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Jane Rose!!!

As part of the independent east coast horror community, Jane Rose has revealed a taste for evocative film adaptations of literary horrors from H.P. Lovecraft to Ramsey Campbell. One of the filmmakers featured on the whacked-out anthology film “ new anthology film “LovecraCKed: The Movie” and making her mark along the genre festival circuit, we caught up with the lovely Ms. Rose and her diabolical future plans. By Jeremiah Kipp, Guest Contributor - 12/07

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre?

When I was a kid in elementary school they had a few “true ghost story” books in our tiny little school library. I would take those out and completely psych myself out reading them, which simultaneously thrilled and terrified me. There was one with a picture of a hand sticking up from the middle of a lake on the inside cover; I’m sure it would look really silly if I saw it now but at the time I found it very effective. There were also a couple of young adult horror fiction books I was into, in particular one ghost story called Jane Emily which no one has likely even heard of. Later on I remember a TV version of A Christmas Carol with Albert Finney in it, which wasn’t horror but had some (I thought at the time) horrifying scenes in it. Also The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Jeff Goldblum (also made for tv). In junior high I was really into this TV version of The Phantom of the Opera and some (probably horrible) remakes of Dark Shadows that they were airing for a while. We didn’t have a lot of media in rural New Hampshire so I didn’t have a lot to judge these things against. I guess I didn’t get really into movies until a bit later.

Do you feel like growing up in New England had any effect on your work?

I think so. The general atmosphere—the long dark winters, the old buildings, the sparse population, the Halloween-y New England falls—all probably contributed in some way to my liking for the horror genre. Growing up in that environment influenced the kinds of scary stories that I’m into.

I never cared much for slashers or true crime stories because there wasn’t a lot of crime in a small town and I didn’t spend much time thinking about scary people. Ghosts seemed like a more plausible threat. The presence of so many old buildings, cemeteries, etc. also made me kind of a sucker for stories that take place in an older time period. Well, that and being a chick, probably. On some level we all like horses and candelabra and long dresses. I also connect pretty easily to the world that H.P. Lovecraft’s stories take place in because I grew up in New England. Things have, of course, changed since I came to NYC, but that early influence is still strong.

What do you find inspiring about working in the horror genre, and/or the horror filmmaking community?

One of the great things about the horror community is that there are a lot of people who are very intensely and specifically into horror, and that generates a lot of enthusiasm for any new horror projects coming out. Sometimes it feels like as a horror filmmaker you already have a fan club out there who wants to see your movie and wants it to be good (perhaps to a fault. I have read a lot of good reviews of horror movies that I know are bad). I haven’t encountered a lot of snobbery in the horror filmmaking community, though I suspect that might not be the case within some other film circles. I think horror filmmakers/writers/artists work out their weirdness in the healthiest possible way, through art, and that makes the majority of them really nice, cool people.
How did you catch the filmmaking bug?

When I was a young kid, my favorite movie was (and still is) Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. When I got a little older I was captivated by Beetlejuice and finally in high school Edward Scissorhands. And then suddenly (light bulb going on!) I realized that it was the same imagination behind all three. The idea of being a director came to mean something and I decided that I wanted to be able to affect people in the same way that those three movies had affected me. Then I became a little creepy and obsessed for a while and started writing to Tim Burton every week; even though he never wrote back I still wanted to make movies. I had always really enjoyed writing stories (and won awards for it in school and all that), but I liked arts and crafts too and filmmaking seemed like a good way to bring different creative interests under one umbrella.

My family never owned a video camera and I was shy and didn’t have many friends to make movies with at that time, so that whole “I started making movies at the age of five with the family camera” scene is not part of my background. Even though I wanted to make movies, that desire got put on the back burner until a bit later.

You were involved with a Brooklyn filmmaking collective called Reel Sweet Betty. Can you tell me a little more about that? How did it start and what sort of projects you were working on?

I first found out about Reel Sweet Betty several years ago when I came across a flyer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that said something to the effect of “get off your ass and make a movie.” That was what I’d wanted to do for a while and I liked the attitude so I went to one of their meetings.

Betty was founded by Joe Renz, who edited my first movie, [the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation] The Statement of Randolph Carter and did digital effects on that and [the Ramsey Campbell adaptation] Heading Home. Joe had worked on a lot of poorly run shoots before, the kind where people are taken advantage of for low or no pay while some sociopathically entitled director wastes a lot of money on too much equipment. Betty’s purpose was to allow people with motivation and good ideas to make a movie for next to no money while basically getting a film school education for free.

A lot of emphasis was placed on doing your pre-pro, thinking for yourself, taking constructive criticism, and not wasting people’s time. The only currency exchanged in Betty was time and labor, so the no-time-wasting rule was very important. You had to work on a certain number of Betty shoots before you could produce one of your own scripts. Joe devised rules to ensure that you would be compensated for your efforts on Betty shoots, in the form of receiving help on your own shoots, and that no one would end up working on anything that turned out too stupid or boring.
We had some artistic guidelines too that defined our group aesthetic; if you didn’t like them then you probably didn’t belong with us anyway. Couple breakup movies were pretty much not allowed, nor anything that started with someone crying and looking in the mirror. Because a lot of people were working around day jobs shoot days were 6 hours long and usually on the weekend, but we crammed a ton of shooting into that time because we were fast. Betty filmmaking was totally guerilla and fun. There was a lot of fake blood involved.

I’m speaking in the past tense because Joe has since moved to Montreal and a few other people have gone their separate ways. Betty is not really an organized group anymore and I’m not sure what it’s future is at this point, but I am still left with several individuals who I can count on to make my movies happen. Also I still wear our t-shirt a lot.

Two of your films are adaptations of short stories. How would you describe your literary taste?

I’d say my tastes are pretty diverse. I have a real affinity for psychological haunted house stories like The Haunting (one of my favorite books). My current favorite book is House of Leaves, which is another psychological haunted house story, the first half of which I found to be really scary the first time through. I recently discovered Cormac McCarthy and loved Blood Meridian, which I could read repeatedly. I like books like that and Moby Dick where much larger ideas are being talked about via the events taking place. There is something rebellious in both Ballard’s Crash and Bataille’s Story of the Eye that I like; in both the characters are trying to escape ordinary or day to day reality, though through obsessive or “unhealthy” means. I love the decadent writers of the 1890s, horror writers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I also really like adventure stories like John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, though parts of that struck me as being like a ghost story too. I could keep on making a list, but describing my tastes is harder. I don’t read many romance novels!

Sometimes I read a story and get a very strong mental picture which I then want to try and represent on film. That was the case with Heading Home.

When you are writing or adapting a horror project, do you draw on any of your own fears?

Not so far. I had very practical considerations in mind when making The Statement of Randolph Carter. I felt excited and gleeful over the gross-out imagery in Heading Home. But actually, now that I think about it, I have had several terrifying dreams about dead things that won’t stay dead. So maybe that is coming into play a bit in Heading Home. Also, another short film I made, The Curse of Coney Island, draws on my fears that Coney Island will turn into a lame Disney World-esque theme park. But I don’t think that’s the kind of fear you’re talking about.

I am working towards making movies that draw a lot more on some of my personal fears and experiences, and I have a lot of admiration for movies that portray societal fears in a successful and creative way. I would like my movies to get a bit more sophisticated, and that would mean fleshing out my subjects more or being more skilled about how I present them. I have a lot of scary dreams that I wake up from excited and wanting to make a movie. But I think that translating a menacing or scary feeling from a dream into a film would be tough. David Lynch is very good at capturing that nightmare feeling (but I would want to, of course, do it my own way).

What inspired you to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s The Statement of Randolph Carter? What is it about his stories that were particularly influential for you?

Carter was my first project with Reel Sweet Betty. There actually wasn’t a whole lot of inspiration involved, except that I had been obsessed with wanting to do an H. P. Lovecraft adaptation for a while, so when it came time to pick a project I just don’t think there was any way around doing one of his stories. As for the story selection itself, I picked The Statement of Randolph Carter because it seemed very manageable for a first effort. It has two characters, one location, and the original story is about 5 pages long. So it was a practical choice more than a particularly inspired one.

I got into H. P. Lovecraft at a really impressionable stage in my life and I think that’s part of why I repeatedly return to his influence. As I mentioned briefly before, since I grew up in a somewhat isolated place in New England the fact that his stories are set against backdrops of that kind strengthens their appeal for me. I like the typical Lovecraftian hero a lot: scholarly, awkward, obsessed. And while I like a lot of what other people are attracted to in his stories—the pantheon of weird gods. the tentacles, the fish people, the non-Euclidean whatevers—there is a diseased romanticism to his aesthetic that I really find appealing. His descriptions sometimes seem almost pretty at the same time that he uses words like “eldritch” or “fetid,” and that’s what I’d like to capture eventually if I can.

How would you describe that particular eerie, weird quality in his work, and how did you go about translating that to film?

The best comparison I can find for that quality is the following: say you walked into the Museum of Natural History here in NYC (just to use a local example for all you New Yorkers out there), and you went to the ocean life hall with the life size blue whale.

But instead of walking out onto the balcony where you can see the whole whale suspended from the ceiling, you came up to a side door through which only a small part of the tail was visible. You can see how big that bit of tail is, and you can imagine that the whole animal is really, REALLY huge. But you can’t see the whole whale, which somehow makes the idea of the whole picture really terrifying. That is what H. P. Lovecraft is like: you can only see a small part of those cosmic horrors, so the idea of the whole picture is terrible.
The approach I took when trying to translate that quality was to only show bits and pieces from the topside of the tomb. In writing the script I also played on some of the hyperbolic language that HPL uses when words fall short of describing the horror, exaggerating his already exaggerated style even more. Since his use of “unnamable,” “unutterable,” “unmentionable” etc can be kind of funny that was sort of like my attempt at an... uh... an H. P. Lovecraft joke. But I don’t think anyone else thought it was funny but me.

Randolph Carter is part of the H.P. Lovecraft compilation LOVECRACKED! THE MOVIE. How did you become involved with this project?

I’ve been involved with a horror filmmaker’s networking group here in New York called “Mingle Mangle.” They used to have a pretty active list serve and there was a thing on there one day soliciting H.P.L.-inspired shorts. I had already made Carter and didn’t have any other big plans for it so I figured why not send it in. It turned out that the guy putting together the compilation, Elias, lived right in my neighborhood! So it was easy to get together with him and hand him a copy.

Was it difficult to secure the rights to your next adaptation, Ramsey Campbell’s Heading Home?

Not too difficult. Ramsey seems very supportive in general of young and aspiring filmmakers. Getting the rights to do this adaptation was a different situation than with my previous movie, The Statement of Randolph Carter, since H. P. Lovecraft is a deceased author and I had to research where to go for permission. With “Heading Home” I just wrote to Mr. Campbell directly, and he wrote right back. He passed me on to his lawyers, with whom I had a brief correspondence. I think that if I had wanted to make the movie for commercial distribution getting rights would have been tougher, but I really just wanted to make it to show at festivals and Ramsey and his lawyers were ok with that.

Let’s walk through the various steps of making Heading Home. Once you had the rights to the material, how did you go about pre-production? Did any of your collaborators return from Randolph Carter, and what was their role?

The first step, of course, was writing the script. I had already been working on it when I secured the rights. Campbell’s story is told from this weird perspective, the source of which is only completely revealed at the end. There is a lot of physical sensation being described in minute detail as the narrator recounts or speculates on past events. So it was a challenge trying to translate all that physical stuff into a visual medium and order the flashback structure in a way that made sense without (hopefully) giving away exactly what is happening until the end.

Next I had to assemble a cast and crew, and yes, there were several returning crew members from Randolph Carter. Kevin Freeman was DP on Carter and returned to AC for me since I wanted to try shooting this one myself. He also provided his apartment for the shoot which was really invaluable. Ean Murphy was a monster voice on Carter but she wanted to lend her organizational skills to being AD on Heading Home. Joe Renz did digital effects again (though I did a couple of the easy ones myself) and was also in charge of lighting. Jeff Velazquez (Carter from Randolph Carter) was best boy and took over as lighting designer one day when Joe couldn’t come. Jeremy Jurin helped me out with some voice recordings on Carter and was grip on Home. Ben Jurin a.k.a. my boyfriend and fellow filmmaker provides moral and practical support for everything I do and was production designer on Heading Home. He also did the practical effects with me and gave a lot of feedback throughout.

After getting cast, crew and location sorted out, I had the actors over for some rehearsals, met several times with Ean to go over the shot list and also with Joe to talk about the digital fx. The main practical “special effect” element that needed to be built for principal shooting was a foam thingy that I could put the camera on and slide it around the floor to get the head-like movements that I wanted. The “grand finale” special effects were shot on a later day with Anthony Pepe (who had done some great work on previous Betty shoots) providing makeup effects. Ben and I built a fake floor panel for Ean Sheehy’s head to “crawl” across (I had been wanting to do something like that ever since seeing Evil Dead); Joe had to clone out the gap later in post. Jack Myers helped me make a severed neck puppet for another practical effect. Part of why the big effects were done on a different day was that I still wasn’t sure how we were going to do them when we were going into principal shooting!

How did you select your cast?

Ean Sheehy had been in a couple of Ben’s movies before and Ben suggested him to me as someone who would make a great mad scientist. When Ean came over to audition I described to him how I thought a severed head would move and he threw himself down on the floor and started biting the edge of the coffee table and said “like this?” Then I knew he would be perfect. Jenny Mundy-Castle is my best friend and was my roommate at the time and just really wanted to do it. She had done some acting in high school, and I like working with people I know, so we gave it a shot and I think she did a great job. Chuck Bunting had played a couple of bad or big dumb guys (not how he actually is) in Kevin and Jeff’s movies and had the right look to be the butcher. I would love to cast him opposite to that type in the future.

Do you enjoy being on set? What was the tone during production of “Heading Home”?

