Terrill Lee Lankford (right) with zombie friend
Your upcoming film Christmas with the Dead - in a few words,
what is it about?
The end of the world as we know it. But in a very uplifting way.
How would you describe your directorial approach?
Each project is different of course, but I usually try not to get in
the way of the story or the performances with a bunch of meaningless cuts
or unnecessary camera moves. I know we have an attention deficit society
out there, but I like to try to tell the story in the most unobtrusive way
possible. If I can get a little mood into the piece, even better. But I
don't want the direction to be a distraction.
How did the project come into being in
the first place, and at what development stage did you get involved?
This was something that Joe and Keith Lansdale had been developing for a
while [Joe R.Lansdale
interview - click here, Keith
Lansdale interview - click here].
They had a director involved who decided to step aside and then Joe asked
if I could come in to make the picture. I could not say no to him. I
started work about six weeks before we shot.
Most of my "career," if you can call it that, has been
comprised of projects that have been initiated by friends of mine. They
call for help, I answer the call. Otherwise, I'm staying home.
genre author Joe R.Lansdale [Joe
R.Lansdale interview - click here] did not only write the source story for
with the Dead, he also served as the film's executive producer. What
was this collaboration like, and how much influence did he have on the
look of the movie?
My job was to try to make a movie that reflected the Lansdale approach
to storytelling. Joe, well, actually ALL the Lansdales were intimately
involved in all aspects of the film.
How would you describe your approach to zombies as such (as
in slow vs fast, the voodoo vs the flesh-eating variety)?
these are not your typical zombies. As a matter of fact, the main
character doesn't consider them zombies at all. And they are not dead
people resurrected. They are live people that have suffered through an
event that has changed them. They have some movements and properties that
haven't been done before (at least I think they haven't been done before).
But I don't want to say too much right now and spoil things for the future
films (at least of late) often go hand-in-hand with extreme violence. How
far in that direction are you going with Christmas with the Dead?
some pretty rough stuff in the film.
few words about your lead Damian Maffei [Damian
Maffei interview - click here], and why was he cast for the role?
Joe liked him in a play he had seen. He ended up being an excellent
choice for the role. And a true collaborator. I think he's got a very
bright future ahead of him.
can you tell us about the rest of your cast and crew?
They sweated their asses off on this thing. The strong survived. The
rest have retired from show biz.
I would like to single out Chet Williamson who flew down and shot with
us for a few days. He did a fantastic job. As did many of the local actors
we hired in Nacogdoches. That town is thick with undiscovered thespian
talent. We "discovered" at least three actors who should be
working every day. Clyde Williams, Madeline Brassell... and a man who goes
by the name of Chainsaw. When you see the movie you will know what I'm
talking about. They were all terrific. The whole cast was terrific. I was
very surprised by the level of talent down there.
shot Christmas with the Dead during a very hot June, which
led many people to ask "Why did you shoot a Christmas movie in
June?" So yeah, why would you shoot a Christmas movie in June?
the title, the story actually takes place in June, but that's just a
coincidence. The reason behind the scheduling of the shoot was really more
of a production issue than an artistic one. And as a gun for hire I didn't
have much say on the issue.
$64-question: When will Christmas with the Dead be out,
I'm not sure. I was hoping it would be released by Christmas, but post
production is going much slower than I thought it would. Hopefully it can
start screening around the end of the year. Then we have to deal with
Let's leave the present behind for the
moment and head forward to your past. What got you into filmmaking in the
first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?
grew up in the 60s and 70s - a fantastic time for the movies, so I really
loved them when I was young. If I had been born in the 90s I probably
would have had no interest in making movies. As far as education goes, I
went to a progressive school in the 70s and it had some filmmaking
classes, but this was back in the days when Super 8 was the cheapest way
to make films so it was a very crude training ground. I did do a year at
the AFI back in '94 but I can't say it helped much.
in your career, you worked quite a bit with genre veteran Fred Olen Ray on
films like Biohazard, Hollywood
Chainsaw Hookers and my personal favourite Phantom
Empire. What can you tell us about the man, your time and movies
with him, and how did you hook up in the first place?
