Quantcast David "SLAVE" Stagnari interview

David Stagnari!!!
Filmmaker David 'SLAVE' Stagnari was one of the many filmmakers featured in Christopher P. Garetano's acclaimed documentary 'HORROR BUSINESS'. We caught up with David over coffee to talk about the making of his short film 'CATHARSIS', an extremely personal project which took him 4 years to complete. But then we also got to hear him talk candidly about the origins of his filmmaking, his life in the music industry and his future projects. Read on! - by Robg. & Mike C. 5/06

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre?

Well, I’m one of those rare people that saw everything in a theatre. Like the Texas Chainsaw (Massacre) in 1974, first release at the drive-in. My first, I think was ‘Don’t Look In The Dark/Last House On The Left’ double feature at the drive-in. I was really too young to understand it. A lot of it went over my head. So, I was a little too young to absorb exactly what was going on in those films. I was so young that it didn’t scare me. It wasn’t until years later that I saw ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ again and I thought “this is fucking terrifying!” One of the most terrifying films ever. I just remember, my father would say “There’s a horror movie playing, let’s go”.

And back then, it was always movies at the drive-in?

3 movies, $3 dollars a car load. At the Commack drive-in. So, you’d see 3 movies like Black Christmas , Sisters, and Last House On The Left. There’s one place left about an hour and a half from Long Island, NY called the Warwick Drive In which still shows double features. What’s good about that place is if you go on the weekends, it’s like Woodstock. A lot of people turn up and it’s a great event. It’s the drive-in we go to in ‘Horror Business’.

The one thing I didn’t get to talk about in ‘Horror Business’… Remember the part where I said something like “Right where this ‘Baby’s R Us’ is, there were tits. And nudity.” What I was trying to say was… you could literally show these things to the town. Because the screen was facing Jericho Turnpike! So, you could drive by and see anything. Everything played there. And that whole concept never occurred to me until after it closed.

I remember ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, “no one under 17 admitted”. So, we had to walk to the Pergament and stand outside the drive-in and watch it in silence. Because we just thought we wouldn’t be able to get in. But then we tried the weekend after and we got in. But you could just stand there and watch a movie, even if you couldn’t get in, for free. And it was great.

Any other films you remember from that period?

Trilogy Of Terror which was made for TV. Helter Skelter, also. These were all around 73-74. I remember all the kids in 4 th grade were talking about Helter Skelter on TV. It scared everyone, because it was terrifying.

So, is it safe to say that as you got older you became a full fledged horror fan? When’d the possibility of being a filmmaker open up to you?

"Well, yea. Since there wasn't any video back then, my father would film the events of the family and then project it on the refrigerator. It was such a cool thing to me when my dad would say "We're going to set up the projector and watch movies".

And it was that process, which I believe I said in ‘Horror Business’ too… when my brother grabbed the camera for my communion, he was walking into the house shaking the camera, and viewing that footage at 12 years old, I thought I could definitely make a horror movie. Just from viewing that 10 second piece of footage. And then I did. Later I made my first short which was called ‘Manglers’.

So, you would film shorts using friends and neighbors?

I made a zombie movie called 'When the Dead Walk The Earth' when I was 14 or 15. I ran Junior High School track then so I asked the whole track team to be zombies and pretty much everyone in my neighborhood too. Everyone was really supportive. Because honestly, back then it was really unusual for people to make their own movies. I mean, today everyone’s much more interested in films and music. But when I said I wanted to make films, everyone thought it was peculiar.

Did it come off to the town as more of an event, you getting all these people involved in your movies?

I remember playing ‘When The Dead Walk The Earth’ for the track team, in front of all these people at school, and there’s a scene at the end where you just see a guy in the water. I guess, it was very Jason-esque. Because then a zombie comes out of the water and it’s a shock. I had this poor guy underwater forever. (laughs) But I remember everybody on the track team screamed when this guy popped out. I couldn’t believe it. It was an amazing feeling. I just thought “I can’t believe I made everybody scream”. It was awesome.

I know you went to film school later on. Was there a point you stopped making films?

Yes, and it was actually because of film school. From 13 and on, I made films all the time. I started out on 8 mm, and then I went to super 8, and 16. And then I went right to film school. I graduated and went to the School Of Visual Arts in 1984. Film school was so terrible and negative. Everyone there were assholes. And there were only a couple of friends I had, whom I’m still friends with – my friend Luis (de la Fuente) who’s my room mate now and an incredible production designer and Bryan Singer. I lost touch with Bryan Singer for about 10 years. Last time I saw him was in the late 80’s in California. But we all left because we all hated the School Of Visual Arts. Singer ended up going to USC. I kept thinking, “What am I going to do now that I’m not in this school?” I was very depressed at that time.