I think that for a lot of directors their first movie is their “deer in headlights” movie, where lack of experience and not knowing quite what to expect can lead to feeling a bit panicked or frozen. Randolph Carter was a bit like that, though, once again, with such a great crew it turned out far better than I expected. Heading Home was my second movie and I felt a lot more comfortable, but it took until my third, The Curse of Coney Island for me to feel 100 percent confident. That said, I do always enjoy being on set. It is so exciting to see all the things that have been in my head for months finally being realized. The people I worked with on Heading Home made a really tight crew; they’re all fun to be with and I can really count on them to back me up.

How did you handle the grand guignol special effects? What did the actor playing the mad scientist (Ean Sheehy) have to go through during production?

It was a combination of approaches: some we did digitally by putting the camera on sticks and then getting a plate. Then there were the POV shots, the practical puppet effect, and my favorite, the fake floor (digitally augmented in post). We subjected Mr. Sheehy to every torture imaginable, from dragging his tongue across the floor to being put in the stocks (which was sort of what being in the floor panel was like for him). Fortunately he seemed to enjoy it, or at least to give it a lot of enthusiasm.

Who handled your sound design? How did you handle those creepy noises coming from the basement?

I handled the sound design, with a lot of help being provided by Jack Myers in the form of sound effects. Sound design was a real challenge since I had never done it before and it didn’t come to me as intuitively as the visual elements did at first. I also have to give credit to Ean Sheehy again for the creepy basement noises; he really gave his all during the ADR session for the crawling head noises. The dirty little secret of my film collective is that we hardly ever use a boom, and yet I have gotten compliments on the sound design of Heading Home anyway. That is definitely not a practice that I plan to continue indefinitely, however.

Ben’s brother Mike Jurin (of the band Stellastarr) did the original soundtrack and some sound cues.

What film festivals has Heading Home played at, and have you been able to attend?

The festivals that I attended were the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival (where Ramsey Campbell was also in attendance) and the Pretty-Scary Film Festival as part of Genghis Con. Heading Home also got into the San Francisco Women’s Film Festival and Phoenix Cactus Comicon. It also screened here in New York at the horror movie series held at Rififi on Monday nights.

What was your involvement with a little movie entitled…I Spit on Eli Roth?

I thought the idea of making a movie called I Spit on Eli Roth was just a joke at first. I was hanging out at Genghis Con with horror filmmakers Devi Snively (Teenage Bikini Vampire, Raven Gets a Life) and Paula Haifley (Movie Monster Insurance) and we were talking about how stupid the “chick vision” feature on the Cabin Fever DVD is. Someone said “we should make a movie and call it I Spit on Eli Roth. Everyone laughed and kept on drinking. Next thing I knew, Devi had written the script and wanted actress/director/Genghis Con organizer Amy Lynn Best and I to play ourselves.
Devi also played herself. I flew out to Pittsburgh to “act” in the movie (this was only my second acting attempt, the first being in Ben Jurin’s Why Must I Be a Zombie in Love?). We got to shoot in an off-season haunted house attraction, which was really, really cool, and some graduates from the Tom Savini school provided the makeup effects. We wanted it to be an all-female production at first, but it was not to be. Apparently the female DP flaked and (director/journalist/Genghis Con organizer) Mike Watt had to fill in. Also the sound and lighting people were guys. Oh well! It was still a lot of fun. I’m not sure when it will be finished.
Lately, you have been veering into the world of Special FX. Where did you study, and what sort of FX work have you been doing on other people’s films?

I started out by taking some workshops at Makeup Mania, which is this great little makeup shop on the Lower East Side, in beauty and basic gore and trauma. Then I did a one day workshop at stage combat school Combat Inc. The workshop was called “Blood, Guts and Gore” and was mostly aimed at practical gore effects for live stage performance, though a lot of it would apply to film as well. Next I took a special effects makeup class at the School of Visual Arts and have since been doing some work with Carl Paolino and Paul Mason of Carl Paolino Studios Inc (Carl teaches the SVA class). I have worked or assisted on several shoots doing prosthetics, character makeup and blood, worked on some promotional things and photo shoots, and even a live zombie event! Ben has a new movie coming along, called Even, and I handled the special effects on that myself.

What are you working on next, and are you developing any new projects of your own?

I am continuing to work on projects for other people in a makeup capacity, though I am hoping to expand into doing more special effects and props as well. But my primary interest is still making my own movies. Despite some advice to the contrary that a couple of people have given me, I still think I need to do a few more shorts before I can think about doing a feature. I have a few ideas I am working on: one very short, surreal piece, another Lovecraftian adaptation (and this time one that’s based on a story I am very attached to), and a very loose retelling of an ancient Babylonian myth, kind of by way of John Waters, the Bros. Quay and Godzilla, the way I’m thinking of it. In the latter case, I think there will be a lot of resourceful thinking and creativity involved in even pulling it off at all, which is exciting to me. We will see!

Special thanks to Jeremiah Kipp!

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