First of all, why don't you introduce yourself to those who don't
already know you?
Mark Pirro, wrote 11 feature films, directed 10, produced 8. Most
of my films were early cult films like Polish Vampire in Burbank or
of the Queerwolf. Iíve also produced a few web series like Mohammad Speaks and
The World Accordion to Judy with comedian
What got you into making movies in the
first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
formal training. I was given a super 8 movie camera when I was 13
and just started making short films with friends, neighbors, classmates,
etc. After making 6 short films in upstate New York, I moved to
California when I was 18, got a job as a tour guide at Universal Studios
and ultimately started making short films again, now using friends that I
met at the studio. They were all shot on Super 8 movie film and cost
very little to produce.
talk about your most recent film, Celluloid Soul - in a few words,
what is it about?
It's about a down and out writer who sees
a movie from 1939 and falls in love with one of the unknown actresses in
the film. He becomes obsessed with her and tries to find out
anything he can about her. He eventually discovers that she's still
alive and talking to her on the phone inspires him to write a screenplay
about her life. He convinces her to meet him and when she shows up
on his doorstep, she looks basically like she did in the decades old movie
- complete with a black and white hue. Of course, at this point his
friends think heís losing his mindÖ and so does he.
much like a love letter to vintage cinema - so what can you tell us about
your love for these movies of old, and to what extent are they an
inspiration, both in regards to this film and to you as a director in
I'm not a huge fan of old films, but I do admire
the gritty noir look of some of them. And I did enjoy creating
'clips' in Celluloid Soul
to represent segments from movies made in the
30's. It was enjoyable to turn the streets into a vintage
appearance, with old cars; and also creating a scene in a kitchen that
looked very 1930s was a lot of fun. In this case, one of my
actresses, Jean Black, actually had a vintage looking kitchen in her
house, which she let us use. We didnít have to do anything to it
Other sources of inspiration when writing Celluloid Soul?
I have a friend, Ron Harper, who was a fairly
successful TV actor in the 60s and 70s. He'd appeared in numerous TV
shows, the most famous being the Planet of the Apes TV series in 1974.
However, today, he's rarely recognized. It kind of made me think
about how many actors work at one time or another, but then as time goes
by, are forgotten. Celluloid Soul
sort of takes on that concept; the
lead character in the movie was an up and coming actress in the 1930's,
but is completely forgotten today. The hero of our film digs into
her past to find out who she was and whatever became of her. I also
knew Conrad Brooks, the last surviving cast member of Plan 9 From Outer
Space. I put him in three of my earlier films because to me he was a
cool link to the past. When I put him in Polish Vampire in Burbank,
he hadn't acted since the days of Ed Wood [Ed
wood bio - click here]. Of course, after that, he
worked on other of my films as well as many other independent films and
became a cult figure, appearing at many autograph shows and conventions
around the country.
What can you tell us about your directorial
approach to your story at hand?
approach with any film I do is: Make sure that everybody feels that they
have a valid voice, or opinion as to how things should proceed (that
doesnít necessarily mean I will use their suggestion, but I will
certainly listen to their thoughts). Have it well planned so that
nobody feels that theyíre wasting their time. If the scene
involves a lot of set ups, I would schedule the actors so that they are to
arrive not too long after we need them. If an actor is not getting
paid, they certainly want to feel that their time is not taken for
granted. Usually my shooting days are no longer than five or six
hours. If I happen to be at a location that I canít get again, and
we have to film everything at that location in one day, I will scatter the
actors so that they are scheduled to arrive when needed, and not having to
hang around waiting. When the movie is done, I make sure that the
actors can get footage of themselves for their reels. I know that
one of the frustrating things for actors is that they have to wait forever
to get footage of their scenes. I make their scenes available as
soon as they are edited, sometimes even before that. This, I
believe, is why I get the same actors willing to work with me movie after
movie; because although many times thereís no pay, they donít feel
exploited, and I never take their loyalty for granted.
Do talk about your
movie's cast, and why exactly these people?
working with no budgets, you want people you can depend on. Most of
the people in Celluloid Soul
are actors Iíve worked with before, and had
great success with: Lauren Baldwin was in two of my pictures before this
one: God Complex and Rage of Innocence. In God Complex, she was the
Virgin Mary and in Rage of Innocence, she was the ill-fated babysitter Josette; Dennis
Kinard was Jesus in my film
The God Complex in 2009. Bill
Devlin, who plays Dennisí good friend Pat, has been in every film of
mine since 2003ís Rectuma. John McCafferty, who has a cameo as a
1939 actor, has been in practically in every one of my films since my
early shorts from 1978. Anne DeVenzio, who plays Bill Devlinís
wife, has been a friend of mine for over 20 years and had appeared in some
of my non-feature projects. Chelsea Cook and Tammy Klein Ė both
featured in Rage of Innocence
Ė have cameos in this one. The newbies in this film
are comedian Judy Tenuta, who plays a psychiatrist; and Azize Erim, who is
the heroís girlfriend. Although you always run a risk by bringing
in new people, Iím happy to say that Judy and Azize were both great and
welcome additions to the Pirromount fold. Iíve been pretty
fortunate with my last four or five films. Not a lot of flakes, as
opposed to my earlier films.
What can you
tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
shoots were well planned. The on-set atmosphere is always fun and
sort of family feeling. Locations are usually at friendís houses
or things built. We did have to use a soundstage for two days to
represent a hospital, but I found a great place that only charged $75 an
hour. Everything is always very loose. Never any pressure.
Since nobody is risking any big money, thereís nobody sweating about
anything. I had a great team, and we have worked together for years,
so we are a finely oiled machine. My associate producer, John Ahern,
has worked on five of my films; and he was my right hand man. In
fact, weíve used his Agoura Hills condo as a shooting location in three
of my movies.
$64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?
Most of my movies can be ordered on DVD on my website (www.pirromount.com), purchased on Ebay or Amazon, some can be found
streaming on Amazon Prime and Amazon Instant. Celluloid Soul
is currently on the festival circuit, but hopefully it will be
available in streaming venues soon. Decent distribution has always
been the toughest part of the filmmaking process, still is. Although
there are more outlets for individual distribution like YouTube and Vimeo,
profitable distribution is another story.
recent film of yours is Rage of Innocence
- so what's that one
about, and what were your inspirations there?
thought about how vulnerable a man can be when it comes to sexual
accusations by a woman (more timely today with the #metoo and #timesup
movements), and how in many cases, all it takes is a womanís accusation
to get a guy in trouble. Thatís the theme of Rage of Innocence.
It is about a 15 year old sociopath named Raven who will stop at nothing
to keep her single mom from dating men. Enter Vincent Marsden, who
takes a liking to her mother and starts dating her. Raven doesnít
approve of this and threatens him to stay away from her mother. He ignores
her threat, which sets her on a path of destruction. The threats
become accusations of sexual misconduct that eventually gets him put in
jail for crimes against her that he did not commit. He has a 13 year
old daughter who becomes a pawn in Ravenís scheme to literally destroy
I've read, Rage of Innocence is your first non-comedy feature - to
ask bluntly, how come?
Well, as one gets older, one tends
to get less funny. I donít know why. Maybe as we age, we
discover how shit life really is, and lose our youthful abandonment.
So after producing a long series of comedy films, I just hit a wall.
After The God Complex, I would sit to write a comedy but nothing funny
would come out. So, I thought rather than fight it, I would just go
with wherever my writing would take me. The result was Rage of Innocence. Actually, I had written an early draft of it many
years ago under the title of ďComing of RageĒ, but shelved it.
After God Complex, when no funny ideas were coming from me, I went back
and revisited the original "Coming of Rage" script and concentrated on
rewriting it a bit. I started liking it again. So that ended
up being my next project.
Do talk about Rage of Innocence's look and feel for a bit?
Since this movie
wasnít going to be as cartoonish as my other films, I needed to give it
a more professional polish. I think you can get away with mediocre
photography if youíre doing a comedy, but if youíre doing a thriller,
the camerawork should be slicker. I went to longtime friend and
cameraman Bruce Heinsius, who had worked on some of my earlier films and
offered him the opportunity to be the director of photography on Rage of Innocence.
He was happy to do it and gave it a nice look. Also, I needed a jail
cell for the movie, which had to be built in my backyard. It cost
about $200 to buy the plastic PVC pipe I needed to construct the bars.
I already had some plasterboard walls set up that were left over from sets
I built for my previous film, The
God Complex, so after I constructed the
jail set, my friend Craig Bassuk digitally created a cell block to
supplement my backyard cell and the result is pretty impressive.
A few words
about Rage of Innocence's cast and the shoot as such?
went to my old standby actor John McCafferty to play the lead, Vincent.
Of course as I mentioned, John has been with my production company since
1978 and appeared in most of my films, with the exception of maybe one or
two. Although this was the first film of mine he had starred in
since 1987ís Deathrow
Gameshow, where he played the lead in that one as
well. All his other appearances had been limited to featured roles
or cameos. Many others were also actors Iíd worked with before:
Bill Devlin, Lauren Baldwin, Doug MacPherson, etc. However, there
were some specific types I needed for this film that I didnít have in my
ensemble, so we brought in some newbies: Tammy Klein, Chelsea Cook and
Stef Dawson. Stef played the troubled character Raven Ė a 15 year
old girl with serious psychological problems. While we were shooting
the movie, Stef had landed the part of Annie Cresta in the Hunger
Games films, and I thought she might leave us to go on to the bigger
and better project. Well, she did leave us to do the film, but when
she came back, she finished our little movie. That was a true
testament to her character. Iíve had actors leave projects of mine
before, and it would always require some clever writing on my part to work
out their exiting. While Stef was away, we just shot around her,
frequently using doubles. Production never stopped. When she
returned, we just inserted here where needed. It was a very smooth
production and we were all quite pleased with the result. Since Rage of
Innocence, Stef has gone on to do at least a half dozen other movies.
Mark in A Polish Vampire in Burbank
of your most popular films is probably A Polish Vampire in Burbank
from 1983 - so what's that one about, and how did it come into being? And
since it was shot on a very low budget, did you at all expect it to be the
hit it has become?
A Polish Vampire in Burbank is simply about a vampire
who is so shy that he has never bitten anyone before. It was
originally made as a showcase film, which we never intended to try and
sell. It was really to be nothing more than a Ďcalling cardí to
possibly entice investors to get behind us for other projects. It
was my first feature and was plagued with problems from the start.
Eddie Deezen, who was to be the lead, quit the production after just a few
weeks of shooting. When he quit, I worked at re-writing the script
so that I could still use some of his footage and then take over the lead
role myself to continue the film. Also, I had gotten into a car
accident during the production, which left me without a car for the rest
of the shoot. I didnít have money to buy another car AND finish
the movie, so I chose to put what little money I had into the movie and
rely on friends to drive me to the sets. We were told that we could
use a monster set at Universal Studios, where I had some connections; so a
lot of the script was set inside this castle. But when we came down
to shoot, they backed down and told us we couldnít shoot there, forcing
us to build a castle set in a friendís garage. Once the movie was
finished, I found a producerís rep who thought the movie was good enough
to try and sell, and told me not to tell anyone the budget anymore; and he
would push this as a regular movie. To everyoneís surprise he took
it to Cannes film festival, showcased it around there, sold it on the
newly emerging home video market, and ultimately sold it to USA Network
for a two year run. We were all quite surprised. Iím
surprised today that some people are still aware of it.
Another fan favourite of yours is Deathrow
Gameshow - so obviously you have to talk about that one!
after A Polish Vampire in Burbank, we started production on Curse of the Queerwolf.
While making that, I was approached by Crown
International Pictures, who asked if I had any comedy scripts that they
could finance. I had written an early version of Deathrow
Gameshow and showed them that one. They liked it, but didnít have
confidence in me as a 35mm filmmaker, since I had only worked in super 8,
so they eventually passed. I continued to work on Curse of the Queerwolf.
About a year later, Crown contacted me again and asked what I had been up
to. I told them I was finishing up Curse of the Queerwolf, and they asked to see
some of the footage - which I had arranged a screening of. They loved
it and regretted that they hadnít gotten involved in that movie because
they thought it would have been a great theatrical release. Although
they wanted to distribute it theatrically, since it was shot on Super 8,
it wouldnít blow up to 35mm very successfully. So they asked if I
still had that Deathrow
Gameshow script around. I did. They asked if I
could make it for $200,000. I told them I could. Literally the
next day we were in pre-production. So we put the post production
work of Curse of the Queerwolf on hold and went into production of Deathrow
Again, I brought my usual cast of characters from the Super 8 films to
work on it: John McCafferty, Kent Butler, Darwyn Carson, Paul Farbman.
We also found some new people and brought them into the film: Robyn
Blythe, Beano, Debra Lamb [Debra
Lamb interview - click here]. The production had its share of ups and
downs, and since none of us had worked in 35mm before, it was a bit
overwhelming, but we got through it on time and under budget. That
movie keeps giving too. After 30 years, it just came out for the
first time on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome, so I guess itís finding a new
crop of fans. And for the first time in 30 years it's actually getting
good reviews. You would have been hard pressed to find a decent
review in 1987.
of your films have very catchy titles, like The Spy Who Did It Better,
Curse of the Queerwolf, Nudist
Colony of the Dead or Buford's Beach Bunnies - so what
comes first, usually, the title or the story, and how do you come up with
these titles in the first place?
Usually the story comes
before the title. Originally Polish Vampire in Burbank was
titled ďVirgin VampireĒ. I changed the title in mid-production
once I started rewriting it because of Eddie Deezenís departure.
One exception, Nudist
Colony of the Dead, actually started with a title. A friend
of mine, Steve Neimand, came up with that title for a movie that he never
made. I asked him that since he wasnít doing anything with the
title, would he mind if I stole it? He was fine with it, then I
wrote a movie musical around it. In 1995 we turned it into a stage
play for about four months. To this day, I would love to revisit
that project and possibly do a remake or a sequel. I was never
thrilled with how the original movie turned out. The equipment we
were using was so inferior that the film just has a really terrible look:
grainy, underexposed, etc. I did a remastering of it a few years
ago, basically trying to fix shots that I was never happy with.
Although there is only so much you can polish a turd. I would love
to do it again and get it right this time.
Any other past movies
of yours you'd like to talk about - and any future projects?
I think we pretty much covered them all. People often ask me
whatís my favorite film, and I have to reply with the old clichť,
itís like deciding which is a parentís favorite child. Each film
has a specific place in my heart. Polish Vampire in Burbank was my first
feature, so I have a soft spot for that one. For the longest time, I
thought Curse of the Queerwolf was my funniest film (eventually replaced by Rectuma).
I feel that The God Complex
is probably my Ďsmartestí comedy.
Iím very happy with Rage of Innocence
and Celluloid Soul
mainly because of the advancement in technology, which gives me much more
control over the overall look of the films. Iíd have to say that
those two are probably my best looking films. But it is ironic in a
way that my last two films had lower budgets combined than Polish Vampire in Burbank,
shot over 35 years ago. Just goes to show you how far weíve come
along technologically. As for future projects, who knows?
Maybe a Nudist
Colony of the Dead remake? Maybe Iíll take on
someone elseís script? Do I have any burning desire to tell any
specific story in the future? Not at the moment, but I could wake up
tomorrow with a great idea that I will want to nurtureÖ or not.
been in low budget filmmaking for decades now - so what keeps you going,
and how has the industry changed over the years?
changed with cracking of the digital code. Now that anyone can shoot
beautiful 4K movies with an Iphone, thereís no excuse for a poorly
shot film anymore. You can do amazing things today that we could
only dream of when I started. Back in my early days of filmmaking,
it was a struggle just to get a decent exposure and acceptable sound.
I remember that the cameras we used were so noisy that youíd hear the
whirr of the motor on the soundtrack (which is why we did a lot of sound
replacement). I would never have imagined then that today there
would be aerial drones, home computers, green screen software, visual
effects programs, etc. that make quality filmmaking accessible to anyone.
One can literally post a slick feature film without leaving their desktop.
With your computer and a little software, you can write your script; shoot
your movie; edit it; add visual effects; sound effects; and even create
the DVD and box for it without spending much money at all and barely
leaving your computer. When I talk at colleges to film students,
which I do on occasion, one of my favorite phrases is: ďNo budget is no
longer an excuse.Ē As to what keeps me going? I suppose
itís that I still have the same passion for storytelling that I had when
I started. I presume I will continue doing it until the passion goes
away; which again I say, could happen ten years from nowÖ or tomorrow.
would you describe yourself as a director?
I wouldnít even know how. I guess youíd have to talk to
people Iíve worked with and get their take on it. Itís difficult
to get an objective perspective of myself as a director. I know that
when we have our premieres, the audiences appear to enjoy themselves, so
thatís satisfying. If theyíre laughing where I expect them to,
that is quite enjoyable to observe. Iíve always felt humbled by
what I do. I know that Iím not anywhere near the scale of
mainstream filmmakers and donít even try to be. My films donít
register on the Richter Scale of filmmaking and really never attempted to.
These are movies that at best find themselves on home video and I suppose
nowadays the goal is to get on Netflix or something equivalent. Some
independent filmmakers think they can compete with big Hollywood
productions, and maybe some are successful at doing it; but Iíve never
felt that way. An indie film with no names in it has about a 3%
chance of making its money back, so thatís why I always keep my budgets
low. You have to approach it with the attitude that you will never
see that money again, so donít spend a lot of it making that film.
Anyway, If I can leave behind a few fun films that will still make people
laugh long after Iím gone, thereís some satisfaction in that.
who inspire you?
Early on it was Woody Allen, John Landis,
Mel Brooks. Lately itís Quentin Tarantino and Seth MacFarlane.
I love elegance in storytelling and I think those two have nailed that
quality. Thereís a certain style to Tarantino films which I
admire, and MacFarlane is just so out there with his projects.
Nowadays, I rarely follow any specific directors.
Curse of the Queerwolf
Your favourite movies?
Run, the Back to the Future series, some of the early
James Bond films,
early John Landis films (Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in
London, Animal House), I really enjoyed both Kick-Ass
films. As a whole, many of todayís movies just leave me flat.
It would really be nice to get through one summer without a slew of superhero movies or more sequels.
and of course, films you really deplore?
All of the Daniel
films. I used to be a huge Bond
fan, but gave it up when
they turned Bond into a guy who looks like a plumber. I know Iím
in the minority there. They donít make Bond
movies for my
generation and I get it. Anyway, Iím also not so fond of any
cookie-cutter superhero movie, most movies with a number after the title,
movies that desperately try to be funny like anything that Leslie Nielson
did after Airplane and the Naked Gun movies. I donít mind silly
movies, but not when thereís nothing clever or satirical in there.
Thereís a big difference between a movie like Airplane and Airplane
Airplane was made by naturally funny writers, Airplane II
was notÖand it shows
Facebook, whatever else?
is my website.
Facebook is Pirromount. I have a personal Facebook page, but I
donít think I do enough social networking for Pirromount. I really
have to look into that. You can find a lot of my stuff on Youtube:
Trailers, documentaries, promos, Mohammad Speaks videos, parodies, etc.
Anything else you're dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Not that I can
think of. Oh wait. You can talk about my Submissive Jesus
Prayer Answering Talking Head toy that I created as merchandising for The
God Complex. We still sell those toys. Theyíre
pretty cool. Itís an 8Ē plastic statue of Jesusí head.
You pray to it, then twist the crown of thorns on its head. He
screams and then answers your prayer with one of 100 random smart-ass
phrases. We made a bunch for the film and I still sell those little
bastards. You can buy them at www.thesubmissivejesus.com. I
think that about does it for the shameless plug.
Youíre quite welcome.