Your about-to-be-released collection of shorts Ass
Studios Presents: 4 Short Films by Courtney Fathom Sell & Reverend Jen
- in a few words, how would you describe the collection as a whole and the
four films featured?
A few terms I have referred to the films on the DVD as being would be
mostly "Sex-O-Tronic" or "Grimehouse". To my
knowledge, I don't think
either genre actually exists, but then again, these films seem
genre-less! So I guess I had to invent my own terms for them. However,
they seem more like cartoons to me than anything else.
What were your key inspirations
when writing your shorts?
You know, most of our films for Ass
Studios rarely follow a scripted narrative (surprise right!?), with the exception of a few which Rev
Jen has developed over the past few months. When we plan out a shoot,
it is in a very spontaneous manner. Rev and I will have spoken about
what we are looking for and what our general idea is, describe it to
the actors, and allow them to have their way with it. So a lot of the
magic happens during editing to be honest. Though the films are pretty
outrageous and semi-out of control while we are shooting, they
actually become even crazier while in post-production.
There is one character in one
of your shorts you just have to talk about some more: Mangina!
is a wonderful person, dear friend, and brilliant artist. He
really stole the show in The Sinful
Bitches and we could not have
made it without him. He has actually starred in some more of our films
Unicorn and has quickly become a favorite among our
fans. Little known fact: there is actually a unreleased sequel to The Sinful
Bitches starring Reverend Jen, Mangina, and Faceboy, but we
may just have to keep it a secret for now!
least to me it seems the films in the collection couldn't have been set
and made anywhere else but in New York City. Would you agree, and to what
extent does the city and its (counter-)culture influence your work as a
That is absolutely true. I agree whole-heartedly.
These films would
never come from LA or anywhere else I can imagine. They are strictly
New York City films. It's hard to pin-point why, but perhaps just the
overall abrasive attitude and style. Being a fan of early underground
films such as the work of Jack Smith, Paul Morrissey, the Kuchar
Brothers, and so many others, I always enjoyed the feel of the
underground films that came from New York. One film which I have
continued to be inspired by for so many years is What About Me by my
friend Rachel Amodeo, which I believe may be one of the best New York-based films of all time.
Your directorial approach is usually described
as "guerrila" or "D.I.Y." - would you at all agree to
that, do you want to elaborate on it, and how would you describe yourself
as a director?
My approach to making films could certainly
be considered 'guerilla'.
I would have to agree with that also, though I feel rather conceded
placing such a tag on myself. I have never really worked with much of
a budget, even on my documentary work, so I really learned fast as to
how to complete a project with whatever I had in my possession at that
time. Whether it be shooting on whatever camera I can find or avoiding
shooting permits and just going out and doing it, I was always in love
with this style of making films. To me, and I've said it many times
before, the image in front of your camera is always more important
than the type of camera which is capturing the image. When it comes
down to marketing, publicity, and all that other stuff, the D.I.Y.
aesthetic always worked for me. In fact, when I was in High School, I
was arrested for posting flyers all around my hometown which had an
image of the main character from the movie vomiting all over himself.
Ha! The film was entitled Ralph, so it just seemed fitting. They let
me off later, but only if I agreed to take down every flyer. I didn't
of course, and the screening was packed with people that weekend! Most
of whom walked out moments afterwards upon realizing the film was
terrible. Ha! Either way, I found out a way to get people to my films.
Your films are often likened to the early
work of John Waters - a comparison you're at all happy with?
It's flattering of course, though that's a gigantic,
high-pressure comparison. When I read that in indieWIRE I was pretty
stunned. I certainly don't want to have to live up to such
expectations, nor do I believe I could! And to be honest, I was never
looking to follow in such footsteps, but I guess we must have a
similar sense of humor that comes out in our work for someone to say
also found quite a few old school grindhouse references in your films. Is
that a genre (if you can call it that) that you're particularly fond of,
and why (not)?
Of course! In fact, one of the main reasons
I get such a kick out of
making these films is that it excites me to think that somewhere, a
bunch of people are getting drunk, laughing hysterically and enjoying
this work for all its cheesiness. My Brother and I would spend hours
upon hours when we were kids, watching so many cheesy exploitation and
grindhouse films, and I guess I hoped to one day create something that
someone could enjoy in the same way we enjoyed those early grindhouse
films - with a bunch of beer of course. It is great you picked up on
those homages, though once again, I must honestly admit that most were
not intentional but most likely just came subconsciously due to the
amount of time I've spent and sometimes wasted watching those films. I
also have always been inspired by the work of William Castle, Ted V.
Mikels, and early 70's sex-psychedelia. I guess the main difference
between Grindhouse films and
is the fact that up until
recently, we have not shown any nudity or any gratuitous violence,
which makes the films on the DVD really odd and a bit hard for someone
to figure out, which is why I view them more as cartoons than anything
What can you tell us about your chief
partner-in-crime Reverend Jen, how did you two meet, and what's your
collaboration usually like?
Other than since we met,
I have been the most prolific in my
filmmaking than I ever have been in my entire life, it's a blast. Jen
is a beautiful and incredibly inspiring person who is never afraid to
follow through on even the most insane ideas - which is probably why
we get along so good! At times, when we come up with an idea for a
film or art project, and it becomes more and more absurd as time goes
by, she is the one who will simply ask 'Why the hell not?' - which
usually means we will begin working on it by the next morning.
and I met on set while I was directing a commercial for her memoir Elf
Girl, which came out through Simon & Schuster this past October.
We immediately got along, got drunk, and won a bunch of cash on
scratch tickets. Later that night, we decided to start a production
company in order to make a slasher/soft-core porn film called Half-Assed
Satanists, though the title has recently changed to Satan's Bitches. It will be our first feature.
... and do tell us about Ass
Studios, the production company you run together!
Studios was founded by Myself, Reverend Jen, and Faceboy, who has
acted in every one of our films. He is our 'Fairy Grant', and the only
performer currently under a long-term, multi-million Dollar contract
with us. We all began collaborating together and shooting a new film
almost once a week. Soon, we had so many shorts that we decided to
have an official Launch Party - which ended with many audience members
being attacked with stun-guns by performers. The one thing I regret,
other than seeing an old man hit the floor in tears after being
shocked, is that we lost half the audience before screening more of
our work! Therefore, we began screening all around New York City and
eventually down in Baltimore, wherever they would host us.
Studios has surprisingly or not so surprisingly received an amazing amount of
attention and positive reviews, though we still have a fair share of
hate mail coming our way. Ha! We like to refer to it as being the
'most underfunded motion picture company on the Lower East Side',
except of course for Faceboy's multi-million dollar contract.
go back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in
the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
as far as I can remember, I always wanted to make films. I began
shooting films in my parents' backyard as a child and eventually got a
scholarship to Pratt Institute for their Film program. I dropped out
almost immediately and began traveling the country with my Hi8 video
camera, hitchhiking, riding trains, staying on couches, on diner
rooftops, in graveyards, and simply just using the country as my
canvas to shoot film. I worked odd jobs wherever I found myself living
to get by. This is where my interest for documentary filmmaking came
into play. There were just so many fascinating things and inspiring
people which I would stumble across and end up making a film about
them. I used film as a way to further educate myself on the world. And
for about ten years, I lived my life through the lens of my video
camera. I lived a fast, hard life during those times, but also in
doing so, met some of my best friends and have lived an incredible
life thus far. And all because of my passion to make films!
you shot the shorts in the collection, you mainly made documentaries,
right? Why don't you talk about those for a bit, and how does making
documentaries compare to directing fiction?
documentary was a film called No Substance Necessary, which
documented a road trip I had taken with a close friend which went
terribly wrong. A lot of booze, drugs, and other debauchery ensued,
causing me to never release it.
In 2005, I met up with my best friend
and former roommate Jac Currie in New York City, whose family had just
felt the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. We decided to make a documentary, No Place Like Home,
on his first trip back to the Gulf Coast during Thanksgiving, and
capture the devastation of the storm as well as his efforts to have
rebuild his hometown through his non-profit Defend New Orleans. When
we finished it, we were fortunate enough to get it screened at
numerous festivals and even win a few awards. We began
self-distributing it and using the profits to donate back to other
relief funds. The film was even spoken about on the Ellen Degeneres
Show, which helped draw a lot of attention to it, for which I am
extremely grateful. Afterwards, I began working with many different
bands, documenting live performances and backstage foolishness, and
was eventually approached by my own Father to document his last few
months, as he was in the final stages of hospice. He had an aggressive
form of cancer and wanted me to make a film which would help educate
others on early cancer detection and share his story. The film was My
Dying Day and is certainly my most personal piece to date.
Since then, I still make documentaries, and recently just completed a
short called The Hole, which I co-directed with Billy Feldman about a
neighborhood on the Brooklyn-Queens border, home to the Federation of
Black Cowboys and a famous mafia body dumping ground.
compare directing documentaries and fiction is hard for me, as I am
always filming. Usually my documentaries are simply moments of my own
life, as I view an environment or situation personally. With
documentary, I hope to educate and inspire the viewer, while with my
fiction work, I simply hope to entertain them!
films of yours you'd like to talk about, any future projects?
of the Bitches
just completed a new short with Ass
Studios called Waltz of the Bitches about an evil count named Rick Santorum who seduces women,
brings them up to his lair, drugs them, and hopes to get their vote!
It's definitely the most outrageous Ass
Studios-film so far, and the
week it was screened turned out to be the same week Santorum dropped
out of the race! Coincidence??
I have also been working on a
few screenplays, one about a talking
mongoose who loves Milli Vanilli a little bit to much, and also a few
more documentaries happening. Rev wrote the script for Satan's Bitches, which is to be our first feature, so that should be
an underground, no budget filmmaker yourself, what piece of advice would
you give other underground, no budget filmmakers?
aspiring filmmakers reading this, just go out and do it! The
world is your playground! Make the films you want to make. Don't be
afraid of bad reviews, hate mail, and all the other crazy bullshit
that may come with your creative expression. You can't win em' all
over so don't even worry about it!
who inspire you (underground as well as, well, overground)? Your
favourite movies? ... and of course, films you really
Like I stated before, I am really into the work
of Jack Smith, Paul
Morrissey, Kenneth Anger, and so many others. I love Vincent Price,
Cary Grant, and Tiny Tim. Ever seen Blood
Harvest? My favorite
movie, believe it or not, is The Philadelphia Story. It's hard for
me to say what movies I hate, but can certainly say that these
horrible remakes need to end.
Other than that, I'm happy!
Your website, Facebook, whatever else?
for the interview!