After the stalling of his back-to-70’s basics slasher SLICE, Pavia continued collaborations with Clive Barker, while nearly helming the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the adaptation of the cult classic comic book Deadworld. He has several projects battling to be made including a Night Flier follow-up (co-written with King himself!) as he navigates the hell that can be Hollywood development.
Just as enthusiastic and passionate about movies and filmmaking now as when he started, Mark let us in on the production of his classy, blood-drenched feature debut, as well as the ups, downs, and perseverance of a life in Hollywood. - by Adam Barnick -- July 19 2006
What are your earliest memories of the horror genre?
Must be my grandmother - she used to babysit me, all the time when I was growing up. She was a colorful character, with a beehive hairdo, three teeth on the side of her mouth, chain smoker…”C’mere Marky! Let’s watch TV! Let’s watch Psycho!” and we’d sit down and we’d watch all these horror pictures on TV and it would petrify me! That’s probably my earliest memory. My grandmother introducing me to all these macabre, wonderful Hitchcock movies. I grew up in Chicago land Watching, Creature Features every Friday night, reading Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fango.
When did you realize you wanted to or had to make films?
|It’s kind of weird; I pretty much went to it very early, without even consciously thinking about it. It never felt like a conscious choice, I just gravitated to it.
I made my first film when I was eight years old; it was a two minute version of Dracula! This was way before video, in the super 8 days, working with actual film.
But yeah, I gravitated towards movies, and what solidified it was going to see Jaws in the theater in 1975 and watching it through the armpit of my sister since I was petrified. Scared the death out of me! I survived it, and walked out of there saying “that’s what I want to do with my life.” I was already making movies at that point, but kind of for fun. And at that moment, I said “This is what I’m gonna do.” So..Thank you Jaws! (laughs) Over the years you hear so many people say that about Jaws. To this day, it’s like this perfect blend of artistry and commercial Hollywood filmmaking .
So that movie - from that moment on, I was crazy. That’s all I did. That whole time period had a huge influence on me; my father was a big movie fan who would take me to a lot of the horror pictures growing up. Took me to The Exorcist, Halloween, The Fog, When a Stranger Calls, Magic, all these movies which had a profound impact on me.
You had the proper education.
Oh yeah! All the great Romero pictures, Tobe Hooper stuff, early Spielberg, DePalma, Freidkin, these are my guys. I relate more to that style of filmmaking.
Now it seems all we’re concerned about is the technology we’re telling it with.
Yeah it’s an interesting time right now; all this technology is kind of, in a weird way, hurting storytelling. Know what I mean? People are so fazed by what they can do, they don’t realize more than anything, it’s always about the script.
Not the razzle-dazzle or the tricks. I’m not saying, “I know the secrets of filmmaking”, but what I do know, what I’m interested in, is that emotional experience in a movie theater. Not “Wow look how cool that special effect is.” (They’re) just used to tell a story, not the other way around. If you can do anything (visually) now, then we’re back at square one, which – that means script. (laughs)
|A great point. There’s not a lot of wonder in FX these days if you assume the computer did it all. Lately I’ve seen a swing back to practical makeup effects and it’s brought back a bit of the “how did they do that?!”
I’m a big fan of rubber. Know what I mean? Rob Bottin, etc. I still watch THE THING in awe. THAT stuff was and is amazing, pre-computer.
I read you adapted a Ronald Dahl short story as a short film and that got you a scholarship to college-
Wow you did do your homework! (laughs) I was making films all through grade school and high school, when I was a senior in high school I made an adaptation of Dahl’s Lambs to the Slaughter. And that did get me a scholarship to film school, for the first year- that was Columbia College in Chicago.
Did you hook up with your writing partner from back then, Jack O’ Donnell, at that time?
Yeah we did! We met in one of my classes and that became a great partnership for a number of years.
I know that you did some short films, Jeffy and Unexcused Absence and Absence got you some good notices.
Unexcused Absence. I was still in film school, but I was a TA. I scripted Unexcused Absence, which became a 16mm, 45 minute short, which Janusz Kaminski actually shot!
Yeah he was a classmate right?
He was at the college at the time; we were friends, amazingly talented and ambitious as we all know today , (note: Kaminski has been Steven Spielberg’s director of photography on many of his recent films.) He ended up shooting my movie!
I’ve read a basic synopsis of the film; can you give me your take on it?
Well, a high school science teacher is fed up with the new generation of kids, not great thinkers, he thought - he comes up with a serum, kidnaps these kids and injects them... hoping to turn them into better beings... and he actually creates these zombified kids... chains them up in the basement... one kid catches on to what is happening, tries to save them and makes it worse. It was a crazy movie..but it did well! It was in some festivals, won an award at the Chicago Film Festival. It was a production I did in film school, but not for a particular class.
Were you already communicating with people in the industry at this time, you sent the film around?
|I did send it around. The best, most sincere response I got was from Sam Raimi. To this day I just thank him so much for that. I was at a horror convention and he was actually shopping in the dealer room. This is pre-Darkman; I walked up to him, introduced myself and asked if he’d mind looking at this.
