Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Pure unbridled passion and drive are the fire inside Michael Rodriguez. His personal inferno fuels this ambition. While many have tried to extinguish his dream, repeatedly he perseveres, and he does so on his own terms. This photographer turned filmmaker is taking control, and he's got something to say.

Body Count Rising: You told me you wanted to “tell it like it is” and mentioned being ridiculed with regard to your craft. I’ve always thought of the horror community as being very supportive of each other. Obviously this isn’t always the case. What exactly happened?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I think I could write a book about this stuff, but I would say first and foremost don’t simply rely on your non-industry friends to make a film with you and expect them to act as if this is their job and show up every weekend. Usually it isn’t a big priority for them. Then, I had a production meeting in a pizza parlor. I storyboarded everything, I had all the paperwork and was speaking to the crew about shots and how I wanted things to look and some of the patrons started laughing at me, but I jut ignored it. Same thing on the home front, especially when you come from nowhere, the Hollywood dream won’t happen to you. It can’t happen. I was told that from an early age. So I took a job here and there and I realized that is not who I am. Now I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I am running out of time, so this is my time.

Body Count Rising: Despite everything, you are driven and have a positive attitude. What gives you momentum and keeps you going?

Michael S. Rodriguez: Sometimes I think the negativity propels me. I’m kind of a rebel and I don’t like to be told what to do. I think the more resistance I get I move forward. Someone I respected criticized my directing and I took that and grew from it, but I also know that if I can create “Night of the Seamonkey” and make it work I have the self-confidence that I can do a dozen more projects and make them work. I sold my Dad’s car to make that movie. I was in the game. Negativity keeps my drive alive. “Can’t” or “shouldn’t” motivate me. I flip off everybody on camera like Carol Burnett tugs her ear. That’s my message to everyone who told me I couldn’t do something.

Body Count Rising: Does your family support your career path? Do they understand it? I read about your Grandpa telling you to wear a tie for an interview about your films and maybe they’ll hire you. That was great! 

Michael S. Rodriguez: They’re totally in the dark. They know what I do, but they have no idea to what level people know of me. They’ve never seen any of my movies. They just think it’s a rather expensive hobby. I live in a rural area and I may go to a convention where people know me and my work, but when I go back home I’m nobody special. Well, I suppose it keeps me grounded anyways. (laughing)

Body Count Rising: Has it affected your marriage?

Michael S. Rodriguez: It’s rough at times because I have to leave, and I have to commend her for battling a lot of storms. And as a testament to my dedication as a filmmaker to my craft I’ve missed some special moments of my children growing up. They understand though, from my five-year-old to the highschooler. My daughter came to me and said her friends liked and knew of my work and I told her I was glad she knew what I did and was proud of me for it. The time and travel it takes to do a production isn’t easy to understand if you haven’t lived it, so I’m thankful that they appreciate what I do. It makes it all the more rewarding.

Body Count Rising: Have your kids indicated that they would like to go into film too?

Michael S. Rodriguez: No. My daughter is in the background in one of my movies and my son got stage fright and had to run off and vomit before we could film him, so he never made it in the movie. Now my five-year-old has memorization skills like you wouldn’t believe and goes around quoting films plus he has showmanship. He absolutely would have the skills to be an actor, but I don’t push my kids into that. They can make their own decisions on what they’d like to do.

Body Count Rising: Now is the five-year-old the one that looks like your little clone?

Michael S. Rodriguez: The stocky one with blue eyes? Yeah that’s him!

Body Count Rising: He’s adorable!

Michael S. Rodriguez: He puts on for the camera. He’s my little Arch Hall Jr. there.

Body Count Rising: Hey, how did you get connected with Arch Hall Jr. by the way?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I remember watching a late show “The Sadist” and I was just blown away by him. For a black and white film, it was absolutely colorful.

Body Count Rising: Oh yeah, that’s a great one.

Michael S. Rodriguez: When social media came around I looked up Arch Hall Jr. and friended him. I really wanted him in “Night of the Seamonkey” but didn’t have the guts to approach him. Lynn Lowery was in it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to ask. So when it came time for my next piece, I knew that if I didn’t reach out to him I’d be absolutely filled with regret.

We started corresponding through email and eventually we called each other and talked. I told him the clock was ticking on making another film and would joke around about him being 70. I sent him the script and he turned it down. And that was fine. OK, I tried. A month went by, he went on vacation and came back and decided he wanted to do the film after all. Now I had already cast his part, so I wrote in a new part for him that he and I developed together.

Later I asked him why he decided to work with me because I was basically a nobody, and he said “I saw fire within you, but mostly because you reminded me of my Dad.” I’ve always held Arch Hall Sr. in high regard and that was the biggest compliment I’ve heard from anyone. He came out, he delivered and to this day we’re dear friends.

Body Count Rising: How did you remind him of his Dad? What did he say specifically?

Michael S. Rodriguez:
Arch Hall Sr. was an old cowboy actor in the John Wayne films who decided to open his own studio in Van Nuys. He didn’t have enough money for big actors like Cary Grant, so he looked around and decided “Hey Arch Jr. you’re going to be an actor!” That wasn’t Arch Hall Jr’s dream, but he couldn’t turn his Dad down. Unfortunately every time his Dad made a film, the overhead just killed any profit and he would have to sacrifice a lot financially. Once Warner Brothers wanted to come in and work with him, which would have meant needed income, but he turned them down because he couldn’t have complete creative control. That’s the same kind of person I am. I’ve had offers, but these are my babies and I won’t butcher them. They need to be my vision or I will not be involved.

Body Count Rising:
So, how did filmmaking transition into a profession for you?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I was a professional photographer for children and still do some work on the side. Now I knew I could direct because I look like some biker, but I can make little children smile for the camera. On my down time of doing photography I started corresponding with other writers then I got involved in the Writers’ Guild. For the first 2 ½ years I was just writing then I transitioned into filming.

Body Count Rising: Did you get started with filming your kids growing up? I saw some you posted on YouTube.

Michael S. Rodriguez: I enjoyed doing photography with children so I started filming parodies with my own children, like “Once Upon a Time in the West” to test the waters of making short films. My wife gave me an ultimatum when I was writing that if in a year I couldn’t make a go of it, I would need to go back to a regular job. Within that year I started building a name for myself, so she extended my lease on that. (laughing)

So I was basically unemployed and I got my first film together and took it to a studio. I gave them the script and $6,000 and said “Here you go. Can you make a movie for me?” They were very pompous and I didn’t know the technical terminology so they tried to push me around and tell me what to trim like I didn’t know what I was doing, so I packed up my shit and decided I would go off and do it on my own. I had some friends in Arizona that did video production, so I flew out there and we knocked it out in four days. It got a cover for Fangoria and I knew this is what I was supposed to be doing.

Body Count Rising: Your film “Homewrecked” was based on true events. How did those affected react to you telling their story?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I never really approached them about telling their story. I buried the true story enough that it would not affect them if they saw it. I changed a lot of facts and names even though it is based on that true story. In my own fashion the victims had the upper hand. The statistics I used in the opening credits are all true and from the Department of Justice. It’s a touchy matter so I approached it with a lot of respect.

Body Count Rising:
What was your goal in telling this story? Raise awareness? Honor those who were killed? Just tell a story?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I wanted to raise awareness about home invasions and drug use. I have family members addicted to drugs and this is a reality of what goes hand-in-hand with certain drug use. I also wanted to raise awareness about PTSD. I will do whatever I need to do to tell the story the way it needs to be told, even if the violence needs to be gratuitous to be realistic.

Body Count Rising: Why shorts as opposed to feature length?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I’ve always been a fan of anthologies. I grew up watching Night Gallery and the Twilight Zone. It’s just a love of mine and I’m seeing it come to life, and that’s wonderful.

Body Count Rising: Are you influenced by Jim Van Bebber’s shorts?

Michael S. Rodriguez: Jim Van Bebber is one of the biggest influences in my whole life and I knew I had to work with him. I was so amazed that he is on this independent level, but would hit so hard. He is so visual and I take a page from him and am truly inspired by him. I think we really made something cool together.

Body Count Rising: In an outtake for “Homewrecked” Jim busts out some abrupt advice in a very Kinski-esque way. Did he give a bunch of filming pointers while on set?

Michael S. Rodriguez: We just got done watching the Richard Stanley doc about Island of Dr. Moreau and we were musing over how Marlon Brando was so demanding on set and wore the ice bucket as part of his scenes. By then it was Frankenheimer directing and he was a little fanboyed out because of Brando. So Jim and I were doing that torture scene, and we just decided to do that on a whim…

Body Count Rising: Really? That is a strong character building point in the film.

Michael S. Rodriguez: We were reminiscing of Marlon coming on aggressively and so Jim would say things like “Where the hell is Michael at? Let’s get him over here!” and I’d give it right back to him and offer him an ice bucket. We just had fun with it. I just love Jim.

Body Count Rising:
Will “Homewrecked” eventually become a feature length film?

Michael S. Rodriguez:
I would love for this to become feature length. I feel like I can really expand on these characters. It certainly has the potential to be a feature film. I actually have a feature length film called “The Deadly Kind” in the works that is kind of like a biker film meets Carpenter’s “The Thing”. I have some really good cult actors set to be involved, so I’m pretty excited for that.

Body Count Rising:
I know you grew up with your sound guy for “Homewrecked”, and you said you choose your actors from those you are actually friends with online…

Michael S. Rodriguez: I think when I first started writing I wasn’t social media savvy yet. At that time I got a hold of Fred Williamson’s email. I don’t even think he had a MySpace or Facebook. I corresponded with him through emails and was like “Oh my God I’m talking to the Hammer!” to myself. I actually arranged for him to be in a film and right when we were to meet and close the deal the funding fell through. I learned a very important lesson. Never line up actors until the money has been finalized. So I had to tell Fred Williamson face-to-face that we didn’t have his money and he was livid. He called me every name in the book and said I wasted his time. He was right. I couldn’t argue with him so I stood there and took it. In the end I think he respected the fact that I faced him like a man and took responsibility though. But yeah, lesson learned!

Body Count Rising:
I see you post a lot of Rudy Ray Moore and blaxploitation films online. What are some of your favorite drive-in films, or films that inspire your art? 

Michael S. Rodriguez: I’ve always liked the way “The Big Bird Cage” was shot. I totally love exploitation films. Most people think horror films are my favorite movies, but in all actuality, I love musicals. Rogers and Hammerstein… “Oklahoma” and stuff like that. I’m very eclectic. My inspiration is all over the map. Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, Jack Hill, Russ Meyer… I find inspiration in them all. I try to use elements of all of these in my films. I don’t like films that pretend to be exploitation pieces, where they really hammer you over the head with an aesthetic. I just try to make it as natural as possible by controlling the colors to reflect the decade of the piece.

Body Count Rising: You offer horror that is a play on risk taking in everyday life. “Homewrecked” was basically don’t open the door for a stranger. “Lamb Feed” seeks help after a tire blowout. “Love Starved” is Christian dating site adventures. I’ve always felt the scariest horror films are those with a believable premise. Your first film “Night of the Sea Monkey: A Disturbing Tale” is a more fantastic monster flick. Are you transitioning now toward more realism in your films?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I don’t go to the movies a lot. When I go and there’s a bunch of generic jumps and fluff and that really pisses me off. I like to film with a writer’s point of view, and just really make everything I do feel authentic. Many don’t see “Night of the Seamonkey” for what it truly is. The subtext is about the disconnection of the kid and his parents that don’t actually care about each other. It’s a dysfunctional childhood based on my own story. Now it also has the comic relief and over-the-top horror moments.

When I wrote “Lamb Feed” I had these ultra-religious, judgmental family members that inspired this film and I was completely outraged. In it the family justifies killing self-righteously because the people are “worse” than them. But are they really? The family’s moral compass is way off. Basically they’re incestuous cannibals. It’s like “I’m fucking my sister for the Lord!”

Body Count Rising:
Woah. That’s a really strong social commentary…

Michael S. Rodriguez: Oh yeah if the story calls for me to push your buttons, then I’m going to push your buttons. But yeah, with each film the realism does seem to be escalating.

Body Count Rising:
You mentioned Kubrick. I know you use a lot of symbolism in your films. Is there a common thread to all of them? Or is each of the messages unique to the film being shown?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I do put a lot of symbolism in my movies… especially “Lamb Feed”. If you watch that movie in slow motion you’ll see I put a lot of words in there, vintage porn, full frontal nudity… I always start very cinematically traditional but as we reach the climax of the film shots become rough until it gets to an apex of being disturbingly raw and real. I always like to include a peek of reality in between what is happening cinematically as well, just to throw in the real ugliness of the world with the fiction. I put a variety of serial killers in the images of “Lamb Feed” as well, almost subliminally.

Body Count Rising: Your unique angles and aggressive shots give your films a jarring, in-your-face quality. Has your filming style evolved over time?

Michael S. Rodriguez:
It has. I always wanted to try different angles. For the first 10 minutes you’re going to get traditional shots but as the film progresses you will see more erratic angles. During “Homewrecked” I wanted to give it almost a surveillance camera type of feel, but at the same time I wanted it real tight. To achieve this I filmed the same take up to 12 times. By the last go around the actors became super aggressive so it really worked for the scene as well. I do have experimental ideas that I’d like to further explore.

Body Count Rising: You co-wrote “Rhonda Rides to Hell” with Meghan Chadeayne and co-wrote “6Days66Years” with Alex Madia Levi.

Michael S. Rodriguez: I am no longer involved with that project. My formula is always to have someone with name recognition and then intermingle them with up-and-coming actors. They didn’t see it that way, so I just bowed out.

Body Count Rising: What are the benefits of co-writing as opposed to writing on your own? Which do you prefer?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I prefer to write on my own. It flows better. I love character development and I don’t like things to get trimmed. When you co-write you don’t get the chance to do a full story arc either, so that also presents a challenge. Any of the films I’ve done I’ve written on my own. 

Body Count Rising: What do you film on?

Michael S. Rodriguez: I film on a digital Sony a6000 camera, and for “Homewrecked” and “Night of the Seamonkey” I used digital vintage glass lenses to achieve the desired look. Eventually my goal is to shoot on 16mm or 35mm. The problem is that you don’t have instant access to what you just shot like you would with digital. You just have to shoot and hope for the best. I don’t know if I would consider myself a filmmaker since I haven’t shot on film yet…

Body Count Rising: I have always considered a “filmmaker” synonymous with an auteur, and since you do write your own stuff as well as cast and direct, and you do have complete control, I would totally consider you a filmmaker. Most independent film is digital now just out of necessity.

Michael S. Rodriguez: Well thank you. I do have goals for the future. I started late. I’m a late bloomer in my 40’s already amidst all these up-and-coming 20-year-olds. I could have done it back then if I believed in myself more. So that’s the take-away. Believe in yourself. Fuck what anyone else says.

Keep up with Michael's projects by checking out his IMDb or follow him on Facebook.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Interview with Filmmaker, Musician and Die J, Mars Roberge

Electric and eclectic, eccentric and fantastic, Mars Roberge marches to the sound of his own drummer, and man, that cat can knock out some funky beats. It's no wonder his art is being lauded, and rightfully so. His origins are the heart of the city, with its filthy throbbing pulse driving his musical momentum and thrusting him into his cinematic journey of its underground.    

Body Count Rising: Your film “The Little House That Could” won the Audience Choice Award for Best 2015 Film from NewFilmmakers Los Angeles on June 18th (as well as being nominated for Best Feature Documentary), won Best Documentary at 2016 Philadelphia Independent Film Festival and was nominated for Best LGBT Feature Documentary at 2014 Queens World Film Festival.

Wow! Congratulations! I read that you spent a decade preparing for this film and “becoming one” with the LGBT community. Do you consider yourself an activist, or simply a documentarian?

Mars Roberge: I consider myself an activist. I was a member of the House of Field. From that, I was one of the few straight people involved. I lived in Toronto in the 90s, which is kind of what “Scumbag” is about and then I was rescued by the LGBT community in New York even though I’m a straight guy. So I owe them a lot and I would absolutely say I’m an advocate. As far as awards, “The Little House That Could” has been nominated for something each year since 2014.

Body Count Rising: Nice! So they just keep celebrating this film!

Mars Roberge: Yeah…

Body Count Rising: That’s awesome! Maybe next year you’ll get another one.

Mars Roberge: I hope so. We’ve played it around the world 24 times and it’s been presented in three languages. In San Francisco it played at Frameline, the oldest gay film festival in the world and we got the coveted Friday night slot for the premiere. That was back in 2013 and it’s been lauded ever since. So as a filmmaker I’m indebted to the LGBT community too because I was getting turned down from a lot of top tier film festivals when Frameline, the gay film festival, picked it up and that really helped launch the film and give it momentum..

Body Count Rising: So are you finding it now has a cult following?

Mars Roberge: Oh, it’s a total cult film right now. When we played in New York especially, people dressed up and got together to go see it. There is just a camaraderie of people that will say “OK it’s playing. We’ve got to go!”

The House of Field members are harder to track down now that Patricia Field closed her boutique this past February. And after she had been around like 50 years everyone was just left standing there saying, “Wow, we didn’t expect THAT to happen.” And now the film is just the last historical piece from that time. Bringing the magic of what I lived to the big screen just became larger than me at some point. The more I made the film, the more I saw how important she was to everybody. 

Body Count Rising: Would you say Canada is ahead of the US with regard to gay rights, or behind the times?

Mars Roberge: Toronto has one of the biggest gay festivals in the world, but the truth is, and I know because I DJed in the goth scene up there forever, there are a ton of gays who pretend they’re straight with girlfriends, in hiding, who only come out once a year to that festival. It’s weird to me because they should know “it’s ok to be gay.” It’s like they think they have to only hang out in the Chelsea muscle gay club atmosphere to be gay or something. I know it’s slowly changing but it hadn’t changed when I was there in the 90s. Now, to me, New York is even more gay than San Francisco, or as gay, and they’re very open and accepting. In Toronto the gay world is accepting of the straight world, but I can’t say the same about the lesbian world. They’re almost like separatists. Some people may not like me saying that, but it’s the truth. I get along fine with lesbians and I’ve not experienced that anywhere else. I mean, I worked for Patricia Field for ten years and in making the film we’ve become better friends than ever.

Body Count Rising: I absolutely LOVE Toronto. I used to visit all the time when I lived in Michigan. It’s my favorite big city. You came from Toronto to New York. What led to the decision to come to the states? 

Mars Roberge: I wanted to kill myself in the schoolyard where “Welcome Back Kotter” was filmed.

Body Count Rising: Oh! OK... (laughing)

Mars Roberge: (laughing) I’m not making that up either. That was my goal. I was watching it one night and decided I was going to jump on a bus and just go do that, you know? But I did meet Mr. Kotter about a month after I got here… Gabe Kaplan… at a place called Gotham Comedy Club. I told him he was the reason for being here and he looked at me and got scared. (laughing)

Body Count Rising: (laughing) Well, how were you going to do it?

Mars Roberge: No idea. There were enough distractions that I thought “Well, hey let me figure out this town first.” Then I got new friends and I ran into a bouncer at CBGB who I knew from Goth club in Toronto called Death in the Underground that I worked at and he kinda pointed me in the right direction. Now I have all these films to write about those years. 

Body Count Rising: OK but Toronto was the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine going from that to New York. You must have thought it was filthy.

Mars Roberge: Well, New York has cleaned up quite a bit, but I was a bit unnerved when rats first went running by my feet.

Body Count Rising: Ugh. Nope.

Mars Roberge: Oh you just get to the point where they’re like squirrels. They’ll come up to you on the subway and it just starts to feel normal. I used to work at an S&M bar spinning vinyl from 5:30 PM to 4 in the morning and on the subway platform headed home the rats would charge. I’d just say “Shoo shoo!” and it was almost like playing chicken with them or something. (laughing

Body Count Rising: Oh… disturbing. (laughing) So… did the contacts you made while working for Patricia Field make it easier to transition into filmmaking?

Mars Roberge: That actually got me back into it. I went to film school at York University just outside of Toronto, and then when I graduated I worked in a post production house where they edited music videos for bands like Barenaked Ladies. I had left doing the cut and glue stuff in school and was doing digital linear editing--non-linear editing that we know today was so much money that you couldn’t even think about it unless you had 20 grand in your pocket. This meant if I ever made mistakes I would have to redo everything from scratch. I made some Super8 films but I didn’t know what festivals to apply to, or anything like that.

Eventually I got out of it because of sheer boredom. I wasn’t really getting to film anything. I also did various jobs on sets in a union-based work environment with a bunch of guys with families and just shooting a movie felt like work, and not fun. So I just started DJing plus I had a couple of bands and that kept me going for about 10 years. What really got me into doing any kind of film stuff is that I bought a computer in the mid-2000s after avoiding them for 20 years and found programs like Final Cut and I started creating experimental movies that I would play in the backgrounds at concerts.

Patricia Field needed some footage put together for a party she was hosting at Element Nightclub and I was asked to put it all together. I found this guy, Bob Lesser, to work with who was a roadie. He had an ad that said “narcoleptic psychopath with truck” and he had this Hare Krishna ponytail. We thought for sure we were going to get killed, but he ended up being my friend. He had all these lights and kind of became a partner. We just kept filming more and more stuff and that’s how this movie came about. But it was a good ten years between the time I originally was working in the film industry to the time that Patricia Field asked me to start filming.

Body Count Rising: I know you must have some wild stories from shooting "The Little House that Could".

Mars Roberge: There was a point where I needed to film the store, but I didn’t have electricity, so I stole it from a wall on the street. Cops were coming by and I thought we were going to get arrested for not having permits, but they actually stopped traffic so that I could shoot my film. That’s a big difference between New York and LA. 

We had this crazy party at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink where we were there with a bunch of drag queens and just kind of took it over. I remember this poor guy there who was proposing to his girlfriend on the rink and all the Patricia Field people were screaming at her “He’s gay! He’s gay!” (laughing)

One time I had Juliette Lewis help me look for Jerry Lewis in the store because I heard he was there. All these paparazzi were following us through the store but I couldn’t figure out why. It was great.

There was this one time I had a breakup argument with my girlfriend, Sarah Roemer from "Disturbia" who wasn’t discovered yet, and I hung up and Dave Navarro came over and said “Man are you alright?” I didn’t realize who he was and I just said “Yeah man, I’m just having a hard time getting people to come to my party.” He offered to help me out, so I gave him a bunch of flyers and told him where to go hand them out.

Body Count Rising: Oh that’s great! (laughing)

Mars Roberge: I went back into the store and I saw this girl and, being newly single, I tried to pick her up. I didn’t realize at the time that was Carmen Electra and she was there with Dave, who I was making hand out my flyers. So he comes back in and I realize he’s with her and I go “Oh man- I know where I recognize you from. You’re the guy that sings the Scooby Snack song.” And I just kind of wandered away. (laughing)

Stars really do get a kick out of when you don’t know who they are, and it happened to me quite often. I yelled at the designer Chloe and Liv Tyler for playing around in the dressing room and they got all nervous, like I was a teacher or something.

Body Count Rising: (laughing) You said that the Patricia Field family live fast and die young. If you died tomorrow what would you most like to be remembered for, and how do you think you changed the world? 

Mars Roberge: It’s funny. I always think about that and I’m trying to get so much done so quickly now. If I were to die tomorrow, I’m working on being that guy who got along with everybody. That’s what I work towards, you know? I’d like people to finally see what I’ve done, because I’ve played in a number of bands that never quite made it. We played the same parties as The Scissor Sisters and Lady Gaga. Then I was a DJ where other famous DJs would always call me for music advice who financially made it big for themselves, and it seems like just now people are really beginning to appreciate what I was doing as a DJ, especially in Toronto. With my films, I don’t care if people don’t like it, I want them to be able to say that I did something original and authentic.

Body Count Rising: Which filmmakers most inspire you? 

Mars Roberge: I once interviewed Dr. No from Bad Brains and I asked him that question about guitarists. He said “I used to have some favorites but they didn't stick to those fingers.” I kind of feel that way about filmmakers. Some have a couple great movies, but that is small compared to the whole body of work. I really do like Harmony Korine because he’s been doing his own thing for so long. I like French New Wave films by guys like Jean-Luc Godard but I don’t like everything in them, just the subtleties; the subliminal messages. And then sometimes directors are lumped as filmmakers. That’s just not true unless they are auteurs. Some people can be great directors, but I appreciate filmmakers who make a film they actually wrote. I don’t relate to anything unless there is characterization. Characters mean a lot to me. Cult films most inspire me because it’s a film that continues to mean something to people for decades on, something unique from the heart. 

Body Count Rising: You are an auteur. You’ve played most every role as a filmmaker from writer to editor and everything in between. Where is your true passion within these?

Mars Roberge: It’s weird. I’m kind of a control freak I guess. There are a limited amount of people I give jobs to. The script does not always reflect everything that is in my head. I enjoy writing and editing, but the directing part feels like work when you have to keep track of everyone. Editing is just fun for me.

Body Count Rising: “The Little House That Could” featured “rebellious outsiders” as does your film “Scumbag”. How do these films reflect on who you are as a person? What about growing up?

Mars Roberge: Growing up I wanted to be against the establishment. I grew up in this burb called Scarborough, which was ethnically diverse and people there really liked to fight. “Colors” had just come out and Canadians wanted to be like the kids in the ghettos of America. The only way for me to survive was to look weird like a punk and to hurt myself skateboarding. I didn’t like all the shiny, happy people going to all of these techno clubs. I gravitated toward the goth scene, and that’s where I began to DJ. 

Actually my film “Scumbag” came from the fact that I took this shady job as a telemarketer. We used to joke that we weren’t criminals, we were scumbags. We pulled fast ones on different businesses to make beer money. 

Body Count Rising: Speaking of, you have a credit as an animal wrangler in “Scumbag”. What’s that about? (laughing)

Mars Roberge: I’m glad you noticed that. It always seems to slip through. My fiancé Debra had one of the lead roles in “Scumbag” and she has this cat named Gwendolyn.. I’ve always been a dog person but now I think I’m becoming a cat person. I taught Gwendolyn flip and roll over. She does it in the movie, so I gave myself credit as the animal wrangler. (laughing)

Body Count Rising: I can’t wait to see that. You’re like the Cat Whisperer! (laughing)

Mars Roberge: Yeah! 

Rocktopia Manifesto

Rocktopia is a film genre created by director, Mars Roberge, in 2015 which he describes as "an individual's struggle against the ideals of a Utopian society where the only freedom of escape is to rock out." Influenced by the social realism movement of playwright John Osbourne, classic musicals, Dogma, 80s MTV and the absurd subtleties of French New Wave Cinema, Rocktopia has its own set of guidelines to follow: 
1. A large portion of the cast must be played by established musicians portraying characters far removed from themselves.
2. Rocktopia are epic movies that should have a cast of no less than 200 people and that does not include extras.
3. Magic must be involved. The term "magic" does not imply witchcraft or dark energies but may be referred to as "great luck." For instance, Scumbag found a lot of their bigger names a night before their shoot and scenes were shot perfectly with no preparation involved. This is what is termed "Magic."
4. There must be at least three original songs performed in the movie by the actual artist who recorded it. Each song should take place to heighten the protagonist’s stress.
5. Films should be shot on the highest quality settings possible, never accepting a lower grade just to cut costs.
6. Films should be mainly shot handheld.
7. Director should have a greater vision for multiple branding (theater, video games, art exhibits, clothing line, etc) for the film, keeping the film alive forever.

Body Count Rising: Oh, and let’s talk about the Rocktopia Manifesto. Three original songs are a requirement. “Scumbag” has quite the cast. So who will be performing the three original songs? 

Mars Roberge: Camille Waldorf, who played a girl named Megan, then there’s Princess Frank and Debra Haden who did a duet and a whole musical number. He plays Phil in the movie and she plays Christine. Spookey Ruben does a little song and he plays Junior. En Esch from KMFDM was also in there.

Body Count Rising: You were casting director for “Scumbag” and there were A LOT of big names in the cast. How did you coordinate so that everyone could be together for the film?

Mars Roberge: Well the movie was mainly funded by me, with some Indiegogo support. After 6 days and running out of my initial money, I found I could afford one day per month, so the film was shot over 10 1/2 months. Most of the co-stars have no idea how many other stars are in the movie. There are about 230 starring roles. There are people from Warhol, porn, martial arts… it’s like the party I’ve always wanted to throw! I could only make this film at this point in my life because of the experiences that I’ve had. I’m no longer rebellious. I want to help others. 

Body Count Rising: You have some big punk names in your film. Do you integrate a lot of punk rock into your DJ sets?

Mars Roberge: Absolutely, a punk rock ideology as it would apply to dance music. I owe my sister, Patty Powers, credit for that because she’s a punk rocker from back in the day and a writer and used to do spoken word when Henry Rollins was starting with that. She was really into Johnny Thunders. I grew up with punks around all the time that were older than me. At the same time I was a skateboarder and my Bible was Thrasher Magazine. I listened to Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Fishbone, a Toronto group called Goblyns, T.S.O.L., Dayglo Abortions, all those great bands during the 80s. I think with the way the government is and the environment right now, we’re due for a hardcore punk resurgence. Hardcore was the only way out of Scarborough. That helped get me through my youth. 

Body Count Rising: You started DJing to research for a film, but ended up making it a career. So will this be your next film?

Mars Roberge: Well, “Scumbag” is about a DJ. “The Little House That Could” mentioned how a lot of us had DJ careers, etc... I think all of my films will address this somewhat. It’s one of those subjects that there’s so much to talk about that I have to address it over and over again. I want to make movies that I know, and I know this world. I want my films to be remembered thirty years from now because they really mean something.

Body Count Rising:
In your manifesto you talk about branding. You’ve worked in fashion, music and now film which are all excellent crossovers for marketing. What can we expect from Scumbag and when will it be available for purchase?

Mars Roberge: The premiere should be out in September or the last week of August and then we’ll continue on the festival circuit. After that we’ll wait for the distributors to approach us. We’re also having a huge party at Studio 79 on July 23rd in San Diego during the week of Comic Con (for info go to closer to the date) plus a big party at a gallery in downtown Los Angeles in late November. Once the film is out there, I have so many plans. I have ideas for a second film, a TV series, video games, you name it. I have all kinds of ideas. 

Body Count Rising: Beautiful! With so many involved in your films you’re generating quite the buzz. Do you already have those expressing interest in being in or contributing toward your next film?

Mars Roberge: Yes! The people that turned me down during the first film are expressing interest. I’m keeping close to the people who always believed in me though. If everything goes as planned, I’d love to do a part 2, but I have another film that will be an urban drama. I’d love to do both. I think people can’t relate to you if they don’t know you, so I always try to be as genuine as I can.

Keep up with Mars' latest projects and awards on his IMDb or follow him on Facebook

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Interview with Filmmaker, Donald Farmer

I wanted to call Donald Farmer the King of the SOV, but I thought before I throw around monikers I'd better double check the internet and make sure there was no one else already holding that title. Of course the first result was Jesus Christ. Now I can't say I've seen any of Jesus' SOVs, but you know, he probably has all the best equipment and you know he lands the sickest shots with perfect lighting and sound each time, so I guess I can't argue with the internet. It appears the title of "Prince of the SOV" hasn't been taken, so now I will bestow it on Donald Farmer. Donald, the Prince of the SOV. This is less ceremonious than I expected... and on with the interview.

Body Count Rising: You started making movies in the 70s where you shot on 8mm, and then you transitioned to SOVs in the 80s and digital in the 90s and today. Has you vision also evolved with your medium?

Donald Farmer: If it's up to me and I have total control over a movie, I'll always prefer to do horror movies. There are times I just work as a director for hire for other producers, and in those cases they call the shots. Although I try to steer the movie as far in my direction as I can, and get as much leeway as they'll let me. A friend hired me to do a murder mystery, but he seemed pretty agreeable to letting me sleaze it up as much as I could, so I tried to push it in the direction that the people who like my movies would kind of expect. There was no compromising with the producer for the civil war movie I did. It had to be PG level, and he wouldn't let me do anything that would exceed that ratings level. He was really strict on that. So with producers, sometimes you can bend them, and sometimes you can't.

Body Count Rising: Gotcha!

Donald Farmer: That's why I always say it's better to be your own producer. When we did “Chainsaw Cheerleaders” I had this producer who put up all of the money for it, but even then, paying for the whole film, he was agreeable to anything we wanted to do. He was one of those producers that gave you the money and didn't make a lot of demands. They just let you do what you're going to do. He did, however, have to approve the casting, and sign off on the title. I suggest three different titles, and “Chainsaw” was the one he picked. Once we had the cast in place, though, I could pretty much do anything I wanted.

