Your upcoming movie Help Me First! - in a few words, what is
It's about a haunted asylum that is waiting for
new souls to claim. A group of wannabe ghost hunters break in and try to
get recorded evidence. One of the members goes alone while the other two
see her on monitors, video from a rig she wears. The video picks up the
images of the ghosts but she can't see them.
Why a ghost
story, is that a favourite genre of yours - and some of your genre
It is a favorite of mine. I like the slasher as
well but ghost stories have always fascinated me. Ghost Story was one that
scared me as a kid. I always searched to find movies like that one and
when I sat down to write Help Me First!, I thought of what scared me in that
movie. It's funny too because I watched a TON of slasher/gory movies
when I was younger. Totally dug Fulci [Lucio Fulci bio - click
here] and Argento especially. I don't
think they influenced me as much though because I focused on the story
instead of the gore. I'm also a huge fan of the first 4 Friday the
love the franchise and always watch one on those special fridays.
sources of inspiration when writing Help Me First!?
Exorcist easily. Loved the idea that maybe that could have happened.
Amityville Horror as well. I read that book and it scared the bejesus out
of me. I wanted the movie to be as good. Stephen King definitely influenced
me since I read him so voraciously when I was younger. I hope my
characters come out as complete as his. Mine aren't as flawed though.
can you tell us about your movie's approach to horror (as in suspense vs
sudden shocks, atmosphere vs all-out gore and the like)?
not a huge fan of the sudden shock. I think it can be done correctly
though and sparingly placed. Mine is HUGE on atmosphere. I like to linger
on a shot to make the suspense amp up. The idea that "something"
is going to happen is great. I hope to keep that going for most of the 13
minutes of run time.
Do talk about your film's
intended over-all look and feel!
Coming from animation, the
look is a huge part of it. I have very specific goals for the camera and
the lighting. We basically lock down the camera when we see the ghost
hunters. It becomes looser as the movie goes to amp up the intensity.
We're playing with some colors too to change throughout the film. Really
makes the mood. We're also going to cut a little differently than I have
in my animated shows. There may be some experimenting going on. I'm doing
a 3D animatic of the entire film right now so I can see what it looks like
before we get on set. I modeled the set in 3D to exact measurements of the
location. I'm a little insane.
Now with a movie like
yours, location's the key - now do you have a location locked, and where
do you see the advantages and challenges of filming there?
got so incredibly luck on this one. I wrote the feature script first. I
researched a ton online and didn't see any place too close to me that I
could actually go to. I went to one insane asylum but it wasn't exactly
what I wanted so I made one up from pictures I saw. Then Hill View Manor
popped out of nowhere - and it was 45 minutes from me! I went and thought
I had been there before. It was perfect. Had all of the rooms and the
hallways were exactly what I thought it would be. We are going to do the
entire production there in April.
What can you tell us
about your projected cast, and why exactly these people?
When I start a script, I get to know my
characters very well. I don't even write the dialogue until I have a
complete background of who they are, what they are afraid of, what they
like and love, what are their goals. I draw mental images in my head too
and then write the script. I saw Maggie Carr at an event here in
Pittsburgh and whispered to my fiancee that was my Maureen. I didn't get a
chance to talk to her so I thought maybe she slipped through my fingers.
As luck would have it, my co-producer said he had someone that would be
perfect for the lead. It was Maggie. I knew right away when I met
her that she was Maureen. She agreed to do it on the spot without even
reading the script. She's huge into horror and loved everyone who was
working on it.
Luke was recommended from Maggie. He's
done a lot of stage performances but his short film was exactly what I was
looking for in Hoffman. He's subtle but strong. It's a plus that he and
Maggie know each other too because that will show on the screen.
Lori Cardille was a complete coup. Day of the
Dead is my favorite of the Dead series. I met Lori through one of
the producers on my film and she couldn't have been sweeter. When we were
all sitting around talking about the role of the demon, Lori's name came
up and we all said that was a no-brainer. She's a Pittsburgh icon, as is
her family, so it was a great pickup. She's way into it also. She ends her
emails with "Your little demon". That's pretty cool for me.
You are currently running a fundraiser for your movie - so
do talk about your campaign?
Begging for money is fun! It's horrible
asking and constantly looking. I was doing a ton of looking for the right
fundraising by talking to production companies and people with money.
There were so many false starts. I had a partner drop out at the last
second because he got busy doing other things. It was rough. But now I
feel that I can do this all on my own, the way I want to do it. I'm not
making a dime on this film so every Dollar is going to my cast and crew. I
refuse to let anyone do hard work for free. It's not how this works. I
know having talented people around you that are compensated for what they
do, will make your job easier and the film much better.
We are ending on March 26th and have
some cool rewards. One big one that we are going to release the day before
the end too. Our posters and shirts are pretty awesome. I wanted to bring
a 70's Argento feel to the poster and my artist, Tom Morgan, did that with
very little direction. I also have some rewards for the animation students
- since that's my day job.
Once the budget's in place, what's the schedule - and even
if it might be waaay too early to ask, any idea when and where the film
might be released onto the general public yet?
That's all set, actually. We are
shooting the last week in April. Just three days. It's only one location
so we should bang it out quickly - since I've boarded it all out and have
an animatic too. We are ready to rock!
We're releasing at the end of September
at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. Our partner, Drafthouse Films, is putting
it on. It's a great film festival and Tim League is beyond amazing. I went
two years ago and the entire event was so much fun. I couldn't be more
excited. I've known Tim since we were kids - we both blame the other for
getting in this business - and I think having it premiere at his festival
Any future projects beyond Help Me First!?
Too many, actually. Help Me First is
actually the "prequel" to Help Me. That's a full feature.
Me First is about the ghost hunters that go missing. Help Me is about
their friends that try to find them. I have plenty of scripts beyond that,
in different genres as well. I'm just getting started.
I am shooting a short film in May also.
It's a fun project with an old Jimmy Neutron buddy at the University of
Nebraska. It's going to be a busy spring.
What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did
you receive any formal education on the subject?
I've always loved moviemaking. I did a
ton of writing and shooting when I was a kid. It was all horrible but I
loved doing it. Then I got into animation and that allowed me to be super
creative. Then I directed on Jimmy Neutron and that is when I got hooked.
I was in charge from the script to final mix and everything inbetween. I
knew I was made to do this.
My education is completely on my own. I
read a ton. I studied films and acting a ton when I was learning to
animate. When I got pulled up to direct, I jumped headfirst into it by
studying movies in great detail. I didn't know what the 180 degree rule
was so I popped in a movie and then every time there was a cut, I paused
it and drew it. Kinda like a reverse storyboard. I did that for every
single scene. I have an entire sketchbook of movies. Jaws was the first.
Took me a year to finish it. Then I did The Graduate (just a few months)
and Notorious by Hitchcock and finally Cool Hand Luke. I learned so much
about cameras and reframing. Cutting and pacing. It was the best education
I could do.
Prior to Help Me First! you did mostly animation -
so do talk about your experiences in that field, and what made you choose
to switch to live action for a change?
I was in animation, well, still am in
animation, for almost 25 years now. I worked at Disney Imagineering for a
while, worked on a game and then moved to Jimmy Neutron. I supervised the
animation on the film (and did my own shots) and then directed half of the
episodes for the series and its three season run. I was slated to direct a
feature for Warner
Brothers. We did a ton of pre-production work on it; it
was looking awesome. Warner
Brothers pulled the plug and I moved to San Diego to work
on two other shows for Nickelodeon. I was a co-producer on a show I helped
I moved back to the midwest of the US
for a family reason and had to stick around because of my kids. There
wasn't very much animation around (meaning none) so I knew I had to keep
telling stories. Pittsburgh has such a rich tradition of movie making and
is a great place to shoot. It's the birthplace of zombies too! All
of those factors made my switch pretty easy.
How would you describe yourself as a director?
much time do I have? I can talk for days on this. I love this so much. I'd
like to think that the people who work with me (not under me but with me)
would say I'm a great collaborator. I have a very specific look, intention
and story and I want everyone else to be clear on that and make it better.
Surrounding myself with people much more talented than I am is key.
Communication is the other key. I'm very clear on my vision and I know
what is important from the beginning. I'm definitely NOT a "know it
when I see it" director. I know what I want and I want others to help
me make it better.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
of the ones I did boards for. Well, not FOR them but when I watched the
movies and learned from them. Spielberg is a no brainer. Jaws was so
meticulous with cameras and intentions; it's truly inspiring. Argento and
Fulci [Lucio Fulci bio - click
here] just for their sheer horror and in my opinion, weirdness - I love
it! Gates of Hell
is just sick! Hitchcock, Connie Hall, David Lynch, David
Fincher, Tex Avery, Sam Raimi (it's called "Evil Dead", not "Evil Dead
1"), Wes Craven, ...
Your favourite movies?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Jaws is the best, hands down. Love
Friday the 13th Part 4 (Maggie Carr disagrees). The
Exorcist. Any Monty
Python. Fletch. Shawshank Redemption. Did I mention Jaws?
You can't go wrong with Gates of
Hell, Suspiria, and
Inferno. Of course there's Dead Alive,
Evil Dead, Day of the
Hellraiser, Children of the Corn (not
sure why but I love it), Christine, Cujo, Kubrick's The
... and of course, films you really deplore?
I HATE to say this but I get into
arguments about this. Evil Dead
2. Now hear me out. I started watching it
because I LOVE Evil Dead,
but when it kept going, I thought, this is
exactly Evil Dead if they had more money. I turned it off and refused to
even acknowledge its existence. I know it's silly but I act like it
doesn't exist. It's Evil Dead
and then Army of
Darkness. I've fought
plenty of people on this but I stick to my guns.
Friday the 13, Part Five - I mean,
Dawn of the Dead remake - well, except
the end credits. That was pretty damn cool. But ZOMBIES DON'T RUN!
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, Kickstarter, whatever
- that's where I've chronicled this journey to make a movie for a few
years now. All of the missteps and great advances. Just me typing on a
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely
forgotten to ask?
This is a huge passion for me. I love
sitting down and writing something crazy. Something that people will like.
I'm not trying to be over the top original but am trying to make something
entertaining. I want to scare people. I want to make people laugh. I want
them to forget about what's going on in their lives and take a little
journey with me. I'm hoping that this short is the start of a very long
journey. If it's anything like what is like in my head, it's going to be a
very interesting trip.
Thanks for the interview!