Three weeks later he called me from Los Angeles, telling me he really liked the film, if there’s anything he could do, and to keep in touch and good luck. That really meant a lot to me as a young filmmaker! Over the years we’ve always kind of kept in touch - I see him around town from time to time, but-
He’s a bit busy now.
Yeah! (laughs) A bit! But one of the most sincere guys... Raimi’s amazing.
How soon after this did you decide to do your film DRAG?
I was done with film school but still working at Columbia College in Chicago. I was kind of itching to do a movie, and wrote Drag, this crazy 30-minute zombie film. Just kind of got friends together, shot 16mm and black and white, colored it sepia tone in post.
Did Janusz shoot that film too?
No actually Mauro Fiore shot Drag. He’s gone on to shoot films like Training Day! The guys who shot all my shorts are all huge cinematographers in Hollywood now. He was Kaminski’s gaffer for many years too.
Was this something where you got to use the school’s resources?
We borrowed some equipment, called in some favors; this is still pre-digital so we’re shooting 16mm, dollies and track, the whole thing. But it was expensive, (I was) just taking my paychecks to finish the movie. It cost about 25 grand and took over a year. Doesn’t sound like a lot but it is a lot when you’re making 5 bucks an hour!
I knew I was making Drag as a calling card. Even though Unexcused Absence did well I wanted to make something that I would consider a step above that movie. A little more serious, a little creepier…
Now this is a zombie film but the title involves dragging a dead body right?
Yeah, a woman is dragging a body through a zombie plagued-world. And…why is she doing that? (laughs) It’s more about a dead, empty world..the zombies themselves are dying off as well. They’re dying of hunger and humans are quickly becoming extinct. It’s creepy.
Did you use a lot of exteriors and natural locations for it?
It’s almost 90 percent exterior locations. Lots of great empty John Ford-esque field shots... it looks like the end of the fucking world.
You sent it to Fangoria didn’t you? I remember it screening like 10 years ago at a Fangoria convention, and it was one of the first shorts premiered at a con!
Yeah I was happy with how it turned out, and all I wanted was to have it break me into the industry. I was looking at modeling success - looking at what successful people have done in their lives, and model myself to them- not copy them but take the same kind of steps they did. I idolized Spielberg, of course...
He made a short that broke him into the industry called ‘Amblin’. I figured that’s what I’d try to do. And it turned out, when it was done I made 100 VHS dubs and sent them out, I sent one to Tony Timpone, who was always so encouraging.
Yeah he hasn’t changed! Still the exact same encouraging fan that he was back in the day. So I sent it to producers as well. People I admired, the films I loved were the people I sent more in the indie world, East, than Hollywood. I ended up sending it to Richard Rubinstein. And Stephen King, separately.
Fango asked if we’d consider showing this. I brought my 16mm print, projected it there! It was a great experience.
How big was your crew?
On the big days, 15. On the small days, four. You know how it is. (laughs)
I read you had people in Hollywood asking if you spent half a million on it.
Oh it was hilarious! I was like “What???” Nope, 25 grand. Which to me WAS a million dollars at that point. Yeah Drag was really working, so I said let’s step it up and I sent it to Rubinstein, I admired his work so much producing the George Romero pictures. I sent a letter, professional but slightly gushing, saying I admired your movies, I know you understand indie filmmaking- could you look at this and give me your opinion.
Rubinstein and King were working together on The Stand. And I didn’t know, but Stephen watched it and loved it, mentioned it to Richard. He started to describe it and he’s like “I saw that too!” At the same time, The Night Flier was in development at Laurel, and they really hadn’t figured it out- took some cracks at the script, Stephen had abandoned a draft he was working on, they really wanted to make this movie but didn’t understand how to do it and that’s where I was brought in.
When did you hear from them about writing The Night Flier?
Two weeks after Jack O’ Donnell and I sent it out, the phone rings... Rubinstein called me! Of course I was in shock and I’m going “C’mon, this is one of my friends..” You know? (laughs) And he told me how much he liked Drag!
|He asked if I knew The Night Flier…and of course, if you love horror pictures you love Stephen King. So he asked “Would you be interested in writing and directing it as a low-budget movie for us?” And my eyes went BOING – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! So I said “Yes of course!” So he said “I want you to come out (to New York) in two weeks and tell me how you’re going to make the movie, if we hire you. Pitch it to us.” I didn’t know what that term meant! This is the first big meeting I’ve ever had in my life, I’m thinking baseball. (laughs)
Jack and I sat down and wrote out, on index cards, each scene for the movie, as I would do it. So two weeks later, they sent us plane tickets, flew us out to New York City, and it was supposed to just be a meeting with Rubinstein and Mitchell Galin, and their story editor Neal Marshall Stevens.
Who went on to write Deader and many other films!
Yes! What a great talent he is.
So it was supposed to be those three. So we fly in, a car picks us up and I’m like “WOW this is the big time!!!!” Hilarious. I’m nervous as hell. And Richard’s a great guy. Big, loving kind of heartfelt dude. So he greets us, really happy to meet us and says “OK we’re going to have this meeting in a few minutes, and just to let you know, Stephen’s going to be joining us.” (laughs)
“Yes he really wants to meet you.”
“Oh, fine, great!” I’m acting like it’s no big deal; of course I’m pissing my pants. “Oh fuck, Stephen King’s gonna be here!” (laughs)
Ten minutes later the door opens and in walks Stephen King. And he smiles and the first thing he says is “LIFE’S A DRAG THEN YOU DIE BABY!” Which was the tagline for Drag. Which was hilarious- I was in shock, but in five minutes, he was just your crazy, supportive uncle. You know what I mean? (laughs) just a normal guy.
He sat across from me, I took out the index cards, I asked if they had a CD player, and Richard’s like “Why?” And I said, “Well when I write, I listen to soundtrack music!! Can we put some music on and get a little atmosphere in here?” They thought it was funny but they did it, I put on some great Christopher Young score music, and went through the story! Scene by scene.
One of the great things was, Stephen King is sitting across from me, and from time to time he’d say “Great scene, God I wish I’d thought of that.” (laughs)
Now in that two-week period between their calls and the meeting, did you map out the entire new approach to the story? I know you wanted all the scenes from the short story in the movie, but-
It would have been a 40 minute movie! Yeah it was with the new characters, with the new twists, and the new ending. It was a rough outline, but all the beats were there. And it worked! It was a great afternoon, but they didn’t say anything. They sent us back home the next day, but then two weeks later we got a phone call saying, “we’re going to hire you.”
And so they hired us to write the script. We did about six drafts in six months, writing fast, man. What happened though, there was a one-year delay on the production. Because Laurel Entertainment folded-you probably remember this a little bit- and Richard started up New Amsterdam Entertainment. At that point Laurel was owned by Spelling, it was a big whole thing where Spelling was buying up and closing everything. Luckily one of the projects they were able to “keep” was Night Flier. So when New Amsterdam reopened a year later, The Night Flier was their first film out of the new production company.
Did you write all the drafts of the script before the corporate shakeup?
We did, but that year, I had time to really polish it up, and scout a little bit. They’d send me to scout Nashville... we ended up in Wilmington, North Carolina. We were using the time wisely. I also storyboarded the entire film, frame one to fade out.
That’s funny I was going to ask you about that.
Because of that, I had a lot of prep time obviously. Hired a storyboard artist locally in Chicago; I shoot my storyboards, totally pre-visualize the movie. And draw little drawings in the script, and work with somebody to make them better.
Were the shots in your boards as visually elaborate as the ones in the film? I remember a lot of complicated camera moves.
|But at this point, you don’t know that you can necessarily do that exact shot yet right?
What’s kind of interesting, because I was so organized visually with my storyboards, I was able to match locations to my boards! It helped the production move a little more quickly..as far as the production designer-he would say “This is kind of what you want, Mark?” We can make that work… and then we’d make that happen. Even the final airport sequence, that was a set. Interior based around my storyboards.
This has been in development for quite some time before you came along. Do you know what about the material attracted Richard to it in the first place?
I think he just liked the idea, very cinematic to him. And he’s right! It’s just a great cinematic idea. As almost-absurd as it is, it’s brilliant. Know what I mean?
And he had a long relationship with King at that point.
“A creepy vampire tale that also offers clever commentary on blood thirsty tabloid journalists.” “Delivers a wily payoff.” “Acting is strong. Ferrer fascinates even when he's being a heel.”
Lael Loewenstein, Variety
“The conclusion comes filed with black humor, suspense and imagination.” “Miguel Ferrer is a deliciously arrogant pit bull-cum scribe.”
Larry Worth, New York Post
It’s funny that you made this film in the most bone-dry “vanilla” period the horror genre ever experienced.
Yeah-if it had come out in the last few years, it would have been a totally different situation.
Either right now, or mid-to-late 80’s. I can’t think of more than 3 great horror films in the 90’s.
It was a dry period, wasn’t it?
Yeah the genre went to sleep for a long time. It’s half-asleep now, but the other half has been giving us some pretty good stuff.
I always thrived on the genre... it’s all I do, as you know. It’s not just because I choose to, it’s because that’s what comes out, know what I mean? And I have no desire to leave it, either. (laughs)
You can hit so many emotional areas and genres in a horror film though. You can have a comedic moment, a straight dramatic moment. So how was it, overall, working with Richard?
Awesome! Because I know he’s a tough businessman, but he is one the greatest supporter of artists, as a producer, that I’ve ever met. Seriously.
Was the freedom that he gave you common with his approach to his work? I know he does meticulously take his time with the project’s development and the people involved.
This is what sets him apart from everybody else; is that Richard makes what he wants to make. He doesn’t do anything out of necessity, I think it’s because of the past successes in his career, he chooses what he wants to make, and he chooses who he wants to work with. And when he finds those people, he lets them do their thing!
