Saturday, March 12, 2016

Interview with Filmmaker, Thomas Eikrem of Filmrage Productions

A world traveler, photographer and visionary, Thomas Eikrem is redefining horror with his own brand of an upscale transgressive throwback with grindhouse qualities. Set for his feature films to debut, Eikrem is featuring some big names and the anticipation is palpable.

Body Count Rising: You are a strong proponent of subversive film, and are editor and publisher of ‘Filmrage’ magazine, the ultimate journal of exploitation. How did the magazine evolve into what it is today?

Thomas Eikrem: I grew up in Trondheim, Norway: a windswept shithole in the middle of Norway. The city had, despite its miniscule size, a half-decent independent music and film scene with an underground culture. While I was plotting my escape, I spent at least three nights a week watching films at the local film club. On a good night the club would attract a crowd of a thousand. Not bad.

In May 1990, I published ‘Filmrage 1’. The first issues had interviews with Buddy Giovinazzo, director of “Combat Shock”, Jorg Buttgereit, director of “Nekromantik” and “Schramm” and Nick Zedd, artist and director of “Police State”. The magazine got a mail order arm, but slowed down in 1995 when I moved to Copenhagen, although still available on an irregular basis. There were also screenings and VHS collections of subversive short films. I then relocated production to London in 2001.

In 2008 ‘Filmrage’ was relaunched as a luxury fanzine. I had a collection of several hundreds of thousands of movie stills and posters and I didn’t want to make the magazine digital. It’s been in the hardcover format ever since: coffee-table sized (11”x13”, 28x32cm) and 200+ pages. These are limited collectors’ editions and only 665 copies are produced. They sell out every time. The price covers production costs. It’s non-profit and always will be.

Body Count Rising: God, there is something just magical about a hardcover with a bunch of really amazing photos. What can we expect from your next edition?

Thomas Eikrem: Vol. 2 No. 13 will be out in a few months. Recent writers include directors Jack Hill of “Coffy”, Gary Sherman of “Vice Squad”, Shaun Costello of “Waterpower”, Maria Beatty of “Bandaged” and many, many more.

Body Count Rising: Your films, especially the black and whites, remind me of New York’s Cinema of Transgression. Were you inspired or influenced by Nick Zedd and Richard Kern?

Thomas Eikrem: I love the Cinema of Transgression movement with its incredibly interesting and angry urban punk underground. I lived in New York City for a few months in 1990. After my stay I got Lydia Lunch and Emilio Cubeiro to Trondheim. I also arranged screenings with Nick Zedd all over Scandinavia in the 1990s. Kern was and still is a good friend. He still writes for my magazine, ‘Filmrage’ and has a feature coming out. He is a fun and incredibly talented guy.

I think that my editing is very mathematical in its approach. I discussed that with Kurt Kren, one of the Vienna actionists, who was a good friend until he passed away. I think it happened by chance, but there are patterns, rhythm and structure that could be attributed to science and mathematical theory.


Click here for more short films. (18+ only please.)

Body Count Rising: The use of ethereal and up-tempo music countered with subversive images also reminds me of Kenneth Anger. Was he also one of your influences?

Thomas Eikrem: Yes, but not initially. I did work with Beatrice Eggers in Copenhagen, a good friend of Anger, and Anger I met recently. His work is amazing and important. Most recently, I have made a few films that are closer to Angers work, such as “Mynxie”. I also recently picked up an incredible rare collection of UK produced occult stag films from the 1950s and 60s. I think the occultism and mysticism will have a different meaning going forward with the world turning to control, neomoralism and religious fanaticism.

Body Count Rising:You have worked almost exclusively with the band, Rockford Kabine. How did this relationship originate?

Thomas Eikrem: They contacted me. They had just produced a film called “Xero”, directed by Jack the Zipper, who wrote a piece for ‘Filmrage’. I asked them about making music for me, and that has worked out nicely. There are still a few copies left of “Le Accelerator” soundtrack, but most previous releases are now hard to get. They are awesome!

Body Count Rising: What appeals to you most about their music?

Thomas Eikrem: I think their soundscapes are truly cinematic. They are also exceptionally hard working and focused. They have a fantastic studio in Bochum. We recently met in Berlin for beers.

Body Count Rising: I can certainly understand the cinematic quality. Their sound is layered and complex. For the past two decades your specialization has been short films. What made you decide it was time to transition to feature length?

Thomas Eikrem: Money. Even a short Super 8mm or 16mm film will cost a few bucks. I got grant to study at the renowned Norwegian University of Technology, and got a Masters Degree in Theoretical Physics. One of my teachers won the Noble Price in Medicine. They paid me a grant, and I spent the money on making films. I was bored, but it paid the bills.

At one point the commercial market for short films all but vanished. Also, film festivals started charging quite high fees for submissions, and I was doing around 100 festival screenings per year. I still love short films, but my films coming out in 2016 and 2017 will be for private clubs and unlikely to be screened in public.

Body Count Rising: What special challenges did you encounter on feature length films versus the shorts and how did you overcome these?

Thomas Eikrem: “Le Accelerator” was a 100 day shoot, and I do not work long hours, or with a lot of people, so it was usually just me, one assistant and the necessary actors. It requires discipline to stay focused, but it was a blast. The lead David Sakurai was exceptional and is a good friend as well.

The Moroccan border police almost didn’t let us in the country, as they found it peculiar that two guys in sharp suits would arrive with carry-on luggage filled with just a vintage camera and Super 8mm film for a 48-hour visit. We did, however, get in.

We improvised shots in some amazing locations: the Hotel La Mamonia, where Hitchcock shot “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, Caf矇 Arabe, where Sir Winston Churchill used to drink during WW2 and the local mosques.

Body Count Rising: That sounds absolutely stunning! I understand you exhibit your film art in galleries. Are you doing photography for the exhibits during the shoots, or are you using the film stills?

Thomas Eikrem: Yes, all movies come with a book and prints. The books are printed or eBooks. For photography I actually shoot digital using a Leica D-Lux 4 (2008 version). I am looking for a scanner that can do proper 4K scans of Super 8mm single frames, but the technology isn’t available yet.

Body Count Rising: Where are you currently showing your art?

Thomas Eikrem: Everywhere! From Copenhagen to Mexico City. From Izmir, Turkey to Texas.

Body Count Rising: You have stated in previous interviews that you self-fund to maintain autonomy. How do you feel about crowd funding?

Thomas Eikrem: I think artists, especially those who deal with controversial ideas, have a difficult time, for two reasons: the current generation believes that music and films are free just because they are available on the net. Consequently, there is a large no-budget scene and a large big-budget mainstream output. I have seen crowd funding work and fail. I have chosen to self-finance my own film, pay those who are part of it and then to sell films when they are done and move on to bigger budget.

I love making movies, and with a small crew you can get a lot of value for money. “Le Accelerator” was shot in Copenhagen, London, Bath, NYC, Bangkok and Marrakech, on film, and the total budget was a low five figures.

Body Count Rising: “Le Accelerator” is receiving quite a vibe of anticipation. From what I’ve seen this is not your typical martial arts film. What makes this film so unique that it has everyone talking?

Thomas Eikrem: As I am a migrant and have been travelling all my life, I am interested in different cultures, what makes people different and what we’ve got in common. The theme is that the only thing we all have in common is we’re all going to die. As Mark Twain said, the fear of death follows from the fear of life. The assassin in the movie lives by this. Stylishly it’s a mix of 1960s French crime and 1970s Hong Kong martial art films.

Body Count Rising: Did you bring the cast with you across the continents to film, or were you gathering scenic shots alone?

Thomas Eikrem: Only the lead, David Sakurai. When we shot in Hong Kong, extras were sourced from the local martial art gym. When we needed a scary torture chamber in Copenhagen, we dropped by famed photographer, Sebastian Solo’s infamous dungeon, and his friends were always willing victims.

Body Count Rising: What was the most impressive city that you’ve visited in your travels?

Thomas Eikrem: I few years ago I would say London or New York City, but the gentrification is ruining both. Manhattan as well as Central London are becoming places where you simply work and sleep. The creatives are moving out. I still love Paris, for the food, the wine, and it still values culture… and Bangkok for the craziness. Marrakech is still pretty much unspoiled…

Body Count Rising: What was your most rewarding experience regarding this film?

Thomas Eikrem: Having fun with great people. After the trials and tribulations of “Detroit Rising”, “Le Accelerator” was a walk in the park. Usually David and I would meet up with a few actors, (usually someone who got killed, as there are 100+ deaths in the movie) and then we hit the bars. I am pretty sure everyone had a great time. It’s the only thing you should never compromise on.

Body Count Rising: Horror fans love Bobby Rhodes from “Demons” and he’s appearing in “Le Accelerator”. What can we expect to see from Bobby?

Thomas Eikrem: While in London we booked Bobby, who ended up doing a fight scene with David wearing a vintage Saville Row pinstriped Gives & Hawkes suit (Bobby is exactly my size). Bobby was hilarious, still in incredible shape, and kept going “Hit me! HIT ME HARDER!” A top man!

Body Count Rising: You are self-distributing “Detroit Rising” and “Le Accelerator”. When will these films be available for purchase?

Thomas Eikrem: Both will hit festivals and private screenings in 2016. Let’s see what will happen and who will be interested. I need guarantee that the films are not copied and distributed, and there is an issue with increasing entry fees. There is a lot of interest, and people seem to want to discuss the subject matter and the content as well: it will do galleries. It will have performances with a live soundtrack by Rockford Kabine. Maybe Tim Dry will read the voice over live.

Body Count Rising: “Detroit Rising” appears to be like Buddy Giovinazzo’s “Combat Shock” meets Adam Gierasch’s “Bunny Game”. Would you say this is a fair appraisal? Why or why not?

