From the moment I first saw the trailer to EXCISION, I knew it was going to be something special. It reminded me slightly in tone (judging from that promo clip) to Lucky McKee’s debut feature MAY and featured an incredible all star cast consisting of AnnaLynne McCord (90210), Traci Lords, John Waters, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Roger Bart, Marlee Matlin and so on and so forth. And before I even sat down to watch it, I knew that I had to talk to the sick and twisted mind that thought this whole thing up. Turns out that would be writer/director Richard Bates Jr. who makes his debut with EXCISION after also directing a short film version of it back in 2008. Richard was kind enough to sit down with ICONS for a chat about the history of this personal project. Here’s what we found out! -Rob G. 10/12
RICHARD BATES JR.: Rob, rob, rob! How are ya?
I’m doing great. And I’m so, so thrilled to be chatting with you about this movie. I loved EXCISION so much…
Oh thank you!
… and I really wanted to talk to you about it. I guess first and foremost, the thing I found interesting was how impressive that first trailer was. Once I saw that, a friend of mine had mentioned that he had seen the short film version a few years back at a film festival. So did this start out as a short film idea that you expanded? Or was it the opposite, did you have the feature idea and decide to make a short to show what it’d be?
I had always intended on making it as a feature. I had actually started writing the feature length script version while I was editing the short. The short ended up being far more successful than I ever imagined. It played at 50 film festivals, it won 24 awards and it got me all these meetings down in Los Angeles, because of it. I came out there with my EXCISION script and every one turned it down. I heard things like “this is crazy” and “no one will ever see this” and “no one would ever like this”, etc. All across the board, rejected! And it sucked. I stuck it out though and PA-ed on productions and got coffee for people and then I just sort of snapped and decided I don’t want to write another movie. EXCISION has to be my first movie. It’s so personal to me. I put the whole movie together myself and with 30 of my friends from back home in Virginia and some friends in New York helped finance the whole thing. We build this thing from scratch. You couldn’t imagine how ghetto making this thing was. (Laughs)
Well, it definitely doesn’t look that way judging from the final film, which is a compliment to your friends that helped and to your entire crew. I kind of wanted to touch upon influences, because if you don’t mind me saying, the first film that came to mind when I saw the trailer was Lucky Mckee’s MAY. Was that an influence at all? Or in general what were some of your influences making this film?
It’s funny, I’ve seen MAY actually. I hadn’t seen it since I was a freshman in college and I did really like it, but as far as influences on this movie, I was culling more from John Hughes movies. Um, and Dario Argento stuff – DEEP RED, SUSPIRIA. Alejandro Jodorowski, I was definitely inspired by things like THE HOLY MOUNTAIN. Todd Solondz and John Waters. The character of Pauline, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but there’s a movie called LADIES & GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS. It’s one of Diane Lane’s first movies where she plays this punk rocker Corinne Burns and I’ve basically always been in love with that character, so she’s a major inspiration on Pauline, but also myself and my friends. There is a lot of us in Pauline too. Even David Cronenberg is a huge influence on the movie. Jim Jarmusch in terms of keeping certain things static. It’s basically a love letter to all the filmmakers that made me want to make movies and that really impacted me and were cool & important to me in my childhood. I kind of wanted to give it a shot and make one of these movies that hopefully kids would discover and pass around and it could be special to them; something interesting and odd and hopefully they would relate to the characters too.
That is my favorite quote of all time!!! (Laughs)
In terms of getting the actors, its fun how you cast this thing. You mentioned John Waters as an influence and here he is playing a priest, which is just brilliant casting! Was it difficult to attract people like him, or Malcolm McDowell or even Traci Lords, who is fantastic by the way! She’s not the first name you’d think of for this role, but she absolutely kills it. Did you always have these specific people in mind?
Let me tell you, my friend. I could not get a single person in the world to answer one of my phone calls for the longest time. I would call agencies even while I was putting this movie together and I would pretend I had money, even if I didn’t have it, just to get an actor on the horn. But it started with Innovative. They agreed to have a meeting with me, they liked my script and I went through the client list and saw Traci on there and said I’d really like to audition Traci for this. And I auditioned Traci and she was fantastic. I remember when I was in the audition process, all these people would say “ohhh, Traci Lords the porn star”, and when I met her and she was so intelligent and I saw what an interesting actress she was, I started to get very defensive on her behalf. I cast her right off the bat, because I couldn’t wait to make the biggest “fuck you” to these people that have been saying things about her even though she’s been acting for 30 years and she’s a mom and hasn’t done anything like that in forever. When she does get parts now, there’s always something alluding to the fact that she was a porn star at one point. I cast against type with her and wanted to give her an opportunity to reinvent herself. And then from there, I decided I would be casting against type all across the board for the most part. The idea was if these people were going to be taking a chance on me, I was going to be taking a chance on them.