He was amazingly supportive. And over the years, with my experiences later on in Hollywood and some of the executives I’ve worked with here, it’s become even more apparent to me, how supportive he was- and is, I just talked to him two days ago. (laughs)
“Ferrer is memorably bitter as Dees.”
“Director Mark Pavia keeps the gore splattering.”
Dave Kehr, New York Daily News
“Provocative…“Night Flier affords a big star role for Miguel Ferrer, a fine and distinctive actor, in a blood bath of a movie.” “ Julie Entwistle in her film debut makes a firm impression as a rookie reporter.”” “The film is sleek.”
Kevin Thomas, LA Times
Now, we gotta talk about Miguel as Richard Dees a little bit.
Ah yes, Miguel Ferrer. Amazing actor.
|How did you pitch him on the character? Ferrer is the only guy who can keep you watching for an entire film when his first line is screaming about not getting a picture of a baby’s corpse. Always keeps your interest, if not holding your sympathies.. Dees would kick a tombstone over to get a good photograph, but I couldn’t stop watching him.
I love those kinds of characters though don’t you? You NEVER see it in films anymore!
You’re almost dared to like him.
I never thought it was a problem! I knew I was making a movie about a bad guy.
Never thought that was an issue. Only years later has it been brought to my attention. My reaction is, why do all the characters have to be sympathetic? Night Flier is a morality tale, right? That’s what I was trying to do. It’s a movie about a bad guy, who sold his soul to the devil and pays the price.
That’s what the movie is, as well as a parallel between vampirism and tabloid journalism. But you never want to stand on your soapbox too tall..but if you look for it, it’s there. Stephen King created this character, I was trying to honor the King fans as well.
Jack and I wrote this character, and it came time to start talking about casting. And I’ve always been a fan of Miguel Ferrer since Robocop. And he’d just been in The Stand! And that came out right when I was prepping Flier. And I said to Richard, “Miguel Ferrer!” I think I was still writing it when I said Miguel would be fucking PERFECT for this thing! And he agreed. Stephen loved the idea.
So It worked out, when I was finished, we sent it to him but it turns out he was a huge Stephen King fan. He jumped at it, it was actually quite easy to get him.
He GOT it, you know? He’s a fan like the rest of us. He understood what it was trying to do.
When I’ve watched it, I was always intrigued. Thinking about what it would take for this character to decide how much is too much, and if he was ever going to get his soul back. And I was noticing lately a lot more of the parallels between Dees and Dwight (the vampire pilot of the title). Both loners, both attracted to blood, both sold their souls in a sense.
I agree, it was intentional in the writing, and visually I’d try to support that idea. There’s a shot in the bathroom when Dwight is standing behind him, there’s a shot of Dees where it frames Miguel so the cape kind of goes around Miguel... the whole idea of - they’re both vampires right? They both feed off the blood of others.
One is literally no longer human, and one is just about at that point.
It’s an interesting point, in the airport massacre, he finally freaks out. You know? Dwight’s pushing him… “How far? How much more?”
That was one of the things I wanted to ask you! Dees kind of walks into the bear trap at the end, and I was wondering was that massacre “bait” for Dees, or just a bigger strike/feeding?
I would say both! But I think Dwight’s interested! “How far will Dees go? When does THIS guy stop?” Now the end of the short story doesn’t have that ending.
“A haunting fright fest.”
“ Pavia rivals work done by George Romero in his zombie trilogy.”
“ Pavia is a rousing young talented filmmaker we are sure to hear more from.”
Joseph Mauceri, World of Fandom
“Cannily crafted.” “ Entwistle exudes the ambitions and contradictions of dewy but deadly “intern” employees.” “Ferrer is well cast and more than a tad scary."
I haven’t read it actually.
|Oh you gotta read it! In the end, Dwight goes “Now don’t follow me.” And goes away in the plane... and Dees watches him leave. And I said ‘We can’t do that! That’s not a movie ending!” Everything from the moment where Dees leaves the bathroom, that’s my original stuff.
Psychotic Fulci nightmare!
Oh yeah. Fucked up. THAT was a blast to do.
Well you also need that ending for Katherine, that’s her character arc that’s completed with Dees dying and her taking the story, framing him for the deaths..and starting to turn into him, ethically.
During the development, were you still in communication with King? Was he on set?
Stephen would read every draft, gave me notes, very involved. Almost to the point of a producer, but he didn’t take a credit. Some people think King didn’t have anything to do with the movie, that’s bullshit. Every decision he was aware of, and approved.
“The best King adaptation since Misery.”
I think the King adaptations Richard’s been involved in were probably the only ones King truly got to have a hand in!
Oh yeah..but why wouldn’t you? It’s Stephen King!!
Well sure we know that, but look at stuff like Lawnmower Man.
Well that just shows you the arrogance of Hollywood doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you include King? Who writes better horror, in my opinion? What are ya nuts? (laughs) But he would make his notes, and he was actually going to have a cameo but he couldn’t do it, as the morgue attendant.