Other producers have been way more controlling. We had this guy who was going to give us $750,000 to make three movies, but he wanted to be the lead in them. So yeah, some have conditions, and some just stand by and let you do what you're going to do. I'd rather do a cheap movie with total control then something bigger budget with stipulations. I don't like shooting long hours nowadays. I prefer to get my cast together one day a week, and just shoot a couple of scenes. But when you're working with somebody else's money you don't have that luxury. When I'm using my own money, though, I'll shoot at a leisurely pace.

Body Count Rising: And with the less costly movie you have the chance to make the most profit too...

Donald Farmer: It's all about the cheap movies. The more expensive ones almost never turn a profit. If your budget is way more expensive than it should be for the market simply put you're not going to make your money back. The corner of the market is now Blu-Rays & DVDs, so if you spend a quarter of a million you're not going to turn a profit. It helps if you have some recognizable names in it, not just B-grade actors. It's just not going to make much of a dent unless it's something like the “Blair Witch Project”. That guy who wanted us to make the three films for him had a chance to produce the “Blair Witch”, but eventually he passed on it, so that was a sad day for him.

Body Count Rising: So was it Eduardo (Sanchez) he was working with?

Donald Farmer: It was Neal Fredericks. He was our camera operator, but he went on to be the director of photography on "The Blair Witch Project”. Neal brought Eduardo to my producer's office one day for a pitch meeting. Eduardo had done a bunch of impressive stuff at that point, but none of it was out on DVD, or any kind of format. He gave this producer the chance to produce his next film, but he didn't say what it was. He declined, and it's good thing he didn't sign on because he definitely would have tried to incorporate himself into that movie as the lead, and it wouldn't have worked.

Body Count Rising: So I know that was when Eduardo was in Florida. Speaking of Florida you've also worked with Tim Ritter out there. Do you work with a lot of Florida filmmakers?

Donald Farmer: I moved to Florida about '86 or '87 when I did my first full movie “Demon Queen”, so I was friends with Tim. Tim just finished his first feature “Truth or Dare”, and recommended us the actress Mary Fanaro, because she did a really great job in that. So she was in “Demon Queen”, and she got the best reviews of any other actor in that movie. After she did our movie she got a nice guest starring role on “Miami Vice”, and she had a small part in “Any Given Sunday” with Al Pacino. She was really good friends with Courtney Cox, and they started a charity organization together called Omnipeace. So that's what she does now.

Body Count Rising: You've had quite a few scream queens in your films over the years. Which ones did you have the best experiences working with?

Donald Farmer: In the 80s I did four projects in a row with Melissa Moore, and then in the 90s I did six projects in a row with a lesser known actress Maria Ortiz. We did one where we had Misty Mundae and Tina Krause together. I've done about four projects with Michelle Bauer I think most people know who she is.

Body Count Rising: Pia Snow!

Donald Farmer: I did two projects with Debbie Rochon, and two projects with Tiffany Shepis. I've done movies with Brigitte Nielsen, and Margaux Hemingway. I've done one with Dana Plato. Also Channing Dodson who was in “Shark Exorcist” and “Cannibal Cop” is a really great actress.

My favorite actresses I've worked with though are lesser known ones like Maria Ortiz, and Alaine Huntington, because I'm friends with them in real life. Michelle Bauer, and I are friends, but I only see her when we're working on something. So yes, my favorites are my real life friends; people I talk to without having business reasons to talk to them.

Body Count Rising: What was your most challenging film?

Donald Farmer: “Compelling Evidence” was the most challenging for its time. It had one of my biggest budgets. The movie I did before that, “Red Lips” was done for under five grand. From the space between Spring to Fall I went from a $5,000 film to “Evidence” which was a $250,000 film. It was a culture shock coming from poverty row budgets to working with real money.

I worked on a couple of films for Richard Martin that had budgets of a quarter of a million. I was the production manager on “No Justice”, and “Demented” and did half the casting for both. I brought in Camille Keaton and Cameron Mitchell for “No Justice”, and Jim VanBebber and Michelle Bauer for “Demented”.

But yeah, “Compelling Evidence” was the first time I was in charge of a fairly big budget movie. I had a 20 person crew, and I had to have stars signed on by the start date or the movie would have been canceled. Everything had to be on schedule because there was a lot of this producer’s money involved. Just a lot more pressure… I did three movies in a row for him. Just bang… bang… bang... Afterwards it was more fun to go back to lesser budget movies, because there was more freedom.

Body Count Rising: Speaking of Camille Keaton, I heard she walked off the set of “Savage Vengeance”. What happened there?

Donald Farmer: She left a little early, but we shot all the important stuff first. We had everything we needed, except one scene that we successfully used a double for, so it was anticipated to some extent. There were some strange feelings onset, and she has since apologized. I did two movies back to back with Camille in 1988, but only a few people have seen the $350,000 movie “No Justice” that I did for Richard Martin. It was shot in 35mm, and we posted it on film. We made 35mm prints which we exhibited in theatres.

I met Camille in '87 when I lived in L.A. She was working as a hostess for Amtrak, and a friend of mine who was one of the actors from “Cannibal Hookers” introduced me to her. She told me she hadn't worked for several years at the time. Her last movie was “Raw Force”, and she had a very small role in the “Concrete Jungle”. I told her I'd hustle up some work for her, and the very next year I was put in the position to cast a fairly big budget theatrical film which I got her involved with immediately.

Even though “Savage Vengeance” and “No Justice” had extremely different budgets, Camille got paid the same. The difference was on “Justice” her salary was just a small portion of the budget, and on mine it was 80% of my budget.

Body Count Rising: Is there still a plan for Mongrel DVD re-releasing “Cannibal Hookers”?

Donald Farmer: They're still working on it, but it is coming. There's a bunch of special features on it. A well made documentary, a commentary and scenes from the original shoot that we did before we re-shot everything in California. They've hired Massacre Video to author the menu, so that's what's going on now. Mongrel's also working on a book version of my fanzine from back in the day The Splatter Times. They're putting out a hardback book of all the back issues in one collection. We just finished all the layouts, and it's about to go off to the printers. They've spent a fortune on both of these projects.

Body Count Rising: Ohhh that sounds awesome. I want that book! Your early films have a great time capsule aesthetic. The 80s ephemeral, the colored gels, your casting… I find they have a higher watchability level than a lot of the other SOVs. They just get more endearing with subsequent viewings. How did you create the look for these movies?

Donald Farmer: For “Demon Queen” I wanted at least one scene with saturated color gels. My DP didn't bring any color gels, so I went out and bought the gels myself so we'd have some for the climax.

When we did “Cannibal Hookers” I had a DP, Richard Kashanski that was very creative, and proactive about lighting effects, and he brought lots of great ideas to the table. He was a cameraman on the original “Dark Shadows”, and he worked for Orson Welles on the famous unfinished film “The Other Side of the Wind” starring Cameron Mitchell and John Huston. He would tell me about shots Welles would make him do like lay on the floor, and film through the springs of the mattress. He was Gary Graver's assistant on that film. He taught me about scrims, and we used them for all kinds of cool, weird shadow effects on “Cannibal Hookers”.

We were filming in Ted V. Mikels’ castle, and I wanted to light certain places with different color gels. Like have the background one color and the walkway another just like the Bava movies. It was a cheap way we could create a 3D effect without 3D. “Scream Dream” had the most color gels that I'd ever used on a movie. I was going crazy with them. I didn't have a creative force like Richard on the “Scream Dream” shoot. I had to tell those guys everything I wanted done. They were just point and shoot cameramen for hire.

Body Count Rising: When you were shooting at the castle was Ted. V. Mikels there?

Donald Farmer: No, he'd been evicted. I didn't even tell him we shot there until years later when I saw him at a convention, which cracked him up. He built a torture dungeon into that castle with shackles on the walls, and prison cells. The neighbors would tell us that he had several common law wives that were there with him, and the neighbors would hear screams coming from the castle.

Body Count Rising: Ted's harem! (laughing)

Donald Farmer: When they asked him about it he said they were just late night S&M games. (laughing) That dungeon came in handy when we shot the film, and we wrote scenes around some of the castles more eccentric attributes. It looked like squatters had run amuck in there though, and we had to clean before we could shoot. There were mattresses on the floor, and debris everywhere. The weirdest part of the vandalism was that there was 35mm film hanging out of all the trees! Just hanging from the branches like toilet paper after a prank... You'd look out the windows and see celluloid draped over all the limbs just blowing in the breeze. It was just pathetic.

