Sunday, October 11, 2015

Filmmaker Interview: SEAN DONOHUE

INTERVIEW WITH SEAN DONOHUE OF GATORBLADE FILMS

You are an independent horror filmmaker from Tampa, Florida who has worked on several projects. How is the independent film scene down there?
The independent film scene in Florida is booming in my opinion. When I first got out of film school in 2007 I really didn't see a whole lot going on compared to now. I have made several connections with other "horror" locals here and it's like one big family. Since it is such a tight knit group we find ourselves working together a lot in one aspect or another of getting our films released. The Internet has both helped and hurt the film industry. It has made it easier for people to connect, however piracy and the downfall of physical media are a result of the Internet. With that being said I am old school. I like physical media and most of the "underground" does as well. When I say underground I mean hardcore collectors of no budget-low budget niche horror films that you most likely won't find on the mass market. The films made in the underground not backed by major studios, usually are more violent/have more nudity and skirt more sketchy subjects that the mainstream would never touch. Most horror fans love that. There is nothing more dissatisfying than a PG-13 found footage film that does not deliver on the gore. In my opinion PG-13 horror should be non-existent because horror in real life is not sugar coated.

I remember when piracy and illegal downloading was a major issue from the mid-90s to when bands and filmmakers began releasing their own material on the Internet. Has handling their own material on the net helped filmmakers?

I think yes and no. Because of the Internet, you as an independent filmmaker are able to reach a much wider audience through social media/blogs/reviews whereas before the Internet existed, you had to rely on word of mouth and print. However, the Internet has caused the illegal downloading/piracy issues with films. So it's kind of a double edged sword. On one note someone got to download my movie illegally but on another note they never would have watched it if they had to pay for it.

Have any advancements been made where filmmakers can keep people from downloading their work illegally?
If there are I unfortunately don't know about them. When one of my movies pops up on Youtube, I report it and it is immediately taken down.

What first interested you in filmmaking? What were your first steps toward having a career in film?

What first interested me was the result of growing up loving movies. When I was a young kid I would dress up like my favorite movie characters (Indiana Jones, James Bond etc) and play with my friends. That love did not stop at childhood. As I grew older I only found that I wanted to be more involved with filmmaking. I found myself working in a video store in my early 20's. Then I attended college and took film appreciation courses. After college I worked as an A/V technician for a while then I took the plunge and decided I wanted to make films. I found someone with the same interest in my area that had a script ready to go and wanted to make a horror movie. The movie was titled "If I Can't Have You". The movie came out terribly but I and the people involved with it learned a lot and kept moving forward. Since then I have went on to direct three full length movies, some shorts and have produced and helped out with a number of other films as well. I still keep busy and am currently writing my next project right now.

What spoke to you about the movies you watched when younger, and made you want to do something similar?
I always loved movies with practical effects. However when I was younger practical effects were it; there was no CGI. I was always a big fan of the movie Goonies. I love a good adventure film. As for Horror goes, the original Fright Night and A Nightmare on Elm Street were always on the top of my Re-rental list. I would watch movies over and over and try to figure out how a lot of the effects were done. Unfortunately when you do that it is hard to watch a movie for pure enjoyment. Now when I watch films I have a different approach to them. I spend more time analyzing them then just blindly watching them.

Does analyzing a movie help you to appreciate it more? For me, looking at movies beneath the surface helps me differentiate between movies that are the result of genuine hard work and movies that could have been better in that regard.
It's hard for me to analyze a movie and enjoy it at the same time. Having made some films it seems even harder not to analyze any movie I watch to some degree. Back before I had made anything and didn't know anything about special f/x, production, editing etc., I would watch films purely for enjoyment because I didn't know any better. I guess it's kind of like when a magician shows you how a trick was done. You never look at it with the same amazement when you were fooled into believing it was real.

Are there any internet sites or Youtube profiles where you can watch movie reviews? There are several I found including Red Letter Media, The Nostalgia Critic and Collative Learning to name a few.

Blood Bath And Beyond is fun. There are a ton of sites where you can find reviews of underground titles. Here are a few: Cinesploitation (http://www.cinesploitation.com), Horror Society (http://www.horrorsociety.com), Beneath The Underground (http://beneaththeunderground.com), iHorror (http://ihorror.com), The Film Splice (http://thefilmsplice.com).