And I thought it paid off in spades. Every one is great in it. I was curious, is there any way to see the original short film that inspired the feature? I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t included on the DVD/Blu-Ray release. I wasn’t sure if maybe there was a rights issue or something.
It is possible to see it at some point. I think I own the short right now, but I don’t know what we’re going to do with it yet. I would love nothing more than to possibly make a few dollars off of it, but it is a short film. I remember, it’s so funny, when I made it someone offered me $150 to just own it, but then I couldn’t make the feature. Now who knows what I’d get? Probably the same. (Laughs) Ya know what? Fuck it, I’ll probably just put it on-line sometime after the DVD comes out. I didn’t want people to watch it before the movie itself because its got the exact same beginning and end, so it’s spoilerish.
Can you talk a bit about the multiple versions of the trailer? And by multiple I mean the audio! The first version of the trailer was this great trailer cut to Nine Inch Nails “Closer”, which I thought was absolutely fantastic! Then that one was yanked and replaced with similar sounding music, which quite frankly didn’t play quite the same. So what’s the story with that.
Dude… Rob, Rob, Rob, my friend. Fuck that new music. That is the worst thing ever. That Euro-Trash club music that replaced the Nine Inch Nails? I cut the damn trailer to the Nine Inch Nails song and then I guess no one was willing to put up the money to use the actual song. I actually thought that we had paid for it. So then, the company reposted it with this alternate music I had nothing to do with which was God damned embarrassing. But what I’ve done this last week – Anchor Bay was nice enough to let me redo the music. So I have a composer redoing the music with music I approve of and that works with the picture. That music issue was a damned tragedy.
I didn’t realize that you had to pay for using music in trailers as well, because I always thought those were considered promotional materials, but I guess you do.
Oh you do. You do indeed, my friend. Nothing is for free. Except for my directorial work! (Laughs)
While I was editing EXCISION, I wrote the new movie. I’m lucky enough to be able to make another one of these, so I’m making a new movie in March now. Imagine if the guy that made EXCISION made a GHOSTBUSTERS movie.
Wow! Do you have a title yet? Or are you keeping it under wraps?
As of right now, it’s titled THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN.
(Laughs) Would you like to bring back some people from EXCISION for this one too?
My friend Matthew Gray Gubler has a small part in EXCISION. He went to school with me in New York and we wrote the main part in this new movie for him, so expect quite a show from him and I’m confident he’ll kill it. The rest of the cast, I can’t divulge at this point. My friend, there will be some fun surprises. We had a hell of a lot of fun casting this next one.
Can’t wait for it! The last thing I wanted to ask you about was the tone of EXCISION. It’s really funny, it’s got dark humor, yet the ending is a really dark & stark ending. Was it difficult for you as a first time director to explain this tone when you’re bringing in people like Ray Wise or Malcolm McDowell, etc.
At a certain point it is and then at the times it’s not working, I would just bring everything down. The actors do understand what you mean when you say dry. I mean, bring it down. Also, something I did that created a distance and added to the feel of the movie, when I shoot everything center punch, I have all of my actors acting to markers on the camera. So none of them are ever actually acting to the other actors face. It became difficult for the actors and certain times I’d get complaints over doing it this way, but basically I set up rules for myself before I shot this film and it’s really geared towards them. So everyone had 5 rules and I had a very strange sense of blocking and almost theatricality to it. It’s almost like you’re watching a play and all I’m doing is switching where you’re sitting in the theater at any given moment. Actors are usually not used to it, but the tone of everything I make will be like EXCISION. The tone of my new film is a horror/comedy/tragedy. And we’ll keep moving forward doing stuff like that. If I get to make a handful of these films, you can expect this (tone) to be a reoccurring theme.
Dude, I don’t know! I’m thinking about going to a cabin in the woods, maybe?
Ya know, that never ends well. (Laughs)
(Laughs) Yeah! Well, I haven’t seen the movie CABIN IN THE WOODS yet. Is the movie awesome? Because I’ve heard it’s awesome.
Oh it’s awesome all right. You’ve got to see it as soon as possible without knowing anything about it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Oh I don’t know anything about it yet and I’m super excited to see it. To answer your question, last Halloween my costume just broke in the middle of Hollywood and I was so pissed for 3 hours that I was so done with Halloween!
Well, I hope this one’s better for ya! And thanks for talking with ICONS. We love the movie and we’re so stoked for whatever you do in the future.
Thank you so much, Robert. Really appreciate it.
EXCISION is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment.