Stevan Mena!

It's no secret what huge fans we are here on ICONS of Stevan Mena's debut film MALEVOLENCE. So, with the release of his mockumentary BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY slated for later this month, along with the upcoming MALEVOLENCE prequel MALEVOLENCE: BEREAVEMENT (starring genre fan fave Michael Biehn) close to completion, we knew we had to check in with the writer/director for all the latest! We chatted with Stevan via email for his 3rd ICONS interview! Read on!- By Adam Barnick & Robg. - 7/08

Tell us about the period after MALEVOLENCE was a theatrical/DVD hit, and what led to BRUTAL MASSACRE being your follow-up film instead of another MALEVOLENCE installment, or another horror/thriller film?

Well, since distribution deals are designed to make everyone money EXCEPT the filmmakers who create them, I struggled to pay off my credit cards and survive. As horrible an experience as it was to make MALEVOLENCE, I couldn’t wait to get behind the camera and do it again. Cause I are an idiot.
I didn’t want to do a sequel for my second film, and I had an idea for a ghost story that I thought could be so scary I could actually kill people in the audience just by watching it. That project was all set to go when the funding was pulled at the last minute. As I was about to drive off a bridge, I decided to do something, anything. And then I remembered Brutal Massacre, a script I had tossed in the trash several times. It was all about the horrors of making an independent horror film, and the crazy people you meet in this industry. I was trying to find the humor of the situation, and sometimes it’s good to laugh at ourselves. And I thought, what a perfect catharsis for me considering how I felt at the moment. 95% of what’s in the movie is based on observations I’ve made, conversations overheard, etc. you can’t make this stuff up.
What were “BRUTAL”’s origins, and have you planned or written any other comedies?

BRUTAL was inspired by my observations of people I’ve met on this crazy journey into filmmaking. There’s a lot of strange out there, and I thought, if I think these people are funny, than other people might also. There’s nothing funnier than ridiculous people who take themselves seriously, and are completely unaware of just how whacked they are.
We know of horror films that have inspired you/favorites from the genre’s past, but what comedies would end up in your top list and why?

The Jerk, High Anxiety, Bananas, Caddyshack, Honeymoon in Vegas, Spinal Tap, The Naked Gun, Some Like it Hot, A day at the Races, Blazing Saddles, anything with Peter Sellers or John Cleese.
How did you partner up with your producer Tom Bambard? Was he instrumental in getting the financing?

I knew Tom from Anchor Bay. He helped get the script to several genre stars in the industry like Ken Foree and Ellen Sandweiss, who he knew from his convention days. Vincent Butta is my financial partner for all of my films.

Tell me about who Harry Penderecki is as a character and what you felt David Naughton brings to the role?

Harry Penderecki is a combination of several personalities, and embodies the classic “finish the film an any cost, regardless of who gets hurt or loses money” mentality. Harry and his films are like Ahab and the whale from Moby Dick. In fact, I make a subtle allusion to Ahab and his telescope on the bow when Harry looks through his viewfinder.

David simply nailed exactly what I was going for, a testament to his creative wit and intelligence. I feel like he was channeling Peter Sellers on this movie.
Would you consider B.M. more of a satire of the personalities of the independent film scene than a take on what could go wrong in filmmaking? You’ve got the ditzy scream queen, the ‘serious actress’ who thinks she’s making an Oscar winner, the director who feels the same, the financier who thinks a film’s success lives or dies on the number of breasts onscreen etc.. everyone’s got an undeserved ego!

Yes, all of these clichés are the norm in this business, not the exception. It’s really funny to sit back and listen to foreign distributors tell you that they can’t sell a movie in Italy if there are no tits, “they can’t understand the language, at least give them some nakedness to pass the time.” What’s even more amusing is how many filmmakers adhere to that kind of insane creative influence. I love it! Hysterical! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve smacked my head and said, the people making these films are far more interesting than the films they are making.
Was the film very tightly written or are the situations/dialogue more a result of improvising? Or is it a balance?

It was 98 percent written, and closely adhered to. I wanted to give the film a feeling of story structure, rather than improvisational randomness. That can get boring, and if you show up and people don’t think of funny things to say, you have no movie. But there were some ad-libs, in particular Brian O’Halloran’s off-the-cuff description of the film he’d like to make about the Amazon. That was all his.
How planned out was the film’s visual scheme? You need to resemble a documentary cameraman’s POV and yet still manage to have him in just the right spot to tell the story the way you want it.

It was planned randomness. If that makes any sense.
You’ve spoken in interviews about MALEVOLENCE and the upcoming BEREAVEMENT, its prequel, about wanting to really enhance the characters beyond what’s the norm in horror- do you have a particular approach you want to use for comedy? Or is it just about taking the time to tell the best story you can? It’s similar here (as in horror) where you can either go for cheap jokes/scares, or ones that are thought-out and come out of the story naturally.
I just wanted to make people laugh. I wasn’t really trying to do great cinema. MALEVOLENCE: BEREAVEMENT is the kind of film best experienced on the big screen, whereas BRUTAL is the kind of film that you can watch on an Ipod.

While you snagged some comedy vets (Brian O’ Halloran, Gerry Bednob) for the film, it’s a nice surprise to see so many horror personalities get to do something different and funny. Was that the plan from the start, have you always wanted to see some ‘horror heroes’ step outside the box?

Of course. I think most people are going to expect the horror personalities to be in the film Harry is making. I thought how funny if these stars are the ones making the movie. I think they did pretty damn good out of their boxes. Those preconceptions of what kind of acting they are supposed to do was imposed by their success in the genre, and by the fans, it wasn’t self-imposed. So they were very excited to step out of what is expected of them. Especially Gunnar, that guy deserves his own sitcom. And who knew?
Please share with us something about your approach working with/directing each main cast member?

I tell them to read their lines and hit their marks. If they suck I tell them. If they’re great I praise them. Together we try to discern what works and what doesn’t. I’m very open to suggestion. I cast them, after that the role is theirs to make great or fuck up. I can only watch and make suggestions.
How did Mick Garris happen to be the director we see sharing a panel with Harry in the opening scene/Fango convention recreation? Was it intended to be him from the start?

He was a friend of Tom’s, and flew all the way to PA to participate. What a great freaking guy. One of the nicest people I’ve met in this industry. A total class act. Getting the opportunity to speak privately with him about filmmaking was a real great experience for me.
What kind of challenges did you face on this film after basically enduring every possible hardship on MALEVOLENCE ? Was it a far easier task considering how many obstacles you’d overcome on the last film?

Making MALEVOLENCE was like building the Empire State Building with toothpicks compared to BRUTAL. BRUTAL was nothing but fun. The weather sucked, but we were having too much fun to notice. Well, maybe not that much. Each film teaches you just how much you don’t know.

How has the convention scene’s reception been for this film? Very few comedies ever have convention panels/that avenue of promotion open for them, but this being genre-flavored seems to have opened that door; and not just the Fangoria ones.

Well, originally Harry was supposed to be attending a forum for the problems with violence in the media. It was Tom’s idea to have it take place at a horror convention.

I mean, we can find comedy in all parts of life. Some places it’s just easier to find. You know?

The reception (for Brutal Massacre AT conventions) has been fantastic. people seem to really get it. Lots of laughs.
Where can we see the film theatrically and on DVD?

It’s screening in NY and LA, then DVD on July 22nd. But it’s being released in limited quantity, several retailers have refused to carry the film because of the title. Now that’s funny! Target refused to carry it, several other chains as well. Poor Harry, dumped in the bargain bin! Oh well. God bless Walmart!!
Since we’re such huge fans of MALEVOLENCE, I really wanted to delve into the new movie MALEVOLENCE: BEREAVEMENT. Firstly, one of the most interesting things I love about your approach to horror films (or at least for the MALEVOLENCE films) is the way you combine 2 genres to tell the most effective story. For example, the first MALEVOLENCE is a “heist” film that becomes a horror film. The second one starts out as a hardcore “drama” and becomes a horror film. Is this a conscious effort on your part, or is it just the best way to tell these particular stories? Are you planning this same format for MALEVOLENCE 3?

Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a combination of genre’s so much as it’s a layering of conflicts and character. In Malevolence, I wanted the characters to have depth. They had goals, plans, desires. It makes it much more interesting when those plans get messed up. If they’re just looking to score and smoke weed, it’s hard to feel sorry for them (although I’m sure many empathize). On Malevolence 2, the theme is the cycle of violence and the reciprocity of its effects on people close to us.
Horror is drama, the difference in M2 is that I try to help you get to know these people as they are in life, not just how they were acting the night they were killed. So that when something does happen to them, you feel it because you feel like you know them. That’s drama, that’s suspense. We always feel more for the people we know, rather than something we just witness voyeuristically.

Obviously, when you’re on set, it’s easy to see what your doing as fiction. But how difficult was it to tackle such deep material for M2? Essentially, it’s a child abuse film and the origin of a killer. How were you able to separate those deep thematic issues, especially with the 2 young boys playing Martin Bristol?

Many times I cringe at things I’ve written being played out in front of me. But I try to keep the action from being exploitative. It also helped that the children I cast, Spenser List and Chase Pechasek, and Peyton List, were all very mature beyond their years, and were well aware that it was all make believe. But this is a dark, ugly story, and it’s hard not to acknowledge that. There’s no sugar coating a story about a deranged madman who kidnaps a 6 year old impressionable boy and uses him to help clean up after he murder’s someone in the most grisly fashion, often with the boy an unwilling participant. Nasty stuff.

You’ve said before that MALEVOLENCE: BEREAVEMENT can stand on it’s own as it’s own film, but how much does it tie into the first film? Does it connect? Can we watch both films back to back and feel like we’re watching one epic story unfold?

Absolutely, I was very conscious of that connection. They tie directly together. There are many little nods to the first film, and it expands on ideas that were mere suggestion in the first film. So yes, there is definitely a reward for seeing the first Malevolence before this one, however, I do feel it will stand on it’s own, especially being a prequel, the first is not a pre-requisite.

The character of Graham Sutter was a bit part in the original MALEVOLENCE, but also in essence a pivotal part to the overall story of what becomes of Martin Bristol. How’d you go about finding Brett Rickaby to play that part? It couldn’t have been easy for him to tackle such an unsavory character, so what kind of preparation did you have in fleshing out Graham’s backstory?

Brett was selected after a lengthy casting process. He had the right combination of traits I felt represented Sutter. Sutter is not a monster like Freddy or Jason. He is just a misguided soul who himself was a victim, and is merely operating without an understanding of the repercussions of his actions. Like many famous bad guys, he feels what he is doing is the right thing. He is not inherently evil. Brett kind of embodies that everyman appeal, while maintaining a sense of madness and a dose of strange. He’s the kind of guy that smiles at you, and you can’t tell if it’s a nice smile or an evil smile. He’s malevolent that way. Perfect for Sutter.
Your lead in M2 is Alexandra Daddario who plays Allison. From the trailer, what stands out is those piercing blue eyes! She’s done some genre work before (having appeared in THE ATTIC), but I feel like she’s going to be your greatest discovery. What can you tell us about Alexandra and her performance in this?

She’s beautiful and brilliant. I believe she could be the next Jennifer Connelly. Really bright, great attitude. I’m very proud to have her in my film.

Two recognizable actors in M2 are Michael Beihn and John Savage. Can you talk a bit about casting them and why they were right for their respective roles in MALEVOLENCE: BEREAVEMENT?

Michael is usually cast as the tough guy, so I thought it would be interesting to see him in a more domestic role. Plus his persona allows me to pull some strings in the film with his character that hopefully will be a surprise to the audience. John Savage is a great character actor, with an unpredictable style, which I felt worked great for the character he plays in the film, who himself is very unpredictable and hard to read. John excels at keeping you guessing as to what he might do next.

ABADDON was the film you were going to do as your follow-up to MALEVOLENCE before the issues arose with shooting at the steel mills. You had previously said that it could only be shot in that location, but has your feeling on that changed since? Will you eventually get back to ABADDON? Because we’re beyond thrilled about the prospect of you tackling the “ghost” sub genre of horror.

Yes, Abaddon is still out there for me, but it has gone through a lot of changes recently scriptwise. It has morphed into a much bigger film, and something that will require a much larger budget than originally anticipated, so I don’t know how soon I’m going to be able to tackle that project. But I can’t wait to try.

Another project you’re currently working on is TRANSIENCE. What can you tell us about that project and what’s the current status of it?

As of now I would like that to be my next project. I guess the best way to describe it would be a supernatural thriller. It tackles metaphysical themes, and is more mainstream than my previous work.

Depending on the success of the next MALEVOLENCE, would your next film be the third part of the trilogy? Or TRANSIENCE? Or ABADDON? Or even a sequel to BRUTAL MASSACRE? Which would you personally like to tackle next?

See above.
Is there anything you can tell us about THE HORRIBLENESS, a film you’re attached to as a producer with Bruce Campbell? Wasn’t Bruce one of your original choices for Harry Penderecki in BRUTAL MASSACRE?

I currently have no involvement in that project. There were discussions about me producing it, but as of right now it is not on the table for me personally. That does not mean the project won’t get made, just currently I’m not a part of it as IMDB claims I am.

Special thanks to Stevan Mena for his time!

Other ICONS exclusive BRUTAL MASSACRE interviews:

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