What was so negative about school at that time?

There’d be 2 classes a day. And the classes were 3 hours apart, and the first teacher would cancel the class. And you’d wait around for 3 hours. The 2nd teacher would cancel their class. So, I’d go home. And this happened ALL the time. Because the teachers were working in the industry, and they just didn’t show up. And the first thing they said was, “Out of everyone in this school, out of all of you people, only 2 of you will make movies. The rest of you will do nothing.” And I thought “Jesus, I’m paying $10,000 dollars to hear this?!” I don’t need that negative shit. Being realistic is one thing, but saying that on the first day of orientation I thought was terrible.

So, that coupled with very slow movement. They wanted your money, that’s the impression I got. It was a 5 year school. And I was already making movies before there, and I wanted to continue making movies. I’d be in an English class wondering “What am I doing here?” I honestly don’t think you can teach anyone how to be an artist. You can help hone their skills, but that’s different. So, for me, I had a very negative school experience. I discourage people from going and tell them to just do it.

Was there anything positive to come from your experience? Anything you learned?

Yes. There were 2 things I learned. One was what a teacher said… “It’s not how much talent you have. It’s who you know and how much money you have.” This was coming from a teacher! I agree with that, but once you get in the door, you’d better have a hand to play. Because if you don’t have any ability once you get in, you end up making… movies that gross $100 million dollars a week. (laughs) Also, I had Roy Frumkes. I was almost in his film ‘Street Trash’. One time Wes Craven spoke before ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ came out, which was great because no one knew who he was. I knew him from The Hills Have Eyes & Last House On The Left, which I’d seen at the drive-in. Deadly Blessing, I saw at the drive-in. (laughs) But, I left school. I made one movie with Bryan Singer, he was the director of photography and I was the editor & the writer. Someone else got the credit for directing the movie, who was a nice guy but he didn’t really direct the movie. We kind of all directed the movie, but we were all assigned these roles. It was a great experience. Everyone loved the movie and they were blown away. But I left in late 85.

What’d you do in between that period?

Well, I had a very tragic death in the family. On Thanksgiving day of 86. Which, while I was trying to figure out what to do, it just shattered my family. It was a huge thing. So it took a long time to get over it. And at the same time, I became a DJ. And I was successful at it, even though I didn’t really want to be a DJ. It just happened. My father had lost his job. It was just this hardcore shit all happening at once.

But I was making a lot of money as a DJ and was helping out with the bills. I DJed in Manhattan and pretty much everywhere for 15 years. In interim, I started producing music and I made a couple of music videos, and I was always in the back of my head wanting to get back into making films.

What was it that eventually pushed you back into filmmaking?

I had worked with this band BILE and after I quit the band I got a record deal with Roadrunner Records. They offered me $40 grand to make an album but the deal was terrible and the label people were assholes and really negative. Almost to the point that they were always yelling at me like they were my father. And I walked away from this record deal. Everyone thought I was crazy.

And when I walked away, my father got really sick, and my sister was taking care of him & was having a hard time, so I decided to take care of my father for a year. During that time, I had written ‘Catharsis’. My mom had died in 94, and again, once I was getting over one death, my mom had passed away 8 years later. So, I feel like circumstances that had happened to me pulled me away from film and I regretted it.

Do you feel that those tragedies and events fueled the inspiration behind what eventually became ‘Catharsis’?

Absolutely. It started out of anger because the people I was working on with this record deal were back stabbers. So, the first script was very negative and had a “nobody loves you when you’re down and out” kind of attitude. And then, I changed it. The poetry that’s written in it, the stuff the main character is writing in it, is something I had written when my mom died. So, it was very personal, but it was not geared to be about me, because I had known some people around me that were going thru their own personal hell.

