Quantcast Joe Zaso interview

Joe Zaso!!!

"Wow, lookit that pie!"

"Rob, you start 'cause I wanna eat..."

"Ok, well we'll start with the basic questions..."

"My father was a refrigerator repairman; there was always music in the household"

Actor, producer, mogul Joe Zaso has been a longtime friend from way back in the day. This guy has been making indie horror movies for a while, before the DV/internet indie revolution, even before DVD’s!
- by Jsyn, Robg. 7/06

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What inspired you & scared you when you were a kid?

When I was a kid, my older brother would always have Creature Feature on and I was too scared to watch it. I wanted to watch Seasame Street! Then it was all those Japanese giant monster movies they used to show at 4:30 in the afternoon... But for me the scariest movie of all time that sent me over the edge was The Omen because I saw it when I was just about to turn seven. I still remember it was Oct. 1 1977, it was 11 o'clock at night on cable and I was warned it was gonna be scary, I remember "You Have Been Warned" (laughs) ... But I watched it anyway and of course I was petrified and crying and my father was yelling at me, "I told you not to watch it !!!" Today, my favorite horror movies are European horror movies because I don't really like all the new stuff... it's too funny, too "hip-hop". I don’t' want to see a "Lindsey Lohan" horror movie.

So when did you start getting into film making?

When I was younger, my brother and I used to make these little Super 8 movies... In my teens I got more into acting doing some community theatre, and then in college I met up with other film makers like (longtime collaborator) Joe Parda. We got to talking and decided to join forces because I had the ability or the organizational skills and some experience to make a movie. He had an idea for a script so we went for it and little by little my company, Cinema Image, started to grow.

Yep, that was 5 DEAD. That was the first "professional" film made under Cinema Image. We shot in '94 and it came out in '96... As of May 2nd it’s ten years old!

Can you tell us a bit about how that movie came together?

Well I ended up financing the film out of my own pocket. Joe and I split the film 50/50. Instead of going out and buying furniture or whatever like a "normal" person, I put all my money towards the film. I did the casting, organizing the crew, all that stuff and Parda handled the technical end.
Any obstacles?

Oh yeah, EVERY obstacle! We had no money; the whole budget was about $25,000. No one got paid very much and it was done over the course of 2 years. We had no luxuries and had to do everything the hard way. We shot the film on Super 8 silent film and everything had to be re-dubbed later. All the dialogue, sound effects, everything was completely dubbed later just like the Italians did it. We had to get not one but 2 transfers because the transfer house screwed up.

Was it your intention from the beginning to make 5 DEAD in the giallo style?

Some of was out of necessity, but we really liked the charm of it. On the second day of shooting, our original camera broke and we were gonna shoot it on video. But Joe really wanted to keep it Super 8 and I was able to find a replacement camera.

You have an obvious love of European horror films, giallo films... what is it about those types of films that is different from domestically-made horror films?

I've always felt that Euro horror films always seem to have a more cultivated sensibility. I guess it's the use of an old world backdrop, the difference in cultures, the sophisticated simplicity, the occasional use of literature and classical music, the lack of "one-liners" and excessive commercialism. And let's not forget having a cast of actors who aren't all 19 years of age. Their visual sense is also more daring and unique, and as far as horror film subject matter, these films also seem much more morbid and grisly and daring.
Are you an actor first or producer? Which would you rather do? ~ Do you produce films as a vehicle for your acting? Has that been helpful in your acting career?

Depends on the project. I always intended to be an actor, and I worked on a number of indie/student films and plays in my early 20’s before I decided to produce Joseph Parda's "5 DEAD ON THE CRIMSON CANVAS," because not only did I like the script and the lead role, but I wanted to get it off the ground even if it meant producing and organizing the whole thing. Producing is a job I seem to do well since I've been doing again and again over the years, but deep down, I have always found acting to be more fascinating.

Tell us about NIKOS THE IMPALER. It seems to have a large cult following.

"NIKOS THE IMPALER" is a campy and ridiculous gore film made by German cult gore director, Andreas Schnaas. It was made as a result of my working with Andreas previously as an actor on "DEMONIUM" (which was shot in Rome). Andreas discovered I also produce films and - with financing from some allegedly important producer - he hired me to line produce the script of his new gore film "NIKOS THE IMPALER" here in New York with me in the lead role opposite the wonderful Felissa Rose.
I ended up doing the job of 10 people because of the tight budget. It was hell on earth. At first challenging, then nightmarish beyond belief. I will definitely tell you that Andreasis one of the most deluded, nasty and over-demanding people I ever working with in my ENTIRE career. The film got scathing reviews, but oddly, the film did well and to this day, I still get the occasional fan letter from people who DEMAND "NIKOS 2" (!!) I guess Andreas' brand of over-the-top gore and mindless plotting has the cult you are querying about.

MACHINES OF LOVE AND HATE is another film that seems to be just now picking up steam. What can you tell us about it?

"MACHINES OF LOVE AND HATE" is Joseph Parda's very unique, very surreal and very bizarre Lynchian-style melodrama/thriller/fantasy which was shot 6 years at this time! It was finally released on DVD this past November and it definitely has to be seen and heard to be believed. The beautiful Eileen Daly (star of RAZOR BLADE SMILE) and the equally beautiful Tina Krause (WITCHHOUSE 3) star and the film is our most ambitious and professional production. As one critic cited, "it's not so much a horror film, but a head trip" and indeed that's what it is. It's one crazy and thought-provoking experience.

How did you come to start Cinema Image? How many films have you produced and released?

CINEMA IMAGE PRODUCTIONS has just turned 20 years old. I was making student features when I was 16. My first Cinema Image production was a whodunit called, "MALIGNO" which I can describe as a cross between a giallo and an ABC After-school Special. It won an award from one of the Long Island Film Festivals. I simply wanted to make movies, doing the cheap, amateur way, but you've gotta start somewhere. People did not make as many video features back in 1986 (nowadways, an infinite amount are being produced).

I eventually did some industrials, a horror musical called ‘IT'S ONLY A MOVIE!’, which everyone loves to trash, and then I finally got more serious into film making with a college friend and associate named Joseph Parda who worked with me on "5 DEAD ON THE CRIMSON CANVAS." Since 5 DEAD, my company has produced (and co-produced) such features as GUILTY PLEASURES, EVIL STREETS, MACHINES OF LOVE AND HATE, AND THEN THEY WERE DEAD, NIKOS THE IMPALER, RED MIDNIGHT and soon... BARRICADE (for German director Timo Rose) and DARKNESS SURROUNDS ROBERTA (for Italian director Giovanni Pianigiani).

You began making movies in a time when independent film making was almost non-existent. Can you talk about some differences between making movies back then compared to now?

Nowadays, the possibilities are much greater indeed -- and much easier as the computer age has made it VERY, VERY possible to produce highly creative and slick video features. Of course, the talent behind these productions varies greatly. I just wish I had the software and tools back in the 80s and even into the 90’s! Amazing to think how primitive things used to be not too long ago.

What current projects are you working on now? Is there something you haven't yet done that you would like to?

I just acted in Robert Stock's ANGEL'S BLADE (in Massachussets). Check out www.angelsblade.com. That was a quick and fun experience. Much of the production has green screen effects and I am pleased at how it's coming together. I met scream queen Raine Brown on the set - and she will be acting opposite me in Timo Rose's BARRICADE (which films in Germany in August). I will be going to Italy in January to shoot DARKNESS SURROUNDS ROBERTA, a new giallo for director Giovanni Piangiani. I'm producing the film, but also playing a supporting role. I'd love to do some non-horror films and play more of an assortment of characters. My current look (shaved head, pointy eyebrows) tends to dictate to some people that I am the villain type, but I want the chance to shine in more of a variety of genres.

You've worked on many films in Italy. Can you tell us how those came about? Do you prefer working overseas?

DEMONIUM was the result of me promoting my newly-unveiled web site back in September, 2000. Ted Geogehegan, the writer of DEMONIUM (who is from Montana) began emailing me and chatting, and before long, I was able to audition (via phone and video samples) for Andreas Schnaas. The DEMONIUM experience was fun and happy. The assistant director of DEMONIUM (Giovanni Pianigiani) would stay in touch with me over the years and when I decided to do an anthology called RED MIDNIGHT, I got the idea of filming in Italy for one week (as part of a working vacation). They were able to keep things moving along on a tiny budget, and the result was great. Giovanni's team will be doing DARKNESS SURROUNDS ROBERTA. Overseas film work is intriguing - like a game. The workload and results are the same as in the US, but the differences in culture can be very interesting and amusing. It's also a nice way to gain great production value.

Any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

If you want a career as an indie film maker - or any film maker for that matter - unless you have family in the industry, expect to SUFFER a lot. It is not easy in any way, shape or form.  You must be INSANE to endure getting anywhere  You must be logical, but not necessarily practical.  You can't try it for a week - and then say, "I'm not getting anywhere."  You have to work at this craft for A LONG time before you might see any success.  There will be A LOT of sacrifices to be made - personally, financially, physically, emotionally.  It can be exhilarating, but it's not going to be fun and games 100% of the time.  Watch a lot of films - and I don't mean ONLY Tim Burton and James Cameron movies. I mean, watch movies from EVERY era.

DO NOT be lazy, DO NOT wait for others to help you.  Always be fair and generous with those you work with because - on a small level - nobody HAS to help you.  But they will if they feel there is a reason.  In short, my advice is only do this if it is ENTIRELY in your heart and soul.  If you can let any obstacles stand in your way, DO NOT attempt to do this.

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