Ben Young Interview

Hounds of Love is screening at this year’s NZ Film Festival, book your tickets here.

Crimson Celluloid: Prior to making Hounds of Love you’d mainly done short movies and TV work. What knowledge and experience did you bring from these jobs to your first feature film?

Ben Young: The principals of filmmaking are pretty much the same across all mediums, so I obviously learned a lot about the technical side of film making – camera, shots, editing sound. Perhaps the most important thing I took away from it all was experience in working with actors.

Feature films have a different structure to TV and shorts, so I think my developing several feature length scripts before shooting Hounds helped a lot.

It must have been pretty daunting, making your first feature film. How did you prepare and, with the benefit of hindsight, what would you do differently, if anything?

I made a 180 page ‘manual’ on everything I thought we needed to make the film – shotlists, storyboards, visual references and so on. I gave this to every head of department in preproduction to help get them inside my head.

If I was to do anything different, I would probably not be so ridged in my blocking and leave more room for the actors to bring ideas to the scene.

As excited as I am to see the film, the casting of Stephen Curry has me worried. Not because he’s not a fine actor, more because in Australia he is associated with lighter work, often in the comedic mode. What did you see in him that lead him to being cast? Were you pressured to cast a “name” actor in the lead role?

For me a big point of the film is that evil is invisible. By casting someone as likeable as Steve in the role I hoped the audience would come to realise often those capable of evil are incredibly charming when they are not offending. I was also scared an audience wouldn’t by Vicki getting in the car and figured, who wouldn’t want to get in a car with Stephen Curry?

The case of David and Catherine Birnie isn’t that well known outside of Australia, but certainly made an impact in our country. What attracted you to the case and why did you want to make a film based on their crimes?

The film isn’t based on their crimes. I studied nine cases of couples who commit murder together to gain an understanding of the dynamics of their relationships. As far as I know, all the events in Hounds are fictional.

The only other film that has tackled this case is Ursula Dabrowsky’s excellent Inner Demon. Have you seen this film? If so, what did you think of it?

I have not.

As with Inner Demon, it looks like you put your lead actress (this time in the form of Ashleigh Cummings) through the emotional and physical wringer. Did you have to take into consideration her age and any potential impact upon her?  What did you do to make the shoot as comfortable as possible for all concerned?

She was 23 at the time of filming so age wasn’t a concern. I did let her know that what we were doing was just making a film and it wasn’t worth damaging herself for. Ash, Stephen and Emma all trusted each other a lot and that was the key to get to the places we got without hurting anyone.

From her work in Puberty Blues and lots of other TV work, Ashleigh Cummings does seem to deliver a lot more depth than a lot of similar young actresses. How did you find working with her?

She is one of the greatest humans and hardest working actors I have ever dealt with. She’s a pleasure to work with and I’d jump at the chance to do so again.

Emma Booth also has extensive TV credits, what characteristics do you think she brought to the role of Evelyn White that made the role her own?

Emma brings so much depth and conflict to every role she plays. What she did that was beyond the page was bring an empathy to the character which is no small feet given she’s playing someone so horrible!

What were the main hardships you experienced dealing with a relatively small budget?

The hardest thing was time. We only had twenty days to shoot and no money for overtime so anything we didn’t get on the day, we could never get.

Is there a story about where the title came from?

During the writing of the script I was listening to a bunch of music from the era. Kate Bush’s album of the same name spoke to me on the same emotional level I wanted an audience to experience when watching the film so I decided to give a nod to it.

Australia’s leading horror writer, Michael Helms, said that the film would fit nicely between Animal Kingdom and Snowtown. Certainly good company to be in. Was it your intention to make as intense a movie-going experience as possible? He also cited the soundtrack as being very effective in its impact upon the viewer. Were you happy with how all the elements of the film came together? Is there anything you’d change?

I did want the experience to be intense because I wanted the audience to feel the emotions the characters were feeling. This is why I chose not to show much violence. For me tension comes from what could happen, not what does. I felt if I showed too much violence it would distract from everything else.

Because of my background in music videos music was something I put a lot of thought into. There are lots of little things I’d change about the film, but overall I’m pretty happy with it.

Richard Wilkins said that Snowtown was akin to a “snuff movie” (slaps head in disbelief)..are you worried that he’ll give Hounds of Love similar short shrift or would getting a bad review from a pinhead like that be almost a badge of honour?

Like I said I’m pretty happy with the film so I try not to concern myself too much with the opinion of others. Thankfully we’ve had enough generous reviews for nothing much to bother me anymore.

Receiving a good 91% favourable rating on ROTTEN TOMATOES must be a great source of pride. You must be very proud of the way the film has been received? Have you received any surprising reactions from critics or audiences?

I have been surprised at the generosity of reviewers. I felt the subject would divide more people, but surprisingly all but a handful of reviewers were able to seperate themselves from the subject and focus on the filmmaking.

What do you think Catherine Birnie would think of the film if she got a chance to see it? I received a Christmas card from her one year but don’t know her well enough to speculate as to her possible reaction. I dare say she’d probably prefer that she wasn’t in the headlines again and may see it as a possible impediment against her possible release. I assume you didn’t approach her about the film in advance? Each time the film Snowtown has been on TV here in SA the prison that houses John Bunting and Robert Wagner blocks the signal so they can’t see it…I hope Birnie has more luck!!

I don’t give her any thought whatsoever.

What can you tell us about your next film, Extinction?

It’s a big Sci-fi film I shot in Serbia earlier this year. It stars Michael Pena, Lizzy Caplan, Mike Colter and Emma Booth. It’s very different from Hounds but hope audiences find it as intense. I’m in LA editing it now and it’s out in January so it has been a crazy busy year since finishing Hounds!

Thanks for your time and best of luck with HOUNDS OF LOVE, EXTINCTION and your future films.

Thanks for taking the time!

Marrie Lee Interview

Crimson Celluloid: Firstly I have to thank you for your contribution to the history of cinema in the guise of Cleopatra Wong. Does it surprise you that all these years later people still feel fondly about the WONG films and are still talking about them?

Marrie Lee: Yes it does but when I watch the films these days, I am surprised that it is still so watchable unlike some of the very old films that seem rather slow. Continue reading

James Greene Jr. Interview

Misfits-Book-This-Leaves-StainsI grew up in the 90s amid boy band fever. Every girl had magazines where they could get posters of their favourite groups and learn all about their favourite singer’s favourite flavour of ice-cream. I never had that luxury because I liked heavy metal and Dolly and TV Hits didn’t cover those bands. Apart from seeing the Misfits wrestle on TV, I knew nothing of them and when I started listening to them around 2002 I picked up that most people hate post-Danzig Misfits and that Jerry Only is to blame for the shitty merchandise.

So when my friend sent me a copy of This Music Leaves Stains I realised I was unaware of the band’s origins and what exactly caused the demise of the Danzig era Misfits. I was so out of the loop I didn’t even know that Doyle and Jerry were brothers.

James Greene Jr’s book is the place to go to if you need a refresher or are wanting to discover all the Misfits information you could dream of in one book. It is short, but it’s a fun and informative read and something that belongs in every Misfits fans collection.

The Naked Kiss: Can you tell our readers a little about your background and what lead you to writing a book about The Misfits?

James Greene Jr: I’ve been a freelance writer for around ten years, and I think the largest recurring theme for me has been music. That’s what I’m most passionate about, so I end up covering it. Mostly outsider stuff, though, like a lot of punk and novelty, anything weird, fringe. The more home recorded it sounds, the better. Over the years I’d tried to get a few books off the ground and they all fizzled out, for a variety of reasons. Probably lack of experience. I spent five years contributing to the version of Crawdaddy! they relaunched online. Toward the end of that, right before Crawdaddy! folded, in my off hours one day it just sort of hit me that no one had written a full book on the Misfits. That seemed a little insane based on their popularity and the popularity of everything Danzig did afterward. I wondered if I could write one. For me, the love and devotion was there, to the band and their music, their legacy, but it wasn’t a venture I took seriously until I was laid off. At that point, nothing else was going on, so I just went full bore. And through some miracle it became a reality.

In the acknowledgments you said some stories had to be excised, was this due to legal matters, potential shit stirring or another reason?

Huge chunks where I analyze lyrics, entire passages of songs, where I tear apart the structure and each word practically, had to go once it was made clear how expensive it is to reprint song lyrics that have been registered with the American Society of Composers, Authors And Publishers. The costs are outrageous, which I get, because artists need to protect their creations and their revenue. My publisher told me they weren’t going to foot the bill if I kept this stuff in, and I didn’t have the money. This was right before Kickstarter took off, I think. Maybe I should have done that. My thought at the time, my thought on it now, still, is that I can do it in the future, the lyrical dissection, on a blog, like what I set up for the pictures I also couldn’t afford for the book. On the other hand, maybe tearing the songs apart to that degree would have been too much of a tangent. Some stuff was cut out because I was very conscious of keeping the narrative moving and not writing too far up my own ass. It’s important for me for the book to appeal to readers who aren’t already deeply invested in the Misfits and their lore. I could have loaded the thing with hundreds of extra weird stories and asides. I feel like writing a book about the Misfits to begin with was enough shit stirring. I knew this book was going to ruffle feathers, and it did. Nothing too bonkers, though. No bonfires on my lawn or anything.

I am assuming Danzig and Jerry Only politely declined to be interviewed for the book, did you even get past management to talk to them?

That depends on how you define “politely.” Jerry never replied to any communication I sent, be it direct, through official channels, or via a person on the inside track. Radio silence with every attempt. And there were several. Glenn, on the other hand, he was considering it. Or so I was told. We spoke through one of his assistants. I mean, there’s a chance this person never mentioned it to him, but I have no reason not to believe I was hearing the truth. Glenn considered it, apparently, but after that, nothing. More silence. The rejections were polite in that nobody called me up and told me to fuck right off with my dipshit book.

Did you get a lot of support and information from Misfits websites/fans/collectors?

Absolutely. The hardcore fans, the one who set up the websites back when barely anyone knew how to define that term, the same people who’ve tracked down all these ultra rare pieces of band memorabilia—these folks were invaluable to my research. They’re historians and I feel so lucky a handful agreed to help me. I feel lucky the basic reaction was, “Thank god someone is finally writing a book about this band.” I mean, some were skeptical it would actually happen, but I was too. I was just as skeptical that this thing would make it to shelves. We’re all crazy for this band, though, and I think maybe we get a charge from talking and sharing and helping each other when we can. I just hope the people who aided me with Stains understand my gratitude. People really went out of their way to get on board with me, some no name writer. That meant everything.

Given that this is your first book did this in anyway put limits on the scope/promotion/budget/pressing of the book? And how did you sell yourself as the person to write this book?

Well, certainly…even though I’d been freelancing for years and had experience, per se, I’d never written for any household names. I still haven’t, really. I’ve had one thing in SPIN. Being a first timer with no audience—-even now I only have 300 Twitter followers. When Stains was coming out, maybe it was half that. The publisher was taking a chance releasing a book about the Misfits, a punk band with a strong foothold in our culture, but again, not a household name, certainly not to the extent of the Ramones or the Clash. Later I was told the cabal in charge at the publisher, the people who make all the final decisions, they weren’t convinced it was worth doing until someone showed them a Misfits Facebook that has a million followers. Or several hundred thousand. So, yeah, I had no delusions about them booking me on “Fresh Air” or getting reviewed in Pitchfork.

The only angle I could take in selling myself as the correct author for Stains was to try and wear my passion for the band on my sleeve, to try and articulate what they meant to me, along side whatever writing clips I was using at the time to display my talents. You know, I’m not Franché Coma’s son, I’m not Dr. Chud’s mechanic, I’m just a zealous member of this cult, some stan on the sidelines who has seen the different sides of the saga unfold and can look at it with what I think is a decent amount of objectivity. And maybe I can make a sentence sound interesting.

Your book reminded me a lot of Alex Ogg’s recent Dead Kennedy’s book (so much similar legal bullshit and band drama). It too was short but visually rich – I assume there were reasons due to rights or budget as to why there were only a few photos?

Yeah, I alluded to this earlier—-pictures are just as expensive as lyrics to reprint in a book, sometimes more. My original vision for Stains was something that looked similar to Monte Melnick’s book about the Ramones. The graphic design of that book is awesome, where it feels like you’re flipping through somebody’s scrapbook. It’s so inviting, so rich. Eerie Von’s book is like that, too. Again, photo licensing was something I’d have to pay for out of pocket, that’s just the way it was. There wasn’t any way I could put together what I imagined at first, so I defaulted to the few-pictures-in-the-middle thing every book in the universe does. Even that didn’t go the way I wanted—-an individual who had promised me a bunch of rare-ish shots covering various incarnations of the band evaporated, just ghosted me. It was a bummer. The pictures Kevin Salk gave me are fantastic, though, and capture much of the group’s essence. Eventually I set up the tumblr with all the photos, because my thought was, People will have their phones right next to the book while they’re reading, they’ll get online maybe to look me up and complain about the lack of photos but then they’ll find the tumblr. And that’s basically what’s always happened.

After writing the above question I came across the tumblr. Is there any development regarding a special edition of the book with more visual content?

At some point an updated edition will be released…it’s in my contract, I’m obligated to do it, which is a fine obligation to have, and I definitely foresee an increase in photographic material. Somehow, you know. We’ll figure something out, otherwise what’s the point? Currently there are no firm plans are on the table concerning any of that. No timetable, not even in the contract, I think. Just thoughts, fragments.

Was it easy to track down all of those old band members and get interviews out of them?

It was relatively easy tracking everyone down, but getting interviews…well, obviously several members refused to participate. I’m sure some saw me as dubious, just another dirt clod who says he’s gonna do a book. You know, these people can’t walk out of the house without getting fifty questions about the Misfits before the mailbox. A lot of them want to leave it in the past. Googy, Diane DiPiazza, Manny—-none of them have said word one to anybody. I get it. I respect that. I’m fortunate for the people who did agree to speak with me.

What is your favourite story, anecdote, or fact you uncovered while writing the book?

It was really cool to hear directly from Ian MacKaye about his fandom for the Misfits. I had no idea that he was a fan—-I just thought he’d be good to speak to as a contemporary, someone who was following the same path the Misfits were in the early ‘80s, but he’s really into the band and Glenn’s songwriting and it was just so much fun to hear his perspective on that stuff. Constantly his quote about “Horror Business” goes through my head. “‘My windows are black for you’—- what the fuck does that mean?” If Ian MacKaye doesn’t know I sure as hell don’t. The mystery of Danzig confounds us all.

How many hours of research did you spend on this thing?

Good question. That’s what interviewees say when they have no fucking clue for an answer. I started work on the book in August 2010 and turned in the finished manuscript October 2012. Every spare moment I had between freelance jobs and regular life demands I was researching. Even up to October 2012, as I was preparing to turn the manuscript in, there was still fact checking. I guess hundreds of hours. I don’t know, I’m atrocious with math. I’ll say enough hours that once I was done I didn’t want to think about looking anything up ever again. My intellectual curiosity and amateur detective skills were maxed out.

Have any of the band members reacted to the book?

Bobby Steele either posted on Facebook or messaged me on there to say he felt vindicated by what I’d written about him and his role in the band. We communicated for a while after that. He’s the only Misfit I’ve heard from directly. People tell me Michale Graves liked it. People tell me Jerry Only didn’t. That’s it. I’d love to know what they all think but it’s gauche for me to reach out and ask and perhaps just as gauche to assume everyone in the band’s read it.

Do you think a reunion will ever happen, and if it did that it would even satisfy fans? I want to see the Misfits as they were in 1978 and I can’t. If fans complained that another singer couldn’t live up to Danzig, wouldn’t people complain that Danzig can’t live up to his act from 37 years ago?

I think the main reason fans want a reunion is because they want to believe the music has the power to snuff out all the personal issues between the members. They want to believe Glenn and Jerry will put aside their differences because they cannot deny the impact and importance of their creations. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’d be surprised if this became reality, if the separate parties decided to eat it cost-wise and do something special for their audience. From what I understand, that’s the issue, dividing up the percentages. Each guy thinks they deserve an amount the other guy isn’t on board with. Jerry and Glenn have had enough success without each other at this point…and I don’t think their personal bond was ever super strong. Otherwise the band would have stayed together. Or they would have reunited already. What you mention about expectations, that always plagues these kinds of things. Every reunion falls short to some degree.

