FRIGHT INTERVIEW – Danny DelPurgatorio (OTHER)
By being involved in the independent arts, you have the privilege of literally having a front row seat to sometimes what is the jump start of a HUGE success! Some people were lucky enough to catch their favorite bands BEFORE they sold their first record and similarly we, fans of the horror genre, occasionally get the opportunity to catch a film made by an “up and comer” so amazingly unique and well thought that when we walk out of the screening room or theater or close the Youtube page we say “Wow! That was awesome!” and we anticipate we will see more from these artists. That is exactly the case with Danny DelPurgatorio. I was lucky enough to catch up with Danny at Octobers’ Terror in the Aisles at The Portage Theater in Chicago while showing his 13 minute mind twisting roller coaster ride of a short called OTHER. Danny already has quite a resume with the film industry working with, among others, Gerard Butler on the animated short Tales of the Black Freighter (The Watchmen) and I’m excited to find out not only how he got here but where he plans to go from this point! – Beth 11/11
Icons: Danny, Thank you so much for time! First off I’d like to say that I saw your short film and was blown away by it! It is not very often a 13 minute movie can suck an entire audience in and enthrall them the entire time! Tell us a bit about what your film is about.
Danny: Thanks for your interest in OTHER and thanks for taking the time to talk with me!
The film is about a doctor who becomes obsessive about altering his terminal diagnosis. He goes outside of modern medicine and performs a series of radical experiments on himself in hopes of finding a cure. Things take a turn and he discovers a scientific loophole beyond his wildest dreams.
Terror in the Aisles 9 was our first screening of the film, so it was definitely exciting but also very nerve-wracking. We are super stoked at the response that we have gotten thus far and that the short is resonating with people. It is always a bit scary releasing something that you are so close to you for the world to see.
Icons: Your film is only 13 minutes long yet it says so much in that short amount of time. How much filming time did you guys actually clock in the end before editing down to 13 minutes?
Danny: We shot about 25 hours worth of footage, give or take… and our original goal was to make a 5 minute short! When our editor, Matt Egan, did the first cut, it was around 16 minutes. At that point we all realized that in order to tell the best possible story, we were going to be living in that time frame. And since the film was something that we were creating for ourselves, we had no real restrictions or guidelines that we needed to meet. So we moved forward just doing what felt right for the picture. Our script was ambitious for 5 minutes, but I guess we always knew that we were just going to make what we thought worked, whether it be 5 minutes or 2 hours. 13 minutes happened to be the sweet spot. Matt had worked on cutting our animatic during the pre-production process, which allowed him to wrap his head around the story early on. He knew how he wanted things to come together once he got all the footage (all 25 hours of it!). When I saw his first cut, I was blown away. It definitely didn’t feel like 16 minutes, which was good. But maybe I am just biased.
Icons: Tell us a little about the production of the film (location, time set aside for shooting etc…). I know that you worked with some of your co workers on this film. People that you work with on a regular basis. How was it getting everyone on board and what is it exactly that you all do at your company?
Danny: We spent about five to six weeks upfront working on the script, doing storyboards/animatics and also designing and building all of the props and sets. There was a ton of stuff that needed to be built, which we wanted to make sure was locked and working before jumping into the actual production. We set our shoot date upfront during the scripting phase and sort of worked backwards from there. Our producer Larissa Shames really kept the production in order. In all honesty, we probably would have never got the film done if it wasn’t for her. She was able to wrangle all of the pieces and assemble an amazing crew, on top of putting together a seamless schedule and work flow. Once all that was set and ready to go, we shot for 2 solid days….in chronicle order of the script. There is a bit of a madness to our main character and it was really important that he eased into that mind set.
We shot in the basement of this really awesome lab. It totally fit the overall design and aesthetic of our script to a T. When we were scouting, we needed to make sure that our shoot location matched all of the design work that was already happening. When we saw the lab for the first time, we knew right then that we had found the perfect place. We were able to take measurements of the space and expand our design to fit it accordingly. It all fell into place really easily, which is a rarity in production. The backdrop plays a very important role in the film and we needed to make sure that we found a location that would work with the overall vision of the piece.
