Your short film Wraith was recently nominated for best short in this year’s Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. How soon will you find out the results? Has the short won awards from other shows?
We received a large volume of votes and we'll find out April 23rd if we won, when the announcement is made online on both the Rondos web-site and the Classic Horror Film Board. We did, however, already win the Audience Choice Award - meaning we garnered more votes than any other short, feature or documentary in the Northeast Film Festival in September 2016. We've also been nominated for Best Short in that very same festival and for Best Editing in the FANtastic Horror Film Festival in San Diego and Best Actress (Melissa Archer) in the Northeast Film Festival Horror Fest (a different festival from the one in September). In addition, we found out we won a Remi Award at WorldFest Houston at the end of April, though we don't know which award we've won yet.
What was your reaction and that of the others involved when Wraith came in third with an Honorable Mention with more than 3200 voters? How about the results of the other film festivals you mentioned?
We are delighted to have been nominated! The Rondos are prestigious where the horror genre is concerned. They are literally the Classic Horror Film Awards! And, we faced some stiff competition! Cameron McCasland who directed the winning short, H.P. Lovecraft's The Beast in the Cave, won this award last year. They are certainly a worthy film. And, heck, Rick Baker - the seven-time Oscar winning makeup artist, who's had twelve nominations and is a HUGE ambassador for the horror genre - directed a horror short that finished second just ahead of us: Eye Of The Beholder, based on the classic Twilight Zone episode. And, again, there were more than 3,200 votes submitted for the Rondos this year, so that's exciting. A lot of people voted and coming in third with an Honorable Mention is still very good. As I mentioned we won Audience Choice Award at the Northeast Film Festival and that was very important to Daniel and myself and the entire team. It meant a lot. We also were just notified we are winning a Remi at WorldFest Houston, which as I type is less than a week away!
How did you go about submitting Wraith to those film festivals? Had you heard of each of them previously?
This isn't my first dance at the rodeo. Some of the festivals I had previously submitted and won. Others were well-known festivals. With any film, you go and look over the festivals you think your film is right for and where you'd like to submit to and come up with a list. And, if of course, if you're an alumni and/or previous winner of that festival it always increases your chances.
Were you nervous about appearing with so much competition at The Rondos, or did you go in there with a certain modicum of confidence?
I think you always have to go into something like that with a great modicum of confidence. I believe in Wraith and even though we've played several festivals and done screenings, we made it available for FREE for a short time to the general public so they could see what they were voting on, if they hadn't caught it at a Festival or Special Screening. And, we got something like 616 - was it 618? - views in barely three weeks. The feedback we received was amazing. Of course, the people we met at festivals, our family and friends supported it, as well. However, having said all of that, I did go into thinking our main competition would come from Rick Baker and Cameron McCasland, and I was right. Beast wound up winning, with Rick's film the runner-up and we were third-place honorable mention. No shame in that. Some great competition! Also, interesting to note that this was Cameron's second straight win for Short Film at the Rondos. Last year when I was fortunate enough to win for Best Documentary alongside Matt Crick (and with great thanks to our Associate Producer Eric Rosenberg) for Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man, Cameron won for his Short, Tailypo. Little added fun fact, there.
Did you expect Wraith would win so many awards while you and your team were making it?
I don't think you can ever predict awards, and they give less of them for short films, much less a horror short. However, if you asked me did we know we had something special when we were making it, the answer would be a resounding yes! The performances by Melissa Archer and Gregg Prosser right down to young Ashley Brooke, who plays the title character (the Wraith ... the ghost) are exceptional. Our D.P. Nikita Tomkevich shot some really amazing material. Daniel has some great dolly shots and an incredible bathroom sequence with special effects that really doesn't belong in a non-studio horror short! It's all that good! Yet, the project truly was elevated by the original music of Holly Amber Church and our tremendous sound mix by Alex Trey Thomas. So, yes, did we know we had something special when we were making it? We certainly thought so. But, after Holly's music and Alex's sound mix were added, we KNEW so.
Have you heard about a Long Island show called Macabre Faire? They have a yearly film festival if I am not mistaken There is also an annual convention known as Haunt Faire you might be interested in checking out.
I think my friend - The Horror Nerd himself - Todd Staruch attended it a month ago. I've never been, though. Would be interested in checking both of them out.
Why is Todd Staruch known as The Horror Nerd? Have you been friends a long time and worked together at all?
Todd is the self-proclaimed "Horror Nerd," and he runs the site, www.horrornerd.net - and anyone who enjoys the horror genre should check it out sometime. I've known Todd, since September when he came to the World Premiere of Wraith at Northeast Film Festival, but he's a genuinely good guy. And, I mean that. He's real and he's a HUGE supporter of both the horror genre and Independent Film, in general. We did screen Wraith at "Grindhouse Nights at Café Z," a monthly event he puts on and that was really fun. We haven't worked together other than that, but, I would love to collaborate on an event with Todd in the future. Who knows?
Describe usual goings on at the Grindhouse Nights at Café Z fest. How well known is Staruch’s Horror Nerd site?
