Your new movie The Neon
Dead - in a few words, what is it about?
follows Allison, a pretty young college graduate who just
inherited an ancient mansion that is infested with undead creatures. She
contacts Desmond and Jake, two freelance paranormal exterminators, to get
rid of the monsters, but unfortunately Desmond and Jake aren't terribly
competent, and the situation goes from bad to worse when a malevolent
demon reveals itself as the source of the problem.
think I was too far off when I called The
Neon Dead a "loving throwback to 1980s horror movies,
expecially of the direct-to-video variety" - do you at all want to
elaborate on that, and what do you like about these movies of old?
Oh absolutely! Growing up one of my favorite activities was renting
horror movies from the local video store. I loved Full Moon (I often
looked more forward to their Video Zone segments than the actual films),
Hammer films, Ray Harryhausen, Italian sword and sorcery films...
really anything that was low budget and off-beat. To this day I really
enjoy House II: The Second Story and Waxworks II: Lost In Time. They don't
get a lot of love from horror fans (possibly because they mix genres even
more than their predecessors), but I just thought they were great fun
and have likable characters that make me want to watch them over and over.
Those two films are probably the two biggest inspirations for The Neon
Dead, particularly Waxworks II with its climatic sword battle.
I think two things drew me to low budget movies. First and foremost is
their creativity; because they didn't have the responsibility of a studio
checkbook, the filmmakers could really do whatever crazy thing they wanted
to, and it was almost required to differentiate their films from their
higher budgeted Hollywood brethren. Second, you could often see the work that went into them, probably because they didn't have that
studio checkbook. You could sort of tell how the effects were done, and
that was inspiring because it made you feel like you could go out and do
sources of inspiration when writing The
Definitely video games. I played a lot
of Nintendo when I was kid, with my favorite games being Zelda,
Final Fantasy and Castlevania. I believe that Final Fantasy VI on
Nintendo and Lunar: The Silver Star on Sega CD taught me more about
storytelling and creating a memorable villain than any film or
screenwriting course. My favorite part of these games are the boss fights
where it's just a ragtag group of heroes versus a gigantic creature with
everything on the line while epic music plays. This is really something I
tried to bring to the last two fights in The Neon
Dead; in fact, all of
Z'athax's attacks are patterned after Agahnim's magic from The Legend of
Zelda: A Link To The Past, and then of course there's the title cards that
introduce the combatants just like Ocarina of Time. The swirling
background of energy during the Z'athax fight is a riff on the final
battles from Ys III and Final Fantasy IV.
You just have to talk about the
effects work on The
Neon Dead for a bit, both from the perspective of director and
special effects artist!
Ha, yeah they're the reason the movie took several years to complete!
Going into the film I knew I had written an FX-heavy script, and
conversely we had no budget to really support it. With this in mind I
tried to make the VFX unique and fun to watch since I knew I just didn't
have the money or manpower to make them look real. This is why I chose to
mix stop motion and live action for Belle and the Sons of Z'athax, and why
all of the monsters flicker when hit (which also goes back to the video
game influence). It was all about finding an interesting way to present
the FX to the audience because again, it was low budget and we had to do everything we could to make it stand out
from the crowd.
I will say though that for the sequel (fingers crossed on that) I would
like to do more practical effects... even though I have a background in
VFX I believe practical is the stronger option at least nine times out of
ten. There's just something about seeing a real object that our brains
pick up on that a computer generated image can't quite match, or at least
Do also talk about the brand of
humour of The Neon Dead,
and how important do you consider humour in horror actually?
It really depends on the type of horror story you're telling. I love
all kinds of horror, from silent films to Italian cannibal movies to more
family friendly fare like Gremlins. While I don't believe humor is
intrinsic to horror, they do often go hand in hand. Humor can complement
horror because when done right the two can create a roller coaster-like
effect where you scare people, bring them back with a laugh, then scare
Humor was definitely integral to The Neon Dead
- I mean, it's a story
about paranormal exterminators, and while I'm not saying it's impossible
to do a story like that without humor, it certainly helps because the
premise already requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Our biggest
inspiration for the style of humor was of course Ghostbusters... like that
film we tried to keep the supernatural elements relatively serious while
letting the humor arise more from the characters' reactions to the
monsters and undead.
can you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
I think when you're making a low budget movie you have a responsibility
to put your heart into the project since you don't have the money, and
consequently I really tried to bring something special to every scene. For
example, when Allison waits on her front porch while Desmond and Jake
search inside she wasn't scripted to sing her line to the bird. As I was
driving to set that morning I was thinking about how the scene just felt
flat to me, so I came up with the idea to have her sing her line as it was
kind of a Disney Princess-esque moment anyway. Marie Barker, who played
Allison, wasn't too happy that I sprung it on her last minute but she
pulled it off and several people have told me it's their favorite scene.
It even made the opening of the new trailer from Wild Eye.
talk about your key cast, and why exactly these people?
had worked with Greg Garrion (Desmond) many times before, and we just get
along so well, both on set and personally. I knew I wanted him to play
Desmond since he's not too far removed from the character in real life in
that he has an arrogant sense of humor and plays a lot of retro video
games. He recommended Dylan Schettina to me for the role of Jake; Dylan
and Greg are close friends in real life, and I think that really helped
their onscreen chemistry. Dylan was also my favorite person to have on set
as he was always upbeat and never complained. As for Allison, I met Marie
on a 48 Hour Film project, Making The Cut
which was our last short
before we started production on The Neon
Dead, and I just thought she was
a very talented actress. I asked her to audition and she complemented Greg
and Dylan so well that I decided to cast her. All three were willing to
work for cheap too, which was of course important!
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
Overall our on-set atmosphere was fairly laid-back. It was a small
and in addition to having all worked together in the past we were
pretty much good friends so there wasn't much yelling or drama. As a
director you set the vibe of your production, and on a low budget project
like this where people aren't getting paid what they're worth you really
have to make them want to be there. I accomplished by keeping everything as
relaxed as it could possibly be on a film set while also making sure we
got all the shots we needed.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of your movie?
So far it's been overall positive, with most critics enjoying the
characters, creatures and the fast-paced script. We've actually had some
reviews that have really surprised me with how positive they were... the
three that spring to mind are those from Legless Corpse
and The Bloody Pit of Horror
back when the film was titled "Invasion of the Undead".
I think the biggest consistent criticism though has been the lack of
scares and suspense, so that's something I definitely want to address for
the next movie. Overall I'm really just thrilled that people are watching
the movie and taking the time to write a review regardless if it's
positive or negative... more indie films are being made now than ever
before, and any attention you can get is extremely gratifying.
future projects you'd like to share?
Absolutely! I'm in production now on Dead by Midnight, a horror
anthology series starring scream queen Erin Brown [Erin
Brown bio - click here] for You42 (www.you42.com). I'm directing two of the episodes, and both of which will
be very different from The Neon
Dead. For my first episode Blindside I'm
trying to channel the nightmarish quality of early Dario Argento (although
I'm not sure yet if I want to keep the colorful cinematography or not)
while my second episode Dead Air, which will also serve as the wraparound
for the series, is more like Tales from the Crypt meets Videodrome.
I'm really excited to make something darker, and also to work with Erin
who I've always thought was a talented and likable actress. It's pretty
crazy to work with a cult movie icon like her, and I was actually really
nervous my first day of shooting. She's totally easy to work with though.
I also co-wrote another episode titled Lost Laundry with my good friend
Jay Holloway that's more like The Neon
Dead in that it's very 80s-inspired
and mixes horror and comedy. It's almost like a lost episode of Tales from
the Darkside or Monsters, which are two of Jay and I's favorite television
After Dead by Midnight, I have several projects I'd like to make,
including a Hammer-style vampire film set in colonial America (which is my
dream project), a video game-based horror movie and of course the sequel
to The Neon
You first entered
the filmworld as an effects artist, right? So what fascinated you about
doing effects, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
Yeah, my first professional job after film school was creating an
animated HUD for a Cartoon Network commercial. I've always been drawn to
effects... for a long time as a kid I wanted to be a stop motion animator
since Ray Harryhausen was my hero. I eventually realized though that the
director ultimately decided what the effects and creatures would look
like, so I started gravitating more towards directing and filmmaking in general.
I never received any formal training in VFX; I taught myself After
Effects out of necessity in film school (at Georgia State University)
because the two shorts I wanted to produce (Troll Picnic and Jake and
Julie Vs. The Boogeyman!, the former of which is a special feature on The
Neon Dead DVD) featured VFX and I didn't know anyone else who could do
them. I think my interest in VFX stems purely from the stories I want to
talk about your filmwork prior to The
Sure, I'm basically a jack of all trades. Prior to The
Neon Dead I
directed several shorts, all of which are either on our YouTube channel
(https://www.youtube.com/user/MonsterBusterEnt) or featured on
Neon Dead DVD. As a VFX artist I've mainly worked on commercials, but I've had
the great fortune to work on a few features your readers have probably
heard of, including Gregg Bishop's upcoming Siren, his Dante the Great
segment in V/H/S: Viral, Richard Griffin's Seven Dorms of
Death [Richard Griffin
interview - click here], James
Rolfe's The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie, and James Bickert's Frankenstein
Created Bikers [James Bickert
interview - click here]. I specialize in low budget VFX, so if any horror
filmmakers out there are reading this feel free to reach out to me!
I work as an editor also, and probably my most surprising credit in
that field is 2011's An Elf's Story, based on the Elf on the Shelf
Christmas phenomenon and that aired in the US on CBS,
Cartoon Network and Sprout. That was one of my favorite work experiences, but I have no plans
to make a horror version anytime soon (although the idea behind the Elf on
the Shelf definitely lends itself to possibilities).
What made you want to try your hand
at directing eventually?
Well, like I mentioned earlier I wanted to direct first and foremost
since the director has the final decision on what the creatures look like.
VFX and editing just pay the bills, although I do enjoy both of them as
Filmmakers, effects artists,
whoever else who inspire you?
I've always been inspired by Roger Corman [Roger
Corman bio - click here] (my fourth grade book report
was on one of his biographies) and his ability to make movies that people
wanted to see for next to nothing. Ray Harryhausen was of course a major
influence, and my favorite director stylistically is probably Sam Raimi.
I'm also a huge Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here] fan... I love the
nightmarish atmosphere in their films. Lloyd Kaufman is of course another
inspiration, for reasons similar to Roger Corman. Those are probably my
In terms of current directors, I love Adam Green and how every film
he's done showcases a different type of horror subgenre... Digging Up the
Marrow is probably my favorite horror film of the last five years. Gregg
Bishop is a friend of mine but I have to give a shout-out to him as well.
Dance of the Dead and The Other Side were great, but he really knocked it
out of the park with Siren. Going in I had zero expectations for it since
I didn't think the story would work as feature (it's based on the segment
Amateur Night from the first V/H/S for any readers who may not know) but
he crafted such a memorable, disturbing and bizarre film that I really
can't recommend it enough.
Your favourite movies?
This is going to be long... Jurassic Park, The
Evil Dead, Army
of Darkness, Ghostbusters (the original of course, but I
did really enjoy the remake), Waxwork II: Lost in Time, Phenomena,
of the Living Dead, Jason and the Argonauts, Prince
of Darkness, They Live,
director's cut), Heavy Metal, Goodfellas, Godzilla:
Final Wars, Godzilla
vs The Smog Monster, King
Kong (the original, I don't particularly care for either remake)
and The 'Burbs are probably my favorites in that I re-watch them
My favorite recent horror movies have been the aforementioned Digging
Up the Marrow and Siren,
but also The Green Inferno. I enjoyed that way more than I thought
I would have, partially because it brought back memories of being
completely horrified watching a VHS of Make
Them Die Slowly as a child when my parents were out of town. I
also caught Curtain at the Buried Alive Film Festival last
year and loved it... definitely check that one out if you get a
and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
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The links below
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You know, I
try to find something I like in almost every movie I watch. I'm a little
harder on Hollywood movies than I am on low budget films since Hollywood
has all the resources in the world, but at the same time I've worked on
enough commercial productions to know that having too many voices in the
final product can really ruin the artistic vision and audience experience.
I imagine this is amplified exponentially when there's $200 million plus
at stake, so I try to keep that in mind when I see a big budget movie.
Making films is such hard work that I can't really deplore any film, and
certainly not the efforts of its makers.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Facebook is probably the best place right now, since my production
(www.monsterbusterentertainment.com) is currently being retooled (hey, I'm a filmmaker not a web
designer). You can find us at
Neon Dead at
Also check out Wild Eye Releasing's website at
and on Facebook at
handling the distribution for The
Neon Dead and will likely have more
answers regarding the movie's release than I do!
you're dying to mention and I've merely forgotten to ask?
don't think so, but thank you for interviewing me and for drawing
attention to The
Neon Dead and indie horror! Like I said there are so many
movies being made now that any press is just great and I'm absolutely
grateful for it. Also, thank you to everyone who reads this interview as
for the interview!