Your book made me revist post-Danzig Misfits and I really liked some of the Graves’ era stuff. I think he got such a shit deal as he mentions the violence and hostility he had directed at him, the fact that he wrote most of the music and was not treated with respect.  They tried to fine him $5,000 for breach of contact. Did he have any fond memories of his time in the band?

I talked to Michale for three hours for Stains. He couldn’t have been more generous or more personable toward me, which was very unexpected. Very appreciative of that. Seems to me like he has many fond memories, particularly that he was allowed to step into this coveted position, and that people like Doyle gave him so much validation and support. There was a span, he told me, where it felt like the Misfits were conquering the world. And they kinda were, circa Famous Monsters. Michale took oceans of abuse from all sorts of people, but he doesn’t seem bitter about it, and he cops to his own mistakes. He admits, or he admitted to me, that he could have handled certain situations better, that youth or inexperience was clouding his judgment. I walked away from that conversation with a newfound respect for the guy. I was a fan before but like anyone else I went in with my preconceived notions. He’s not deluded about any of the Misfits stuff.

Even though I think he milks it a bit too much I kind of have to admire Jerry’s tenacity for persisting with the band, he’s 56, surely he could retire and hang out in his sweat pants all day. They’re playing  here in NZ in December, have you seen them lately?

You can’t accuse Jerry of sloth, that’s for sure. His Misfits have turned into road warriors. The Devil’s Rain left me a little cold so I haven’t caught them at any recent gigs. I think I’d be more interested to see what Jerry might do outside of the Misfits. I know the band probably won’t end until he dies, but I’m curious what he might embark upon without the fiend skull. Clearly I’m pining for a Kryst the Conqueror reunion. I don’t know, variety is the spice of life. At the same time, a sick part of me wants to see how far the Misfits can go. Will it eventually be Jerry Jr and Jerry III? Will the grandsons walk among us?

Doing your research did you come across any insane Misfits merchandise? I always ask Misfits fans what the most ridiculous Misfits item they’ve ever seen is. For me it was a duvet cover and shoelaces. Someone told me g-strings and ugg boots but I can’t believe that, surely that can not be true.

I have definitely seen the Misfits logo on women’s undergarments and lingerie. Not in person, just online, for sale, probably by bootleggers. The shoelaces are my go-to example for asinine merchandise. Who’s even going to notice that? Well, sneakerheads, I guess. But if you’re trying to display your fandom there are easier, more visible ways. Oh, I think I saw the Crimson Ghost on a Zippo lighter once. That’s a little…I don’t know. Vegas? It feels flashy.

Do you have plans for other books or are there any other bands that you would like to see have a book published about them?

I’m in the beginning stages of a book that will explore the development of punk rock in foreign countries. There were so many scenes around the world more or less concurrent to the British and U.S. explosions of the late ‘70s, I think it will be cool to write something that digs into all of them to some degree, so people can understand what life and art is like in other places, and how many amazing groups there are all over the place. It seems like a broad thing to do, a daunting proposition, maybe, covering all these places and cultures, but I find it as engaging an idea as the Misfits book, and I’m in the mood to do something general. Or more generalized. I’m not even sure, if you put a gun to my head and asked me to pick one band to write a book about right now, who I’d pick. I hope someone writes a book about the Gits some day. A super comprehensive book about Run-D.M.C. would be a godsend. Someone has to do the end-all GG Allin book. That’s one I feel qualified to write, reveling in all the trash culture I do.

Thanks for writing such a great book that educated me on The Misfits. I was stunned at how little of their story I knew and found your book both informative and entertaining. You also prompted me to revist post-Danzig Misfits and I’m really enjoying the two Graves records.

Hey, thanks for reading my book. It makes me really happy to hear feedback like this. These were my objectives, an entertaining and informative book that prompts people to the records.

If you’d like to say a few words or pimp anything here’s the space to do it:

In December I’m going to be releasing a PDF of essays about Star Wars and the culture that surrounds it. The title of the collection is Star Wars Ruined My Life and it’ll be a pay-what-you-want thing. To keep up with that and whatever else goes on in my world, dial me up on Twitter via @HoneyIShrunkJG2.

Available in paperback and hardcover

Leoni Leaver Interview

LLeaverI must admit I wasn’t expecting much. But being an avid supporter of Aussie genre films, I felt it was my duty to give the DVD There’s Something in the Pilliga a chance. Thankfully any preconceived notions I had about ANOTHER “found footage” film weren’t realized and I was most pleasantly surprised. One of the key points that differentiates this particular film from the hoard of others is the wonderful performances of all concerned. There’s isn’t a dud to be seen. Highlight acting-wise, in my estimation, was that of Leoni Leaver as “Liz”. A great naturalistic performance by an actress who will hopefully go far. Somehow she consented to answering some of my inane questions, presented here for all you Love & Pop types…

Crimson Celluloid: I must say that when I saw the DVD for There’s Something in the Pilliga sitting on the shelf, I didn’t hold out much hope for anything too good. I have come to loathe the “found footage” genre. But I was very pleasantly surprised. What kind of reactions has the film received?

Leoni Leaver: I’m glad you were pleasantly surprised! It has been really positively received, which is fantastic! The genre itself has got quite a big cult following, which helped! For an actor, filming in that style was great, very different, and challenging. I loved it! The found footage style on the big cinema screen did make a few people a little sea sick, but it didn’t put them off the film thankfully. One happy viewer even said he “enjoyed that feeling that it gave him.” On the flip side, some people said they enjoyed the style as it made them feel like they were right there with us in the action because of the movement. Of course, not everyone is going to enjoy the genre and style, but like the director Dane Millerd says, “It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is going to be a lot of people’s shot of whiskey!”

CC: A good part of the success of the film is the very naturalistic performances of the cast. What can you tell us about the audition process? What do you think, all modesty aside, lead you to be cast as Liz?

LL: Why thank you, that is lovely of you to say, what a compliment! That’s the first rule of acting, don’t get caught acting! I am hoping that it was my show reel and CV from StarNow that caught the directors eye, but who knows? I think I had a photo on my profile that looked like what the Director was after for Liz too, so my short denim shorts finally came in handy. The role of Liz had already been cast, however, luckily for me the actress had pulled out. Dane said that he had wanted me for the role from the beginning, but was worried about the distance, as I was from W.A. at the time. Once again lucky for me, he decided to take a risk and gave me a call. I auditioned via Skype and as they say, the rest is history. I moved to Melbourne and drove to NSW for rehearsals and filming in my broken down Kombi. I had also been planning to dye my hair red, and when Dane said he wanted red for the film I knew that it was meant to be. However, I always pride myself in being a highly professional and prepared actor that can transform into any role I am taking on, with or without a change in hair colour!

CC: It seems, to this casual viewer, that a lot of the dialogue was improvised. That may not be the case and it may just be a case of very realistic performances. Was there much space for improvisation?

LL: Actually we were pretty close to script most of the time, we were definitely given the freedom and creative licence to change certain words if they didn’t fit our character, but we didn’t really need to, that’s good writing for you! I am pretty sure we added quite a few more profanities that weren’t in the script though. Naughty potty mouths, the characters made us do it!

CC: What can you tell us about the shoot? Was it especially gruelling?

LL: Absolutely! But I think we are all suckers for punishment. Unfortunately in this industry, you don’t get to do what you love full time and there can be a lot of lull times when you’re not doing anything creative at all. So when you do get the chance to act, you don’t mind pushing yourself as much as you can and working 24/7. For me, I think all up it was a total of 9 days camping in the bush filming, one day we were filming from 6am until 3am. Everyone was working so hard as a team though, and we kept driving each other along. It was a really positive experience. I would do that all day every day if I could! I have a motto that I usually live by when I’m on set, if I don’t come back at least a little bruised, tired and sore from a film shoot, then I haven’t done my job properly. I love a little consensual battery on set, and prefer to do my own stunts, which I was stoked to get a credit for in the film! Go hard or go home I say!

CC: What did director Dane Millerd bring to the table in terms of assisting you in your performance?

