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An Interview with David Dietz, Director, Writer, Star of Indemnity

by Mike Haberfelner

September 2012

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Your new film Indemnity - in a few words, what is it about?


On its surface, Indemnity is about man fleeing from his past, in particular, a woman who believes that he has wronged her – but not in any way that you might expect. He takes refuge from her relentless pursuit in a rural honky tonk bar, where (after much prodding) he unloads his problems to the local bartender. As the mystery man relates his tale, the woman (his ex-lover) quickly closes in on him.

At its core, though, it’s about how dangerous (and deadly) secrets can be.


What got the project off the ground in the first place?


I actually wrote the original script while I was in college in late 1980s. Back then, I had the mad idea that I wanted to produce an anthology sci-fi/horror TV series – like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Darkside – for the college TV station. I actually wrote three complete scripts, and we actually shot part of one (not Indemnity, though). But sadly, the show never went any further than that. And, as far as I know, the footage from that other shoot doesn’t exist anymore.


Anyway, in 2006, I met a bunch of indie filmmakers who were producing stuff using small commercial video cameras. It seemed to me that, as George Lucas once opined, the technology had caught up with my vision. I decided that if these indie guys could do it, why couldn’t I? So, pulled out the old Indemnity script that I had on my shelf, dusted it off, revised it, and ultimately began shooting it two years later.


With Indemnity being a vampire movie, is that a genre you're at all fond of? And some of your genre favourites, and did any of them influence you when making Indemnity?


I was always a sci-fi/horror geek. I love that you can use the genre to tell entertaining, imaginative stories that carry a slight (but relatable) moral undercurrent. I already mentioned a couple shows that influenced Indemnity’s tone and structure. But I was also always a fan of a rather underrated vampire flick called Innocent Blood – mostly because it was shot in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. It sort of proved to me that you could make a decent film with the steel city as a backdrop!


(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Indemnity?


Rod Serling always influences my writing. In my opinion, he was one of the great genre storytellers of the 20th century. I’m not sure if he really gets his due as a writer because he primarily wrote for television and feature films.


David Dietz (center) and crew at work

How would you describe your directorial approach to your subject at hand?


One of things I’ve noticed about a lot of indie directors is how concerned they seem to be with the mechanics of shooting a film. In other words, they get so caught up in all the technical stuff (lighting, special effects, etc.) that their story, characters, and actors (and ultimately, their films) suffer. I, by contrast, always try to focus on producing a good story with good actors.


Although, when it comes to Indemnity, it’s really hard to say if I had any “approach” at all, because I was really just trying to get it done! Acting and directing your own film is not the easiest thing in the world! Fortunately, surrounding yourself with good, competent people – both actors and crew – helps make it a little easier.


You also play the male lead in Indemnity - so how did you approach your character, and why did you choose exactly that role for yourself?


Basically, I chose the role for myself because I knew that I would show up every time!


Dan Radakovich, David Dietz

Seriously though, when you’re working on an indie film like this – and not paying anyone for their time – it can be a challenge to keep cast members as interested in the project as you are. And with this being my first real feature, I wasn’t sure who would want to be cast in the two main roles, given the haphazard shooting schedule of indie flicks. “William” and “Joe” have such a huge amount of on-camera time that any actor playing them would have to be very passionate about the project to stay interested. Luckily, I knew Dan Radakovich (who plays “Joe”) was one of those actors. And, for my part, I genuinely thought, “How hard could it be? I can do this.”


Crystalann Jones with David Dietz

David Dietz, Seth James

A few words about the rest of your main cast and crew?


Crystalann Jones (“Angela”) actually came into the project later in the shoot. Our original “Angela” was one of those actors I mentioned who just couldn’t stick with the project. (And, by the way, you can watch the actual footage we shot with her on the Indemnity DVD’s special features!) Crystalann brought the project some much-needed horror cred, having appeared in several other indie horror flicks. She’s just a hoot to have around on the set and actually brought a quiet sexiness to the role right off the bat that our original “Angela” didn’t really have time to develop.


I cast Seth James via a mutual friend online. I wanted to have a big, intimidating guy play “Bubba,” the town troublemaker, and who better than a professional wrestler? It was actually Seth’s first time in front of the camera on a film set, and we had a phenomenal time shooting – particularly our fight scene, which he and I choreographed.


By the way, if anybody tells you that you can’t get hurt working in pro wrestling, I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong! I got really nice bruise on my forearm while we were doing a take (when I slam into the door during our fight). But Seth’s a really great, down-to-earth guy who’s a lot of fun to work with. And he brought CJ Sensation (ne: Craig Stephenson) in to play Bubba’s comrade, which was awesome. CJ was so funny that we added some bits into the film specifically for him! Seth also got a couple other friends of his (both wrestlers, as well!) to play bar patrons.