Body Count Rising: Oh that's horrible! Geez... You did a segment for “Hi-8”, and “Grindsploitation”. Would you ever consider doing a complete throwback faux- 80s SOV feature?

Donald Farmer: I pretty much did everything I could do with that concept with the “Hi-8” project, trying to recreate what those movies used to be by shooting with the cheapest cameras possible. They actually wanted me to shoot cheaper than I would have done in the 80s. They didn't even want us to use color gels but I did, just on a more of a discreet level… a lot of day for night filters, filtering down a room to make it seem like it was nighttime. I did a trick this DP taught me where I would just splash the back wall with the gels instead of lighting everything individually. It was more subtle, and something I could get away with so the backgrounds wouldn't be so boring.

Body Count Rising:
What can you tell us about the “Grindsploitation” faux grindhouse trailer project? You did a trailer for it “Dirty Cop: Simon Says”…

Donald Farmer: I was one of the two stars in the sequel to Tim Ritter's “Dirty Cop No Donut”, and I've had ideas about a third installment. Tim wasn't motivated to do a third one, and I wouldn't do it without him because it's his franchise. I asked him if he'd mind then if I just did a trailer for “Dirty Cop 3”, and he didn't. I had it up on You Tube first before they incorporated it into “Grindsploitation” concept.

Body Count Rising:
You have a reputation for using protagonists that aren't generally the nicest people to say the least, but somehow you can still empathize with them. The drug pusher in “Demon Queen”... Uh not so much the rapists hicks in “Savage Vengeance”... Do you identity with your protagonists? I know that you're an auteur. Why do you feel the flip side of the story needs to be told?

Donald Farmer: When I write characters I'm usually conscious of who will be the surrogate for me. The character Alaine Huntington played in the “Thicker Than Water” segment in “Hi-8” resonated with me personally the most. She's in a relationship she's very insecure about, and she kidnaps her boyfriends ex and has her tied up in the garage. She wants him to prove his love to her by murdering his ex right in front of her. I just thought it would be really nice gesture to have someone show you that they were devoted to you like that. (laughing)

Body Count Rising: (laughing) Oh wow… sure! Speaking of murders you were on “Megan Wants a Millionaire” with Ryan Jenkins, a dude who murdered his model wife and stuffed her into a suitcase. Any interesting stories from the filming of that VH1 surreality show?

Donald Farmer: We were more or less friends. He was the only one on that show that would go out of his way to help somebody. One guy broke a glass before a scene, and before the camera guys could exploit the situation reality TV style I helped Ryan clean up the mess. There was another time when they were interviewing me for one of the inserts, and before they caught it on film, he brushed off a piece of lint that was on my shoulder. Just a really, really nice guy. He wasn't a murderer when we shot the show in February of 2009. He didn't kill his wife until August around the time they were airing the 3rd episode. VH1 pulled it immediately saying nobody wanted to watch a show with a wife killer in the cast.

There was another guy on that show that was just a horrible irritating individual. He was from Texas. I thought if anybody was a maniac in real life that it would be him. Too bad horrible things couldn't happen to him in their real life. (laughing) What's really weird is that around the same time a female friend of mine in Tennessee was killed by her husband, and stuffed into a suitcase. The same thing Ryan did with his wife. I knew both these people and in the same time frame one killed somebody and stuffed them in a suitcase, and the other was killed and stuffed into a suitcase. What a weird synchronicity of the universe... Just so WEIRD! I've known two people that were my friends that were murdered. Have you ever been friends with anybody that was murdered?

Body Count Rising: Noooo, not like actual friends in real life.

Donald Farmer: One of the reasons we shut down the Florida shoot for "Cannibal Hookers" was one of my actresses got to the location before anybody else arrived, and saw a car parked there. There was a body of a woman in the front seat. Some guy had killed his girlfriend, stabbed her to death in his apartment, put her in the car and drove her to this building that we were filming. He just left her there. My actress was so freaked out by discovering this dead body that we shut down the shoot, because she didn't want to film anymore.

Body Count Rising: That would be jarring! I can't really blame her. It would be stranger if she was fine with it…

Donald Farmer: I never hear about any of the famous horror directors like Dario Argento or Herschel Gordon Lewis finding corpses on their filming locations.

Body Count Rising: I guess that's one of the pitfalls of working in the lower-budget horror arena? (laughing)

Donald Farmer: That's one of the luxuries of higher budgets that you don't find corpses on your set? (laughing) You know it’s been easier finding distribution for my lower budget films than it has been with the ones with decent size budgets.

Body Count Rising: On a lower budget you're not spending all this money to go out of your way to be fake. All that CG crap... It's more grassroots. It's more real. You have cameos in most of your films. Do you find you do it more for the fun, or is it necessity?

Donald Farmer: Both; fun and sometimes pure necessity. I just did a cameo in “Cannibal Cop” out of necessity. We had an actor in a role, and when we were cutting it together he was talking to another actress where the sun was brighter in his shots, so the lighting didn't match up. He was no longer available for a quick re-shoot so I just stepped into the role and re-shot all his scenes myself. Like I mentioned before I was in charge of all the casting for “No Justice”, and I cast myself in a scene opposite Cameron Mitchell, because I was a huge fan of his horror output, specifically Bava's “Blood and Black Lace” and “The Toolbox Murders”. That was one of my big priorities with that movie. We were working with a 30 person crew, and I nailed my entire dialog on the first take, so Cameron was really impressed. He did this scene with this other actor where the guy kept flubbing his lines. Cameron never made mistakes he was a complete professional. So were Brigitte Nielsen and Dana Plato. They were very serious about their craft.

Body Count Rising: You were in Romero's “Day of the Dead”. Please tell me the story behind that.

Donald Farmer: The only way to get on the set of those movies was to be working for a magazine. Back then in '84 I was submitting articles to Fangoria, so I approached them first to do on set coverage. They said the editor was going to do that one, so they couldn't give me that assignment. I went to the magazine Fantastic Films, and they said I could do it for them. This French magazine L'ecran Fantastique said they wanted to publish the article too, so I ended up on the set representing two different magazines. Romero flew in journalists from about 20 different magazines. They had Kurt Loder from Rolling Stone and somebody from US Magazine. Once we got there they said we think you will all write much better articles if you play zombies in our film. We all said "Sure, we'd love too!" I had grown up with these films, so I never wanted this experience to end it was just so much fun.

It seemed like they had an army of people working on the film. You'd go through a zombie assembly line where one person would give you your tattered zombie clothes, then somebody would put globs of goo in your hair, somebody would do the make-up for your hands and then future Oscar winner Howard Berger did my face and neck make-up. Savini was supervising, but he was just working on the featured zombies. Berger decided to make me up as a broken neck zombie. I had to hold my neck to one side and I had a big bloody gash on my neck. Apparently my character had died from a horrible neck injury. The touch up artists would run up, and paint black goo on your cheek, and then somebody would powder your hands to make them look drier.

I had never been in another situation like that until years later when I was on “Megan Wants a Millionaire” where they'd run up and wipe your sweat and powder your face. The “Day of the Dead” production paid for my flight, my room, and all my meals. When I did my on set coverage for “Evil Dead 2” I had to pay my own way, but Sam Raimi was my personal tour guide. He gave me an interview and took me around. Everywhere he went I went. I was basically his sidekick. This is very rare on a big budget film. Usually the director won't say two words to you. On the set of “Starman” John Carpenter just gave me dirty looks. The publicist said if you try to talk to John we'll throw you off the set. They said John does not like horror, or genre journalists. They were very suspicious of me because The Thing got a bad review in Cinefantstique, and I was covering his film for L'ecran Fantastique which sounded a lot like Cinefantastique! Usually on a film set you can't take any pictures because they want to supply you with their own publicly stills, but you were allowed to take all the pictures you wanted on the “Starman” set. They just didn't want you talking to anybody.

Body Count Rising: John Carpenter doesn't do anything for my household. He's just totally overrated. I've seen credits for you working on several different behind the scenes capacities, but I don’t think I've seen one for special effects make-up? Have you ever worked on any of your own effects on your films, or anybody else's film?

Donald Farmer: I've done lots of make up on my movies or assisted, but I never take credit for it. I did all the effects by myself on two of my earliest films “The Summoned” and “Taste of Flesh” which just came out together on that Donald Farmer Collection Vol. 1 Blu-Ray. There are a lot of effects in those too. I've always thought wounds look better on camera when they're actively gushing blood opposed to just pouring blood all over some wound where it's just static. A trick that I used on “Shark Exorcist” that's really cheap, but effective is have the actors pour blood in their mouths and puke it back up when they're stabbed. Opposed to building a dummy that looks real and stabbing it. I go to the Halloween store Party City and buy the "professional movie blood" so the actors have more confidence putting it in their mouths, because sometimes they can be unsure about home mixed concoctions. (laughing)

Body Count Rising: “Cannibal Hookers” had amazing distribution out of Canada. Was that your best distributed film?

Donald Farmer: The best disturbed in the U.S. market. The early 80s video explosion put a mom and pop video store in every town right before the big chains like Blockbuster bought out all the little guys in the early 90s. I found “Cannibal Hookers” in nearly every video store I went to; an average of eight out of ten stores. They had it in Times Square in New York and Greenwich Village. Everybody seemed to have it. The Canadian company that distributed it technically only had Canadian rights. They took their contract and just decided they could sell it anywhere they wanted to, and soon everybody knew about that title. I was happy about that aspect of it. I still had the U.S. rights and I sold them to a company called Magnum in 1992. “Demon Queen” was poorly distributed. When it came out I drove all over Nashville and could only find it at one store.

Body Count Rising: What's next on your plate?

Donald Farmer: I need to finish “Cannibal Cop” but I'm working on three scripts now. I've wrote a script for a film called “Gein Versus Manson” which brings together Ed Gein and Charles Manson. I'm trying to make it as plausible as possible. Charles Manson was 22 years old in 1957 the year Gein got arrested. In the script Manson is just an aspiring musician with a couple of girlfriends who gets kidnapped by Gein, and barely escapes being skinned alive. This harrowing experience with Gein turns him into a future maniac.

Body Count Rising: After forty years of making movies do you have any advice for any budding directors out there?

Donald Farmer: I've noticed that people that want to get into filmmaking go about it in either one of two ways. I know a lot of people believe you have to do it the traditional way which is go to film school then try to immediately get work on hit movies. They don't even think about working on low budget films. An actress I know that was in three of my movies went to film school just to learn how to be a crew member. She was hired straight out of film School to be a gaffer and best boy on Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies, which provided her with very steady, well-paid work for several years. So for somebody who wants to make a living only through filmmaking, that might be a smart way to go.

Keep up with Donald's latest projects on his IMDb or follow him on Facebook.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interview with Author and Filmmaker, Shaun Costello

Shaun Costello has lived the life of three men... maybe four. From porn director for the mob to porn star to award-winning documentarian, and now veterans' advocate and author, Shaun has a story or two to tell, and in his new book Le Journal d'un Pornographe Unrepentant he does just that. Often controversial, sometimes subversive and even downright heartwarming, Shaun Costello is an asset to the genre and is a living, breathing piece of history.

Body Count Rising: You are a veteran, a filmmaker, an author and you’ve done just about every job associated with filmmaking. Which of these roles was the most challenging for you and why?

Shaun Costello: I love a good story, and have been attracted to good story tellers since childhood. As a kid I preferred sitting in a room filled with adults and listening to their conversation, than playing with other kids my own age. I was the ultimate listener, and being a good listener is the first step toward becoming a good story teller.

In the late sixties, a Jamaican street hustler named Lloyd Smith, who we all knew as Smitty, was attempting to create loops, or ten minute stag films, and seemed bewildered by the process. I suggested to him that I would create little stories, and lists of shots to photograph, because the editing had to be done in the camera. The result would be that after the film was processed in the lab, when projected, it would tell a little story. Smitty jumped at my offer, and we began a working relationship that lasted about six months. It came naturally to me. As time went on, my ability to create shot lists became more refined, and when I began to direct feature length films, it was that six months of creating Smitty’s loops that enabled me to do it successfully.

Coming up with an idea for a story, creating a shot list to tell that story, and sitting in an editing room watching that story successfully unfold is an richly satisfying experience. Writing a good story gives me the same satisfaction. There’s that moment, whether it’s in an editing room, or sitting in front of a word processor, when the germ of an idea you had begins to take shape and blossom – there’s nothing like it.

Body Count Rising: You pushed through the adversity of homelessness and published a detailed account so that other veterans could read it and get help from the people you mentioned. Have you heard feedback from other vets on how your experience and writing changed their lives?

Shaun Costello: I felt an obligation to write that piece. When I lost my house in April of 2015, I spent the next three and a half months living in various homeless shelters. Through the VA’s HUD/VASH program I was able to finally wrangle a HUD voucher for a very nice two bedroom apartment, where I still live. To accomplish what I did took relentless tenacity. Everyone says “NO” to you over and over again. The trick is not believing them. I just kept hammering away at the system until I found a crack in the resistance.

During this process I found out who would help and who would not, and felt obligated to share that knowledge with other Vets. I have heard from many who read the piece. Some were helped by it, and some just didn’t get the point. To do what I did, you’ve got to want it badly, and you’ve got to do the work necessary to make it happen. Now I work on my blog in the mornings, and drive an Uber cab in the afternoons. From the Congressman, to whom the letter was written, I received a form letter in reply.

Body Count Rising: You’ve directed close to 70 projects spanning three decades. What do you feel is your most underrated film?

Shaun Costello: Porn? “Midnight Desires” is probably the most complete movie I made. It was my first 35MM film. And it was not very expensive; under forty thousand, which is pretty cheap, considering the big budget films I made for Reuben Sturman in the early 1980’s. My favorite though, is “Passions of Carol”, my smutified version of Dickens’ "Christmas Carol". It’s silly, and outrageous, and wonderful. I have a sentimental connection to it.

Body Count Rising: What about your best film?

Shaun Costello: My best work? “Writing for Time” was shot in the middle east during the First Gulf War. And a documentary I made with Bill Markle in Scotland in 1973 called “Four Days at Troon”. The making of both of these films is written about on my blog, and in "Risky Behavior".

Body Count Rising: You have stated that “Waterpower” was your funniest film. Were you ever able to direct with that level of autonomy again after “Waterpower”?

Shaun Costello: Waterpower was completed without any of its backers seeing it. Dibi died in 1986, never having seen his enema epic. You don’t get that kind of autonomy very often. But I was seldom interfered with. Bob Dolan was a pain in the ass, but everyone else left me alone. My movies made money. That’s why people hired me. I had a unique understanding of the needs of the degenerates in the balcony. I had been one of them

Body Count Rising: You made films for the Gambino crime family. Does one ever truly sever ties?

Shaun Costello: My early mob movies were made for the DeCavalcante’s. They were New Jersey based and were the inspiration for The Sopranos. There was a consolidation of DeCavalcante and Gambino interests into one gigantic empire if smut. Robert ‘Dibi’ DiBernardo, a DeCavalcante Capo, was moved to the Gambino family. The Mafiosi that I dealt with were not cowboys. They were businessmen. Dibi was a well-dressed, soft-spoken gentleman. I had made a connection in 1968 with a ranking member of the Colombo family named John Liggio. He became by benefactor. It was John who sent me down to Dibi at Star Distributors. When John Died of cancer in 1975, Dibi began looking out for my interests. I’m sure that this was at John’s request. Who were the most impressive gangsters? Dibi was an even-tempered, skilled negotiator. He was a big earner in the construction unions. Reuben Sturman in Cleveland, who operated under Dibi’s protection, was a visionary. He started out selling girlie magazines out of the trunk of his car, and died a billionaire.

And I liked Dominick Cataldo, a Colombo Capo. I spent a lot of time with Dominick. He was a lot of fun to be around. Of course, no one told me that he liked to bury his hits two at a time in double decker graves in his own private Boot Hill, in upstate New York. I might not have taken trips to Las Vegas and Palm Beach with him had I known. Dibi was shot in the head in 1986 by a Gravano underling named ‘Old Man’ Peruda. The order came from John Gotti, who had been told that Dibi was plotting against him. This was completely untrue. Sammy Gravano told him it was untrue, but by this time Gotti had lost his mind and was whacking people left and right.

Body Count Rising: Have you been harassed by the FBI, not just for the pornographic aspect, but in questioning regarding organized crime?

Shaun Costello: The FBI has never contacted me. My blog is filled with stories about the mob. Particularly a story about a movie I was supposed to make at Dominick Cataldo’s son’s wedding in 1978. The reception was attended by over 200 Bosses, Capos, and Associates from all over the country. The largest gathering of Mafiosi ever, and the story is accurately told. I think that La Cosa Nostra is pretty much past tense. They’re not on the FBI’s “A” list. Don Corleone would prove prophetic. Heroin would be the end of them.

Body Count Rising: You had stated that there is “a piece of you in every shot”. What would you consider your integral trademark that is personified overall in your films?

Shaun Costello: Did I really say that? Sounds silly! What I probably meant was that I worked hard. I seldom settled for anything that didn’t make me happy. But that was after I had left porn. Porn was different. Take “Waterpower”: I made it for $16,000 in four days. You can not make a believable feature length film for $16,000 in four days. I never tried to. What made me happy was creating a scene that played from beginning to end and worked. If it was just one scene per movie, that was OK. But I needed a scene that worked.

Then there were the gags. These were long shooting days, and we did our best to get through the inevitable boredom by playing games. If I was acting in a scene, we would play the watch pool. How many times would I look at my watch during a scene? The crew all put numbers down on paper along with a dollar bill, and put them in a bowl. I would not be aware to the numbers guessed. We would shoot the scene, and the closest guess would win the pot.

In “Waterpower” there is a shot of Sharon Mitchell with a copy of Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man” in her hand, intensely reading. I found someone like Sharon Mitchell reading a book like this to be hilarious. But there was something else. The movie was being shot in 1976, and on page 76 of “Ascent of Man” is a sentence with both “Water” and “Power” in it. I found these things amusing. No one got it, of course, but years later I was contacted by DVD Maniacs and asked about it. It was thirty five years later, but someone finally got it!

Body Count Rising: You worked under some different aliases with George Payne too...

Shaun Costello: I liked George. He showed up, and did what was asked. And I knew how to use him. George was basically gay. If you watch him in a scene you will find that he is almost always looking at another guy in the scene. The trick was never to put George in a scene alone with a girl.

Body Count Rising: With each decade you’ve done your share of popular recreational drugs of that time. How did these affect your acting performances in the over sixty films through the decades?

Shaun Costello: The funny thing is that, until 1970, I seldom even smoked pot. Then I met Harry Reems. I did way more that my share of Hallucinogens. Real LSD25, which does not exist anymore, mescaline, and shrooms... How many trips did I take? Probably somewhere between 60 and 80. And I loved every moment. It was a life-changing experience.

I started doing coke around 1975. By the late Seventies everybody was snorting as much of it as they could afford. I certainly was. Real cocaine hyrdrochloride (surfer coke) does not exist anymore. When the cartels in Colombia took over the processing (mid 1980’s), there was a sociological shift in the market, from the white collar users who snorted and danced the night away, to ghetto users, who smoked free base, which was reprocessed cocaine alkaloid. Free basing was highly addictive. The alkaloid, along with filler chemicals, is processed into crack, and is strictly ghetto.

Body Count Rising: I understand you had a special gift that made you exceptional at your craft. Was this enhanced by drug use?

Shaun Costello: Although having sex on acid was both thrilling and mystifying, it did not enhance my sexual abilities. They were separate but equal.

Body Count Rising: You had a scare when you were quite ill and thought you could have AIDS, but thankfully tested negative.

Shaun Costello: That was the parasitic infection that I brought back from the Middle East after making a film for Time Magazine during the first Gulf War.

Body Count Rising: What are your thoughts on the proposed mandatory condom use in pornography filmed in California, and do you think this will truly make a difference in the industry overall?

Shaun Costello: People in the adult film business are grown ups. Whether or not they use condoms during filming is their affair.

Body Count Rising: You wrote the phenomenal account “Wild About Harry”, which chronicled the apex and struggles of the life of Harry Reems. Did putting these experiences on paper also allow a certain catharsis for you and a chance to exorcise your own demons?

Shaun Costello: Herb and I were close friends back in the day. When I heard of his death I was stunned and saddened. I contacted my friend Thomas Eikrem in London and asked him to save some space in the next edition of Filmrage, and that I would send him a piece about Herb/Harry. The book was Thomas’s idea. He said to write it as a stand-alone book, but that we’d have to get it out fast. I worked on it around the clock for three weeks. No one bought it, of course, because no one knows that it exists. I can’t afford to promote it, and eBooks without promotion go nowhere. Herb’s demons were quite different than mine. There was no catharsis. I simply wanted to record a side of Harry Reems that few are aware of.

Body Count Rising: Your IMDb says you were nominated for an AVN award, but I know you have won awards that are not credited. Which was the most meaningful that you were proud of and why?

Shaun Costello: I have never had anything to do with the AVN. It’s a silly organization that provides a venue for stupid people to pat each other on the back. I’m sure they have a category that reads – Best Performance by a Foxy Milf while getting DP’d by hung Midgets. I have one Clio and four International Monitors. Two of the Monitors were for a film I made for Time Magazine, "Writing for Time", during the first Gulf War. It was shot in Egypt, Jordan, NYC and Washington DC. It’s still the best promotional film I’ve ever seen. It was expensive and ground breaking. Some of the best work I’ve ever done.

Body Count Rising: I’ve noticed the song “Return of the Pimpmobile” has turned up in a couple of your films. Are you a fan of Isaac Hayes?

Shaun Costello:
I was guilty of blatantly stealing more music that anyone in the history of the movie business. I loved cutting picture to great music, and Shaft was a great score.

Body Count Rising: And you have a writing project just published…

Shaun Costello: A French publisher purchased the French language rights for “Risky Behavior”, so I’ve been busy finishing it. They don’t like the title “Risky Behavior”, so they retitled it: Le Journal d'un Pornographe Unrepentant (Diary of an Unrepentant Pornographer).

Body Count Rising: You are a quintessential old school New Yorker. Did you ever frequent CBGB or rub elbows with other local filmmakers like Buddy Giovinazzo, Nick Zedd or Richard Kern?

Shaun Costello:
I went to CBGB’s but that was really a scene that happened later on. My night crawling was done at Pyramid, Studio 54, Mudd Club, Hellfire and Eros. I never really hung out with other directors. I didn’t know any, except for Ron Sullivan and Chuck Vincent, and the only reason I knew them was because we shared the same coke dealer. I never went to film school, or even watched another director on a set. I just loved movies and watched them endlessly. Then I tried to figure out how they were made, and went out and did it myself. And it seemed to work.

Body Count Rising: There is an ocean of essays, memoirs and documentaries on the topic of 42nd Street. Is there any aspect of 42nd Street’s “delightful debauchery” that you feel hasn’t been adequately highlighted and what’s your favorite memory of Times Square?

Shaun Costello: I’m going to answer by excerpting from “Risky Behavior”:
The Times Square subway station was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the over-modulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as I climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”. 
Forty Second Street between Times Square and Eighth Avenue had pretty much the same chaotic intensity as the subway station, except brighter and colder. The sidewalks were covered with evidence of the previous night’s activities, and silent men with brooms were sweeping out the entrances to the many movie houses that provided a dark haven for degenerates on the prowl, and warm place to sleep for those who had no alternative. When I was a bit younger I spent many a night with friends from High School in these theaters, where you could see three action pictures for a buck, and where the predominantly black audience threw empty soda cans at the screen to warn the hero that a bad guy was sneaking up behind him. Even this early in the morning the pedestrian traffic was heavy. The owners of most of the storefronts were busy opening the security screens, revealing cheap discount goods and services of every variety imaginable. Men’s clothing, Army/Navy, cheap electronics, Peep-O-Rama, Nedicks, GIRLS/GIRLS/GIRLS, Souvlaki/Gyros, Tad’s Steaks, Pinball-Palace, Te-Amo Cigars, Orange Julius, Modell Sporting Goods, Movieland, all opening up for another day on “The Deuce”.

Why I found this degenerate atmosphere to be the soothing, nurturing, cradle of comfort that drew me like a moth to a flame, is difficult to describe, particularly to those who never experienced it, or never needed to. Today’s Forty Second Street is a Disney-driven, squeaky-clean, family-friendly, vanilla canyon of imitative tourist attractions that might just as well be found in Kansas or, better yet, Orlando. But back then, before the bulldozers cleared away the grunge of reality to make room for the plasticine, cellophane wrapped Valhalla that would replace it, “The Deuce” was the Mecca for those restless souls who prowled the canyons of Manhattan’s West Forties looking for the shit.
Keep up with Shaun’s projects on his IMDb and stay in the know by following his blog.

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