The “Boston Underground Film Festival” (http://bostonunderground.org) at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA is a hub for early film festival favorites, diverse programming, film culture and community along with multiple blocks of diverse short filmmaking visions. Whether it’s the celebration of local filmmaking talent with the “Homegrown Horror” short film block curated by Chris Hallock or the short film block that looks at the dark, twisted and humorous side of horror with “Fugue & Riffs”. After BUFF18, we had the chance to talk with six of these filmmakers as well as past and present members of these short film blocks at BUFF!
These New England filmmakers and their film projects includes Andrea Mark Wolanin (Cleaning House), Izzy Lee (Innsmouth – which played at BUFF18 before the feature “Antibirth”), Jim McDonough (Idiom Origins Vol. 1), Jarrett Blinkhorn (They’re Closing In), Corey Norman (Suffer the Little Children) and Alex DiVincenzo (Trouser Snake).
How does the resources, technology and the New England film community influence your production on each level? Does it stifle it?
AW (Andrea Mark Wolanin): I know that a lot of our great local filmmakers are making a push out of New England recently – I do agree that we don’t have the infrastructure set up here that is set up in places like LA or New York or Atlanta. But that same lack has always worked to my advantage, and is something that I’ve come to appreciate about the area. I enjoy the scrappy, DIY air of the Boston community, and I like that a lot of us work on a skill-share basis when money isn’t forthcoming. Don’t get me wrong – getting paid to make movies is the goal! But I feel that this level of catch-as-catch-can filmmaking has created a tight-knit family of artists that I cherish being a part of.
IL (Izzy Lee): Yes. There aren’t very many of us here. The peeps that go to Emerson or BU for film usually leave immediately after graduation. There aren’t many sets that I can go learn what others are doing on.
JM (Jim McDonough): I would say that the NE film community brings an awesome resource in creative talent which is so inspiring. Last year for example I was so blown away by Andrea’s film Penta and it was so exciting to see her film “Cleaning House” this year. So I totally get inspired by what my friends are going to make next. I’m likely way too insular in how I make things (typically alone in my basement) so in the future it would be real shame if I don’t take the opportunity to hopefully work with some of the many locals I truly respect.
JB(Jarrett Blinkhorn): To be honest, I haven’t even discovered the community until recently. For the longest time it was just a few friends and I making films outside of this bubble and not knowing anything else even existed. It wasn’t until the festival circuit that I started seeing there were others out there that shared the same interests and had the common goal. I can’t wait to work on the next film to involve so many fine people I have met along the way and just spend some time collaborating with other artists.
CN (Corey Norman): Technology should never be a limitation, nor should your geographic region. In fact, being a Maine filmmaker has actually afforded me the opportunity to shoot is a diverse variety of landscapes. Also, Maine is a very arts driven state, so the amount of community support that we’ve received is tremendous. That wouldn’t happen in New York or California.
AD (Alex DiVincenzo): I would not be able to make films without the New England film community. I am fortunate enough to have aligned myself with many very talented people early in my career, and I continue to work with them to this day. Namely, I have the pleasure of regularly working with the prolific Richard Griffin, who is something of the Godfather of our local film scene. Several of us who have worked under him have gone on to make our own movies, utilizing many of the cast and crew members he has assembled. I learned so much about making a quality movie on a budget from him and his crew, and I owe them everything.
Does new cameras, editing software and technology really affect the way you create your short films?
AW: Oh MAN, do they! (When I was a kid…) in film school we were started on Bolexes and Steenbecks, and the majority of my pay going toward film and processing – digital cameras and DSLRs have completely revolutionized how one budgets the film. Once you’re over the initial investment, you can focus what little funding you have to your workers, costumes, effects, etc. This digital revolution in cinema has really allowed voices that would not have been heard before to express themselves, and empowers indie film far more than it ever was before. Don’t even get me started on non-linear editing!
IL: I leave that stuff up to my DP, so for me, no.
JM: I would say the advancement in film technology has been THE reason for me diving in. I’m 41 and I started making stuff in late 2007 solely because the technology was at the point you could make stuff so cheaply. Previous to 2007 I had no idea where to start. I’ve been shooting on a nice enough DSLR for the last 5 years but it’s crazy that my new iPhone shoots in 4K which is a whole lot higher than my DSLR. As a challenge to myself, I actually am thinking of making “IDIOMS ORIGINS VOLUME 2” on my new iPhone. I hope if it does ok in terms of audience reception, maybe it will inspire others who have such a powerful camera in their pockets to go make a film.
JB: It’s probably an unpopular answer but I think so. With certain gear you are able to do more, or have more control over what the image is that you are capturing. For the past few years I worked my ass off shooting anything I could for money (besides porn) to save up and get a RED camera. Those bastards aren’t cheap. The day I got it in my hands I said to myself “OK… Now what?”. So that just forced me to create a short just so I could just test out my camera, and from there we got the gang together and just made a film solely because I had a new piece of tech that I just wanted to play with.
CN: Other than allowing us to create films for cheaper budgets, I don’t feel like the technology changes the way we make films. We don’t rely on digital effects, instead focusing our effort on practical effects. There’s something much more organic about this approach. In terms of camera, as much as I love the RED or the Alexa, it’s not the camera that makes a good film, it’s the ability to tell an engaging story. That should be every filmmakers primary concern, much more so than the camera they’re shooting on.
AD: The affordability of new technology that was exponentially more expensive a decade ago has made it possible for me to make movies, but I wouldn’t say that many of the advancements that have come along since have really affected the way I create them. Whether you’re shooting on a RED, an SLR or an iPhone, the same general principles apply.
For me, I find the greatest aspect of learning, challenge and impact with film comes through the score and sound. Tone of voice, mood set by composition and/or the reaction from a single sound. We come from different walks of life and we experience films all different, what aspect of filmmaking do you live through and really intrigues you? Is it the visual, the lightening, perhaps sound, the music, the style or colors, or something else?
AW: As a director, it’s hard for me to nail down that focus in my own films, as you have to pull all aspects together to create the magic that we all aim to capture. In movies from others, it’s usually the play of shadows and use of color that catches my attention – I’m very visual when it comes to films. “In the Mood for Love”, “Blade Runner”, “The Shining”, or “Night of the Hunter” – the color, lighting and camera work in all of them gives me chills. The moment in Fury Road where they drove into the sandstorm covered me in goosebumps, and I was ultimately disappointed by the film. Films that are visually arresting are usually the ones that I enjoy the most – but films with good writing and dialogue are ones that stay with me the longest. “Citizen Kane”, “The Great Dictator” and “Brazil” – visually pleasant, but the writing far outweighs what’s seen on screen. I find that this is where the majority of my focus goes, and where my strengths lie when making a film.
IL: I’m drawn to it all, but particularly sound design and how a score or ambient noise can affect a view. I love it. There’s a reason — or many — why the films of David Lynch are unnerving. His sound design has a lot to do with that.
JM: The one thing I’ve become most obsessed with the last few years is the Joseph Campbell power of myth idea. Virtually every story and film contains the skeleton for Campbell’s hero journey. Since becoming obsessed with it, I can’t help but see it in everything I see and it also serves my story telling. I think having some loose blue print to either use or to consciously subvert has allowed me to take audiences on weird strange paths. People will stick with you through some bizarre turns as long as you give them just a bit of the Campbell archetypes.
JB: For me, it’s everything all at once. Every part is exciting. Operating the camera and looking through the viewfinder is my favorite, but the light affects that. When the light hits the subject in a cool way I get super pumped. Once everything is in the can it is a lot of fun to start writing the score to suit the visuals. It’s all much more of a game than art for me… I just have fun with every step of the process and I am just chasing that little bit of excitement I get when something works out so well, or driving myself crazy to figure out how to fix this one little problem so it doesn’t drive me crazy forever. Ha. I think film is everything as a whole, and I can’t say one thing intrigues me more than another… It’s when all the pieces come together. That’s the most intriguing part.
CN: For me it’s the story. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a film with beautiful lighting, but if a story is engaging and the acting done well, I can forgive technical flaws.
AD: I think every aspect of filmmaking, no matter how minute, is integral to the final product. As a director, however, I am most attracted to the visuals. You can really set the tone, the style, the tension with good camerawork. I am also a strong believer in the impact of an effective score.
What was that first film that truly opened that dark doorway into horror cinema for you?
AW: This is a tricky one. The first real horror film that I saw was probably Jaws – I snuck into the living room after bedtime, and watched it from behind the couch my Dad was sitting on. But I would say that my appreciation for dark films and morbidity probably grew from my love for the films of David Lynch, Terry Gilliam in conjunction with the splatterpunk writings of Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum and Poppy Z. Brite. One of my favorite films that combines this love of surreal and gore is “A Serbian Film” – it really explores the depth of depravity that humans can reach while remaining creative, bizarre and metaphorical. And the lead actor was also in my favorite Serbian Comedy, “Black Cat, White Cat” (Emir Kusturica) which lent an even further layer to the film.
IL: Several. The Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Poe, AIP films, Hammer Horror, and “An American Werewolf in London”.
JM: I’m a guy who doesn’t typically enjoy the traditional slasher film. My horror preference has always leaned toward the psychological or involved the surreal. This may be a strange choice but the 1984 Dennis Quad Film “Dreamscape” has had a lasting impact. The film really seemed to get to me as a kid. The scariness of the subconscious has always been the thing that really gets under my skin.
JB: My dad practically raised me in horror so I was a video store teenager growing up renting VHS from the local mom and pop shop, but it wasn’t until maybe “Videodrome” where I noticed that you can make a film mean so much more than senseless violence and boobs. Films can have meaning and you can say anything you want inside of them. After “Videodrome”, I was devouring things like “Eraserhead”, “Possession” and “Taxi Driver” but I will still watch “Slaughter High” or “Return of The Living Dead” and have so much fun.
CN: When I was a young kid, my father showed me “Cujo”. That film helped foster my lifelong love with the genre. It’s still a favorite even to this day. Other films that have helped shape me as a filmmaker are: “The Shining”, “Evil Dead”, “Phantasm” and “The House of the Devil”.
AD: The release of “Freddy vs Jason” intrigued me to check out all of the old slasher movies, at which point I fell in love with John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. From there, I dug deeper and deeper to create the horror nerd before you today. Halloween remains my favorite film.
What is next for you and where can we find out more?
AW: I’m currently completing my Master’s Thesis in Interactive Media; as part of this, I’m creating a film called “Glass Houses”, which will be distributed entirely on the web. Taking the concept of sex-as-a-sin, “Glass Houses” weaves it into the story of Luisa Jara, a young woman believed to be possessed. As audiences delve deeper into her storyline, what they find isn’t a girl who runs with the devil, but a woman, scared and humiliated, punished for her natural sexual curiosity. The final piece will have alternate endings and some Easter egg elements. I’ve just completed the primary coding on the site, and plan to shoot the film content this summer! Also, I plan to be writing and directing my first feature length beginning in the fall – I have the full concept and outline, I just need to set pen to paper. I’m really hoping people will get to see that in Fall 2017. You can keep up to date with both of these projects by following me on FB, or visiting my site: http://3point14.net
IL: I’m working on a feature script with my frequent collaborator Chris Hallock co-writer of “Postpartum” and writer of my shorts “A Favor” and “For A Good Time, Call…” which is also currently in post. Find out more at http://www.nihilnoctem.com also at https://www.facebook.com/nihilnoctemfilm and on Twitter @nihilnoctemfilm
JM: Well right now I’m in production on my next episode in my Idioms Origins anthology where I will give the backstory to another idiom origin. But I hope to make more one off sketches this year in addition to the next idioms. The best way of keeping up on what I have coming up or stuff we have made before is through the Facebook page for Friday Night Films.
JB: I’ve been co-writing a feature script to direct that we are trying to get off the ground now… And producing another film for Joe Begos that will be shooting this Summer… Both have so much blood. Just follow me on Twitter @jahjahblinks or search Jarret Blinkhorn on Facebook.
CN: We just wrapped production on an anthology film we did for Dread Central and Ruthless Entertainment called The Witching. It will hit store shelves this October. In the meantime, look for the release of our first feature film, The Hanover House, through HorrorHound Films. And as always, stay up to date on all our work at http://www.bonfirefilmsonline.com
AD: I’m currently producing “Abyzou: Taker of Children”, a feature horror film written and directed by Jordan Pacheco. It’s a possession movie based on a real demon from Hebrew folk lore, and we’re really excited about the footage so far. You can find that one on Facebook at facebook.com/AbyzouTakerOfChildren. I’m not sure what I’m directing next. I’d like to do a sequel to “Trouser Snake” sometime, but first I want to do something that’s straight horror. In any event, you can follow my film-related exploits on the “Grimbridge Productions” Facebook page at http://facebook.com/grimbridgeprods. You should be able to watch “Trouser Snake” online soon. You can also reach on my Twitter @alexislegend, and in my spare time, I run http://BrokeHorrorFan.com.
Thank you so much everyone! Check out these six master mind horror filmmaking artists at their websites, social media and head out to your local horror film festival to watch their work!