ICONS OF FRIGHT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CONTRACTED’S ERIC ENGLAND
Eric England’s film CONTRACTED hit the indie world by storm this year. The story of the deadliest one-night stand was penned and directed by a 25-year-old quickly making waves in the horror filmmaking community. Eric England was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about CONTRACTED, the changing world of the filmmaker, and indie horror films.
BJ COLANGELO: I know you went to film school and it seems that there’s two schools of thought on filmmakers gaining a formal education. There’s the “go to film school it’s the most important thing you’ll ever do,” and then there’s sort of the “fuck film school” filmmakers. What’s your stance as someone who went?
ERIC ENGLAND: It’s ironic because I’m more of a fuck film school guy, but I think film school is okay if you have almost absolutely no idea. I went to film school in 2007, which was a weird time because film and the Internet weren’t as advanced as it is now. We didn’t have the DSLR cameras, the RED was the new “hot thing,” and it was one of those things where the technology wasn’t like it is now where everyone had a Vine app or a cell phone that could record videos, and it wasn’t like it is now where everyone who wants to be a filmmaker has the capability of being a filmmaker. When I went, it was more like figuring out what the fuck movies were. I’m from Arkansas where they don’t tell you it’s possible to make movies for a living. I didn’t touch a real camera until I went to film school. Even still, it took forever for me to touch a REAL camera. I went to film school thinking, “I can’t wait for these people to teach me how to make movies,” but thankfully I was objective enough that when they told me how to make movies, I was able to understand that was how they made movies. That doesn’t mean that’s how I have to make movies. You have to make film school work for you. If you go into it wanting to soak in everything they want you to know, you’ll end up making the movies they do…and there’s a reason they’re teaching at film school and not making movies. Unfortunately. Do you know the show WORKAHOLICS?
BJC: Yeah! It’s one of my favorites.
EE: Well, the co-creator was my editing teacher in film school. It was so cool because he and all those actors were making little videos on the side and they were hustling and making their own shit, and I kind of gravitated towards that mentality. So when I was in school, my teachers told me not to make horror films because they’re garbage and this and that and I was like, “No. Go fuck yourself. I don’t want to make American Beauty.” That was red flag number one. Red flag number two was them telling me that after film school you should go be someone’s assistant or go be a PA for like ten years and pick up coffee and hope one day you’d bump into the right producer and they’d give you a million bucks and say, “Hey. Make a movie.” But that doesn’t happen. That is complete and utter bullshit. So after film school, I went out and made a movie. That was the mentality I had.
BJC: You mentioned about technology earlier and I got to think it’s a Catch 22. Anyone can have a camera, anyone could have some jailbreaked version of Final Cut, so pretty much anyone can make a movie, but at the same time I can reach out and touch anyone I want through twitter or facebook
EE: And get arrested for it.
BJC: True, I’ll probably get arrested for it someday. Perfect example: Yesterday I tweeted to Simon Barrett about his character in CONTRACTED and he favorited it or whatever, and that’s insane to me. That’s not something that could have been done twenty years ago. I can tell you to your virtual face that I like your movie, but what does the “anyone can be a filmmaker” sort of thing mean?
EE: You hit it right on the head – it’s a Catch-22. It’s great because assholes like me can make movies now where before I’d have to have millions of dollars and all this knowledge. My co-producer and one of the stars of MADISON COUNTY and ROADSIDE, Ace Marrero, has this great saying about how “the technology of today has leveled the playing field…and it terrifies everyone.” He basically said Hollywood veterans are now on the levels of people who don’t really know shit. And it’s true. The people who used to cut on film and slice it together had to learn the Avids and the Final Cut systems and the cinematographers had to learn about these new RED cameras and these digital cameras. So they had to learn all of this new technology at the same time people who didn’t know shit, like me, were learning it. The only thing they had was more experience, which is invaluable but a very real thing, but now if you had the imagination, you could play on the same field as these people because you knew how to use the equipment just as well as they did.
BJC: You’re absolutely right!