Again, we were friends all the way back in the early 70s. I was out
here already when Fred made the move in 1982. I was writing screenplays,
hoping to break into the big time and having a little luck at it. Fred
said to me, "Why don't we just make a movie instead of trying to sell
scripts to the studios?" I thought it was a crazy idea, but we did
it. And then did it some more until I just couldn't do it anymore. Turns
out I was right all along. It WAS a crazy idea.
can you tell us about your directorial debut Portrait in Red/Dark
Red? And how did the creative casting of both Hollywood legend
Lawrence Tierney and martial arts star Cynthia Rothrock come about?
Red is something I don't talk about. I had a falling out with the
producers and never got to cut the film, so I don't consider any of the
various prints out there to be my film at all. But I will say that Cynthia
was (and is) a friend of mine and she did the movie as a favor to me. I
don't remember exactly how Larry got involved, but his exploits on that
picture gave me stories I can dine on for the rest of my life. It was fun
working with him, but he was a bushel of interesting moments.
Blue Neon Night, you made a documentary about acclaimed crime
writer Michael Connelly. Why did you pick him as a subject?
Mike's been a friend of mine for almost 20 years now. We've done a lot
of work together. Blue Neon Night was actually a promotional DVD we
created to spike interest in his book The Narrows. They gave copies to
anyone who bought the first 75,000 copies of the book. The doc served as a
sort of overview of his career up until that time. But a lot has happened
since then. We may have to make Blue Neon Night 2 soon.
it true that you and Michael Connelly are currently busy writing a big
screen adaptation of the 1980's TV-series The Equalizer, and what
can you tell us about the project yet (if anything)?
not true. Not anymore. We finished that project years ago. As far as I
know it's not going anywhere. I have a feeling I better update my website.
I haven't looked at it in about three years.
other movies of yours you'd like to talk about, any future projects?
I don't like to talk about projects until they're done. (And I don't
really like talking about them afterwards either.)
making movies, you also have a quite prolific career as a novelist. What
can you tell us about Terrill Lee Lankford, the writer?
I've written four novels and they were all published long ago. I hope to
write some more when I have the time. One of them, Shooters, is currently back
in print as an e-book (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/
and I'm going to be bringing the other three to e-book as well. I'm way behind
schedule on this, but film projects keep delaying my progress.
who have influenced you?
Robert Stone, Scott Fitzgerald,
Hunter Thompson, Hammett, Fante, West, Newton Thornburg, and a zillion
others. Far too many to list. Many of my modern day writer friends can
walk among the giants as well: Mike Connelly, Jeff Parker, Joe Lansdale [Joe R.Lansdale
interview - click here],
Scott Phillips, Stephen Hunter, Gar Haywood, Ed Gorman, James Reasoner,
Bill Crider.... Again, the list would go on for a long time. Facebook-friend me. I think I have some lists there. But I'm sure they are not
Directors who inspire you?
Altman, Kubrick, Peckinpah, Fellini, Bergman, Huston, Polanski, Fuller,
you know. The usual suspects. From thirty years ago.
Cutter's Way, The Long Goodbye, The Seven Samurai,
Chinatown, most Kubrick,
most Peckinpah, oh man, these lists are impossible. I love a lot of movies. Them
is one of my favorite horror/SF films. Incredible Shrinking Man is another. Both
versions of The Thing. I am a big fan of The Omega Man, a movie quite a few
other fans dismiss. So it was very cool to be shooting a movie that had been
inspired by the same source material.
... and of course, films you really
Can't go there. Although I will say that I thought
the success of Pretty Woman made such a horrible statement about the USA
that I spent a year in Mexico afterwards just to cleanse myself. When a
country turns hookers and corporate raiders into heros you know the game
is lost. Well, hookers are okay...
Your/your film's website, Facebook, whatever
I have a blog called JAFO at: http://quixoticprod.blogspot.com/
- I think there are links to the other stuff there.
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
You've asked too much already.
Thanks for the interview!