musician who goes by the
moniker Good Neighbor, for the soundtrack. His music really captures that
turn-of-the-century feel, but with the kind of modern sadness and
desperation that fits especially well with a story like this. As for
color, expect to see a lot of red [laughing].
movie will star fan favourites Bill Oberst jr [Bill
Oberst jr interview - click here] and Melantha Blackthorne [Melantha
Blackthorne interview - click here] - so what makes them perfect
for their roles, and how did you get them in the first place?
very, very fortunate to have them. My assistant director, Justin R. Romine
(director of What they Say and Afraid of
Sunrise) [Justin R. Romine
interview - click here], initiated contact with Bill last summer. Before this, Iíd
only worked with local actors, so it never occurred to me that someone of
Billís renown might actually read the script. When dealing with LA
folks, you usually get the door slammed in your face as soon as they learn
youíre not funded yet. Iíve heard ĎLet me know when you have moneyí a lot.
Bill did read it, and he believed in it enough to jump aboard. The fact
that having him on the bill could be the difference between whether the
movie actually gets made hasnít been lost on me. Iím thankful that he
has that sort of faith in Slay Utterly.
think that genre actors often have to take roles just to stay working and
keep the lights on. But Bill really made me feel as though this is truly a
passion project for him, and that means a lot. The same can certainly be
said of Melantha.
came into contact with her after getting acquainted with Billís manager,
Matt Chassin. I like the way he conducts business, and decided to have a
look at who else was in his stable. As soon as I saw that Mel was another
of his clients, I immediately asked him to share the script with her.
you, Iíd mostly only seen her in campier types of roles, but I always
thought to myself, ĎI bet she can really act.í I was right. Given
that there was some competition for the role, she graciously agreed to
submit a video audition, and totally nailed it.
I always say about Bill and Melantha, regarding Slay
Utterly, is that their fans will get what they came foróbut that
theyíll also see entirely new sides of them. Theyíve taken on roles
that really give them room to flex their muscles as actors, and theyíre
going to make a lot of people take notice.
see the familiar dark nature from Bill and the sexiness from Melantha. But
youíre also going to be treated to very vulnerable sides that I donít
think their fans have ever seen to this extent.
theyíve worked together before, and continue to slate projects together.
Thatís big, too, because it means they have a real chemistry and
rapport. There are some really uncomfortable scenes in this film, so
itís a real asset when actors can be comfortable with one another.
as Bill and Mel have provided me a great opportunity by coming aboard, I
think their roles are opportunities for them as actors. Itís a blessing
to work with people who believe in a project as much as you do.
you can tell us about the rest of your key cast and crew yet?
still got a few big roles to fill. Iím courting some more names your
readers will certainly recognize, but itís too early to talk about just
yet. Those aside, I do plan to use local actors, too. This is a Midwestern
movie, and we need some Midwestern people to maintain an authentic flavor.
I think thatís important.
crew, in addition to the aforementioned Justin R. Romine [Justin
R. Romine interview - click here] as A.D., Wolfgang
Meyer [Wolfgang Meyer
interview - click here] will be our cinematographer. Bill and Matt are also co-producers, by
the way. Wiley Wells is our sound designer, and Chris Young is our
production designer. These are all people who get
it. As with the cast, theyíre passionate about making this thing
happen, and I like to surround myself with people like that
far as I know, while the movie's not yet even shot, it has already earned
itself its first award - care to elaborate?
right. We havenít shot a single frame yet. Last year, I originally cast
the film with local Chicago-area actors. Unfortunately, an all-local cast
wasnít enough to get people sufficiently interested in investing, or
donating. At that point, I became really discouraged, and thought I should
maybe just try to sell the script in order to fund some other project. So,
I entered it into a screenplay contest. I soon thought better of selling
the script, and never submitted it to any other competitions. But as it
turns out, we actually won in the feature category. Whatís particularly
validating is that it wasnít a horror
film still in pre-production, what's the schedule, and any idea when and
where Slay Utterly might be released onto the general public yet
(and I do know it's waaay too early to ask of course)?
hoped to start filming this summer, with an early 2015 premiere. But Iím
learning that the higher your budget is, the longer it takes for things to
happen [laughing]. We donít believe financing is a problem, but it takes
story unfolds over the course of a single summer, so itís a little
frustrating to be faced with losing another one, especially considering
Iím a year-and-a-half into this thing already. But what choice do I
have? Itíll just give us more time to prepare and, as a result, make a
plan to premiere Slay Utterly at the most prestigious festival we can get into, and
we feel confident itíll get picked up for distribution. I donít
imagine there will be a theatrical run, aside from festivals, so itíll
likely be released publicly on DVD and on-demand services.
future projects beyond Slay Utterly you'd like to share?