Now Jack was your co-writer and co-producer, what was he there for on set, in terms of working relationship?
As far as writing, we were writing partners, I would direct the writing and we would write together, same room..pump it out- and on the set, he was kind of like my guy. In terms of dealing with the day-to-day production difficulties. Working with the line producer. Stuff like that.
What was your feeling on how the shoot went? It’s much “bigger” than the average indie.
You make or break a movie in prep right? Because it was so elaborately planned visually, and I stuck by my boards, it actually made the production a very smooth one. Richard would later tell me he and Mitchell were up in New York waiting for all the problems most sets have to start... and nothing happened!
I actually ended up bringing the movie in a day early, and under budget. Richard was in shock because it was my first feature. (laughs) It was this blessed project! They just gave me so much freedom to make my movie.
Can you tell me a bit about working with Miguel on set?
You’ve heard this before, but it’s all in the casting, right? Half your battle is there... and I had the perfect actor for the perfect role. So I don’t need to teach Miguel how to act.. My thing was keeping the mood of the set consistent for him so he could go where he needed to go, encourage him to go even further, just kind of guide him along this dark journey. He was willing to follow me and he did an amazing job. He had fun, he likes to play, he thought I was insane (laughs), he liked how prepared I was. It was an exciting relationship.
Is he one of these guys who easily snaps out of the dark mood when you yell cut?
Yeah. Beautifully trained actor. Julie Entwisle was like that as well.
Any particular visual inspirations for the look of the movie?
Not really, just letting my imagination go. I knew I was fortunate to be doing a Stephen King movie as my first film, it was such an honor. For the producer of Dawn of the Dead! It meant a lot then and does even more today.
Visually, I just dug deep into my imagination to see what I can do on that schedule - I had 30 days to shoot it-they were so happy that we brought it in on 29. I know I wanted to keep (the look) it cool, not too blue, but we shot it during one of the hottest summers ever. I nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion on one day- I went down once. All over the set you hear “Director down! Director down!” (laughs) I was like “I’m OK, let me sit in the AC for a half hour!” (laughs) We also dealt with a hurricane, lost one day of shooting, and had to fit a lost day into half of another day.
In the original story is there any backstory to the vampire, Dwight? The movie hints at it through photographs.
As far as history, nothing in the short story... my take on the movie was this film was about Richard Dees, but we said “let’s hint! Let Dees find a book (on Dwight)!” Keep the mystery as to who this guy is. But that’s for the sequel. (laughs)
I love the moment in the ending where we get a glimpse of Dwight when his face ISN’T monstrous. For me, that gives you all the backstory you need in his acting. That regret...
I wanted to just show a glimpse of humanity, and see that he wasn’t... some movies might make him gleeful, (that he did Dees in and got away with it) and I wanted to show he wasn’t necessarily happy with the way he has to live his life. It’s out of necessity. I thought if we just have this one moment visually, with that music, you might pick that up. (composer) Brian Keane did a great job.
One thing I wanted to ask you about - not sure how much was the MPAA or just clever editing... When Dees has the hatchet and hacks his way out of the crowd, as nasty as it seems, you don’t really see any hatchet impacts… it’s all through kickass sound design.
I had to take out a couple hits due to the MPAA - I’m talking frames, but I had to take out a couple. But I actually felt it was wet enough. That was hilarious shooting that scene watching the KNB guys squirting the fuck out of Miguel with these fire extinguishers full of blood!
Did I imagine it, or was Miguel’s neck wound from being shot meant to resemble the wounds Dwight gives his victims when he drains them?
That was intentional. You’re the only person who’s picked up on that!!
I noticed that the first time I saw it!
Yeah I thought people would notice that too but they didn’t! When he gets killed, it’s by the same bite/wound Dwight WOULD have given him.
Now I saw the film on HBO before in the theater! Was that always the plan?
No, we made that movie completely independent of Hollywood. Richard using the same financial partners he had on a lot of his previous movies like Dawn of the Dead. He actually went back to Alfredo Cuomo- one of the main investors in that- he actually used the exact same contract as Dawn of the Dead- scratched out “Dawn” and put in “The Night Flier” which I always thought was cool.
We finished the movie and showed it around Hollywood, and everyone in Hollywood wanted it! All the major studios wanted it. But at the time, like you said, it was just bad fucking timing (for horror). Nobody had any openings, maybe one period where they’d pick up movies- and at the time all the slots were filled. Now we got some serious offers, particularly from Paramount, who wanted the movie - but they said we’d have to wait a year to a year and a half. Richard made the decision not to wait.
We had a strong offer from HBO and it became a world premiere there, which was an honor. They did an amazing job with it; it also did really well on DVD. Did great numbers on HBO, and then New Line saw it and made us an offer to release it- in a limited capacity in the major markets. It didn’t do a lot at the box office though; there wasn’t really advertising behind it. It’s a shame because I really think if it had come out 3-4 years later, it would have been very different.
Yeah, right now there’s a bit of an old-school renaissance.