How would you describe the approach to reviewing on the websites you listed above? Do these sites have written reviews or video reviews or both?
Some are written, some are video reviews. They all have the same basic approach I think. They watch the film that they are reviewing and give the viewers their insight on it. Some are more inventive than others on how they do it but all are original.

Fan/review sites are a good idea since we more often get to hear analyses of horror movies from fans’ perspectives as opposed to looking in newspapers and magazines. Do you think there will be more of them in the future?
I hope so. I am finding new ones all the time. I love fan reviews even more so than the more professional ones. Hearing a good review from a fan means you really reached that person as opposed to hearing from someone who is just doing their job.

Do computer generated effects become detrimental to a movie if they are overused? In what ways are physical effects still effective in movies today?

In my opinion yes. If I can tell there is CGI in a film it doesn't sell the magic trick to me. CGI is well overused in Hollywood and I am seeing it used in more independent films as well. CGI should be a trick to use when there is no way to pull off something practically. Not a "go to" to make a film easy. So physical f/x are still effective in this day and age in my opinion because they look more realistic.

What examples do you know of where CGI is not overused in a movie, but used just enough to enhance a storyline?

I recently saw the newest edition to The Mad Max series, Fury Road. I think that film had a good use of CGI mixed with practical F/X. I never felt like I was taken out of the story because of bad CGI. 

At what video store did you work while you were in your early 20s? I remember renting rare horror movies in my high school years. I discovered many I still like to this day. Which ones did you discover?
It was a Mom and Pop store called Video Express. It eventually became a Blockbuster Video, but by that time I was long gone. The first time I watched Re-Animator was in that hole-in-the-wall video store. I was instantly hooked. Since then I have always had an appreciation for low budget/no budget horror. The cheaper the better!

What was it exactly about Re-Animator that hooked you? Did any sequence in that movie prove a lasting influence, and why?
Just the overall experience I guess. I loved the score, the characters and the concept. It was the Frankenstein of the 1980's. I think it still holds up!

What were the other movies you discovered at Video Express. In the 80s I had RKO Video where I found a great deal of indie pictures that became long time favorites, including films by Romero, Fulci and Troma Entertainment.
The first time I saw Scarface was at the video store on an old worn out VHS. I also discovered all of the Ghoulies movies there. I had seen the box cover art before but I never watched then until I worked at the store.

With the exception of a few major retail stores, video outlets are more or less a thing of the past. Has the intimacy fans knew from the 70s and 80s likewise been affected by this?

The video market has significantly shrunk. Some video rental stores still exist however. VOD seems to be the video store of 2015. I definitely don’t like it as much but as a filmmaker you have to adapt with technology to stay active in the business.

Why do you think underground horror movies from the 80s have stood the test of time and continue to gain fans?
I think in the 80's horror in general was at its peak. There were more horror films made in the 80's than any other decade. Make-up F/x were at their best (in my opinion) and overall the stories were just inventive. The 80's had a lot to offer for horror.

What turn did horror cinema take with Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer in the 90s? How much did the popularity of those movies impact the genre?

Personally, I think it took a turn for the worse. Hollywood started putting teen heart throbs into slasher films, cutting out the nudity and gore and making them PG-13 to reach a wider audience. They did, but that’s the problem. If these lame movies keep making money, the younger teens of now just getting into horror won't know any better. Again there is no such thing as a PG-13 horror movie in my book.

Another movie from the 90s, The Blair Witch Project, has either influenced or been copied by filmmakers to this day. Do you consider this a positive or negative development in horror movies?
Another turn for the worse. I don't like found footage films and this one made the genre popular. They just don't hold my attention. I am against shaky-cam scares.

Do you think that many of the films from the classic era needed to be remade in the last decade or so? Or do you think it’s a sign that Hollywood is running out of ideas? What do you think of Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween?
Definitely a sign that Hollywood is not willing to take risks anymore. They would rather remake something that already has a fan base so they know they can at least make some of their money back. Add Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus and it’s a win-win for them. I hated Rob Zombie's Halloween. I didn't want to know that much about Michael Myers. All I need to know is that he is out slashing. It makes him more mysterious.

Are there any new underground horror films you have seen lately, that have more in common with the classic era?
I really liked a movie that came out last year called "Found". Some other underground favorites of mine have been August Underground's Mordum, Her Name Was Torment and Gutterballs.