Iím going to lose this coming summer for Slay
Utterly, Iíll probably focus on shooting a couple short horror films
to stay sharp. But for features, Iím kicking around the idea of a biker
movie that, as I describe it, will make Sons
of Anarchy look like a bunch of Girl Scouts. Iíve also got my eyes
on Bill and Melantha for that one.
got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal
training on the subject?
was born in the 70s, so the original Star
Wars films were literally my life growing up, as many from my
generation would identify with. Very inspiring.
when I was in high school, my parents bought one of those side-loading
video cameras that used full-sized VHS tapes. Having that available to me
meant that every moment after school was devoted to honing the craft, even
though I didnít really realize it at the time. I was just drawn to the
magic of the camera and telling stories visually. Before graduating, Iíd
managed to write, direct, score, and star in a film, which I think clocked
in at around 40 minutes. And that was for an assignment in a creative
writing class. I went beyond just writing a story. I brought one to life.
studied film and TV production, with a directing emphasis, in college.
Shortly before earning my degree, I started working at a local TV station,
and went on to be a news videographer for several network affiliates
around the Midwest. As a news
photog, I really had an opportunity to improve my cinematic eye and
storytelling sensibility. There are some things they canít teach you in
school. You just have to go out and do them every single day in order to
become any good at them.
worked for several years as a print journalist after that. Both career
diversions were great preparation for returning to the realm of filmmaking
a few years ago.
You of course have to talk
about your debut feature Hands of Glory for a bit?
made Hand of Glory for about $5,000, which included the cost of the
camera and other equipment. That being said, Iím incredibly proud of
what we accomplished with so little.
was originally intended to be a web series. But halfway through
production, we realized we had something a little more special, and opted
to finish it as a feature, albeit a relatively short one. During
production, it went from a short 40-page script to really taking on a life
of its own. After completing our festival rounds, we did briefly release
it as a four-part web series.
film symbolically marked my return to filmmaking after having been seduced
by the news business. I often describe Hand
of Glory as my effort to shake off the rust before taking on a larger
project like Slay Utterly.
the limited budget, we earned a number of awards, including Best Actress
for Heather Dorff (Jessica Cameronís Truth
or Dare [Heather Dorff
interview - click here; Jessica
Cameron interview - click here]) and Best Director, plus numerous nominations on the festival
circuit. It was an encouraging experience, and I learned a lot.
other past films of yours you'd like to talk about?
I do some short films, too. Weíve got one called Mictlantecuhtli
making its UK premiere at the River Aire Ten Minute Amateur Film Festival
April 26. Filmed in a single night, itís a short originally intended to
be an ABCs of Death 2 26th-director
contest entry. Again, it took on a life of its own, and we couldnít cut
it short enough to qualify for the competition without ruining it. So we
left it complete.
also made a documentary last year about the real-life case that inspired Slay
Utterly. Itís called The Ax
Man Enigma. If you need something to chew on while you wait for Slay Utterly, Iíd recommend it.
would you describe yourself as a director?
consider myself an actorís director. As a filmmaker, if you can choose
the right cast, and give them a good story to run with, half of your
headaches are gone.
think this comes from my own acting experiences. I was so disappointed to
discover just how shitty most scripts were. So, I resolved to write the
types of roles Iíd like to play. But my place is behind the camera.
itís important to not be so attached to your own script that you donít
give your actors room to play. They often give their respective roles more
thoughtful consideration than the director, as writer, may have. And they
put a lot of preparation into turning theses names on paper into real
people. Itís their job to know the characters better than anyone. Their
insights are vital, and when actors are free to express their own ideas,
amazing things can happen.
who inspire you?
no particular order, and probably forgetting too many, Alan Parker, Adrian
Lyne, Mike Figgis, Lucky McKee, Peter Jackson, Francis Ford Coppola,
Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin
Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Alfred
Hitchcock, Dario Argento, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Kubrick, Sam Raimi, Clint
Eastwood, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Sergio Leone, George Lucas,
Michael Mann, Terry Gilliam.
Your favourite movies?
know, I think a movie can become endearing to someone for very subjective
reasons. It doesnít necessarily have to be a great film. For example,
Peter McCarthy made an indie movie back in 90s called Floundering.
By a criticís standard,
itís not very good, despite some really notable cameos. But sometimes
all it takes is one character you can personally identify withósomeone
you see yourself in. Even bad movies can make you feel good, so I wonít
get started listing favorites.
if I could only watch one film for the rest of my life, it would have to
be Jaws. Thatís easy.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
If itís your dream to go out and remake a film, do us all a favor:
Choose a really bad movie, and turn it into a good one. And it happens
sometimes! I find that far more interesting than remakes and reboots of
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
eventual website will be www.slayutterly.com.
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
for the interview?
pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity to answer some great questions!