No matter what you’re going thru, and no matter how small comparatively to other people’s problems, if it’s affecting you, then it’s a major problem. So, I wanted to make a movie where if you were going thru something hardcore it could somehow give you hope. Or an answer. And I know people, friends of mine that were on drugs and went to rehab, had watched it and would cry by the end of it. I was shocked. There’s a great line that someone once said that when you go to make a movie, you think you’re going to make the greatest fucking movie ever, and then somewhere in the middle of shooting, you’re praying to God you don’t embarrass yourself. And it’s such a great analogy. It took me a very long time to make this movie. I wrote it in 98. And I finished it in May of 2002. And everyone thought I was nuts! Even I did. I thought, you’re making this movie, you’re spending whatever money you have and it’s never going to be released. Never. And you’re never going to show it at a film festival.

That’s a good 4 years that you were working on ‘Catharsis’. What was the biggest challenge that kept getting in the way of you finishing it?

It was shot in video. And I didn’t want to shoot in video because I didn’t like the look of video. So, I figured out that on the XL1 camera, if you shot on a cloudy day, it evenly lights everything and gives everything the look of film. This we discovered from all the experiments we had done. So, everything had to be done on a cloudy day. Many times we’d get up and get ready to shoot, especially that highway scene, and it was sunny.

And we’d shoot and I’d think it looks like shit so we’d spilt. We waited for a cloudy day. And the DP, Steve Panariello moved to Key West. So, he’d have to fly up and we’d pray for clouds. There’s an edit in the film that’s literally 2 years later. When Dylan is coming down a staircase at the train station and it cuts, that next shot is 2 years later. There’s tons of shots like that. And it’s a miracle the continuity holds up. But we photographed him and cut his hair. And kept track.

Because of the way you wanted to light it, was it always a conscience effort to shoot it in black and white?

Yes. (spoiler) I always had the idea, even though it is kind of cliche now to have it come into color at the end. Because when you’re miserable and you’re going thru something, everything seems to be black and white. The film’s trying to say it’s not scary to face your issues. And the other thing is, the film is a thought process. It’s about how your thoughts take you from one place to another. Nothing’s really real in it.

At the very begining we hear a ticking clock and someone breathing. The guy is in his house thinking and the whole movie is his thought process of him trying to run away from problems and finally having to confront them and deal with them. But I meant it to be an internal thought process. Your mind. How you deal with problems. None of it is real. (end spoiler) I think even knowing that makes it more interesting to watch.

We’re going to go back and re-watch it now with those things in mind. Now, you appeared in the film in the diner, right?

Only because I was afraid that the guy that I hired to play that role wouldn’t be there. It was taking so long, and it was the actor that told me to be that part.

Well, in that diner sequence, you appear and start talking to the character about his poetry and I had an impression of what I thought ‘Catharsis’ is. Is ‘Catharsis’ an anti-art film art film?

(laughs) That’s an interesting take. It’s not meant to be an art film. But you know what it is? When you’re not going thru something traumatic, you can easily say this is a piece of shit. Or it’s artsy-fartsy.

Well, my impression was that you were rejecting that sort of thing, personally coming in during the poetry…

But you know what it is? It’s saying just… cut the crap. You know when you create something? You always have insecurity about what you create.

Even if you’re confident, I think there’s always a sense of doubt.

You’re absolutely right. That doubt is why he’s making fun of his poetry. It’s that part of you that ridicules you more then anybody. You can’t fool yourself. You can bullshit other people, but you have to be honest with yourself. And again, the movie is very personal to me, but it’s not about me. I didn’t want it to be about me. That’s why I kept the problem very vague. But that’s an interesting analogy.

I had thought during the middle of the film that I hoped it would come into color and it did. Because it felt like the character was stepping out of what would happen in an “art-film”.

If it was an art film, he would’ve killed himself at the end. (laughs) Honestly I think that facing your problems sets you free. It’s scary but it does set you free. I’ve never run away from anything. The movie alludes to that. But people do.

How’d you find Dylan Murphy as your lead actor in ‘Catharsis’?

He was a non-actor. When I was in BILE, I had met him at a party with his girlfriend and he told me he was interested in acting. And this deep dark part of me that was just so far away from filmmaking thought “I’m going to put him in a movie one day”. “We should keep in touch”. Because anyone that was interested in movie-making, I felt I had to keep in touch with because maybe one day it would pull me back into filmmaking, which is what I wanted. The music thing was good for a while. But let me be honest. Making music is just like making movies. Being a DJ was like making a movie too. Making this big production every night. I never really stopped making movies, I just used different tools along the way, I suppose. Fast forward to a few years later, Jack Roman who’s a brilliant photographer. This guy did every photograph for ‘Catharsis’ that you see, I originally wanted him for the role of this lead guy. And he had a problem with the nudity in the movie. So, I had a meeting with him at 4 o’ clock in the morning at this diner after I DJed. And he wasn’t sure about acting in it, so he left. And as he was walking out, I see Dylan getting coffee! At 4 in the morning! In this same diner.