LL: Dane is one of the best directors I have ever had the pleasure of working with, he has an eye for actors and how to treat each other differently to help them bring out their best performances. He clearly outlined the type of character Liz was in the beginning, so I knew what type of woman I was creating during my development stage. Dane is a very open, caring, and generous Director, and gave everyone the opportunity to speak their mind when aiding the creative process. He knew we were all talented in our own right, so when we spoke it was because we believed in what we were saying, and it was more often helpful then not. Dane and I had a great relationship on set and understood each other’s way of working. We were both on the same page for the direction of Liz the whole time. Dane knew that if he had to give a direction I would just say “Yep” and he could walk away knowing that the direction would be taken on board and delivered. He also allowed the actors to work together a lot to draw out performances in each other as we worked similarly. Another motto I live by on set, if the director is happy, then I’m happy!

CC: Liz is an interesting character. In what ways are you similar to her and in what ways do you differ?

LL: She sure is! As soon as I read the role I knew I was going to have a lot of fun with her. Liz definitely has traits of a younger me. I grew up in a small country town like she did and have always been quite loud and extroverted. She is certainly more occa than me, I hope, and I sure as hell don’t swear as much as she does, though others may beg to differ on that one. I am more of the tree hugging hippie, non bra wearing variety, not the short denim shorts, push up bra, drug taking, climbing into cars with random men type. That’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of crazy parties and silly decisions when I was younger but I would like to think that I am stronger and wiser than she is, and would stand up to someone like Jay a bit more than she does. We definitely differ in the fact that she would still be a smoker where as I am now a non smoker! I would love to go back and re-take running through the bush now with healthy lungs!

CC: I’m a great aficionado of “accidental” nipple-slips in movies (it’s a guy thing), I was pleased to see your areola had a brief cameo. Was this planned or something you only noticed once the film came out?

LL: WHAT! My areola came out!!! That wasn’t in my contract! First of all, thanks for noticing, can’t say I’ve ever had a compliment on my areola before. Secondly, yes it was an accident I’m afraid but an accident that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I am not afraid of nudity in film as long as it is tasteful and works for the film and my character. I have played a naked zombie wife before in award winning short “Perished” which was fun! Kate Winslet is a perfect example she has had many amazing roles that have required nudity but it is artistic not vulgar because it suited her role. I am also proudly a part of the large following #freethenipple if men are allowed to walk around with their nipples hanging out on a daily basis and it isn’t offensive then why can’t my girls be free also!

CC: Prior to working on this film you’ve mainly worked in short films. How did working on a feature differ from what you had expected?

LL: It didn’t really differ from what I had expected at all. I just got to do what I love for longer, which was a dream come true. Being able to work alongside people who have just as much passion for what they are doing as you do, in the same field, is always highly engaging and inspirational. Give me feature films all year round I say!

CC: Since the film was so low-budget, was there a great sense of camaraderie among the actors?

LL: You have no idea! Not just the actors, all the cast and crew became extremely close. We camped together in close quarters for 9 days, we became family out there, those people will stay in my heart forever and every time I’m over that side of the country we always try to catch up. It helped that we all had the same goal. To go camping in the bush, put all of our skills together and make a cool horror film, and to have fun doing it! We achieved this 10 fold. Every night we would finish filming, have a camp fire, debrief about the day, sing, laugh, eat, go to bed, get up and do it all over again. There is something truly special about being around not only like minded creative artists, but also beautifully souled people who had all come from different backgrounds, we all just, clicked.

CC: What advice would you give someone about to embark on their first feature film work?

LL: Dive in head first, grab the opportunity with both hands, be professional, work bloody hard, do your home work and character development, be grateful for the opportunity, have heaps of fun, and walk away knowing that you gave your absolute best. This is how I treat every acting opportunity I am given, be it short film or feature, the best part about doing a feature film is that it goes for longer, so you get more time on set doing what you love!

CC: The relationship between Liz and Tammy was thoroughly believable. Was there a considerable rehearsal period in which to hone your characters and their relationship?

LL: We did most of our bonding on set, as I came into the production stage late. I had a couple of skype rehearsals and one day of face to face rehearsal with the other actors before filming. We all clicked straight away so it was easy to work together. Everyone worked hard before filming so Rebecca Callander (Tammy) and I knew what kind of relationship our characters needed to have to pull off the on screen relationship.

CC: What can you tell us about your upcoming work and the proposed Pilliga sequel?

LL: I can’t say too much just yet I’m afraid! I am in talks about two feature film projects on the horizon, some very interesting roles indeed. I am now travelling more to Sydney and Melbourne for auditions and hoping to be in the right place at the right time. I am hoping to land an Australian Drama television show for 2016/2017. I am extremely honoured to have been offered to reprise my role in the There’s Something in the Pilliga sequel, dates have not been locked in yet but I know it is going to be, once again, an amazing experience that I am looking forward to immensely! I have been chasing this dream of mine for over 20 years and I will continue to chase it down until I have my Oscar. I believe I was born to do this, I feel so at home on set and on stage and I believe that I have what it takes to “make it”. Like I said, right place, right time! You can keep up to date with all my up coming acting news on my acting Facebook page.

Thank you very much for your time, I have thoroughly enjoyed your questions and look forward to doing it all again when my next feature film project is released! A huge thank you to my family, friends and fans for their continued support! XXX LL

Lee Gambin Interview

Lee-Gambin-BookLee Gambin is a Melbourne-based writer and film journalist, whose words have appeared regularly within the pages of the long-running horror film magazine Fangoria (for whom he has interviewed a wide range of genre personalities). Gambin has alsowritten liner notes for such prestige blu-ray releases as Squirm (Arrow Films), presents film lectures, and curates screenings for the Cinemaniacs film society in Melbourne. Lee’s first full-length book, Massacred by Mother Nature, was published by Midnight Marquee Press in 2012. For his second book, Gambin has chosen another of his most beloved music genres to talk about: the movie musicals of the seventies.

Published by Bear Manor Media, and at a whopping 812 pages, We Can Be Who We Are is certainly a comprehensive examination of its subject. Broken down by year, some of the diversity of titles which Gambin covers within the text include Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), Frank Zappa’s bizarre 200 Motels (1971), Godspell (1973), Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Grease (1978), Rock & Roll High School (1979), Times Square (1980) and the infamous KISS telemovie from 1978, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (released theatrically in Australia as Attack of the Phantom). Gambin leaves no stone unturned – even the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special (which aired on television in 1978 and has never been repeated or officially released) is covered in detail.

Along with his own critiques and insights into the films covered, Gambin has also sourced new interviews with many of the people who were involved in the productions, including John Carpenter, Norman Jewison, Mick Garris (who operated R2-D2 in the Star Wars Holiday Special!), Lesley Ann Warren and Didi Conn (Frenchie in Grease), who offer some fascinating insights and anecdotes regarding the projects they worked on. Heavily illustrated (in black & white) with an abundance of rare photographs, We Can Be Who We Are also includes a number of contributions from outside writers, including Robin Bougie, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Richard W. Haines, Kier-La Janisse and myself, and is certainly recommended for anyone with a fondness for the cinematic musicals of that decade.

I had the chance to catch-up with the author to discuss his latest work.

John Harrison: What prompted you to decide to follow-up Massacred by Mother Nature with a book on movie musicals from the 1970’s?

Lee Gambin: I think the 70s are an interesting time in film history. And even though I’m most definitely a devotee to the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood, I find that once cinema entered the 70s there was a massive turning point in film culture and the way in which films were made, marketed and received.

The grit of 70s cinema is something that resonated with me, and as far as the two genres that you bring up in your question – that of the horror film and the musical – the decade proved to boast an incredible diversity in both arenas. And that is something that appeals to me. I’ve always loved the notion that horror is such a varied genre spawning so many sub-genres such as the eco-horror film, which is the point of discussion in my book Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film, which was becoming a massively prominent branch of horror with newfound issues concerning environmentalism and the like during the period. Classic gothic horror films (such as the Hammer offerings during the 50s) were starting to fade as films such as Psycho, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby came into the foreground, and then by the time the 70s approached, horror started to drastically change – films like The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre set new standards, and of course a massive hit like Jaws (the quintessential eco-horror movie) made a huge impact on the culture.

So it was the same for the movie musical. I mean, here is a decade where you have quirky sophisticated outings such as On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and then the profoundly bleak Fiddler On the Roof, then the subversive psychedelic Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure and then porno musicals such as Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy. I also think the love for many of these films prompted me to write the book. I have always been obsessed with films such as Tommy, Phantom of the Paradise, The Muppet Movie, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cabaret, Nashville, The Rose and many more I discuss, so that was a very easy kick start.

JH: While the bulk of the writing is obviously yours, you also bring in a number of outsiders to We Can Be Who We Are, each contributing little pieces of critical analysis or personal recollections on some of their favourite films within the book’s genre. Is this something that you enjoy doing, to allow your book to have a few different voices, and some variety in the points-of-view on certain films?

LG: It’s the first time I’ve invited other people to contribute and I love it. I love everyone’s piece so much. It’s incredibly important to have varied opinions. What prompted me to do this was the fact that I was asked to contribute to other books and I thought that it would be a great idea to have film criticism writers also contribute. However, with this book on 70s movie musicals, I also got local musicians to contribute – so it was cool to have people like Adalita from seminal indie rock outfit Magic Dirt talk about her love and admiration (and also the influence of) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, while Kat Spazzy of Melbourne punk band The Spazzys talks about the importance of The Ramones and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, all the while combined with interviews with people such as John LaZar and P.J. Soles, who were involved in the films. And then of course with my analysis and insight into the film and the production etc. It was interesting to hear from the excellent writer Staci Layne Wilson, who talks about Ken Russell’s Listzomania (a film I don’t love, which is an absolute rarity in the case of Russell’s work which I normally adore!). To have conflicting attitudes about this shambolic film which is most certainly not the brilliant Tommy, The Boy Friend or The Music Lovers is humorous I think.

But yes, it is great to have varied voices. Xanadu is the film that gets two external voices discussing it’s madness, brilliance and plain insanity – Adam Devlin, a local radio programmer and music historian and life long Olivia Newton-John disciple, and Robin Bougie, who writes those wonderful Cinema Sewer books. So hearing both those guys talk about that crazy movie is stunning.

JH: The book is very comprehensive. In trying to cover as many films as you can, which would you say was the most joy to re-watch, investigate and write about? And conversely, which was the toughest?

LG: It was a joy to revisit most of the films. And the TV specials. And the documentaries. What made it super interesting for me was the fact that for most of them I would be interviewing various people who worked on them and therefore that would influence the ‘way I saw them’. So, for example, having grown up watching Milos Forman’s Hair over and over again and also being a massive fan of the original musical, which the film completely alters, modifies and changes to a filmic language, I would always be bewildered by the fact that the songs don’t necessarily fit in the integrated musical format – they stuck out like sore thumbs for me as a younger person; peppered throughout a very steady and streamlined narrative (which the original musical didn’t adhere to).

So when it came time to interview someone like Ann Roth, the costume designer for the film, these kind of questions came up, and although she was in charge of dressing the characters and not at all integral in the structure of the musical and the methods in which to adapt the stage show to screen, she still shed some amazing insight in the artistic battles that went on for a long period of time during the shoot, between choreographer Twyla Tharp and the film’s formidable director, Milos Forman. So after speaking to people like Ann Roth, going back and watching the film makes me see it in a totally different light and makes me love the movie even more. I have gone from thinking Forman’s Hair is a flawed film to absolutely embracing it as an exercise in brutal artistic differences that somehow function.

As far as the ‘toughest’ films to revisit, well, that would be the films I don’t/didn’t enjoy which are a pain – such as 1776.

JH: The 1970s seemed to be such a fertile decade for musicals. Do you think we will ever see another period like that, with so many diverse styles of musicals hitting our screens?

LG: Possibly. However, movies these days are just a drag. In all genres. I honestly can’t watch modern movies simply because of the aesthetic (or lack there of). Nothing looks as good as it did in the 70s. What a superb decade.

However, in saying that, there have been some contemporary movie musicals that I didn’t mind, such as the adaptation of Les Miserables which I thought did it’s job and wasn’t afraid to be as ugly as that musical truly is – it’s about people dying in the middle of the French revolution, so paint it up in ugly colors. But I was completely disappointed by the film adaptation of the brilliant Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, which missed the point entirely – that is a bleak, angry, edgy, very dark musical and the film threw out all of the complexity and harrowing elements to make it ‘accessible’.

I think there is far too much ‘compromise’ in today’s film adaptations of musicals (when they get done). There are a lot of diverse musicals from Broadway and Off-Broadway and beyond that are without a film adaptation and some would easily make the transition (Ragtime, Sunset Boulevard) and ones that would be tricky such as the episodic Company, the revue-style Assassins and the ruthlessly anti-linear Sunday in the Park with George (all three Sondheim musicals – superb works may I add). But I don’t see studios running out to invest in a cluster of them in one go! Could you imagine a film of Chess? That would be fantastic if done right, but who would go and see a musical about the cold war? And could you imagine a film adaptation of The Me Nobody Knows or Runaways? But would there be an audience for child-centric therapy musicals dealing with grim issues like rape, heroin addiction and abortion? As far as original film musicals go (musical movies not based on stage musicals), I really, really doubt that these would be taken on. Which is really depressing. People are so scared of genre cinema, they really are.

JH: Is it your hope that We Can Be Who We Are will help lead to a rediscovery and reappraisal of many of the films you cover? The 70s musical has been a rather maligned genre in many film circles.lee-gambin

LG: I love that you ask this!! One of the proudest achievements I have in writing this book is the fact that I get an opportunity to champion movies that I feel were unfairly maligned. I mean if you look at a film like Mame, there is a perfect example of a movie attacked by the critics, and honestly for no real reason at all. It is a charming film. One of the lesser depressing ‘whistling in the dark’ musicals, and one loaded with a sophisticated sensibility. It was panned primarily because it paid tribute to a bygone era (soft focus on Lucille Ball, Onna White’s stagy choreography that looked more like it belonged to Hello, Dolly! rather than a Depression-Era libertine musical and so forth) but that is fundamentally what makes it work. It’s a lovingly made movie. Gene Saks is a fantastic director, and the supporting cast that surround the brilliant Lucille Ball such as Bea Arthur, Bruce Davison, Joyce Van Patten and Robert Preston are terrific.

Also, if you look at a film like Lost Horizon (which yes, is a terrible film) you cannot deny the fact that the songs from bubble gum pop magician Burt Bacharach are wonderful! So I liked to have that platform to highlight this fact. Yes, yes, we all agree Lost Horizon is a mess, but the songs most certainly are not.

JH: What do you enjoy more, writing about films you love or introducing them at screenings?

LG: Writing about movies. Hands down.

JH: Tell us a little about your writing and research style. How do you plot and approach a big project like this, once you have decided on a theme?

LG: I make a list. A massive list. I try and include everything from memory and think in broad terms. For this project I began with writing down the core films – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The First Nudie Musical, etc – and then branch off to what I think deserves to be covered even though they might not completely easily fit in the traditional mould of ‘movie musical’ such as Myra Breckinridge, which does feature a number of diegetic numbers as sung by the imitable Mae West. Then I go through each film and watch them and while they’re playing I make notes.

What I did with this book is take each film from a specific angle – be it from a production stand point or an analysis view point. For example, when I write about Godspell there is a section in the criticism of this incredibly haunting film where I talk about it in relation to another movie about faith released the same year – The Exorcist. So hopefully, that makes the insight interesting and unique. And for say, my writing on The Wiz, I discuss the importance of that film in relation to the African-American experience. Then I add the interviews that I have collected – and I have many for this book. Then structure it and lay it all out so it reads smoothly – hopefully!

JH: Currently you are in the midst of writing a book on Joe Dante’s classic lycanthrope flick, The Howling (1981) for Centipede Press, as part of their ‘Studies in the Horror Film’ series. Tell us a little bit about this, and why you chose that particular film to cover.

LG: Because I love it. And I’ve been obsessed with it ever since I was a kid. One of the main reasons behind my obsession with it is the fact that I absolutely love that it is a movie with a multiple threat – that of a community of werewolves. We’ve always been so used to rogue, tragic loner werewolves such as the tortured Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man and follow up Universal offerings, but here in The Howling it’s a whole pack!

The Howling literally transformed the way in which werewolves were depicted on screen. Whilst being a frightening creature feature boasting some phenomenal special effects work by the legendary make-up wizard Rob Bottin, the film also delivers some biting social commentary and critiques the dangers of pop-psychology, the failure of communication and the repercussions of repression, all thanks to its wonderfully talented screenwriters John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless. It also acts as the celluloid home to some outstanding performances from the likes of Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Belinda Balaski, Dennis Dugan, Robert Picardo, Christopher Stone, Elisabeth Brooks and many others – both established troopers (John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Dick Miller et al) and relative newcomers (Margie Impert, Don MacLeod et al).

With its lush cinematography from John Hora, finely tuned editing by Mark Goldblatt and a rich, complex score from Italian composer Pino Donaggio, The Howling is puppeteered with magnetic control and authorship from it’s dedicated auteur director, Joe Dante. Gifted in storytelling, comprehensive aesthetic appreciation as well as being a devout cinephile, Dante has created something unique, intelligent, witty and highly sophisticated with his 1981 werewolf creature feature. This horror classic about TV news anchor Karen White who comes into contact with a cagey community of werewolves living in an Esalen-style health spa called The Colony, is a spectacle in design, special effects execution and narrative infrastructure, all the while being a slick and scary ride, with dark humor firmly stretched out as it’s backbone.

This book is yet another labor of love and I can’t wait to unleash it on the public! There is so much in there – and most of the people involved in the film are interviewed. It will be the tell all about the making of this horror classic!

JH: Any thoughts on what projects you plan to work on, writing-wise, after The Howling book is completed?

LG: Yes. But I can’t say until I’m given the word.

JH: Well, whatever your next project will be, we look forward to it.

LG: Thank you John, you’re amazing! And thank you for your super contribution to We Can Be Who We Are: Movie Musicals from the 1970s regarding that cult favorite Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park! What a ride that is.

We Can Be Who We Are is out now and available from Amazon and Bear Manor Media (www.bearmanormedia.com).

Rosie Day Interview

Jameson Empire Film Awards held at Grosvenor House - ArrivalsA brief glance at Rosie day’s credits will reveal The Seasoning House nestled comfortably between much TV work. It was a bold move to take the lead role of Angel in such a blisteringly effective movie, especially considering Rosie was a mere 17 at the time of filming. Much like Australia’s Ursula Dabrowsky, director Paul Hyett knows how to put his lead actress through the wringer…and, as the interview reveals, Rosie took on every challenge with determination and professionalism. If she did all this in her late teens, one can only wait with bated breath for her upcoming films.

Crimson Celluloid: What do you recall about the audition process for The Seasoning House?

Rosie Day: I remember opening the script on an email on the train and reading character names such as ‘Angel’ and ‘Goran’ and thinking it was a sort of Wizard, magic film. I then started reading it and realised I was very wrong! The part was an amazing role and I loved the script but I never thought they’d choose someone so young to play the part. But I worked really hard on it and met Paul (who was sat behind a table like a head teacher) and I did my audition and a recall and then got a phone call saying I got the part- I then cried I was so excited.

CC: Were you daunted on your first day of shooting, knowing that you had to pretty much carry the whole film and were in virtually every frame of the film? How did you prepare for it?

RD: I don’t think I was daunted. Filming is my favourite thing to do in the world so I was quite relaxed. I remember turning up and going to get breakfast on the first day and thinking ‘Ok for the next two months this is your life and then you’ll have to go back to school!!’ Paul and I sat down and did a lot of talking about the character so I always knew emotionally where she was in every scene.

CC: You were really put through the emotional grinder on The Seasoning House. Were the emotional scenes more draining and harder than the physical scenes or did they both provide challenges?

RD: I loved the physical scenes, getting to learn how to do all the stunts and fight sequences was so brilliant. I really enjoyed it. I wore my cuts and scars and bruises I got with so much pride, I kept showing everyone! It brings a new dynamic to a scene when it’s very active. The emotional scenes felt very important to get right as you want to do the script justice. I guess both were draining, I’d literally just go home and go straight to bed every evening!

CC: What can you tell us about Paul Hyett’s directing style

RD: I always describe Paul as this artistic genius. He’s a wonderful collaborator. He has all these genius ideas and then he sits back and let’s you play with them. It’s very liberating as an actor to have a director work in that way, he really let’s you bring what you want to bring to the role. We just did our second movie together and it felt like we’d never been away from filming. We hope to work together lots in the future.

CC: One of the name-actors in the film is the always-reliable and interesting Sean Pertwee. What memories do you have of working with him?

RD: He said I was hard as nails! I liked that! He’s such a great, lovely, guy I had a lot of fun working with him. There’s a scene in the pipe at the end which was funny to film as we were wedged in this tiny metal pipe and couldn’t move! My brother is a massive fan of his so it was so nice to get to introduce him to Sean.

CC: What advice and help did Paul Hyett give you in regards to the character and your performance in the film?

RD: The script was so well written by Paul that most of what we needed was written on the page. There’s not much dialogue in the whole movie so the script was very descriptive as a piece. We knew the audience had to get behind Angel for the film to work so it was about the journey she goes on, from this scared little girl, to seeking revenge on the people who have mistreated her. Also he shouted ‘Rosie you can’t hear that, you’re meant to be deaf’ quite a lot!

CC: The climax to the film is extremely violent and gory. Was this an intense experience for you to film?

RD: I was quite preoccupied by eating the blood that was made out of syrup! That’s how they kept me going on the shoot, a whole lot of sugar! But yes, definitely, the film as a whole is very very dark, and I was really young, so there were things that definitely scared me, things that I had never seen or experienced in real life but it really helped with the role as I got to feel the same way Angel does.

CC: What did you learn on the film that you previously didn’t know from your extensive experience on various tv shows?

RD: Going on a journey with a character from start to finish was amazing, I really learnt a lot about story arks and I constantly had to remember where in the journey we were in any given scene. It had to have complete continuity to flow as a piece as you follow angel the entire time, so that was a great thing to learn.

CC: Any funny or memorable events during the production?

RD: There was a lot of fun moments. Paul always found things to make me laugh every day! Getting to fall out of a window on a harness was really cool I felt pretty invincible that day. Also the limitless amount of Ribena and biscuits and chocolate I could eat was brilliant!

CC: What was your reaction to seeing the finished product for the first time and seeing yourself on the big screen?

RD: The first time I saw it was at the premiere at the empire cinema in Leicester square with 1700 people so it was very daunting! It was such an amazing evening I couldn’t even watch the film properly I was too busy looking around watching peoples faces trying to see what they were thinking! But it went down amazingly and I was very relieved! When we took it to Sitges film festival I felt like I finally got to sit down and watch it properly and I was really proud of what we’d done.

CC: Are you a horror movie fan in general? If so, what are some of your favourite films?

RD: I’d never watched a horror film in my life before I did it. But now me and my family watch them all the time. I get scared though and have to check under my bed before I go to sleep. We loved The Conjuring, Sinister, The Shining, we watch all the new ones as they come out!

CC: As a glutton for punishment you’ve worked with Paul Hyett again on his much-anticipated film Howl. What can you tell us about this film?

RD: Haha!! In truth I love working with him so much that I could never resist it! It’s very different to the seasoning house, completely opposite almost. It’s a very slick, modern and commercial horror centred around 8 people who get stuck on a midnight train! It definitely shows a different side to Paul’s many talents! We might have to make a light hearted film soon though!!

CC: You’ve made an auspicious film debut with The Seasoning House and continue to work hard in film and tv…if you had to chart out your career what would be your goals and aspirations?

RD: I’d really like to be like Carey Mulligan or Emma Stone, they both pick really diverse characters to play, and versatility is what I think makes an amazing actor. I just want to hopefully keep making films, telling interesting stories and having a lot of fun doing it! I’d love to work with Joe Wright or David Fincher, there’s a whole list of people I’m dying to work with! But being happy in what you do I think is very important too!

CC: Thanks for all the entertainment you have provided and best of luck in the future. I’m sure you have a great career ahead of you. And I’ll be there to congratulate you, review your films and, ultimately, borrow money from you.

RD: Ah thank you very much! I think I owe my mum a farm, my dad a boat, my grandad a Ferrari and my brother a mansion first but after that I’ll totally help you out!

The Seasoning House is available on DVD from Amazon and Mighty Ape (NZ).