Usually at Grindhouse Nights at Café Z, they show movies from Saturday afternoon into late in the evening. People are there from 2:30-ish until after midnight. I believe it’s all horror or "Grindhouse" type material. Café Z is an awesome space and actually kind of hard to describe. It's a fancy restaurant with AMAZING food, and a door down this hallway that leads to two pretty large rooms in the back, where they show the movies. They have a special menu for those rooms, and a large widescreen in each room. One room has tables and a long bar and the other room has couches! Heck, when they screened Wraith they even had one of Todd's right-hand supporters dressed up as a maniacal clown (which I thought resembled Captain Spalding from House of a Thousand Corpses) that made for a creepy vibe! There's food, alcohol, movies and friendship for eight-plus hours, depending on when you come and however long you decide to stay. I'm sure a good amount of people in the horror genre - fans, filmmakers and friends - know about Todd’s site. He makes his presence known at many festivals and conventions, in addition to running the Grindhouse Nights. He's passionate and a great promoter of the genre. Again, I'd recommend people checking out his site, if they haven't.
What other work has Todd done to help promote the horror genre? At what conventions has Todd appeared to promote his site in the past year?
In addition to his website, Todd promotes it all over Social Media, most notably his Facebook page. He also does the aforementioned Grindhouse Nights at Café Z, but most of all, he promotes it with his general presence at most every indie film festival, horror film festival or horror convention in the area. The guy is passionate about the genre and he's a great advocate for it. I know he goes to most conventions, including a few you mentioned. I know he's been to Monster Mania in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Chiller. Todd is definitely a credit to the genre as you can find him at horror conventions and film festivals all over the state ... and beyond!
Describe the making of Wraith and who else was involved in writing and producing the short.
So, as far as my involvement in Wraith, I was the lead producer and helped put the deal together, raise the money and helped to clarify the storyline with the writer-director Daniel James, my cousin, who's a very talented young filmmaker himself. I also suggested a name change from its original name on the shooting script. And myself, lead actor Gregg Prosser and Daniel sat down at the Tick Tock Diner in NYC and went over the script - some tweaks. And, much kudos to Daniel, because he was very open to the process. As a lead producer there's so much work to do on set and I was so happy to have my right-hand person in producer Aime Alonzo on set everyday with me. She even let us use her Mercedes, as well as helping us in post-production, watching various versions of the film, as did fellow producer Daniel McQueary. As lead producer, I helped put the team together, which included a very valuable member in Donna McKenna, who was a producer as well as our casting director. I've been friends with Donna for a while now and she helped us to get Melissa Archer to play the lead role of Jessica. Like Aime, Donna helped us in so many ways. In addition to Melissa, I helped Daniel cast the film using two of the talented actors - the aforementioned Prosser and the then 12-year-old Ashley Brooke. I helped assemble the team and without people like Alonzo, Prosser, McQueary and McKenna, this movie - and its quality - would not have been possible. Obviously, James deserves a lot of credit for writing the original script and having the guts to direct his baby - to help it come to life. This was his "official" directorial debut - although he had produced and worked as a cinematographer and in other various ways - and he worked very hard to do the best job he could. Creatively - and I think that James, Alonzo, McQueary and Prosser would all agree - it was a draining process, yet a rewarding one.
What is Wraith’s storyline and how was the screenplay constructed? How long did casting and hiring the filming team take?
The basic tagline of Wraith is "You can't outrun the ghosts of your past." The plot is very simple: it deals with Jessica, who is tormented by the ghost of a little girl that threatens both her relationship with her boyfriend Mike, and her very way of life. And, she is truly tormented by the ghost in the movie, which moves her to act in a certain way. To say anymore would give waaay too much away. The basic story of the screenplay is that the majority of the credit goes to Daniel James, our fearless writer-director who wrote it from scratch. He also deserves credit for taking suggestions and tweaks from both me and Gregg. And, for taking the title change which I suggested as The Wraith and to his credit, Daniel countered with just Wraith. It took several months to put the "Dream Team," together that filmed and crewed it. However, casting was almost immediate, as we knew from the start we wanted Gregg as Mike and Ashley as Amanda... the Wraith! Our immediate first choice for the lead of Jessica, who helps carry the film, although Gregg's performance is exceptional, as well, was Melissa. That's where our wonderful casting director and one of our other producers - Donna McKenna - came in. She spoke to Melissa up front and then once she was interested we contacted her reps and worked something out. It goes without saying that we were very happy with all our choices in casting. After all, we got our first choices in all three roles!
Had anyone involved in Wraith – whether actors producers or technical staff - worked together previously?
That's an interesting question. In essence yes, because Gregg Prosser, Ashley Brooke and Aime Alonzo had all worked with me in my monthly acting workshops. However, they had not worked with me yet on an actual project. As you know, Gregg was the lead, Ashley was the title character - the Wraith, herself! - and Aime was an invaluable producer on my staff. As all the actors did, she really stepped it up in her productorial debut. To me a producer is a leader who solves problems and Aime solved many from lending her beautiful Mercedes as the car Gregg drives to even cooking for the cast and crew one night as a thank you. We had the set catered for two of the days, but on the critical Saturday night Aime cooked some favorites on the grill - and in the kitchen - of the house we were filming at. In addition, she was our wardrobe supervisor and ran from store-to-store. She did so much.
What else has Daniel James worked on? How well did his writing fit your vision for Wraith?
While Wraith was Daniel James' "official" directorial debut, he produced and shot a short called Red Roses, which I believe is on YouTube. You should check it out. It also won Audience Choice Award at the Northeast Film Festival three years ago. Really, Wraith was his vision, not mine, however, I do appreciate how he was willing to make the changes to the script both me and Gregg suggested early in the process and how he was willing to change the name. Again, for all Filmmakers who want to learn about collaboration, I suggested the name change of The Wraith (And, for the record, I knew about the old Charlie Sheen feature film of the same name. Titles are shared all the time, so long as they aren't the name of an original character). Daniel said, "How about Wraith." Thus, an epic short was born.
Describe your acting workshops. How many prospective actors attend each month?
They’re still going strong! As I type this, we just finished one several hours ago. Each class, we do scene study and at least one improv. We also do special acting exercises and today we even did a manifesting exercise to open the class. We also discuss the 'business side of the business' such as actors branding themselves, networking and a lot of things that seem to be taboo in other classes such as things not to do. Overall, I have helped many actors not only have emotional breakthroughs with their craft, but in winning their first awards and jumpstarting their careers. Generally I try to keep it to ten actors a class - usually it's a bigger class with seven and a smaller with about three. But, we can go up to ten, that way everyone gets personal attention.
Explain what a manifesting exercise is. Why were these exercises chosen to open your classes?
The Reader's Digest version is that it's an exercise designed to help you picture the things you are looking to accomplish, and to believe them - to really believe them. You have to draw the picture in your mind first and then actually follow through with both the belief and the actions. Some people don't believe in these things, but I'm a very spiritual person who believes in God and all the power in his wonderful universe and manifesting is just part of that. While I don't force my beliefs on people, manifesting is something that I believe we should all be aware of. It's within each one of us. Also, I don't open every single class with this exercise, just certain ones. I felt it was time this year for a manifesting exercise. Now, it's time to put those thoughts into action and manifest the success we all deserve this year!
Did Gregg and Ashley’s experience in your acting workshops help their performances?
I'd like to think so, but I have to say that BOTH are extremely talented and hard-working actors. I mean they are actors. They both know their craft. Have they gotten things out of my class? I'd like to think so. It certainly helped to get both on my radar and they were the only choices for Daniel and myself, for the respective roles of Mike and Amanda (the Wraith). Gregg stayed amazingly in character for long stretches during the shoot - even in between takes. It was as painful to watch as it was brilliant. His performance is certainly award-worthy and I hope some festival gets wise to this soon! Ashley took a small, but important, silent part and made it her own. At twelve years of age, people are amazed at the types of things she can do. I couldn't envision making the movie without either of them ... or Melissa.
What input did Aime have as producer and wardrobe supervisor?
This was Aime's producing debut. As lead producer I helped to mentor her, but I do have to point out that she was a natural. She followed my lead, but very, very well. And, she helped make significant contributions. As wardrobe supervisor, she deserves a great amount of credit for the look of the characters. Our male lead, Gregg Prosser was instrumental in forming his own look and even found the polo shirt he wore in the movie. Aime, however, picked out everything else. Ashley's nightgown, which was harder to find than you could imagine, was a key piece. I described what I wanted and Aime came back with several choices - all very good. Ultimately we combined two of them. Melissa's look is in no small part to Aime - everything from the blouses to the blue designer shoes. As for what all her duties entailed? What didn't they? A producer is a problem solver and Aime helped me to solve many that popped up - as they do on any set. She drove, cooked, found wardrobe, raised capital, worked with me and the two Daniels through editing. Everyone really sold out on this project and I was so grateful. From Daniel James to Aime to me to Daniel McQueary to the actors, we all worked hard to put out a short film that we thought people would enjoy... and even more importantly react to.
Has the short film been released in DVD format and on an official internet site? Have there been local screenings?
Not yet. I'm actually working on a deal to get a distributor to put Wraith out with a group of some of the greatest horror shorts to be released. It's going to be a special DVD release for fans of the horror genre! Special! It's not on the net yet. We only put it up for several weeks for free after getting the nomination so Rondos voters who hadn't caught it at a festival yet would have a chance to see it. We received a ton of views! We are intending to put it on all of the web-sites such as Amazon, I-Tunes and Hulu, available for purchase at some point. However, this DVD will have several horror shorts and good amount of special features, so fans of the horror genre won't want to miss this! We are currently doing screenings at festivals around the country. Fans should check the Facebook page for the movie for updated Festival Screening Schedule.
How much buzz did Wraith create among fans who watch and review movies on the web?
So far, we've gotten positive reviews from several web-sites and tons of emails or Facebook messages from fans who have seen it on the Festival Circuit and when we made it FREE online for that three-week stretch. In addition, many filmmaker friends and people in the filmmaking community have reacted well to it. And, we've been nominated for something in every award-giving film festival we've played and we are going to win our second award at WorldFest Houston! Having said all of that, I would surmise that the buzz is pretty good.
Will there be a sequel to Wraith or was the short a contained story? Do you have other ideas for short films?
I'd have to talk to Daniel James, but to my knowledge neither one of us envisioned a sequel to Wraith. Pretty sure we still don't. I have many ideas for short films at this time. I co-wrote a short called Eddie about an autistic artist that I think is a beautiful piece. I am looking to direct and produce this in the next year. I have some great people in mind for this, and it's an important picture. I'm also currently seeking financing for a short written by a protégé of mine, Taylor Salotti called Marked. It's a very relevant issue with women around the world. And, I'm guiding another young filmmaker Ferrari Xavi on a short currently titled Fortunate Son. I've even been approached by yet another young filmmaker Paris Holmes, who is working with one of my students, Scarlett Angelina. He has an interesting concept for a short that he will be shooting as well, and I may produce it with him. I definitely want to help him. Between my slate of features - one, in particular, Stay Fresh - and shorts there's a lot on the horizon for me.
How did Taylor Salotti become your protégé and what has she been learning from you this far?
Taylor contacted me to put one of her screenplays into Final Draft format and to rewrite it. We worked out a fair price and from there I became her writing coach. She is interested in all facets of filmmaking; writing, directing, producing and acting. She also joined my monthly acting workshops. From there, she has become a protégé of mine. I've showed her some of my films and even let her read a copy of my next feature, Stay Fresh, which I wrote and will produce and direct. What has she learned from me so far? She might tell you how angry I make her (laughs) but honestly, I'd like to think I am immersing her in the business. She has a lot of passion for it and will even yell at me when I don't check out movies she loves in my spare time. But, that's great, because you need passion in this business.
How much work has Ferrari Savi and Paris Holmes produced in the time before you met them?
Ferrari's a guy who's spent most of his time making music videos and he contacted me to ask some advice on film finance and also filmmaking. Paris has had some experience making short films and is not only a director, but a director of photography. Both of them have showed me their work and even some camera tests they've done, and I was impressed with it. I would always help another if I could. Remember, if every independent filmmaker helped every independent filmmaker what a great business it would be.
Regarding filmmakers helping other filmmakers, is the convention circuit a good environment for helping filmmakers connect and help promote one another?
It definitely is, as is the actual film festival circuit. Film festivals are the best environment for filmmakers and actors to network and meet other like-minded individuals. In some cases to win awards and get singled out for their work, but definitely to network. You have anywhere from three days to a week together to watch screenings, eat food and drink and be merry at after parties or go grab a quick bite in between screenings. I really don't know why more aspiring filmmakers and actors don't take advantage of these festivals, even when they're starting out. You can meet someone who can help get your film made. Now, to a lesser degree, but still very worthwhile, you can meet people at horror conventions. All types of people, aspiring make-up artists, actors, models, fans and other filmmakers. And it can help filmmakers connect with each other. You can even meet some character actors or recognizable actors selling their autograph, who might be open to being in your film. Now, you will have to pay them of course - they won't do it for just pizza and a credit - but they might not be as out of your ballpark as you think.
How did Paris Holmes and Scarlett Angelina cross paths before Angelina was cast in his current in-production project?
She put him in touch with me. He cast her in a short. I don't know if he auditioned her or saw her work, but he cast her and really liked what she brought, so he cast her in another short. And, then, Scarlett introduced him to me, and if I can help him, I certainly will.
What are the advantages of releasing your work for free? Does releasing one’s own material help slow bootlegging?
You're probably going to find my answer funny, but here goes: I am vehemently against releasing one's work for free, and I tell Daniel and others that all the time. I don't see many advantages. We only did that with Wraith for something like three weeks (it is no longer available - the link is down), because the Rondos are prestigious where the horror genre is concerned and we knew we would have to generate a lot of votes to have a chance at winning. But, normally, I would not ever do that - not even three weeks. Just to give you an example, if you put a short film online - for free or for pay - before you qualify for the Oscars, you are disqualified. However, we weren't going for the Oscars with Wraith. There's only ever been one live-action short in the horror genre to qualify and I believe that was recently Night Of The Slasher this past year. That's a great short, if you haven't checked it out. Another little added fun fact: My dramatic live-action short, The Mandala Maker, which I directed, produced and co-wrote the script with Gregory Nissen, qualified in the Oscars a number of years back. So, I'm not sure if there are any advantages for releasing one's work for free. I don't really see many. Do I think it would help slow down bootlegging? Not sure, but that's a poor reason in my book to give your film away. Trust me, I have definite opinions on the subject matter.
When was The Mandala Maker released and how was it received after it came out?
It was released in 2009 and world premiered in New York. It was a dramatic short, again, that qualified for the Academy Awards a few years back. Overall, it was very well received and the stories of how it touched many people - women especially - meant so much to me. One of the reasons I'm a filmmaker. I'm still proud of it to this day.
Discuss the cast of The Mandala Maker and explain its storyline. How does the short stand out?
Wow, while that film was a while ago, it still has a special place in my heart. We had an amazing cast beginning with our lead, Courtney Hogan. Hogan was her professional name, but her married name is Courtney Martin now. She was wonderful as Naomi, who the story revolves around and she carries the short on her back. She truly made this part her own and it begins and ends with her. She also wound up winning Best Actress in The Accolade Competition (and we were also singled out for Short Film and Direction) and was nominated in no fewer than two other festivals. Working with her was Tony-Winner Terrence Mann, who you know as the Beast from Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. He also was "Ug" in the Critters films and played Bob on the Sci-Fi Network series The Dresden Files. He was perfect and a real pro to work with. As was my good friend Daniel Roebuck, who you might know from his days as Cliff Lewis on Matlock or as Dr. Leslie Arszt on LOST. He's worked with me a few times now. And, I also enjoyed working with Eric Stein, my friend who was once America's Player on the hit reality show, Big Brother. Connor Timmis played Eric, Naomi's boyfriend in the film, as well. And, I certainly can't forget Yangzom Brauen, who flew in from overseas to do this film. You might remember her from the Charlize Theron vehicle, AEon Flux or the Swiss Sci-Fi film, Cargo. Overall, I felt this was a fine cast and a very special short film. When we qualified for the Academy Awards it was truly special. The plot revolves around Naomi who is fighting to get past a brutal event in her past, all the while she struggles to make it as an artist. She eventually does move past this negative event by painting Tibetan Mandalas, which are said by many psychiatrists, most notably Carl Jung, to have healing powers in them. Painting these circular designs helps Naomi move past this bad time in her life. We espouse the theory of art as therapy and there is also a backstory about God. Naomi begins as an Agnostic. Again, Courtney really brought home this character and the short film is extremely special to me. Also, it's important to note that this film is more about Naomi's healing than what happened to her. It's all about how we can move past these bad moments in our life, no matter how harsh, violent or negative they are. We can always move forward.
I remember Daniel Roebuck from Dudes and River’s Edge. What are your thoughts about his performances in those movies? How often has he worked with you and on what projects?
Dan's performance is spot-on in both films, his second being Samson, the young thug that basically kills his girlfriend and then takes people to the title spot, the "river's edge," to go look at it. I also always loved Dan's portrayal of Jay Leno in the HBO film, The Late Shift. I thought he brought a real sense of humanity and humility to Jay, even in the wake of his battle for The Late Show with his friend, David Letterman. There's some really great dramatic moments when Jay is pressured to get rid of his manager Helen Kushnick. But, he's certainly made a career of memorable performances in both supporting and lead roles. How often has he worked with me? I'd have to count (laughs). I think we've worked together five times - twice with me as director and lead producer and three times with me as lead producer. He's not only very talented, but one of the best ad-libbers in the business. However, Danny respects the director and will always ask if he has the freedom to change a line or two, even when he was in a feature I produced, Rex, with first-time director Chris Miller. But, again, I think he's an extremely talented actor with a great gift for humor. Being friends with him, I've gotten to see that along with comedian/actress Mary Dimino, he's probably one of the funniest people you will ever come across.
You recently wrote and produced the feature documentary Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man which is available on DVD and Blu Ray. Actors Benicio Del Toro and Keith David were involved in it.
I was a huge Creature From The Black Lagoon fan and when I saw the 50th Anniversary was coming up, I banded up with documentarian Matt Crick and my good friend, associate producer Eric Rosenberg and we attacked this subject matter with great passion. It took more than ten years in the making, hours of footage and a lot of capital to license clips and music, but by the 60th anniversary I feel we had the definitive documentary about this subject matter. And, Eric's enthusiasm was infectious. We're friends with Keith David, but I still remember him encouraging me to pitch Keith to do the narration and we met at a restaurant in Manhattan - Villa Brazil - and Eric bought us dinner. I still smile when I think of Keith thanking Eric and saying, "You're a gentleman and a scholar." But, that night Keith seemed like he was going to go for it. And, while it took another meeting at the SoHo Grand Hotel, I believe, Keith was down. Then, I reached out to the Oscar-Winner and HUGE Universal Monsters and CFTBL fan, Benicio Del Toro and he wanted to do it, as well. I knew a number of HUGE Creature fans in Daniel Roebuck and Frank Dietz, but most importantly I was good friends with Ben Chapman, the original actor to don the Creature suit on land (Ricou Browning played him in the underwater scenes). Ben was so filled with enthusiasm for this project and was a huge cheerleader for us. Julie Adams, who has since become a friend, then came on board at Ben's urging. Suddenly a project was born. And, Matt, Eric and I all worked extremely hard to put out a film that we were all proud of. And, let me say it again, we do have the definitive documentary on the subject matter. You won't find a more comprehensive, informative or entertaining documentary about the Creature From The Black Lagoon out there.
What was your inspiration for making a documentary about Creature From The Black Lagoon? Do you have a sense of nostalgia for 50s horror?
I love 1950s horror and even earlier Universal Monster Movies from the 1930s and 1940s. And, of all the Universal Monster Movies, Creature From the Black Lagoon is easily my favorite! It's one of my favorite movies, monsters and characters! Top Five in each of those categories. And, my dear friend Ben Chapman the original actor to don the Creature suit (Ricou Browning was the original swimming double and certainly added to the Gill-Man's legacy with his swimming) always encouraged me. When I saw the 50th Anniversary was coming up, I was excited. Shortly after, I met Matt Crick and he was a very talented documentarian, who loved the idea. We banded together to do this. Eric Rosenberg then came on board as our Associate Producer and brought such a huge level of enthusiasm. Eric also loves movies, as I do. And, I think all that love comes through in the final product.
How many documentaries had Matt Crick worked on before agreeing to do Creature Feature?
I'd have to check with Matt, but Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man was either his second or third documentary at the time, I believe. He had done one, and I think he had worked on another. It was great in that he brought a non-Creature fan perspective to this project, which I believe helped make it open for other movie buffs, not just fans of the Universal Monsters or the horror genre. I felt like he, Eric and I were a Band of Brothers when we were making this thing. We went through so much.
How much of the history of Creature is covered in Creature Feature? How much research did Eric Rosenberg undertake to prepare for it?
It really is the definitive documentary on the subject matter. Yes, we cover a lot of the stories that diehard Creature From The Black Lagoon fans already know, however, we have some stories that were not previously shared on film - or in some cases ever. We have some rare photos and clips and tons of licensed clips from all three CFTBL movies and all kinds of Creature ephemera. Every bit of the history from the way the movie was conceived to the making to the marketing and distribution ... all the way down to the fans 60 years later. If you haven't seen it and you're a fans of Creature From The Black Lagoon or the Universal Monsters it's a must see. It really is. As the writer and original creator of the project, I did the majority of the research (remember, Creature From The Black Lagoon is in my Top Five Films of All-Time!), however as we were re-editing the project, Matt scoured the net for photos not yet seen and other clips and things. And, Eric did his fair share of work. More than research, Eric did a lot of the practical work that a real producer does. Whether it was encouraging me to ask Keith David, who was our friend, and doing his part to help us land Keith to do the narration or finding a chair that didn't squeak on set. Doing grip work. Heck, I even remember, he beat me and Matt down to Wakulla Springs, Florida for Creature Fest and picked us up at the airport and he was showing me the lay of the land. And, Wakulla Springs is down in the stix. It's way down there. I was like, "How do you know where you're going?" He even found a multiplex about forty minutes away, where we saw a movie the night before the Fest started! He was an awesome member of the team. His enthusiasm kept this project going strong when many of us were tired or beaten down. You need people like that on a team. He's also a dear friend and a very talented actor, so Indie Filmmakers, get a hold of Eric for your projects!
Describe what you, Eric and Matt went through putting your research for Creature Feature into a movie? Are you satisfied with the final results?
I wrote the script and I had researched this - both out of love and necessity - for several years before I actually made this documentary with Matt and Eric. I just loved Creature From The Black Lagoon, so I watched and read so much about this intriguing monster/character. Then, as we were shooting, I was writing narration and picking clips and Matt would go through it and give suggestions on the script. Eric was always there for whatever we needed. He would send me articles about Creature From The Black Lagoon one-sheets selling for major bucks. As we approached the 60th anniversary, we had plenty of clips and photos, but Matt went back and found even more photos and some clips from trailers. I honestly think this movie is the best it can possibly be, certainly given budgetary constraints, time and the circumstances. But, honestly? I'm very happy with the results. I think I speak for Matt and Eric, as well. The film has been well received. And, I do hope some of your readers that haven't seen it, will check it out. The DVD and BLU-RAY are both available wide on the internet, and you can purchase them on Amazon, Barnes and Noble.com, TCM.Com, CreepyClassics.com and so many other places, including Target online. Amazon gets it to you pretty quick!
If you had the opportunity, what other horror classics from the fifties or possibly the sixties would you make a film about?
I always thought The Mole People was an underrated film. Another Universal classic, although it was a single film and not a trilogy like the Creature. But, I dig that film, as well.
What did you appreciate about The Mole People? Do you think a documentary about this movie would work well even if based on a single movie instead of a trilogy?
There's quite a bit to appreciate about The Mole People, beginning with the performances of John Agar and Cynthia Patrick. And, a truly unique storyline. Listen to some of the taglines from the original one sheets: "...a savage civilization a million years old, raging with blood-lusting fury!" Or "Here is terror to shatter your nerves!" How about, "HORROR LIKE NOTHING YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN BEFORE," from the original print ad and it ran in ALL CAPS as I wrote it. This ancient civilization they discover beneath the earth and how Patrick's Adad longs to escape to above ground, to the world of "light and flowers." And, the Mole People themselves, an enslaved people being mistreated is a theme many can relate with. And, the look of these creatures was absolutely unique. Just a great and underappreciated Universal Horror flick. I do think a documentary about this movie could work well, even if it's not a trilogy like the Gill-Man's story. It's a unique, special horror / sci-fi film that Universal distributed and I think it must have a story to tell somewhere, although the Creature From the Black Lagoon is still my favorite Universal Monster ... well, favorite Monster of any kind, really.
Do you see anycharacteristics of 50s sci fi making a comeback in independent cinema?
I do, in spurts. I actually wish Universal, now that they are re-booting the monster franchise, would consider doing some of the movies, embracing those 1950s characteristics. For instance, down the line, they have a Creature From The Black Lagoon re-boot coming and I have a way I think they'd make $300,000,000.00 while also satisfying the hard-core old-school fans. If they try to re-boot it and make a viscous predator type monster who rips heads off, it won't work. Being one of my five favorite characters - and five favorite movies - I can tell you that the Gill-Man's humanity is one of the reasons people love him so much. He's the good guy. And, then there's that classic design for the Creature that Benicio Del Toro said in Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man - and I may be paraphrasing a bit, but it's almost word-for-word, if not word-for-word, "is a classic, classic look for a monster." You change those elements and you lose your audience. I've never understood how studios can undercut their primary audience - basically tick them off - and then expect to get their money? If you want to get the people's money, you have to give them what they want.
Hollywood is producing more remakes and reboots than ever, and from what I understand most of them are cash grabs with little respect for their core audiences. How can Creature From the Black Lagoon be remade without becoming part of that trend?
Without fully giving away my secret on how Creature From the Black Lagoon can be remade the right way, I would say a few things: It should be done old school with very little CGI and more of a guy in a suit. You can use CGI to show the Gill-Man swimming, but it should be an actual actor in a suit. Also, I would do no modifications to the original Creature - he had such a perfect look. A great design. I would be less concerned with updating the suit than with replicating it. The movie would have to be cast right and MOST IMPORTANTLY the screenplay would have to be written the right way. All of the other scripts I've seen for potential Creature From the Black Lagoon remakes were not in the spirit of the original story. And, I would be more concerned with continuing the story than rebooting it. In the words of Chili Palmer, "For now, that's got it be it."
How much CGI can be used in a movie without oversaturating it?
I liked what James Cameron did with Avatar, but I don't think that all movies necessarily should be done that way. And, CGI doesn't mean better. I would take a classic film with a guy in a Creature suit - realistic suit, and it was even back in 1953 when the movie was being filmed, though released in '54 - over CGI any day. There are some amounts of CGI that really serve to better the picture and just aid the design and special effects, but I do think in some movies it needs to be limited.
How would you propose to continue the Creature story “the right way” as you suggest?
Without giving too much away, let's just say I would continue the story while incorporating the past Creature movies, sort of like a sequel 60 years in the making, and there's a specific way I would do that. The Creature suit would be the same - only in full color, though you could have Black and White flashbacks - and in gorgeous 3D, and it wouldn't be all CGI, though you could use minimal CGI for when the Creature swims. If Julie Adams had a cameo the fans would go crazy (just look at how much Creature merchandise is sold each year - and I did my research for this on Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man. Look at how many times the DVD and Blu-Ray have been re-packaged. That's not because it's not selling. And, I know the interest in the Gill-Man from Creature Feature), as well as a specific cast of A-listers, some of whom are Creature fans and others who the fans have asked for during all the past re-make discussions. Remember, we don't know what happened to the Gill-Man after The Creature Walks Among Us, although we assume he drowned. And, how are we to know there isn't another Gill-Man - or Off-Spring of the original Gill-Man - somewhere in The Black Lagoon... And, there's a HUGE TWIST that I am NOT giving away. Two, in fact. Give the people what they want and they will go and see the movie two and three times just to watch the Creature walk around in 3D and in color (especially WITHOUT an updated version of the suit). NOW, if there's an actual plot, story and tie-in to the other three films? Mic Drop!
Are there other movies from the 1950s and 1960s that could be remade in the same way?
I suppose there could be, but not as easily as I could do it with Creature From The Black Lagoon - at least from my perspective. This trilogy of films is fairly unique and the story is not only timeless, but still relevant today.
Provide some examples of how and why the Creature trilogy is still relevant in 2017.
There are so many examples why the trilogy is still relevant in 2017 ... and beyond. Number one, since when has protecting the environment and abusing our planet - and wild-life - not been an issue? But, it goes deeper than that; the humans go into the Gill-Man's environment ... his home. And, then they decide they will capture him and essentially take him from his home. When they can't do that, well, now 'let's kill him.' As I've said many times before the Creature is the good guy. Kind of like the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. And, the Creature to me, doesn't just represent wild-life and nature, but a foreign people (to us, at least). And, look at how he's treated? Now, I want to be crystal clear - I am making NO political statements here. I'm more talking about how we treat our fellow man. And, sadly, it's not always with love and understanding. But, again, we are also always looking for new species in science - so again, still very relevant today. And, the makeup, design and look for the Creature was way ahead of its time. It's an amazing look for a Creature ... or as it may be, monster. The story elements, plot, make-up design, etc, etc, etc still resonate with the public today. It's one of the reasons Creature From The Black Lagoon toys and merchandise still put up numbers to rival Star Wars. It's another reason why the studio should not mess with the story or the look of the Creature in a possible remake, or they totally risk under-cutting a primary audience that will go see it made the right way three times during its theatrical release. Trust me on that - I've done the research.
Did you see a movie released in 1966 called Queen Of Blood? It’s about an alien vampire who spearheads an invasion of Earth with Florence Marly. If you saw it, how do you think it could be remade today?
This would be an ideal movie to remake, because it's more of a cult classic and no one is tied to just this version, although for a B movie it's very good. The movie itself had all these up-and-comers in it like John Saxon and a young Dennis Hopper. The director Curtis Harrington went on to direct a lot of television, most notably the hit show, Dynasty. Also, I can see this film being a bit of an inspiration for Alien and even watched a scene that reminded me of The Martian - the way Tony Barrata is stranded and sets up a soil study. I heard a story that American International Pictures bought this footage from a Russian Sci-Fi movie and gave Harrington that, a few bucks and Basil Rathbone and told him to go make the movie, which became Queen of Blood. And, yes, Florence Marly is great as the Alien Queen aka the Vampire! This film could absolutely be remade today. While it was interesting to see what they thought 1990 would look like back in 1966, the remake could be set in 2050. With all the advancements in special effects, make-up, costumes, you could really make an intense movie that tells the same basic story, but is closer to in tone to Alien. You could have a lot of fun with it. And, you could cast the shit out of it. You could make the Florence Marly character of the Alien Queen even more sexy and sultry, which is how she lured them in. Imagine the many actresses you could cast in that part? The Judi Meredith character - "Laura James" - would also require a strong female. And, you'd need a respected older actor to rival Basil Rathbone's Dr. Farraday. And a cool cameo the way Forrest J. Ackerman played Farraday's aide. Perhaps Lloyd Kaufman? I'd even do an old-fashioned curtain call in the end credits the way they did. Again, this movie would be a lot of fun to remake ... perhaps even more fun to watch!
Who would you cast in your remakes of Creature and Queen? Would you rather cast big name or independent actors?
Casting always depends a lot on the situation - it's rarely one person's choice. First of all, who's funding the films? A studio? They will always want A-list actors in the parts and it's hard to blame them for that. They're putting their money up and they want names to sell the picture. Let's say I was writing and directing a Creature remake for Universal, some of my suggestions for the cast would be this: I would want two females and one male, as opposed to two males and one female in the original Creature From The Black Lagoon. If it was my call, Karl Urban would play the male lead - he looks like a young Richard Carlson and has had great success in the Sci-Fi genre playing Bones in the J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films. Now, I don't want to give too much away, other than to say the girls would be offspring of the Julie Adams character, and if she was physically able to I would have Julie do a cameo as her character from the original, Kay. One of the girls, who would likely be the love interest of Karl Urban would be Jennifer Connelly. I can tell you many Creature fans were calling for the last time the subject of a remake came up. She would be ideal casting. And, playing her sister, the more devious of the two - similar to the way Richard Denning was to Richard Carlson - would be an ingénue. A younger unknown that had the right look and attitude. I would also cast Oscar-Winner Benicio Del Toro, who was in Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man as Captain Lucas' son, now skippering the Rita III. I don't want to give too much more away. For Queen Of Blood, that's a real toughie. The Florence Marly character is the key. You could go over-the-top sexy and seductive with her, but she have to convey a lot with her eyes and emotions and not speaking. I would say Jennifer Lawrence or Amy Adams could do that nicely, and bring enough sex appeal and personality - especially without speaking - to that kind of a role. Plus that gives you a major face to put on the poster. For the John Saxon character Bruce Willis keeps popping into my head. He could do it rather well. And, again, another name and face for the poster, which a major studio would want. Also, you need a major supporting player for the Basil Rathbone character and I'm not coming up with anything that makes sense now. You could do your best to coax Sean Connery out of retirement. And, a really fun cameo at the end for the lab assistant (Forry Ackerman in the original) - like Lloyd Kaufman or somebody. Maybe even Stan Lee, especially if you could get Marvel to acquire the rights, although are these rights in Public Domain? I would have to check. I would want the best actors for my project - the most talented actors that also fit the part. Although sometimes you cast against the grain. But, as a producer - in addition to being a writer and director - I also know you have to play the game. You need names to help sell your film. Recognizable faces to put on the poster. Yes, I know there are independent films with no names in them, that are successful, but they are the exception and not the rule. Look, even when James Gunn wanted what many at the studio considered an unorthodox choice in Chris Pratt to play Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy, please keep in mind that Chris was on a major television show and had been in studio pictures such as Moneyball and had a unique brand of charm and comedy. So, he didn't exactly just come out of nowhere. Me personally? I want the biggest name actor who is right for the role. But, does that mean I wouldn't roll the dice sometimes on an independent actor who I think could steal the show? No, it doesn't. That's why it's a loaded question - because it's not a black or white answer. I will say that for the majority of pictures, I would want the most sellable names that are also right for the part. On the other hand, there are always exceptions to the rule.
What exceptions to the rule are there, either in Hollywood or the independent industry?
There are definitely exceptions, perhaps the most famous being Al Pacino in The Godfather. The studio wanted a name for the lead role of Michael Corleone, which Pacino wasn't at the time of casting. But Francis Ford Coppola saw Pacino in a play and knew he was perfect for the part. He kept bringing him in - against the studio's will - for screen tests and eventually he won out ... and rightfully so. Pacino was so perfect. Although, Sylvester Stallone is almost as famous an exception to the rule with Rocky as Pacino was with The Godfather. By now, we've all heard the famous story how he took much less money for the script in exchange for playing the lead of Rocky Balboa. And, Stallone was anything, but a name at the time. To a much lesser degree, you could even cite John Travolta in Get Shorty. Yes, he was already a name and an Oscar-Nominated actor, but he had hit a dry-spell and the studio was looking for a strong Italian-American name such as Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro for the role of Chili Palmer, and it was only after Travolta broke out big with Pulp Fiction, which would go on to be his second Oscar-Nominated turn, and deservedly so, that they were comfortable with offering him the role. And, seeing as that's my favorite movie starring my favorite actor of all-time, I personally can't see anyone else playing that role. Not in that film. In the independent world there are many examples such as Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin, which was released three years ago. It's a great independent film, and if you haven't seen it, you should check it out. It's a revenge flick starring Macon Blair and a cast of talented independent actors. But, I do think independent filmmakers need to embrace the potential to work with a "movie star," with the understanding that their film can open in 2,000 theaters. It's honestly a hard question to answer, because again there are exceptions. I know some unknown independent actors - some in my class and some that used to attend my class that could blow people away. One of them is probably as good as any actor I've ever worked with. But there are many reasons why some actors hit it big and others don't. You not only have to be great at your craft, you have to take roles that will get you noticed - big or small. You have to make wise choices with your projects. You don't want to be deemed a troublemaker or a diva in any way on a set. You want to always make your call-times. I also heard Wes Craven once say, you have to always be your own best agent, meaning you have to brand yourself correctly, always be pushing hard and working hard and networking. Again, there are so many festivals you can attend and have people view your work, or you can network and hand out headshots. And, I do enjoy working with independent actors. Bottom line: Filmmakers love working with great actors, known or unknown.
How would you want to be remembered as a filmmaker, as far as taking chances and standing out as a unique talent?
This is a great question. I've had many long conversations about this subject with fellow filmmaker Daniel McQueary, who is not only a talented writer, producer and director, but one of my closest friends in the world, and for whom I have a great deal of respect. For me, personally, I want to be remembered as a great storyteller. I want to tell stories that touch people the way that Martin Scorsese or David O. Russell has. Stories that flat out entertain with their homages, imagery and music like Quentin Tarantino. Stories that make people laugh, smile and yes, feel better as James Gunn has done with the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. It's not just one kind of story or genre. A lot of people that are familiar with my work - and know my future plans - have remarked that I'm an eclectic filmmaker for the simple fact that I don't just stick to one genre. It's not just horror, drama or comedy. It's about stories for me. Great stories. That's what I am going to tell.