Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Interview with filmmaker BRAD SYKES (NIGHTFALL PICTURES) by Dave Wolff

Interview with Brad Sykes of NIGHTFALL PICTURES

You recently produced the feature film Burying The Ex, a horror/comedy with Ashley Greene of The Twilight Saga in the cast. Is this movie out in theaters now? In what parts of the country was it released, and to how many theaters?
Burying the Ex came out theatrically in June, and played in major markets all over the U.S. Here in Los Angeles, it played at Universal Citywalk, right next to Jurassic World! It has been available on DVD, Blu Ray, and streaming since August. My involvement in Ex actually goes back to 2007 when I was asked to produce a short version of it with an eye toward getting interest in a feature. The short starred John Francis Daley (Freaks and Geeks) and Danielle Harris (Halloween movies). It debuted at the Comic Con Film festival in summer 2008 and was well received. But it still took us about five years before the budget was raised to make the feature version and we had the Hollywood premiere in June. I'm glad we finally pulled it together. We got a great cast (Ashley Greene as you mentioned, Anton Yelchin, Alexandra Daddario) and director (Joe Dante) and now people can finally check it out. It's a fun horror comedy in the style of Dante's earlier films, like The Howling or Piranha.

As for your mention of Dante’s films The Howling and Piranha, were those two inspirational to you in any way? What are some of the other movies from that era that you remember to this day?

I enjoyed both of them, particularly The Howling, which I think holds up great even today, but I wouldn't say they were "inspiring" to me. Some of the horror films that really inspired me to pick up a camera and start shooting were Dawn Of The Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, Bad Taste, and Street Trash - to name a few.

The movies you cited as having been inspirational are from the 70s and 80s, what we refer to as the classic era of horror and gore. What about that era appeals to you the most? What did movies have that are lacking today?
For whatever reason, there really were some amazing things being done in the 70's and early-mid 80's in horror, by major talents. A lot of people think of the advances in FX technology in the 80's, but I think the 70's films especially were just more though provoking, in a way horror films had never been before and have seldom been since. And a lot of the movies had a DIY vibe - I left out The Evil Dead earlier - that made you feel that you could do it, too. A lot of films nowadays are trying to capture that vibe, some more successfully than others.

How did you first become interested in the film industry? Were you an avid fan of horror movies and TV programs in your younger years? What finally made you get involved in filmmaking?
I was interested in storytelling from a young age and started writing short stories and drawing my own comic books. I was also exposed to a lot of movies; not necessarily horror, but lots of SF, fantasy and action movies. The Bond films were my favorites for years. My interest in horror came later and I started reading Fangoria and Cinefantastique to learn how these films were made. And yes, I was a fan of the horror TV shows of the time. There were a lot of good ones then: Ray Bradbury Theatre, The Hitch-Hiker, Tales From The Darkside etc. There was also a show called Saturday Nightmares that ran on USA in the late 80's. They would show a horror film (usually something weird like The Devil's Nightmare, The Video Dead, or Spookies) then follow it with half hour shows like the ones I mentioned above. I got serious about filmmaking when I was fourteen, and got my first Hi-8 video camera. I started shooting shorts with my friends, then features later on. Some of these films got attention in the local newspaper and were reviewed in magazines like Film Threat, Shock Cinema and Alternative Cinema. This was all during my high school years and during the four years I attended film school at Boston University.

I haven’t heard of Saturday Nightmares but Ray Bradbury Theater and Tales From The Darkside were favorites, with Chiller and of course The Twilight Zone. My favorite movie shown on Chiller was Queen Of Blood, about a space vampiress.
Yeah, I like Queen of Blood too. Good flick, sort of a precursor to Lifeforce, which I have a lot of affection for.

What did you get out of reading Fangoria and Cinefantastique when it came to seeing how horror movies were made? Were you a collector of those magazines as well as a reader?

They were the only magazines at the newsstand at the time (speaking of the mid-80's to early 90's) that really showed how movies were made, in a technical sense. I bought both of those mags regularly for about ten years or so. Horror went through a dry period in the 90's and I started buying occasionally, and got into the more indie/microbudget film magazines that started to come out around that time, like Film Threat Video Guide, Alternative Cinema and Draculina. I got my first review in Fangoria in 2000, for Camp Blood. They panned it, but it was a thrill to be reviewed in the mag. And last year I had my first article (about Hi-8) published in Fangoria.

Did you take college courses in filmmaking, or were you completely self-educated in the field?

A bit of both, really. At BU, I was exposed to a wider variety of films, some of which I really liked. I learned some technical skills as well, in terms of shooting and editing. Back then we were still working on film, 16mm mostly. But once I graduated and started working in production in LA, I learned an entirely different set of skills: set etiquette, working with different departments, etc. Once I started directing low budget features in LA, I realized that my shorts and features were also valuable experience, in terms of being able to multitask and work with very little. So in the end, all those different experiences were helpful.

How did you endeavor to put your education to work after you graduated from BU?
Between my third and fourth year of film school, I did two internships in Los Angeles. The first was as a production assistant on Kiss The Girls for Paramount. I worked on it for about two months or so, shooting on various locations in the LA area, and then on the lot for about a month. It was a very eye opening experience. I also worked as a script reader at Scott Free (Ridley Scott's production company), which showed me the development side of the industry. I preferred the production side so I concentrated my energies in that direction after moving to LA. It's worth mentioning that, while visiting LA and working there during the summer, I met other filmmakers who helped me in my career after I graduated and made the permanent move to LA in 1997.
Who approached you to produce the short version of Ex, and what led to you agreeing to take part in its production?

My friend Alan Trezza, who I had known for over ten years, asked me to produce it. I had produced another short for him a few years back and it had gone well. This one (Ex) was bigger, more money, more shooting days, name actors etc. and I was busy doing finishing post on my film Plaguers, but I wanted to help out and thought it was a cool script.

Were John Francis Daley and Danielle Harris already involved in the film when you began working on Ex?
No one was cast when I came on board. We had an excellent casting director who brought John and Danielle to the project. Of course I was familiar with Danielle's work so it was great to work with her on the film.

What was the basic synopsis of Ex and what was the process like to expand it into a full length movie?
The basic synopsis would be "a guy's girlfriend dies in an accident, and comes back to life as a zombie to torment him after he finds a new girlfriend". That's more or less the story. The feature script was very similar to the short. In fact, the first ten minutes, and several other scenes, are word for word the same as the short.

How well was Ex received when it debuted at Comic Con in 2008? Were you involved in any panel discussions there?

It played as part of the Comic Con short film festival and was well received by the audience. I was there in 2008, to do a panel Q and A with Alan and a few other cast and crew. It was my first time at Comic Con, and I had a free pass for the entire weekend. So it was a fun experience all around. I've since talked to people who saw the short back then and remembered it, so it must have made a good impression.

Describe how the other cast members were recruited to appear in the film and how Joe Dante came to direct it.
Joe Dante was attached before any of the cast. He read Alan's script and liked it, but there was no money at the time to do anything. So, he was on it for a few years, off and on, while we tried to get all the money raised. Anton Yelchin came on board first, then Ashley Greene. Alexandra Daddario was the last to be cast, that was last minute casting. But a lot of things happened very quickly once the budget was finally raised.

What movie did you start working on immediately after Burying The Ex was wrapped and released? Did you undergo the same process to cast for your next movie as for your previous one?
By the time Ex was released in theatres, I was already in pre-production on Hi-Death, a sequel to Hi-8, an anthology I exec-produced and co-directed in 2013. We are currently in production on Hi-Death.

Tell us more about Hi-8. What kind of an anthology is this movie? Describe your involvement as executive producer.
Hi-8 is a one of a kind horror anthology that brings together all the biggest names from the indie/shot on video (SOV) horror era of the late 80's-mid 90's. Tim Ritter, Todd Sheets, Donald Farmer, Marcus Koch, myself and others contributed segments. All of us are still making films nowadays, but the idea was for everyone to back to their roots and shoot a short film on analog equipment, with a stripped down cast and crew. My wife/producer Josephina and I, who run Nightfall Pictures, executive produced Hi-8 with Tim Ritter, and we shot it in 2013. It was very well-received, played around 20 festivals all over the world before landing a video release (DVD and VHS) through Wild Eye Releasing in 2014. My involvement as an executive producer started from the very beginning, when Tim floated the title in a Facebook group, and I decided this could be a really cool movie if done the right way. So I contacted Tim first, then started contacting the other filmmakers, and Josephina and I supervised the scripts, shoots, and post for about a year. Then we spent another year publicizing the film, coordinating with festivals, and finding a distributor. We're very happy with how it turned out and we've gotten a lot of good reviews and positive feedback from the fans. So, now we're making a sequel, Hi-Death, which is being shot on HD formats, and will be darker and edgier than Hi-8.

How much work has been completed for Hi-Death so far, and in what ways will it differ in tone and production from Hi-8?
Several of the segments have already been delivered and a few more are on the way, we’re looking to finish it in early 2016.  From the start, we decided that if we were going to do a sequel, we would want to offer something different than the original.  For example, this time around there will be less segments with longer running times, so the filmmakers can develop their ideas in depth.  Also, Hi-Death is being shot on HD, and the overall tone is to go darker, crazier, and more transgressive.   So it’s a very exciting project for us and based on what I’ve seen so far, this is going to deliver even more than Hi-8 did.

-Dave Wolff

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