Paul Hyett Interview

Paul-HyettVenturing into your local DVD shop is often a mission that results in frustration and wasted time. More often than not I leave either empty-handed or with a film I’ve seen before. I don’t want to risk two hours of my time that results in a film not worthy of any consideration. Such was NOT the case with The Seasoning House. I took a rare punt on an unknown entity and was rewarded in spades with a film that had me glued to my seat and, at times, shocked to my core. It’s not an easy view, and nor SHOULD it be, especially given the subject matter but if you give your time, you will be rewarded. Director Paul Hyett has crafted a wonderfully tense and terrifically acted thriller that all readers of Love & Pop should check out immediately.

Crimson Celluloid: Whist not technically a “horror” film The Seasoning House was one of the most intense films I’ve seen for a long time, bringing back memories of seeing Last House on the Left and Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time. Was it always your intent to make it an intense and uncomfortable film to sit-through?

Paul Hyett: Oh yes, I always wanted it to be a harrowing experience, I love how Chainsaw Massacre had this feeling of oppression and uncomfortableness right from the beginning, just the environment made your skin crawl, and I wanted that straight from the start, and like TCM, not to let up, that the main character Angel could never feel safe, nor could the audience, just keeping that palpable tension going all the way through and to make sequences (rape and violence), to be what they are, messy, brutal, nasty acts of violence, no glamorous Hollywood style fights, just messy and horrifically raw.

Crimson Celluloid: Even though it’s a film, and I know the dynamics of that, were you concerned about putting such a young actress as Rosie Day through the emotional and physical wringer?

Paul Hyett: I spoke to all the young girls in the film and especially Rosie, emotionally it’s a subject matter that all the girls wanted to tackle, as its something that girls their age would be going through, and tragically because they live in another country. But also I was very open with the fact that this wasn’t going to be a cheap exploitative splatter movie with no nudity (which I’ll answer properly in your later question) , so they all felt comfortable. I think the crew found it harder to watch, the actresses in the film wanted to do justice to the real victims and portray and somehow try to imagine the horrors of what those girls go through. Rosie was the youngest and I was worried about her being so young, but firstly physically, she is hard as nails, she was being thrown into mirrors, falling off walls, climbing with harnesses, being thrown into maggot infested mud pits, being slapped (by accident within a stunt scene), just everyday was something gruelling for her, but she was amazing, never once complained, just got on with it, ignored the bruises and came with a smile everyday. Emotionally, it was harder, as she had to put herself in the world of a real mute, witness her friend being raped and murdered, understanding what its like to witness and experience those horrors, for any good actress that can take herself to such an emotional place its an emotional journey, let alone one as young as Rosie, but she did, and thankfully came out the other end not at all traumatised. As a side note when we first gave her the part she hadn’t seen any horror movies, so I gave her Marytrs, Inside, Frontiers to watch over the Christmas period before shooting, maybe not the best horrors to start someone off with, in retrospect maybe I should build up to those, but Rosie is a tough girl, she had to be with the role she was about to take on.

Crimson Celluloid: Was there a rehearsal period? How did you prepare her for her role in the film?

Paul Hyett: Rosie and I talked endlessly about the part, emotionally where Angel would be and the very long journey, from the beginning as a care free Balkan girl, through to the kidnapping, the emotional move into a numbed shell of a captive living in a place that the only way to survive is by shutting off your feelings, your empathy, trying to numb yourself to the horrors around you, and then the re-emergence of her feelings when she meets her friend Vanya, and then the feeling of her fight back, which is a cathartic out pouring of everything she had been through all exploding in one go, then the switch to pure survival. Rehearsal wise, I’m not a fan of rehearsing, I prefer to speak endlessly about the character, do read throughs (to work out dialogue) and then on set, in this dark dingy environment, block out the scene and go with what the actors were feeling with their emotions, in the heat of the moment, I prefer this technique then rehearsing days or weeks before, I felt we got a more realistic performance and feel to the scene.

Crimson Celluloid: I was surprised that given the subject-matter there was no nudity (Female nudity. Male nudity doesn’t count!) in the film. Without getting all Freudian was this a deliberate decision..to not exploit characters that are already being exploited?

Paul Hyett: Yes, I so wanted this not to be a cheap boobs out exploitative horror movie. I felt it would have cheapened it. But most of all I didn’t want it to be titillating, I wanted the rape scenes to be what defines rape, that it is an act of brutal violence and nothing more then that. What those girls go through all over the world’s conflict zones and civil wars is unspeakably tragic, and I (and the girls) were always very mindful of that, not to cheapen what these girls go through. And we had a great response from so many critics and reviewers that we handled in that delicate way. However you can’t please anyone and I read reviews that dismissed the film as exploitative which always annoyed me as we had tried not to be that, but I think some just feel you can’t mix an exciting harrowing horror thriller with real horrific events that are happening to real people, that we should have made a film that explores that world without the thriller aspect, but it wasn’t  what we wanted to do, we always wanted to make a nail biting thriller set in the real world of sex trafficking but in a non exploitative way, and personally I think we succeeded.

Crimson Celluloid: What parts of the filmmaking process do you enjoy the most/least?

Paul Hyett: I love the preparation period and working out all the logistics of how its going to look, really getting the narrative structure in my head, developing characters with cast and then physical shooting of it, and bringing it to life on the set and seeing it come together, the actors bonding and developing their characters further, seeing the crew proud of their work and the vision of the film starting to emerge as we go through the weeks of shooting. The least part is waiting for money to come through and getting that green light, it’s always a hard process, but great when it happens.

Crimson Celluloid: The always-effective Sean Pertwee was great in the film. How did he come to be cast? What was he like to work with?

Paul Hyett: I’ve known Sean for years and in my former career as a prosthetics designer, killed him on screen many, many times. As I was writing this I thought he would be great. So I sent him the script and he loved it, he just wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to an exploitive, cheap horror shocker and misogynistic in anyway, and once I had assured him in those areas he was totally on-board. And he was an ABSOLUTE pleasure (as he always is), he brought so much to it, and really got deep under the skin of his character, and who it would be based on, and everyday, he really nailed it, I couldn’t praise him enough. I was really lucky to have a cast that gave 110% and really pushed themselves emotionally and physically to portray their characters.

Crimson Celluloid: For a relatively low-budget film the scenes of bloodshed and gore were remarkably effective, often coming out of the blue and having a real impact. Your background in FX certainly served you well. What kind of reactions have you received from people who have witnessed the carnage?

Paul Hyett: People do freak out at the effects, but I really didn’t want much gore in this, like I said earlier it was more about the oppressive feeling to this world, the overall tone of dread, there’s actually very little blood and gore in the film, but when we had it, I wanted it to be as nasty, brutal and shockingly real as it could be. And yes, my background really helped, but also the VFX guys (Filmgate in Sweden) done an amazing job with enhancing the prosthetic gore, its very hard digitally to create blood realistically, but they did a wonderful job, people have come out shocked and shaking and some had to leave the cinema because it was too much for them, which meant I did my job properly. I even had people say it was the goriest film they’ve ever seen, and considering how little gore there is, meant that little amount of gore had such an effect on them, because they were so invested in the film.

Crimson Celluloid: Where did the title come from?

Paul Hyett: It’s a true life term, when the writers and I were trying to think of a title for the film based in a Seasoning House, it kind of was starting us in the face. We suddenly looked at each other and said ‘ Let’s just call it The Seasoning House!’. For anyone reading this that is not familiar with the title, it is a term for these places that young (kidnapped and trafficked) girls are taken to be sexualised and prepared for forced sex slavery and prostitution.

Crimson Celluloid: Were there any particular challenges that you faced whilst making the film?

Paul Hyett: Not really, I’m so used to film sets, nothing was a surprise, I mean we were a very low budget film, trying to be very ambitious, so the lack of money was always there, but somehow my producer Michael Riley always made sure I had everything I needed, I had a brilliant cast and crew, so I didn’t feel particularly challenging, I suppose shooting a film with so many stunts, fights, emotionally challenging scenes, complex VFX / prosthetic elements, etc in a 4 and a half week shoot was most challenging.

Crimson Celluloid: What did you learn from making The Seasoning House that you’ll take forward with you to your next project?

Paul Hyett: Just to be as prepared as you can be, storyboards, script notes, shot lists, and to have in your mind what could come up and have to deal with. And to cast well, good cast are worth their weight in gold. As are a good crew..