How much do you think physical media has to offer horror cinema, even today? What do you look for or most appreciate when it comes to the messages horror movies offer to moviegoers?

I hope it never goes away. The demand now for "underground horror" on physical media is at an all-time high in my opinion. Especially on VHS. There is a documentary film about this subject called "Rewind This". It’s definitely worth checking out. What I look for most in horror is pretty basic, I just have to be entertained. If I am entertained and the movie was memorable then I retain something from it and will most likely bring it up in conversations.

How would you describe Rewind This to someone who hadn’t heard of the documentary? Who is interviewed and how much emphasis does it place on the history or horror filmmaking?

It is a must watch to any movie collector, any format. Even if they are not a collector of VHS, it is very educational and enjoyable. It is important not to forget the past of media. The interviewees are a bunch of VHS collectors, underground filmmakers and enthusiasts of collecting movies on dead formats. Some people you will recognize, some will be new to you.

What film school were you attending until 2007? What sort of film appreciation courses were your fields of study there, and what was the general atmosphere among the professors and the students?
I was at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa, Florida and studied their Digital Production program. I studied lighting, editing, directing, photo-shop. We watched movies and wrote reports about them. We even made some short films and watched each other’s. The atmosphere was good. It was nice to finally be around like minded people that wanted to make movies.

What was the general quality of the short films made in Digital Production? Were any made you still remember today?
I remember some of my classmates’ films. One in particular was a short called Pelvic Eater directed by Stephen McKendree. He has made a full length since then that has distribution. The movie is called "The Poltergeist Of Borely Forest". Anyhow, if you look back at some of the films I made and the ones my class mates made in 2004-2007 they were decent. We were all mostly green to film-making but most projects had charisma. I was right at the cusp of the HD age. I worked with Mini DV which is now almost a dead format; however I still use it for some projects.

What was the storyline of If I Can’t Have You, and how did you learn from it even though it didn’t turn out too well?
It was basically about a jealous boyfriend who comes back from the dead for revenge. It wasn't well executed. However, I had a ball working on it and learned a lot.  Mostly what "not” to do. A lot of mistakes were made but I believe all the people involved in the project are now better because of what they learned on set. Don’t shoot in the middle of summer in Florida, haha. Always have a back-up plan and then have a back-up plan for the back-up plan. I still do interviews on Mini DV and collect behind the scenes footage. It is still a fun format to work with in some scenarios.

What movies did you work on after If I Can’t Have You? In what ways were your next projects improvements?
After If I Can't Have You, I went on to direct my first horror short, Bloody English. Then I was a producer on The Housewife Slasher. From there I directed my first full length, Joe Vampire. Next was Die Die Delta Pi and most Currently Death-Scort Service. I also produced some flicks in between but those were the ones I directed.

Tell the readers about the independent company Gatorblade Films. I looked over its official website and got old school impressions. It reminded me of 80s horror cinema. Is this a company you started? Describe its origins and evolution.
I have only been around since 2012 when I founded the company. I wanted something that sounded Florida. I always liked Gatorade and alligators. My father actually came up with the company name after I gave him those hints. I have been doing Gatorblade Films ever since. Since 2012, I have distributed five films on DVD and am always looking for more to get out to the public. Die Die Delta Pi has had the best response so far, we have sold around 2,000 copies. The others are much less. I am continuing to pick up more titles and Death-Scort Service comes out on Oct. 20.

What is the storyline of Death-Scort Service and how aggressively do you plan to promote it upon its release?
Deep in the heart of Las Vegas, Nevada a group of local up and coming escorts become targets for murder! A deranged slasher is on the loose and out for revenge. From the studios that brought you Amerikan Holokaust and Die Die Delta comes a blood-soaked tale about prostitutes who fall victim to a mysterious slasher. I have created a Facebook page and sent it out to multiple reviewers to help promote it.  It just got accepted to The Florida Horror Film Festival 2015.  I am also showing it at Days Of The Dead in Atlanta, Georgia in February.

What will you be searching for when it comes to horror movies you plan to distribute in the months to come?
Basically the kind of stuff I like to see. Gore, excitement and a good story.

http://www.gatorbladefilms.com

-Dave Wolff

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