And over the years people have found the film, on DVD. And have appreciated it. I’m very appreciative of that, it’s become this cult movie.
How cool was it to appear at the Fango convention in New York for it!
Yeah! Amazing - Like you said; I’ve gone to a million of these Fango cons, always said "one day I’m gonna be up on that stage." (laughs) and it finally happened! Such a blast. At the signing tables, people were bringing up all kinds of things I’d never seen, Night Flier posters from Japan, stuff like this.. It did really well in Japan. It was released theatrically in Europe, quite a bit! Very good in Italy too.
What kind of industry reaction were you getting after the release, you hadn’t moved to LA yet right? Did you have an agent?
At some point, I think when I finished the picture but before the release, right in that period. Johnny Planco from William Morris, actually flew out to Chicago and signed me. He’s started his own company in New York City since then. He felt I needed an agent out in Hollywood as well, and personally chose Graham Kaye for me- an agent at WM in California. That's how we hooked up, and have been together ever since.
As the movie was released I got a lot of interest, but I didn’t live in Hollywood at that point - I was still trying to do the independent thing – actually I set up my next film without the help of Hollywood.
Which brings us to Slice!
In 2001 you had an article in Fangoria where you correctly predicted the swing back towards old-school horror. And your film Slice, which you were about to shoot, was embracing old-school plotlines and techniques, was ready to go the previous year but..
Slice was a tragedy, what happened to it back then.
It was written years ago by me and Jack O'Donnell. Over the years, the script has, naturally, changed some, but the central idea has always remained the same. I did a final polish on it last year and it is all ready to go. Out of all of my projects, it seems to be the one that just continues to stick around. It has, over its life, been optioned four times by different production companies! People just really respond to it, which is way cool with me. Hopefully, we'll get it up and running soon. It would be a blast to shoot. Splatter city. And you know I'm not afraid to go there... By the way, Slice refers to "Lazarus Slice", a very scary man with a very scary ax.
Now the film was ready to a few years ago; it didn’t really die a week before you started shooting did it?
|Two weeks before. We were in Toronto, sets were built, movie was cast, Michael Berryman was in it, Tony Todd, Jason Miller, would have been his last film. Tom Savini was doing the FX, he was up there with me, we’re getting ready..
It had nothing to do with the movie, my producer at the time was a producer out of Paris; Pierre Kalfon, a great indie producer was on board with me- but he suddenly got sued by an ex-business partner. He sued Pierre and mentioned Slice in the lawsuit, even though it didn’t have to do with us- and the bank saw that litigation and went “no!” and they pulled the funds- ended up shutting my movie down. That was it. It was devastating. We tried salvaging it but this was, again, before the new horror boom.
Slice was a throwback to the 70’s horror picture before anybody was doing it. I’m still gonna make that movie by the way.. four options, it just won’t die! I’m told they’ll be ready this fall, of course I’ll believe it when I’m on location. But because of what happened before, I’ll believe it when I’m shooting. (laughs) It’s up to the money people, but that deal is still happening. If I don’t do Night Flier 2 this fall, I’ll do that, or Drag the feature, which might happen.
So I went back to Connecticut and licked my wounds a little bit, and kind of got into writing. I wrote for Clive Barker, did a treatment for The Midnight Meat Train. Clive is awesome. I wrote this crazy treatment, I expanded it in a way like Night Flier... but at the time he had a deal with Disney and he thought that the darkness of the treatment would cause some trouble with his deal with Disney at the time. Clive going "I don’t know, this is a little dark, Mark." (laughs) but they’re going with a dark approach this time (now that the film is getting made-but with a different treatment.).
I had a two-picture deal going at the time, with Warner Brothers. I set up DEADWORLD, based on the comic - I got the rights to it- I worked with Gary Reed, who owned Caliber Comics, he liked my work so he thought I was the right guy for it.
I pitched it to George Clooney’s company at the time, Maysville Pictures. I pitched it and sold it to them but what happened is we started writing - I wanted to write it with Jack, Jack and I were still partnered at the time; but they wanted to bring in a superstar writer. We brought in Todd (ANTS) Alcott, he was a great guy though, he got the material! He wrote a pretty cool first draft, but then what happened, development fucking hell. (laughs) It’s just ridiculous. In Hollywood everybody loves to make lunch reservations, they don’t love to make movies.
I’m not badmouthing ‘em, but Jesus, shoot a picture! Know what I mean?
What happened is it just got caught up in development hell –THE POSTMAN came out, remember the Costner movie?
Sure. Well, sort of.
What happened is they suddenly got cold feet over anything post apocalyptic, and they made a decision that…
Oh man! There’s no mail delivery subplot in Deadworld!
Yeah I was like “What does Kevin Costner have to do with zombies riding Harleys?” So their idea was “we’ve got an idea! Let’s turn it into a Western!” (laughs) It just got maimed… and there was a regime change at Warner Bros. and our executives went away- and then the new people came in.
And I told them “Zombies are next! Zombies are gonna be a big thing once again.” They said ‘that’s not gonna happen.’ And I said, “I am telling you. It’s NEXT!” They let it go, and it was next.