Crimson Celluloid: Was it just me or was the ending of the film open to interpretation as to whether Angel had finally escaped hell or not?

Paul Hyett: Yeah, I like ambiguous endings, maybe the old Doc saved her, maybe he didn’t, who knows, I like the audience to make up their own mind..

Crimson Celluloid: You seem to have a roster of films coming up this year. What’s next for you?

Paul Hyett: Well I’ve just finished my next movie, a werewolf film called Howl, its about a bunch of late night commuters on the last train out, and after an incident, they find themselves trapped on the train, stranded in the middle of nowhere, and then creatures attack. We’re just in post production now. It’s a very VFX heavy movie, and its coming along together well. Can’t wait to show it to you guys..

Crimson Celluloid: Thanks very much for an amazing film experience, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. Any final words for our readers?

Paul Hyett: Thank you soo much, I just want to say thank you to everyone who watched the film and shared and recommended it, for such a small little indie film, we have had such an amazing response, and especially the horror community really took it under their wing and really pushed it out there by great word of mouth and I’m very much unendingly appreciative of that.

The Seasoning House is available on DVD from Amazon and Mighty Ape (NZ).

Interview: Ursula Dabrowsky

Ursula-DabrowskyCrimson Celluloid: From conception, gestation to birth…it’s been a long wait for INNER DEMON. Have there been times when you’ve been sick of the sight of it and dying to move onto something else?

Ursula Dabrowsky: It took two and a half years from go to woe which isn’t that bad for a no budget feature. Having said that, it definitely wasnt meant to take this long . Yes, there were times it was very frustrating, but if I was resilient before, I am now even more so. Throw anything you want at me, not having enough money, hiring the wrong people for the job, technical issues that, at the time, seem impossible to resolve, and I will push through it all and get the film finished. I am so fucking resilient now, it scares me.

Crimson Celluloid: What kept you going?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Drugs and alcohol. Kidding. I was excited by what I had shot and wanted to see the finished film. I really believed I had something special on my hands, particularly in terms of performances.

Crimson Celluloid: What lessons did you learn from your experience on FAMILY DEMONS that you carried over to INNER DEMON?

Ursula Dabrowsky: That I can make films that people will sit through and not get bored. That I cast well. That I come up with good stories. That I will make mistakes and learn from them and never, ever repeat them. That making horror films is where I want to be.

Crimson Celluloid: It was a brave move casting a relatively unknown actress in Sarah Jeavons in the lead role. Especially considering she had to carry the whole film. What qualities did you see in her in the audition process that convinced you she was right for the role?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I already knew Sarah could act from a couple of taped auditions. But we also had a one-day test shoot where she was crammed into this tiny closet. She didn’t complain once and she delivered take after take after take. She was also very keen to get the part. All those things sold me on Sarah.

Crimson Celluloid: Your decision to cast her was vindicated when you see the final film, she does an amazing job. Were you conscious of having to guide and protect both her emotional and physical well-being during filming, especially given her young age?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Not really. Sarah was able to take care of herself. I was quite blown away by her maturity. I was never that mature at her age. Shes bloody amazing, on and off camera.

Crimson Celluloid: I can’t think of too many other films where the film is told virtually entirely from the perspective of the lead character…do you think it really aided in feeling sympathy for her plight?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I love films that are told with only one point of view and minimal cast. Films like High Tension, Buried, 127 Hours, Gravity. I find them to be powerful cinematic experiences. Unfortunately, most of the main characters in these films are doomed. Mine is no exception.

Crimson Celluloid: How grueling was the shoot in comparison to FAMILY DEMONS. Does a bigger budget simply mean bigger headaches?

Ursula Dabrowsky: If I had paid everyone on Family Demons it would have come pretty close to the budget I had for Inner Demon. So there wasnt much difference there. I still found that I had to make just as many compromises as before. The main difference is that, when I made Family Demons, I didn’t have any expectations. With Inner Demon, I did. I wanted to surpass what I’d done before, so the pressure was on, and it got pretty stressful at times. I’d like to ease up a bit and find a happier, more joyful middle ground with the next film I make.

Crimson Celluloid: The supernatural element to the film comes late in the piece and out of the blue. It’s effective and very scary…how important is the element of surprise in your work?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I’m surprised that people find the supernatural element comes out of the blue. Granted, it is unconventional what happens to the lead character and maybe the audience finds it difficult to accept and refuse to take it on board. I don’t know. For me, it makes sense that things happen they way they do. Perhaps it’s a question of the execution, and I’m willing to take that on board, but I had limited resources and did the best I could with what I had. Twists and turns in the story are paramount. It’s all about keeping people interested in what’s going to happen next.

Crimson Celluloid: You’ve never played the gender-card, and that’s admirable, but did you find being a woman in charge of the film production offered any unexpected or unwelcome challenges?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Up until the Inner Demon experience, I never had any issues with my gender as a filmmaker. I did on this shoot. I just ignored the bullshit and pushed on. Cuz that’s what it is. Bullshit. I’m also fully aware that men with less experience than me are being offered better opportunities. I try not to think about it too much, and just stay focused on my own filmmaking journey.

Crimson Celluloid: How has the film been received by those lucky enough to see it already?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I’ve been told that it’s a strong calling card that will help me get my next film financed. So that’s encouraging.

Crimson Celluloid: Given your films and persona, what do you think surprises people when they actually meet you?

Ursula Dabrowsky: That I’m funny. And I laugh. A lot. I guess people expect a horror filmmaker to be morbid and serious, but I put my dark side on the screen and not in my every day life.

Crimson Celluloid: There seems to be a stigma these days in regards to funding horror films where the limp-wristed, panty-waist funding-bodies are concerned. Did you have to keep this in mind when pitching the film?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Panty-waist? Ha ha! To be honest, I didn’t have any issues with the SAFC when it came to content. I was lucky with Filmlab in that I was offered carte blanche and was free to write what I wanted. Stephen Cleary, my Script Consultant, never once asked me to tone it down. In fact, the opposite. My next screenplay, Demonheart, was recently funded for SAFC script development and I wrote it without any hassles. So have I been lucky? Or does the SAFC get it? I dont know. I still havent dealt with Screen Australia, so perhaps I will face obstacles there. I hope not.

Crimson Celluloid: Have your past experiences in life shaped you in regards to your interest in females-in-peril and horror movies?

Ursula Dabrowsky: The underlying themes in my work are usually about the abuse of power, both by men and women. I don’t discriminate. I take a particularly traumatising time in my life where psychological or physical abuse has occurred. I then raise the stakes and wrap the story in the horror genre . What comes out are survival stories. Not terribly complicated, and yet utterly cathartic.

Crimson Celluloid: I was surprised that you received some negative feedback about your POZIBLE funding project to finish the film. To me it showed dedication and commitment, in that you wanted to touch-up the film and finish it to your high-standard, did the negative feedback (albeit limited) surprise you? Also, it must have been pleasing that so many people had faith in your vision and wanted to contribute?

Ursula Dabrowsky: You must know something I don’t! I had no idea that there was any negativity. I must’ve been too busy just trying to finish the film to notice and even if I had, I tend to ignore the naysayers. My cast and crew had put time and effort into the film and had something at stake. They were as keen as I was to see the finished product.

Crimson Celluloid: What’s next on the drawing board for Ursula Dabrowsky?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I am currently on board to write and direct a segment of an all-female directed horror anthology and a segment of a horror web series. I’ve been sent some horror screenplays that producers want me to direct. The fact that they are being sent to me is bloody fantastic. I’m also working on the third installment of my Demon Trilogy: Demonheart. So despite the fact that I didn’t have to die to go to hell making Inner Demon, I’ve come out the other side with plenty of opportunities to keep growing and learning as a filmmaker which is what you want.

Check out Crimson Celluloid’s review of INNER DEMON here.

Ted A. Bohus

ted-bohus-bdTed A. Bohus is a legend, no two ways about it. He’s worked in the horror and exploitation genres as a director, actor, writer and producer. It’s for the latter credit as producer he’s most known for, especially in conjunction with the great horror film The Deadly Spawn. Readers of DVD Holocaust need to immediately check out the Synapse release of The Deadly Spawn. A pristine print and loads of extras has finally brought this film to the attention of a whole new generation of gorehounds.

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