EE: I think that’s why we’re seeing lots and lots of movies that look very professional that are made for no money. I think that’s why we as a society are becoming more film savvy. We’re learning what quality filmmaking is because we’ve already figured out that it’s all shot on the same equipment. Peter Jackson is shooting his movie on the same thing I’m shooting my movie on. That’ s a huge and crazy thing to think about. He’s got more bells and whistles but at the end of the day, we’re shooting on the same camera and cutting on the same program. Equipment is no longer an issue. It’s great because it allows kids like me to make a movie, but at the same time…it allows kids like me to make movies. Everyone and their dog can make a movie so now you really have to figure out a way to stand out.
BJC: This year was huge for indie horror, I mean every top ten list seems to have CONTRACTED, RESOLUTION, and THE BATTERY. What is it about these three films that seemed to have somewhat universal praise? I know that’s weird to answer considering one of those three movies you directed, but I’m genuinely curious.
EE: First of all, thank you. That’s a huge compliment. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of lists that say “CONTRACTED BLOWS!” so we must not be looking in the same places. [laughs]. It’s hard for me to say, but I guess speaking in terms of those three movies. All of them were made for no money, so the creativity and the ideas are at the forefront. You can tell that they all had a lot of passion and thought put into them. RESOLUTION and THE BATTERY I’m a big fan of but both for entirely different reasons. RESOLUTION was so technically sound. It felt like a much bigger film and I think they were just genius in taking this little idea and making it into a much bigger movie. THE BATTERY on the other hand feels like a low-budget movie but they took this huge idea and scaled it down into a very intimate movie and used their resources very, very wisely. I think CONTRACTED fits in that same vain that we took this huge idea and scaled it down into this very intimate story but at the same time tried to make it feel like a bigger movie. Those movies are all about story and people identify with that and with the characters. It doesn’t matter that THE BATTERY was shot on a DSLR camera, and RESOLUTION and CONTRACTED were shot on REDs. The cameras don’t matter. What matters is that our stories were unique and different and people respected that. Honestly, they’re all dramas with horror elements. If you take the horror out of all of these films, they’re dramatic stories. Even with YOU’RE NEXT. I mean, I’m a little biased because I know Simon Barrett but if you take away the guys with the masks and the horror, and it’s a fucking weird story about this family and their fucked up dynamic. I think that’s what people want, and they really got that this year.
BJC: I don’t know where this came from, but there’s the long running indie directors dream of “WE GOT A RED!” “WE’RE GONNA SHOOT IT ON A RED!” so I have to ask, is the RED really that great?
EE: Yeah. I love shooting on the RED. I shot on an Arri Alexa recently but the RED is personally my favorite camera. At the end of the day though, it’s not about the tools it’s about the artist. I think you should use whatever you can get your hands on but when it comes to the business side, which unfortunately, movie making is a business, they want the highest quality of everything. If you can get it on the RED, the quality will be that much better, but look at THE BATTERY. That film was shot on a DSLR and it’s doing just fine. It’s just a matter of what you can afford. I wouldn’t suggest to someone if they had a budget of $10,000 and renting a RED would be $5,000, I’d tell them to borrow a friends 5D and spend that $10,000 on their movie…but the RED cameras are pretty great and I love shooting on them.
BJC: Let’s talk CONTRACTED. Why is Simon Barrett’s character BJ not all gross looking?
EE: I guess it’s up for debate. I’m a pretty ambiguous filmmaker. I’ll tell you this; I like to think of his character like Magic Johnson. He can carry that shit forever and it may not affect him.
BJC: Yeah, what do you have against people named BJ? Don’t you think our lives are hard enough with this name?
EE: I know, right? That was just a stupid joke because he’s like a date rapist. But yeah, the first time we see BJ is the same night he has sex with the dead body which is essentially when he contracts the disease because we don’t know what happened to the dead body. So we don’t really know if the girl was infected or if that’s where the disease started, we don’t know. We do know that he goes to a party and has sex with Samantha and over the next three days, Samantha starts deteriorating. We think we see him at the bar but we don’t really see him so it’s like, who knows? Maybe he was rotting away but we don’t see his side of the story.
BJC: That would be worse?
EE: Yes. I’d rather have a diseased dick than no dick.
BJC: But you could sew it back on! Lorena Bobbitt’s husband did porn!
EE: Nope. Nope. Wait. He did porn? I didn’t know that. But wait, I don’t know if she’s gonna give it back and I’m not gonna stick my fingers in there to get it back.
BJC: Okay, all joking aside. You’re 25 years old and you have a bunch of shorts and features under your belt but you’ve got a very well received film making all these Top 10 lists…what’s that like?
EE: Thank you, again. It’s weird. Gratifying, but weird. I’ve noticed that the people who don’t like CONTRACTED seem to have a very strong stance on what they believe in, but if one person says “I love CONTRACTED and someone says “I hate CONTRACTED,” I like to think they cancel each other out. I think the success element is varied because as much as it’s coming on top 10 lists, whenever someone on IMDB says something like “this movie is unbelievable,” it does take me down a notch. I like to read the online message boards as much as I can because whether I like what they have to say or not, these people are my audience. I want to know what they’re thinking. You know, I grew up reading Bloody-Disgusting, Dread Central, all those sites, so to see my movie on their lists is really gratifying, but now it’s like, “Fuck. Where do I go from here?”
BJC: What filmmaker(s) would you say you look up to?
EE: Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard are great references for where you should go in the genre because they keep going up and up. I’m really impressed by them and I probably text Simon more than I’d like to admit just asking, “What do you think of this?” or whatever and I look up to him like a mentor.
BJC: I don’t want to take up all of your time but I have to ask, what’s next?
EE: The biggest thing I took away from this whole experience with CONTRACTED is how people understood the originality of this project. That’s what I want to continue to do. I’m working on a movie that will probably become my next project, and I’ve never seen anything like it. If we have seen something like it, it surely hasn’t been done like this. I’m excited to do that and I think we’ll announce that one soon. I’m in the middle of writing it and thanks to CONTRACTED, I’m up to possibly work on a few projects. I’ve got another movie called HELLBENT that I’m excited for because I consider this one to be really, seriously scary. Essentially, HELLEBENT is a great story but the horror in it is terrifying. It’s one of those movies that when it’s made, it will stand the test of time and people will want to revisit it. This amazing writer named T.J. Cimfel wrote it, so it’ll be the first time I’ll direct something I haven’t written. I’m really excited to have that experience. I’m also looking to do a comedy and try something different.
BJC: What if someone offers you a remake?
EE: I’d totally do it. I don’t want to butcher something sacred, but I’m not against doing a remake. It’s like the second you have an awesome original movie someone comes to you and says, “Hey! Check out this remake we’ve got!” I think we’ve got some awesome remakes out there and the truth is, I saw the TEXAS CHAINSAW remake before I saw the original. After I found out it was a remake I tracked down the original and started researching other old horror films. I’m living proof that remakes can open doors.
EE: I don’t think they’re as proud of that as they should be, but they’re really proud of me for making the movie. My mom and dad are cool as shit, my dad introduced me to movies like FRIGHT NIGHT, THE LOST BOYS, IT, and all these other movies someone my age probably shouldn’t have been watching. My dad was 21 when he had me and my mom was only 18, so they were kids raising a kid. So if my dad wanted to see a new horror film, he had to take me along. My mom is so open with me on everything and she was watching the movie and going, “you think you’re pretty funny putting maggots in the girl’s vagina?” but they’re so proud of the attention the film has gotten. I think they’re more proud that I have my name on my own personal brand of condoms now. So the fact it says “a film by Eric England” on the condom, it makes them proud. In some weird, fucked up way, CONTRACTED is benefitting society.
BJC: Thank-you for taking your time out of being on every top 10 list to talk to me!
EE: Thank-you for all the amazing things you’ve had to say about my movie!