Your new movie Yellow
a.k.a. City of Lust - in a few words, what is it about?
tells the story of Arianna, a young woman new to the city and
not faring well. Every facet of her life fills her with dread and feelings
of isolation. The film begins with Arianna reaching out to a phone sex
operator, Jackie, in a desperate attempt at human connection. Jackie turns
Arianna's world upside down. She tells Arianna exactly what she needs to
hear in order to begin taking charge of her life. But Jackie may be taking
things too far. Those that have wronged Arianna begin dying in gruesome
Not only the title
of your film suggests that Yellow
was at least in part inspired by the Italian giallo (= yellow)
movies - so what do you find so appealing about that genre of old? And to
what extent did you follow genre conventions both stylistically and
Giallo films have a highly stylized visual palette as well as a very
heightened style of acting. It creates a nightmarish world that assaults
the viewer and makes them putty in the storytellers hands, when done
right! In Yellow
I wanted to take the viewer into a living nightmare of
paranoia. I wanted to draw the viewer in and gain their trust by making
Arianna as relatable and sympathetic as possible because the story is told
from her point of view, and very subjectively. I wanted larger-than-life
characters to throw at Arianna. Classic giallo films typically dealt with
psychosis and sexual perversion. They included nudity, knife violence,
flashy camerawork, moody lighting, etc. They were definitely not
Matt O'Shaughnessy, our gaffer, created a very
expressionistic lighting design that gave Arianna's world a surreal feel.
Lots of color and contrast, shadows and reflections. Our director of
photography, Adam Blaszkiewicz, used techniques found in giallo films to
choose lenses and camera movements that heightened the paranoia of
Arianna's world. Fish eye lenses to distort character's faces, tracking
shots to give depth to scenes and to disorient Arianna. There were also a
lot of point-of-view shots during scenes with violence (black gloves, a
knife) that paid direct tribute to classic giallo films such as Deep
Another huge element of giallo films is music. Chris Emmons and Sean Foran
have worked on scores to several of my films and I love working with them.
They were able to take the classic giallo sound, bands like Goblin, and
give it a modern interpretation. Arianna's world needed to be seductive to
the viewer. Even though it is a nightmare world, it should be sexy and
Where we tried to break from convention: classic giallo films were
exploitive in their portrayals of sex. But, our story is motivated by
strong female characters living a truthful drama under extraordinary
circumstances. Jackie and Arianna need to have a strong connection and a
real intimacy that allows them to do things they aren't capable of doing
Other sources of inspiration when writing Yellow?
And what can you tell us about your co-writers Rory Leahy and Nick Reise, and
your collaboration with them?
A big inspiration for me is Henry Miller, particularly Tropic of Cancer.
He uses elements such as humor, surrealism, and sex to comment on society
and tell stories about characters living on the fringes. I also read a lot
of Tom Robbins. His books never adhere to a particular genre and are full
of crazy rollicking characters embarking on bizarre adventures. Even
is a genre film and a sort of giallo hommage, I wanted to go beyond that.
I never wanted Yellow
to take itself too seriously. Arianna lives in a world not too different
from our own. We live under constant fear in this country, and it is
was an attempt to show the absurdity of violence and power. I wanted the
line between horror and humor to be blurry. Because I knew that there
would need to be a lot of characters and that they would all need their
own voices, I wanted to collaborate on the script. Nick Reise was on the
project from the beginning and immediately made huge contributions to the
plot. Nick also has a very socially conscious way of approaching writing.
I wanted Yellow
to be a little more political than a typical giallo and hint at larger
social issues such as bullying, pollution, corruption, and hate. I asked
Rory Leahy to help write simply because he is the funniest writer in
is a movie pretty labyrinthine in structure - so honestly, did you ever
lose yourself in the narrative?
Ha! No, under all of the
hallucinatory fever dream nonsense is a rather straightforward storyline.
Arianna has a hard time differentiating between her dream world, her past,
and the real world. Telling the story from her perspective is purposefully
disorienting, but I hope that we were successful in telling a story!
violence always went hand-in-hand - so what can you tell us about the
violence in Yellow, and
was there ever a line you refused to cross?
We tried to
avoid gun play. These older giallo films used knife violence because of
its intimacy and gruesomeness. I also didn't want to glorify gun violence.
Each murder in Yellow
is motivated by a sense of justice. The killer acts
out a lot of our fantasies: killing your boss and coworkers! Even though
these characters may have "had it coming", I wanted to present
these killings as gruesome, unnecessary, and horrifying. Certain older
giallo films fetishized violence, but I didn't want to kill off characters
for a cheap thrill. Our solution was to make them awful human
beings who get what they deserve.
Margaret Grace - what can you tell us about her, how did you find her, and
what made her perfect for the role?
We auditioned about 50
women for the role of Arianna with absolutely no luck. Jill Oliver and I
were meeting about the film back in June of 2012 when she mentioned an
actor named Margaret Grace. Naturally I Facebook-stalked her a little and
thought she had an interesting look. She came into the auditions a couple
weeks later and as soon as she opened her mouth Adam (DP) and I looked at
each other in disbelief. It was uncanny. She was exactly who we'd been
looking for! She presented a monologue during the audition that captured
elements of Arianna perfectly. She was fragile, damaged, meek, etc. But
under all of that there was a boiling rage and an irony. I wasted no time
What can you tell us
about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?
I try to cast films from the actors I know personally and have
worked with in the past. I have worked with Jill Oliver several times
and she had some input on her character during the writing process. I've
also worked with Kyle Greer, Derek Ryan, Joette Waters, and Matt Miles
on previous film projects. HB Ward, Shelley Nixon, Jeffrey Bouthiette,
Antonio Brunetti, Casey Chapman, Lisa Herceg, Anya Clingman, and Carl
Wisniewski are all actors I have worked with in the Chicago theater
community and could not wait to work with in film. A lot of roles were
written with specific actors in mind.
had so many characters that I had to audition for a few
roles. I really hate auditions. I don't feel they give you an
accurate measure of an actor's ability to take direction or their on-set
personality. I feel responsible when I hire actors. Like I am vouching
for them on set when I put them in scenes with other actors. Having the
right mix of people on set is crucial, and for this reason I LOVE working
in Chicago. Everyone knows one another and has worked together, so the
energy on set is positive. Because Chicago has so much theater, these
actors are always working and have a talent and passion that really
comes through in the film.
talk about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere for a bit if you
I like to keep the crew small, the energy high, and
the atmosphere as positive as possible. I was asking these actors to do
some very difficult things in Yellow,
and I wanted a comfortable and
supportive mood on set and also to keep things moving in order to respect
their time. Typically the crew on set was just me, Adam (DP), Matt
(lighting), and Ian Smith (sound). The four of us were so in synch with
what we wanted Yellow
to look and sound like that arguments were always to
make the film better. I don't remember any real problems with the crew at
all. As with any shoot, we had little disasters here and there, but never
anything that made us doubt the project. Personally, I had the time of my
life shooting this film. I think we all had a lot of fun, and a lot of
laughs, and definitely a lot of beer...
As far as I know, your film has not been released
onto the general public yet - so what can you tell us about critical
response so far, and anything you can tell us about possible release dates
was screened for the cast and crew back in
April of this year and the response was overwhelmingly positive! I have
submitted the film to festivals and we will begin hearing back in the
fall. I am also pursuing online distribution. Look for us in Chicago and
What got you into filmmaking in the first place,
and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
Mutant Ninja Turtles got me into filmmaking. I made my mother play April
O'Neil in my TMNT film in about the 2nd grade. My friends and I made
films, I made films with my brother as well. I always devoured films as a
kid, but didn't realize it could be art until I discovered David Lynch in
college. That got me very interested in surrealism and expressionism. I
took one film class in college and shot some stuff on the Bolex, but other
than that I am self taught. Thank god for the digital video camera! I
wanted to start making films professionally so I just started doing it.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Yellow?
have several short films that have screened at festivals as well as a
bunch of music videos, experimental works, fashion shoots, promos,
trailers, etc. I also love working on other filmmakers' projects in
Chicago. There are a lot of very exciting things happening in Chicago.
future projects you'd like to talk about?
Nick and I have begun working on the script for our next feature
film. It is still in the beginning stages, but we are really excited
about this one. We want to do something different from Yellow
terms of style, but keep the visceral impact.
In the more immediate future I will be working on the editing of
a documentary film that I helped shoot this past summer called House of the Gods
(La Casa de los Dioses). It takes
place on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. We are going back this
winter to continue shooting this great story about a man (David
Vidal) who lives in the middle of nowhere with no running water or
electricity. He is attempting to live as sustainably as possible and
puts his total energy into serving the pilgrims on the Camino.
I also have some music videos in development that I am really excited
about. Great Chicago bands.
David A. Holcombe
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
Creating is my life and
collaboration is important to me. My favorite part of filmmaking is being
on set with my friends and running with a crazy idea. I will never retire
and I will never leave Chicago for LA.
Filmmakers who inspire
David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Francis Ford Coppola,
Werner Herzog, Chris Cunningham, Vincent Gallo.
Your favourite movies?
Apocalypse Now, Lost Highway, Grizzly Man, Sleeping Beauty (the old Disney one and
the weird 2011 one), Caddyshack, House (1977), Suspiria (1977).
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
Love Actually. When my
wife watches this movie I have to projectile vomit.
website, Facebook, whatever else?
Anything else you are
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
starting a revolution in filmmaking in Chicago right now. Beware fat cats.
for the interview!
Thank you for the support Michael!