I put two and two together, and he sat down next to me, and I told him I was making this movie, and when I said making this movie, I looked at him and said “You gotta be the guy!”. And we talked about it and he was perfect. He was really strong then, but I made him lose a bit of weight. Because you can’t be Schwarzenegger and be all troubled. (laughs) A lot of peculiar things happened while making this movie. Like making that album was like walking into a brick wall. It’s like life, when you’re trying to do something and you’re met with resistance, it’s almost like life trying to tell you you’re doing the wrong thing. But making this movie was like walking in open air. There was no resistance.

There were sequences where it was just Dylan on a train. Or Dylan in an empty diner. How’d you manage to film those scenes with no interference, considering you shot all this yourself?

The train wasn’t empty. We essentially stole everything. You need permits. I was living in Harlem at the time, and we took the train from 125th street to Pougkeepsie 4 times. And once the conductor would leave, we’d set the shit up, and we’d do what we could and when we saw him coming back we’d put everything away. There were people sitting around laughing at what we were doing.

Was it a similar situation when you filmed in the church and the diner?

The diner was owned by these Greek guys that I knew thru a friend. They were all eating one night, these big Greek guys with accents. And you know that “Slave” was my nickname, and I knew this guy at the diner when I was a DJ and he used to call me sclavos. Which is greek for slave. So, these guys asked “Sclavos! What’s your movie about?”

And I told them the whole story, including the bathroom scene, and they looked up and were just staring at me. And I thought “They’re not going to give me this diner to shoot.” And finally they said (in Greek accent) “That’s fucking GREAT! Of course you can use our diner” (laughs) They just gave me the diner for 3 days. For free.

One of the most prominent scenes in your film is the bathroom scene. So, let’s talk a bit about that. Did you know how you were going to pull it off? How much preparation did it take?

Well, I knew Luis de la Fuente and Tom Denier, both friends of mine – Luis whom I went to school with, and Tom who later did the effects for all the Kevin Smith movies like Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strikes Back. He was working on Dogma at the time and he said “I got this great recipe for making fecal matter. Don’t do anything. Wait until I get back and we’ll make this film”. There’s this stuff called methylcellulose, which is food thickener. They use it for jelly and jello.

I bought a 500 pound bag, and he said you could take this bag and throw it into a swimming pool and the whole pool would be pudding. We used a small amount of powder for that whole scene. We shit the bathroom 5 or 7 times. Cleaned it all up and did it again. And the one shot that I never got, which was the whole purpose – I came up with this idea that if you put a board over the top of the stalls and you sit the effects guy up there with a 10 gallon drum, and cut the bottom off, with a tube going down behind the actor into the toilet, you could actually see it overflowing in between his legs. Which people would’ve thought “How did you do that?” By the way, interesting story about how I found the bathroom. The first bathroom I looked at was at a Catholic school around the corner from where I was living at the time. And it was perfect. My friend was a tutor there, and he gives me the name of who I should speak to, I meet him and he tells me “We can’t allow non-school activities to go on here.” And I was crushed. I had my friend who worked there, who was the producer at the time ask them again, and they kept saying “Sorry”. I looked at 10 other bathrooms and they all sucked. I kept thinking “How am I going to get this bathroom?” I got depressed. But I did have 4 years, so it went on and on and on. (laughs)

So, I’m in Manhattan meeting with a storyboard artist at 2 am at 7 A. Across the street was this club called Niagra, and my producer says, let’s go across the street really quick and see this DJ that I’m friends with. So, we go. 2 o’clock in the morning. Manhattan. Some guy overhears us talking and comes up and says “I hear you’re making a movie? I’m an avid editor.” So, I asked him where he lived and he said he used to live in Huntington. And I said, “You’re kidding? I used to live in Huntington too.”

So, I mentioned that I was trying to use this bathroom over by the church and that this guy there wouldn’t give it to me. Turns out, he used to get drunk with the brother from the school. It was his teacher for years. He said he was moving to California in a week, but he was going to call the brother for me. This guy calls me up a week later and leaves me a message to say “I’m leaving now for California, but I spoke to the brother and I got you a meeting with him.” And then he was gone. (laughs)

So, I go to this meeting, and because of that phone call, he agreed “Of course, you can use our bathroom!” He didn’t even remember me and that I tried before. It was like magic! A year goes by, and I’m finally ready to shoot this scene, and the head guy of this place asks me to read the script. Because they had to approve of it before they would let me shoot anything in there. And I thought, they are never going to give it to me because there’s dirty language and this… graphic scene that I’m going to do in their bathroom! This was never going to happen.