Thomas Eikrem: I would take that as a compliment. Also, both Buddy and Adam have been writing for ‘Filmrage’. I think there’s a dash of surrealism and a splash of strong anti-religious propaganda in “Detroit Rising”. A lot of people will hate it for sure, but I loved making it.

Body Count Rising: How is your film different from “Combat Shock” other than the location and the war referenced?

Thomas Eikrem: Good question. I think that the protagonist in “Detroit Rising” (James VanBebber) actually wants to be a good American and return to sanity, but he is beyond help. The war is in his head, whilst in “Combat Shock” the insanity, the rage and the violence is triggered by external events. I have added some very cruel and violent scenes, but I did not want to make them socially realistic. I used a lot of performance artists for those shoots, including Amy Kingsmill and Sophia Disgrace.

Body Count Rising: Did you film this in 8mm or 16mm, like you do with your shorts?

Thomas Eikrem: “Detroit Rising” is Super 8mm and 16mm, color (ISO 200 and ISO 500, KODAK and expired Ektachrome), black and white (KODAK Tri-X and expired 4X from the 1970s). “Le Accelerator” is strictly black and white Tri-X Super 8mm.

Body Count Rising: Will “Detroit Rising” retain your same sleazy, grit-art aesthetic of the shorts you create?

Thomas Eikrem: It’s worse… and better! The shorts are mild compared to the feature.

Body Count Rising: Did Jim VanBebber take part in any filming, as 8mm is one of his specialties?

Thomas Eikrem: Yes, VanBebber flew in from Tampa and we spent two days shooting in the ghettos of Detroit. I then shot subsequently scenes in London, Copenhagen, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.

Body Count Rising: You cited difficulties surrounding “Detroit Rising” in a previous interview and said that David Hess was intended to be in the film, but David died in 2011. How long has this piece been in the works?

Thomas Eikrem: Since 2010. I took a break from in in 2012, but it is now in post production. David never told anyone that he was ill. I just didn’t think he wanted anyone to know. Lovely fellow. At the same time the film was half written by Shaun Costello (“Forced Entry”, “Waterpower”) and the remainder was completed by Tim Dry (“Return of the Jedi”, “Xtro”) who did some amazing work. It was done in weeks, and we published a book that’s selling quite well.

Body Count Rising: Did you always intend for Jim Van Bebber to be in the film?

Thomas Eikrem: Yes. I didn’t want a typical 20-something war veteran, and I knew Jim from ‘Filmrage’. Jim wrote a piece of “Deadbeat at Dawn” and “The Manson Family” for 'Filmrage' Vol 2 No 7. I sent him an email, and within minutes, we had a deal and met in Detroit. Jim is great to work with. He is an old-school filmmaker.

Body Count Rising: So, are you a “Deadbeat at Dawn” fan?

Thomas Eikrem: Absolutely. I paid a fortune for a VHS copy back in the day from a German company called ArtWare ProVision. It was impossible to get for years. I think it has aged well, and it’s proper, no-nonsense, guerilla filmmaking.

Body Count Rising: I love that film too. Jim kicks some major ass and I love that he does all his own stunts! I believe I saw that he goes by his own name in “Detroit Rising”. Is this true?

Thomas Eikrem: Yes, I thought that was funny. I am not really interested in realism, but I am sure that some people will go “Hey, Jim never went to Iraq!” Similarly, the voiceover writer, Tim Dry is a Brit, and his writing is British. He doesn’t sound like a white boy from Detroit. But then again, this is a film about the collapse of the American Dream, and that’s a global experience!

Body Count Rising: “Detroit Rising” is labeled as a horror film. What elements will it contain to traverse transgressive cinema over to horror?

Thomas Eikrem: There is lot of anti-religious imagery, blasphemous rituals meeting modern state-sponsored torture. It’s anti-establishment but from the angle of a guy who’s so sick in the head that he is outside of any establishment or society.

Body Count Rising: Sounds like transgressive cinema to me! Can you give us any details about memorable scenes from the film?

Thomas Eikrem: There is a powerful scene with Jim in front of a place where a 13-year-old girl was shot five times in the head by a rival gang. Her friends had made a shrine, mostly out of half empty booze bottles. Jim is in the middle of the crazed installation, drinking the remains of the booze. There is also a scene involving a crucifix that makes “The Exorcist” look like “Gone with the Wind”.

Body Count Rising: What’s next for you, your production company and your magazine?

Thomas Eikrem: I will be releasing 12 short films about a Go Go Gorilla (vintage burlesque) this year. Also the sequel to “Vampiras Satanicas” is coming out starring Alice Bizarre and MisSa Blue. The rest of the year is all about getting “Detroit Rising” and “Le Accelerator” out. ‘Filmrage’ Vol 2 No 13 will be out in Q2 2016. And, most importantly, I plan to have fun and spend time with good people making interesting things.

Keep up with Thomas’ many artistic and insightful projects on his IMDb, 'Filmrage' magazine site, “Detroit Rising” and “Le Accelerator” official sites or follow him on Facebook.