136 zombie pictures later…
Now it would be almost cliché! But zombies never die.
So Deadworld fell apart and my two-picture deal was done (laughs) but I was making the move West.
|What happens in Hollywood, which is wrong, but this is the reality of this town - When you do meetings it’s not about who’s best, it’s about who was last week at the box office. So I was doing a lot of meetings, and came close on a lot of big pictures. I almost got the Texas Chainsaw remake.
I was in the running for TCM - it actually looked like that was gonna happen, they’d brought in writers, but couldn’t find a take they liked, I was gonna write and direct that- I pitched it, they loved it, they liked that I was a writer/director, people love writer/directors – one less person to deal with. (laughs)
What was your take on it like?
I was going to treat my version of TCM as a real life "true-crime story" that was never accurately told.
I felt it was essential that the audience believed that what we were showing them ACTUALLY happened back in the summer of 1973. Just as Psycho, Deranged, and even the original Texas Chainsaw were interpretations of the actual crimes of mass-murderer Ed Gein, my film would be the first "real" version of this heinous crime ever truthfully represented on the screen.
By using that approach, I felt I would have been able to show my respect to the classic original film, but at the same time veer away from, or add to, that story line whenever I felt it was necessary.
Before the opening credits, I would have put a card telling the audience that "certain names and locations have been changed to protect the anonymity of those who survived". Then, this VOICE OVER:
"The film you are about to see is real, a true account of the horrifying events that befell five unsuspecting young friends in a rural Texas town in August of 1973- a crime so brutal that it shocked not only the nation, but the world.
In 1974, a band of filmmakers from Austin, Texas released a version of the ghastly tale. That movie, directed by Tobe Hooper, went on to terrify a generation of filmgoers, quickly becoming a seminal classic of the horror genre.
But they only got it half right. The horrible true story of what actually happened to those kids, in that house, on that day, has never been fully told.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The Real Story."
The movie then would have begun with gruesome crime scene photos, news footage and newspaper headlines of the actual event. We then flash to 3 days earlier, and begin to tell our story.
At the end of the movie, we once again would have returned to actual news footage (16mm, hand held) of one of the "real" survivors of the massacre, not our actor from the movie, but the "real" person- seeing him being rushed into the hospital on a stretcher, a reporter giving us an over view of the unspeakable tragedy.
And, the last images of the film are the "actual" mug shots of the killers.
Including LEATHERFACE, without the mask...
So, that's it. There's lots more to the actual story, of course, but that was my "take", some of which actually ended up in the remake. Curious...
The reason I didn't get the film is still a mystery. The producers wanted me. I moved to Hollywood thinking it was mine. Then it was gone. The last thing I heard was that Michael Bay made the final call. That's all I know...
|I was Rubinstein’s choice for Dawn of the Dead, and I had meetings over there; everybody liked me, they liked my ideas, but they didn’t think they could ‘sell’ me to the studio.
I was offered Ted Bundy but turned it down, because the script I was given - I didn’t like the way they dealt with such a serious subject so flippantly. The producers came to me, wanted me to make the movie, and I said fine! I’ll make a movie about a serial killer, that’s great- but the script I read kind of handled the situation as if it was Jason or Michael- kind of taking a gleeful look at the murders.
And I just said to them ‘look the relatives of these victims are still alive! How would you feel if you went into a video store and saw that movie? Now, if we made a serious film about these killings, and why he’d do this, and what’s behind it, even if he doesn’t know, because he didn’t really know. That’s a movie I’m very interested in making, I’m interested in looking into the face of madness and evil and saying, “what is this about?” That’s a main thing I’m interested in horror. That could be a very effective movie.
How does humanity get so twisted?
Yeah! But that wasn’t the movie they wanted to make.. So they made it, when it came out the reviews kind of backed what I said.
And then suddenly you become ‘cold’, I’m just being blunt with you - and everybody loved Night Flier, and Drag. But it’s about last weekend. Which is a product of executives trying to keep their jobs. That’s what it’s about. No one wants to “fuck up” so it’s easier to go after the guy who did last week’s horror picture because someone else hired them! So the madness continues. (laughs)
But I’ve made a lot of great friends, had a lot of great meetings, and hopefully those contacts will help in the future.
What’s this script called Sick Nick? I read about that when it first went around and Graham Kaye was speaking highly of it.
Sick Nick is kind of a Christmas slasher! Platinum Dunes was interested, we sent it out on a Friday and Monday morning we got the call, they wanted to buy it. To do after their Texas Chainsaw. But at that point, New Line had to approve their next project. They read it, said it was scary enough, but they didn’t want to do a slasher picture at that particular time.
Now you’ve kept your relationship with King and Rubinstein- but how are you surviving in between projects while things are coming together?
I was lucky that Flier made some money, especially on DVD, I was basically able to live off residuals, and some writing assignments kept money coming. Richard paid me to write Night Flier 2 too.
So you’re not working with Jack on it?
No, when I moved West we stopped working together – it wasn’t for any bad reason, I was just moving West, he had a family now to support, and I just kind of wanted to go off and do my own thing. We’re still great friends, just moving on and growing in different directions. Happens all the time. Unfortunately, but it still does.
So I wrote the script and turned out really well, and part of the agreement was to show it to Steve, just like the first one. And he really dug it! This was my original story- the continuing story- the adventures of Dwight, with Katherine Blair. And he liked what he read and contacted us and said “Can I write a little bit on this?” And we’re like “YEAH MAN!” He did a draft, and then we went back and forth together for two or three passes. And got the script to where it is now. And we share screenwriting credit! I believe this is the first time he’s shared screenwriting credit in his career! So it’s an honor.
And then Richard has started bringing it around; it’s not big budget, the only issue seems to be it’s a sequel to a cult film.
Not a movie from last week. Yeah but look at the Phantasm approach! Nine years later..
Sure! Look at Evil Dead 2! There’s a sequel to a cult movie. So we’re running into a bit of resistance, but we’re still plugging. Initially doing the studio route. Because it’s the fastest. And (Richard) hasn’t ruled out going back to investors.
But there’s this whole thing of “it’s been a while, nobody would know what’s going on…”
Because nobody can rent the original right?
Right – and the idea would be when Flier 2 came out on DVD, perhaps re-release the original as a special edition- Richard is hoping that happens.
Sometimes it’s hard. You’ve heard it before - what’s obvious to us as fans (as a good idea) isn’t obvious to them.
Can you give me a hint of the story?
It picks up a few years after the original movie, Katherine Blair is kind of Richard Dees now. Inside View is even bigger, and so is she, because of the Night Flier stories. She’s their hotshot now. And suddenly Dwight she can’t stop dreaming about Dwight reappears in her life, kind of leads her down a path to… can’t say anymore... (laughs) to her ultimate destiny!
I’m psyched for it. As long as you keep the same actors!
Julie’s gonna do it, she wants to come back!
Any other recent films/modern filmmakers you admire?
I really like Eli Roth’s stuff. I like the fact that he’s not falling into this trap of movies looking like videogames. He’s classically, visually bringing back his type of horror, I applaud him for that. May was awesome. Loved Session 9, I was really, REALLY unnerved by WOLF CREEK.
I have a lot of trouble watching that.
That movie FREAKED ME OUT. Dude, it scared me! And I don’t scare easily!! It was beautifully done, a modern-day “Chainsaw.”
You mentioned about surviving - and how you have to be in it for the long haul in Hollywood- can you give us some advice?
If you’re getting into this industry just to make money you’re an idiot. If you’re chasing money I’d work on Wall Street. You’ve got to have the passion for it, and the perseverance. More than anything. A genuine love for film. And the genre. That’s what I have and I’m never gonna give up, ever. It’s not in my nature. I’ve been the bridesmaid, the “# 2” guy many times. Live and learn.
There’s a lot of shady people; people who will stab you in the heart, smiling..holding a latte (laughs) but there’s a lot of great people, executives who are movie lovers as well. My manager and my agent are making roads, It’s finally coming back around- Night Flier 2 kind of kicked in a “Oh yeah! Pavia! Where’s he been?” kind of situation. There’s also been a lot of interest in Drag as a feature too. That’s going out next week, the treatment as well as the short! Going out to about 80 buyers around town..so I’m sure we’re gonna make a deal on that.
What’s up with Shivers? I didn’t know they’d planned to revisit it until I saw on your website you were writing it.
|I started a company last year called Panic Pictures. I have a producing partner, Bill Thill, and the first project we acquired was Shivers. Shivers is SICK! That movie’s fucked up! Too early to get into my take on it. The original is brilliant, and should live and exist on its own. But there will still be creatures and parasites. My take on it is pretty provocative.
I’m gonna attach talent to it before we go out. Hopefully I’ll get the actor I want and I’ll take it around. I’ve got another new script I’m working on too. A scary little movie. All these things coming up, and there’s another film I’m attached to write and direct but I can’t tell you about..I’m dying to but I can’t but hopefully I can make that announcement soon. None of this winking, self-referential stuff… just the stuff you and I love that can hopefully stand the test of time.
It’s about perseverance. You’ve gotta love what you’re doing, and you can’t give up no matter what..they will try and pull you down, it’s just the nature of the beast. It really feels like a David and Goliath situation. But I got a big bagful of stones, and I’m a good shot. (laughs)
Thank you, Mark!!!
Visit Mark's Myspace page HERE.(www.myspace.com/markpavia)
DRAG will actually be streamed on The Horror Channel in August! Go to
www.horrorchannel.com for more info.
NEW AMSTERDAM ENTERTAINMENT link (www.newamsterdamnyc.com)
The Night Flier images ©1998 New Amsterdam Entertainment/New Line
Mark Pavia/Jack O' Donnell images © 1998 Starlog Entertainment
Deadworld (c) 1987, 2006 Gary Reed/Caliber Comics- artwork by Vince