I work at a studio in Chicago called VITAMIN with some of the most talented people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. We focus primarily on designing, directing and animating for commercial and broadcast work. We have always talked about doing a short together on our “down time”. I had a nugget of an idea that I brought to the guys and everything sort of evolved from there. Myself and Vitamin art director, Rob Foster, starting working together to flesh out the story. Once we had something that we felt worked conceptually, everyone else jumped in and helped define what OTHER would become in the end. From there, we created an outline and our friend Anthony Williams wrote the screenplay. He took what we established and completely evolved it. It was at this point that we started to layer in all of the subtext. Right from the beginning of the project, it was a group effort. Everyone was involved the whole process, which was awesome.
Icons: Wow, it is so rare that you find a group of people that can work together so well and execute something amazing. Usually it’s a conflict of ideas or effort put into a production but it sounds to me like you guys had a really great run with this! How did you choose this story exactly for the short? With so many story lines to choose from, most typically being about monster, zombies, murders, how did you come up with the idea for the film?
Danny: I really wanted to create a film based around science that would evolve into something horrific. I pieced together the original idea and I knew how things would eventually end up in the picture, but there was a lot of stuff that needed to be figured out. Where our main character starts in the beginning and where he ends up is pretty heartbreaking. The film is definitely a character piece and the scariest thing about it is the lengths that people will go to and the things they will do when they are pushed. The idea of making something that we could ground in reality and then blur those lines was really appealing to all of us.
Icons: It seems to me like you have a lot going for you. Animation, design, visual FX… Why horror?
Danny: I am a huge horror buff as are a bunch of the guys that I work with. But really, in the end, it was more about the story above anything else. I’m just glad that I was able to trick everyone into working on this with me.
Icons: (Laughs) Yes, lucky you! I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before you are asking for someone’s kidney for a gore shot…you will have to let us know how that goes over! Do you plan to turn OTHER into a feature film? Or perhaps a sequel/prequel? What would it take for you to turn this into a huge project?
Danny: Yeah, we definitely plan on turning OTHER into a feature film. From the beginning, that was always our goal. We established a lot of the background and where and why our main character does what he does. Though, we don’t go into too much of that in our short, it was important for our actor, David Steiger, to know where he was coming from and why. We just finished putting the final touches on the 13 minute version of the film and we are moving right into working on the feature. There is a lot of really crazy stuff that we want to do and the story definitely has the legs to expand upon. A lot of people have asked whether the short would be the beginning, middle, or end of the feature…. in which I always respond with “you are going to have to wait and see!” We are super excited to push this project even bigger and crazier, all the while maintaining the tight, claustrophobic vibe that we have already established in the short.
Icons: Awesome! We hope to be there front and center when that takes off! Have you already begun the writing for the feature?
Danny: We actually just started outlining the piece. We are going to spend bit of time up front locking the core story in. I think we all really loved the collaborative nature on the first go-round and we hope to maintain a very similar work flow as we move forward with the feature.
Icons: Tell us a bit about how you fell in love with horror in the first place.
Danny: When I was younger, I would always wait for my parents to go out so I could watch my dad’s copies of Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Videodrome, and Friday the 13th. But it was when I watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time that I knew I wanted to make horror movies. I’m not sure why, but that film changed me. It was so raw and in your face… it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The visuals, the storytelling and the overall tone of the piece was so real. I thought it was amazing that someone was able to create such a vivid and memorable experience and I guess that just always stuck with me. And luckily my dad watched some cool shit.
So really you should blame my dad… and Tobe Hooper
Icons: (Laughs) Yes, your dad, Tobe Hooper and a crowded department store that just so happened to have chainsaws hanging on the wall…which gave Tobe the idea for a chainsaw wheeling madman! I love how completely simple, random moments of creativity can cause admiration for their unique ideas for decades! Film is an art form that truly is timeless! Ok, after seeing the film I went home asking myself…how did you do the special effects? How did you accomplish the guts and gore in your film?
Danny: The amazing Crystall Portillo and Kristen LeClair at Cirque Du Face FX did all the gooey stuff. We had done a lot of concept art up front based on the stages of physical evolution of the main character. Using that as a guide, we tried to put together a cohesive package for them to build upon. Shooting in chronological order always sounds easy, but when you need to sync up tons of different moving parts, it can completely spiral out of control. One of the most important elements to the film is all of the practical effects and we wanted to make sure that we had the time to do stuff right. If it didn’t look good, it would take the viewer out of the film immediately. Based on all of our design work, we were able to build our shooting schedule around the effects and go from there. Working backwards from that helped put everything else into place. I am definitely old-school when it comes FX and I wanted to make sure that that we did as much as possible in camera. Reading the first draft of the script, I think we were all a bit nervous about how we were going to pull some of this stuff off, but Crystall and Kristen completely blew it out of the water on every level! They had done a test for us early on when we were still writing and it was perfect. At that point everyone felt way better about what we were trying to do.
Icons: Well I think it looks amazing and gross which is what people like us love! And that is so AWESOME that so many women were involved with the coming together of this film! I love seeing more and more women getting involved in the horror scene and it gives me hope for the future of horror (Laughs)…that it will just keep getting better as long as we steer away from remakes and too much CG! I’m all the way with you on that! Exploding heads look much better made with grape jelly and a rubber head then they ever will with a computer program! Well I think it’s pretty cool you have made a movie that had a pretty intense story line and a kind of message about the way we have to live with what we are given as far as healthcare but in the end, things take a turn! Was that the idea all along? (without giving spoilers)
Danny: I always had the beginning and ending in my head…it was just a matter of tying it all together. Spending time up front with the entire team and going through the core story points was really critical. From the initial conceptual stage all the way through the edit, the story evolved. But it’s tough, because you grow so close to a project and there is always bit of letting go that you have to do. As stuff was ramping up and we were starting to see the rough cuts, it was at this point where people started dissecting and picking at it. What sounded like a cool idea on paper sometimes didn’t work visually or it just didn’t translate like we expected. I think, if anything, this was the most important stage of the production. It is when all the pieces were finally coming together and everyone’s interest was making the best film possible.
Icons: Absolutely! Well I think it turned out amazing and I firmly believe you have no idea what kind of roller coaster ride you are really in for after more people see this film! What do you think of the horror today as compared to lets say… 40, 30 or even 20 years ago? Ho do you feel about how it has evolved? What’s been gained? What’s been lost?
Danny: There are definitely a ton of great films and filmmakers out there but there is also so much more stuff compared to 40 years ago which makes it a bit hard to sift through everything. But, when a film or filmmaker is awesome, they stand out of from the crowd. Technology has evolved so much in the last few years, that we can essentially make movies on our phones. But, again, at the end of the day, it is about telling a great story and doing something that hasn’t already been done before.
Icons: What are the films and who are the people that inspire you the most?
Danny: Wow. Where would I even start with this one?!
To be completely honest, film in general is inspiring to me. Just seeing stuff getting made, whether it is a 200 million dollar movie or a 20 dollar movie, is great. The fact that people are getting up and making stuff is awesome.
Icons: I know after reading this interview and this movie starts circulating people are going to be asking about your last name. Matter of fact it was one of the first things that was brought up when we all met at the screening so lets just talk about it and get it out of the way (laughs). What does it mean? Is it real and do you see it in neon letters when you think of premiering HORROR!? (laughs)
Danny: Yes, DelPurgatorio is my real name, though most people still don’t believe me! It means “between Heaven and Hell” or “in the waiting”. Totally appropriate, right?
Icons: I guess it just means you were born for this kind of work! Alright Danny, I’ll let you get back to all the multi tasking you’ve got going on right now so I just want to ask you a few more questions : Where can people check out your work including this film? Where can we expect it to be popping up (conventions, film contests, etc…)?
Danny: Well, we just finished the film and have been submitting it to film fests and all of that fun stuff. We plan on having a premiere party which will be open to the public in December. But you can check out our official website for all the latest screening information.