I had a minimal crew who were all wearing multiple hats during shooting. But, I couldn’t have made Indemnity without John Iwanonkiw (my co-producer and the “Man in the Truck”), Brittany Danae Jones (my lead cinematographer), John Briscoe (my main sound man), and Henry Tjernlund (our “Deputy” and on-set still photographer).


What can you tell us about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?


I like to keep things light-hearted when we’re on set. I want everyone there to have fun because, as I might have mentioned before, there was no money to pay anyone for their time. But with Indemnity, I also had to churn out as much material as I could because of the limited time we had to shoot. Our main location (The Smiling Moose Bar in Pittsburgh) only let us shoot three hours at a time on Sundays. So I really had to plan our shoots carefully so that we had enough time to set up and tear down quickly, and still get the shots we needed. Everyone really had to be on their toes, and they were! I actually liked it, though, because it kept me (and everyone else) focused on the task at hand. And, I think the sense of urgency we all had on set made it a better product in the end. 

We still had fun, though!


On Indemnity, you've done it all, writing, acting, producing, directing and whatnot. In general, which do you enjoy the most, what could you do without?


I always consider myself an actor first. It’s what I’ve loved doing ever since I was a kid. The problem with being an actor, though, is that your livelihood often depends on the whims of others (directors, producers, etc). And that can be great if you’re in demand (like, say, Ryan Reynolds). But, if you’re like a lot of actors out there (myself included), you have to be the one to create that demand on your own. That’s what’s so great about being a director and producer: you create opportunities for both yourself and others!


I guess what I’m trying to say that I enjoy every aspect of filmmaking. I love the acting for the performance. And I love writing, directing, and producing for the creative expression. That being said, though, I’m not sure if I’d ever be the lead in a film I’m directing again. There are so many things to worry about on both sides of the camera. I think on my next film, I’ll probably just do a smaller part, like what Quentin Tarantino does in a lot of his films!


As far as I know, before Indemnity you have mainly directed documentaries - what can you tell us about those, and how does making a documentary compare to directing a feature film?


You make it sound like I’ve directed a lot of documentaries. But nothing could be further from the truth! I did finally put out a documentary about Amelia Earhart this year (called Resolution: A Portrait of Amelia Earhart, which you can watch at But that film was actually “in the works” long before I decided to take a crack at Indemnity.


How Resolution came to be is sort of a long, complicated story. But basically, it began as someone else’s project. I was just supposed to play a role in the dramatized segments, but ended up doing a lot of the actor casting and behind-the-camera work (because I was sort of the only one who had the know-how to do it)! Anyway, there was some disagreement over the film’s direction, and the producer and I ended up splitting. She went on to make her own film, and I was left with this footage I had shot. Well, rather than let it go to waste, I decided to do something with it, and that’s what became Resolution.


To answer your question, though, documentaries differ from feature films in that you actually have to find and use just the right archival footage and photos to help tell your story. Whereas, with a feature, you’re shooting all original material. I like to think of working on movies as being like working on a jigsaw puzzle where you only have a vague notion of what the final picture is going to look like. When it comes to documentaries, however, that “vague picture” becomes even more vague, if you can believe that! I honestly wasn’t sure what Resolution was going to be like when it was done, but I’m very happy with what it turned out to be!


Let's go to the beginnings of your career: What got you into the filmworld to begin with, and what can you tell us about your early days?


I don’t know if everyone starts out like I did, but I started acting in community theatre. Then, as I got more acting experience under my belt, I wanted to take a crack at films (because I grew up on TV and movies, and always wanted to be a part of them). So, I auditioned for some student films at a couple Pittsburgh-area universities, and that’s really where I cut my teeth in film acting. Of course, because I was working with student filmmakers, there was a lot of downtime on the sets. But I used that time to absorb as much information as I could about the technical stuff. And that’s what served me later on when I got Indemnity off the ground.


Want to talk about some of the films you worked on over the years (in whatever position)?


Well, as I said, there are quite a few student films that I worked on… and some of them are really quite imaginative! I have a few of them posted on my web site. I also worked as an extra on the Melanie Griffith/Ed Harris movie Milk Money (but don’t look for me in it - I don’t think I got in front of the camera once!)


I had small featured roles in the first indie features I worked on. I played cops in both Strange Girls (which you can buy on Amazon) and Dark Wake (which hasn’t been widely released yet). I was also brought in to redub all of Aaron Jackson’s dialogue in Biophage (also on Amazon), but then the producers actually convinced Aaron Jackson himself to do it! (Funny how that works sometimes! Nevertheless, I’m still credited in the “sound department” on that film!)


Some of my favorite significant roles, though, are in a pair of dark comedies by my friend Joe Giacabello: Doing Therapy and Ultimate Reality (both available from his website I play a crazed stalker in Doing Therapy and a con masquerading as a priest in Ultimate Reality! (I also helped Joe with the production and casting on both films!) Probably my biggest role to date, though (apart from Indemnity) is as the dance company director in End Game with wrestler-cum-actor Kurt Angle (also on Amazon). I have a nice scene in it with Jenna Morasca (who won Survivor a few years ago and is now a TV host)!