So, I rewrite the WHOLE script. The bathroom scene in the version I gave them, he walks into the bathroom, into the stall, falls on his knees and cries, and then leaves. That’s the version I gave to them. (laughs) I give them this script and they still say, “We can’t allow this to happen in our bathroom.” I remembered that the guy I met in the diner who initially put me in touch told me he used to drink with this man. And I know they don’t have much money. The producer’s brother worked at a liquor store, and I didn’t have any money, but I asked him to get me a single malt Scotch for the brother. And I called him up and said, “Listen, what if I leave your name off and leave everybody’s name off of this and it’ll be completely anonymous, would you let me shoot?” Because I needed 3 days. The brother finally said he’d give us one day, on All Saints Day, the day after Halloween. And I agreed. And I went there immediately with this wrapped bottom of Scotch and gave it to him.

He met us the morning of the shoot and he said “Here you go. Use the room.” And he left us alone. And then for 18 hours, we were in that bathroom trying to get everything we needed in that one day. When Dylan was nude, in a membrane, covered in shit and there was shit everywhere, I was so nervous that someone was going to walk in and kick us out and we would’ve never had anything for the movie. So, the anxiety level of getting caught was unbelievable. Afterwards, we cleaned that bathroom so well that the next day they didn’t even realize we used it.

One of the coolest shots I wanted to ask you about is from that bathroom scene. When he’s in the stall and all the writing appears on the walls, how’d you pull off that effect? And did you put all the detail into what every word that was written was meant to mean?

Yea. It was the last moment of facing your reality and yet this fear comes crashing in. But it’s in that panic that forces you to face these things. As far as how I did it, I measured the stall, and I got planks and lined them up exactly, and I had this artist whom I gave a prototype of, which the storyboard artist did on a piece of foam, and the artist and his girlfriend did it on the walls. And they saved me. They did a lot of work in a short amount of time. I just mounted the camera down, when we cut, we filled up the walls and started the camera again and I just dissolved it.

I thought the sound design was really excellent as well. Sound is obviously such an important part of any film. Who did all the sound design?

I did all the sound. It’s credited to D.S. Slave. It took an entire summer. I had just enough equipment in my room to make that happen.

And you finally premiered the film in 2003. After living with this film for so long, how did it feel to finally show it? What was that first screening like?

Scary. I was really nervous. I made a speech in front of 300 people. My sister had flown up from Atlanta, my parents were gone and my brother had died. And she had given me all of these things that they had had, just before I made the speech, and she told me to put them in my pocket and they’ll be with me. It made me nervous but it was beautiful that she thought to do that.

The premiere wasn’t for any other reason other then to make a free event to thank everyone who worked for free. So, I gave away T-Shirts and this woman that was friends with Dylan, Nancy Pier – she paid for so much. She got a ‘Catharsis’ cake with the logo on it, and ‘Catharsis’ balloons. I couldn’t believe all this stuff she paid for. And she had this big party at her unbelievably huge apartment on the upper west side. I mean, she had an original Picasso on her wall. But I was blown away by how kind this woman was.

Were you happy with the final result? Was it essentially the film you set out to make?

I don’t watch it. I haven’t watched it in a long time. But I was happy to have made it. I had nothing. If anything, it was to prove to me that I could make something out of nothing. You don’t have to sacrifice your art for no money. Just plan it out and really work on it. I went crazy with the sound. That’s why it took 4 years. If I had money, it wouldn’t have taken that long.Eraserhead took 5 years to make. Honestly, I didn’t steal from anything. But it’s funny, I had seen Eraserhead and rewatched it when it came out on DVD, and I think an on line review had said my film was Lynch-ian. And it wasn’t intended to be that way. It was unconscious.

Well, I’d take that as a compliment! I think it stands on its own.

It’s not really a horror film. I guess it is if you don’t want to face your problems.

Can you tell us about the editing? Because with this kind of material, it can feel like 2 hours but I thought your film moved.

That’s cool, because some people thought it was too long. And in fact, there was another cut that was supposed to be on the DVD but the master got fucked up. It was only 2 minutes shorter. But the chase in the woods (not exactly a chase), I didn’t want it to be a chase, I wanted him to know what was chasing him so he wasn’t running. It moved faster in the new cut, but it doesn’t in the DVD one. Who knows? Maybe I’ll re-cut it one day. I was hooked up with John Balcom, who edited CATHARSIS at MTV studios NY for free. And he did a great job.

You’re one of the many filmmakers profiled in ‘Horror Business’. How’d that come about and how did you meet Chris Garetano?

It was a bizarre chance meeting. I knew a guy who was a bouncer at the first club I ever worked in, and he knew someone in Chris’s family, and I remember I was looking for an editor, and this guy told me I should meet this guy Chris who was really into horror movies. So, I met with him, and he came over and I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me. But I made him a cup of tea and we bullshitted in my house, and he was telling me about how he’d been watching ‘Last House On The Left’ over and over again, and I knew a lot about that film.

He was kind of fascinated that all the movies he saw on video I saw in theaters. And I was impressed with his knowledge. I just thought he knew a lot about movies. And we became very fast friends. And he was telling me about his magazine, and I was very supportive. When I first saw ‘Are You Going?’, I thought it was great. He did it in his house, he busted his ass and I would tell him, “Dude, this magazine’s fucking great.” It kept getting better and better, and eventually he asked me to write for it. And I said “Sure, anything to help you”. I’m really into people that are trying to do anything artistic.

You know, when I met Chris, I didn’t realize that he had published ‘Are Your Going?’ and I had actually had a few issues of it. One of the articles I remember reading was your ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ article about Roger Ebert’s original “politically incorrect” review of it.

When I was in 8 th grade, I discovered the readers guide to periodic literature in my high school and I found the original Reader’s Digest review of ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ that Roger Ebert had done, and I ripped them all out and saved it. So, I had that review all these years since 1968. You guys would probably be interested in this, but every horror movie that came out in the 80’s… I saved the Newsday and Daily News reviews. I was such a big fan De Palma and Cronenberg… I actually remember seeing a cut of Scanners that was completely different from the one that got released. When I first saw it, the head exploding scene was the very first scene at the convention, and now it’s about 20 minutes into the movie. Anyways, I tried to be supportive of ‘Are You Going?’ and he was trying to get financing for that film and then he started talking about this documentary he wanted to do with all these different filmmakers. He asked me to be in it and I was very flattered by it. And I was very happy that he included ‘Catharsis’ because before that ‘Catharsis’ had no life. And I’m always thankful because now it has a little bit of a life because of ‘Horror Business’, where otherwise, it would’ve sat around and done nothing, until maybe I made a feature film and people would’ve been interested in it then. So, I thank him for it.

Well, ‘Horror Business’ brought all of us together.

That’s what’s cool about it. I made this movie that no one was supposed to see. It wasn’t like I wanted to make something to submit to festivals and become a filmmaker. It came down to I can’t do anything else in my life until I finish this movie. It became a symbol of moving forward and getting back into film and having my own catharsis, which was holding me back in life. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it was a battle. Everyone thought I was crazy.

The thing I got from the screening’s I’ve seen of ‘Horror Business’ is that out of all the filmmakers, at least for me personally, you come off as the closest to the audience’s perspective. I related mostly to the things you said, and I notice that at the screenings we’ve both been at, people usually want to talk to you after. What’s the feedback been like from ‘Horror Business’?

Insecurity is part of being an artist. You can’t ignore it. And no one admits it. And I think I’m really honest in the film, and people relate to the honesty. I’m not saying that I’m not confident because I am, but there are always these bouts of insecurity that are part of the process. You almost have to pencil in that you’re going to be bereft of ideas and insecure in what you’re doing. And there’s no reality to it.

I hoped when I watched it the first time that people don’t think these directors had to be crazy and strong. Being insecure is not about knowing what you’re doing. It’s about questioning what you’re doing. Whenever I’m at a screening though, people have been really kind to me and I’m very grateful. Dante Tomaselli was at a screening and came up to me afterwards and told me he thought I was great in the film and I’m blown away by that. You never know how you’re going to come across. You just have to be honest. Chris has 100’s of hours of footage.

You finished ‘Catharsis’ and accomplished what you set out to do with it. How did you move forward from that experience? Have you thought about another short? How do you want to follow this up?

Again, it was an idea that was just handed to me on a plate. I had an idea for years, this little beginning, and I had even told Chris about when he was doing ‘Are You Going?’ He said, “Well, Let’s make a movie out of it!” But I said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure what to do with it.” And I don’t want to give any of the story away but it is a horror movie. I tried to write an intelligent horror movie. There’s something I didn’t tell you about… in 95 before I made ‘Catharsis’, I moved out of this place I lived in and I was staying with a friend in his basement. It was a terrible basement. And I kept thinking “What the fuck am I going to do down here for 2 months?” And as I said this, a thing fell out of a window above my head and hit me right in the head. It was a loose-leaf, spiral notebook that was completely blank. And I remember thinking I could fill this book with my idea. It was the beginning of the screenplay for ‘The Surreals’. The film I’ve been dying to make since 95. I put that aside even now, because ‘The Surreals’ is a different kind of film, not in the horror genre. I thought I should learn and put myself in a great position by making a movie in between the two. So, if I fuck up, or I get screwed by the powers that be, I’ll learn and not fuck up the movie I really want to make. So, the horror film I wrote is called ‘Exit Sign’. It’s a feature film I wrote in 2003. I started writing it in March and ironically finished it on Halloween. 9 drafts later… here we are. And I’m dealing with a few people now, and I’m very close to getting the financing. I want to shoot in 35 mm. But hey, you never know? So close, yet so far away. But this is the closest that I’ve ever been, so let’s see how it pans out.

Is there anything you can tell us about ‘Exit Sign’ or what you hope to accomplish with it?

It’s interesting, because you watch ‘Catharsis’ and the tone of it, you can see how I could make a full blown horror movie. Just the mood and the sound. Sound is very important to me. It’s just like a character. Sound is a good detour. THAT would make a good story for a film actually. The detour of me getting away from film, having those life experiences, and then taking those life experiences and putting them into the artwork.

Exit Sign’ is a thing that fell into my lap. As if the Gods said “You should do this. I’ll create all these fucked up situations where you can get the end of your story from.” It was a really weird thing. I trespassed and almost got arrested and that turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me… I don’t want to waste your tape, but it’s a long story that I’d love to tell when the films made. I’ll come back to Icons Of Fright and talk about it. (laughs) But yea, that’s my next project.

In ‘Horror Business’, one of the comments you make (and this is a few years ago) is that this is one of the worst times artistically for music and movies and entertainment in general. Now, however, there’s 2 big things going on. One is this Hollywood craze to remake everything from the 70’s and early 80’s. But at the same time, we’re starting to see that with the digital medium, a lot of independent filmmakers are getting their hands on equipment that’s enabling them to make their own films too. How do you feel about the current state of everything going on artistically?

It’s a matter of taste. You can’t help what you like. With remakes, you have a great story already. What you do with it is up to you. I think the best remake I’ve seen is ‘The Manchurian Candidate’. It’s great. It’s creepy and bizarre and it does the original justice. ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ remake in 1978, I thought did the original justice and was amazing. You have to go back to 78, of course because there’s elements that now may appear cliche, but back then it was a really well done movie. Today? Well, I wrote an article for ‘Are You Going?’ that never got published about the remake of ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ that was scathing. Because that is NOT a fucking remake. I saw it and I was pissed. And I tore it a new asshole in the article, and NOT because I was trying to tell you how clever I was, it’s not a matter of taste. If I was going to do a remake of Star Wars and set it in the hood, well that’s not Star Wars. To me, the new Dawn Of The Dead had no Flyboy, no Gayleen Ross, no bikers. All it did was add a Starbucks to the mall. And that’s it. If you’re going to do a remake, do a remake, don’t buy the title and then take artistic license because that’s terrible. Especially with Dawn Of The Dead. That’s why I reject all remakes. If they were good and did the original’s justice, then great. Lord of the Rings, people talk about how close it is to the book. That’s being faithful to the material. If they named it Lord of the Rings and just did whatever they wanted to, people would be pissed. I remember ‘The Shining’ back in 1980, people hated it because it was so different from the book. But that movie got better with age. I was terrified when I saw it.

As far as the digital age, it allows people the opportunity to create art, but it also saturates the market with a lot of bullshit, because now everyone is doing it. And anyone can say “I made a movie.” Why not take the time to think about what you’re doing? Instead of just shooting your friends and getting it out there. Just think about what you’re going to make. Things could be so much better.

Thanks so much for talking to us, David!

Visit: www.CatharticCircle.com.

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