Any future projects you'd like to share?


I’m dusting off another one of those scripts from that ill-fated college anthology series I mentioned before and hope to start shooting it next year.


In the meantime, I’m working on a bunch of other projects that will be out next year. I’m acting in and editing a film called Driving Nowhere ( for Poet’s Labyrinth Productions and Silver Springs Films, as well as one called I, the Killer for Kiss of Death Productions (the people behind Meat for Satan’s Icebox and Fetish Dolls Die Laughing – both available from Amazon).


Battle Lords

You’ll also be able to see me in another Kurt Angle vehicle called Death from Above coming to DVD in January. It’s a fun, low-budget supernatural action thriller basically starring half of the Total Nonstop Action (TNA) wrestling roster! If you like Druid mythology mixed with rednecks in monster trucks, you’ll get a kick out of it!


You can also catch me (and Crystalann!) as regulars on the web series Battle Lords (


Besides movies, you have also done quite a bit of theatre - how does acting on stage compare to acting in front of a movie camera, and which do you find more inspiring and why?


A lot of actors talk about this, but it’s true. With live theatre, you perform the story one time, in its entirety, in front of a live audience. There are no re-takes. You basically have to do it right the first time; or, if you screw up, cover it in such a way that the audience doesn’t notice. But it’s also fun to actually hear the audience laugh at a line of dialogue you say or sit at the edge of their seats as some heavy drama is going on. With theatre, the feedback is more immediate. Whereas, with films, you may not ever hear what the audience thought of the production or of your role in it.


I would say, though, that both mediums have their pluses and minuses. For instance, I do a lot of live, improvisational-type dinner theatre, where there isn’t even that mythical “fourth wall” between you and the audience. In fact, you actually have to acknowledge the fact that there’s even an audience there and even interact with them! That’s where you really get the most immediate kind of feedback. It’s almost like being a stand-up comedian: when you’ve got 'em, you’ve got 'em. And when you don’t… it can be a looong night! I really like that immediacy, though. It helps me feel like I’ve made the right choice in my chosen profession!


In general, how would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of the techniques you use to bring your characters to life?


A lot of people have said that I follow the Spencer Tracy school of acting: show up, say the lines, don’t trip over the furniture, acknowledge the applause, and go home. I don’t get too hung up in a lot of the hoity-toity, artsy-fartsy “method” stuff that some actors do (and I know a lot of my actor friends would be shocked if they heard me calling it that). But basically, when I read a script, I draw on what I know from other performances of similar characters and then funnel that essence into my own performance. I mean, why try to reinvent the wheel? All you can basically do with it is give it your own paint job. And that’s what I try to do!


Actors (or indeed actresses) and filmmakers who inspire you?


Hopefully this doesn’t sound too strange, but in my opinion, Robert Englund is probably one of the finest actors out there [Robert Englund bio - click here]. I watched him play the meek alien “Willie” in V back in the 80’s and was absolutely flabbergasted to find out that he was Freddy Krueger too! Talk about range! You can talk all you want about the great leading men of cinema - but for my money, character actors like Englund, Kevin Spacey, and Stanley Tucci are the real actors! I’m also a big fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt – I’d love to see him in more leading roles!


I’ve also always had a thing for Sally Kellerman – and not because of “Hot Lips Houlihan” in M*A*S*H (never seen it, actually)! I loved her in Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School” and, of course, as Doctor Elizabeth Dehner in the second Star Trek pilot [click here]. (See? Told you they would sound a little strange!) I also love Chloe Grace Moretz! If there was a young actor in Hollywood I’d want to work with, it’s her!


As for filmmakers, I’d have to go with Tarantino (of course), Christopher Nolan (although, to be honest, his Batman-movies leave me a little cold), J.J. Abrams (loved what he did with Star Trek, but what’s his deal with lens flares???), James Gunn, and Wes Craven.


Your favourite movies?


Pulp Fiction, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original version!), A Fish Called Wanda, Kick-Ass, Slither, Splinter, and Let the Right One In (and its American version Let Me In).


... and of course, films you really deplore?


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Any of the Twilight-movies! They give vampire flicks a bad name!

I’m also not a huge fan of all the “re-imaginings” that have come out of Hollywood in the past few years. Did we really need remakes of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dark Shadows, Fright Night, and Total Recall? I mean, from a purely commercial standpoint, I understand why they do it – they’re easy money makers. But, creatively, it’s disappointing that producers feel they have to try to squeeze more money out of a possibly dry well!


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?, Indemnity on Facebook, (and on Facebook), (and just look me up on Facebook)!


Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


I’m available for concerts and bar mitzvahs…?

(I felt like I should say something clever here, and that’s the only thing that came to mind…)


Thanks for the interview!


Thanks so much for interviewing me and supporting the films!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


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On the same day
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and your Ex wants
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... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD