Quantcast Adam Barnick interview - MAINSTREAM

Adam Barnick!!!
Adam Barnick comes from the new-school group of local independent filmmakers that you absolutely have to look out for. His short film 'Mainstream' was selected to be one of the films featured on the upcoming 'Fangoria Blood Drive: Volume 2' DVD. Once we checked out his short, we knew we had to talk to him about the making of 'Mainstream' and what he's got in store for us in the future. Read on! - by Robg. 8/05

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre?

I actually started out being really into sci-fi stuff, like those crazy 50's atomic B-movies with giant ants and tarantulas...any of the John Agar-type films. When they were on TV, I would watch those all the time. Some of them were a blend of sci-fi and horror, so I sort of naturally began to gravitate towards horror. I remember always sneaking in while my parents would be watching TV and quickly walking by to catch a glimpse of something like 'An American Werewolf In London' and thinking "What is that!?".  My real foundation was probably started in the late 80's.  That’s when my obsession with all horror films kicked in.

It started with my interest in special effects & I remember 'A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors' really kicked that off. What holds up for me is the variety and ingenuity of the visuals and effects.

I love Nightmare 3!

Oh, it's cool. Pretty much 1 & 3 is all there is. Some of the acting doesn't hold up, but I guess you don't go to Elm Streets for that. Besides, Robert (Englund) always holds his own. But that movie got me really intrigued in special makeup effects and I remember seeing a Fangoria magazine with him on it. I picked that up and really started diving into an interest in horror from an effects side, but I was also really just starting to get into the genre as well. I was always casual about my interest in it, but that's when I started getting into it hardcore. Which was great, because in the late 80's, there used to be 5 new indie horror films in theaters each week.

The late 80’s were a big boom for horror. And it was good to be a young teenager then!

It was awesome.  There were more horror shows on TV, I was catching up on films from the 40’s through the 70’s-mid 80’s, and and all these movies kept coming out.  I was about 13-14..'Prince Of Darkness, Pet Sematary, 'Phantasm II'..And then the genre went to sleep for a long time… (laughs)

'Phantasm' is one of my earliest memories actually!  I had seen pieces of the original not knowing what it was. And being creeped out by this weird movie and I never bothered to check the TV Guide to see what it was. It wasn't until years later when the sequel came out when I thought, "That reminds me of that movie!" (laughs) By then, I was pretty much cemented on that path. Then some friends of mine started doing the typical camcorder in the backyard thing, and although I wasn't making many videos with them, I started helping prep many things, and write scenes. And I got really interested and immersed in the creative aspect of it all. I kept an interest in effects, but after a few years it translated over to just filmmaking.

What exactly were your first filmmaking experiences like? Did you decide to go to school for it? Or did you start making shorts before that?

A little bit of both actually. It was around that period of the late 80's - early 90's, I remember I had saved up to buy a super-8 camera and the thing didn't work. (laughs)

So, I was leaning towards video, although I wasn’t crazy about the picture quality. But I did shoot some short stuff, joined AV before film school.  I loved everything. Foreign films, dramas, anything from the 70's, New York Sidney Lumet films, French Connection, that style.  But horror movies are always the rock you go back to. I ended up going to school at SVA. That's where I started doing stuff that was shot on film & with a lot more discipline behind it. Besides, it was impossible to get a committed crew when you’re 14 years old, and someone else owns the camera, and that guy demands to call the shots. (laughs)

Let's talk a bit about your short 'Mainstream'. Where'd the initial idea or concept for it come from? Because it reminded me of a cross between 'Hellraiser' and the Nine Inch Nail's video for 'Happiness In Slavery'.

Oh, I don't know that video. What's that like?

It's literally a guy in a chair getting torn apart by machinery.


Yeah, I’ll have to show it to you one of these days, because it was a banned video, but I have it on an official VHS release. It's cool that you didn't know about that. Great minds think alike!

Oh man.  Here's the funny thing. There's actually been a lot of stuff that looked similar or had similar themes to 'Mainstream' from the time I first had the idea all the way thru to when it was actually made. It was shot recently, but wanting to do it, and the original idea for it, date back to the mid-90's. I wouldn't go as far as to call it a 10 year journey to get it made, because I didn't start until a couple of years ago. It wasn't exactly influenced by any other film or anything.

During the summers, I would work in a video store... because you’re required if you’re a filmmaker to work at a video store at some point in your life. (laughs) Of course, if you work there, you're kind of in heaven, except for the paycheck. And you have a crazy enthusiasm about films, and you want people to check out foreign films, and stuff that's obscure or edgy. Just anything exciting and different. Thought-provoking.  But no one would ever really want that. It was always, "What's new that’s in that’s good? I don't want to think."  And nobody could accept a film unless someone, anyone, said it was good.

The decision or the perception had to be done for them.  It felt like an assembly line of people who worked hard, but were burnt out of life. No control, life’s out of their hands, you know?  I'd talk to some of these people and they were frustrated under the surface; with perhaps the hand they thought they’d been dealt. Maybe they had much more hopes and dreams and were creative in the past, but maybe settled too fast. Or felt it was taken from them, or just thought they couldn't do it, whatever it was.  Any desire to be above average seemed quickly stepped on. I've always felt that the whole 'accept being average/9-5 "groundhog day" routine/just take it and go "oh, well, what can you do..." mentality  was kind of a trick played on the human race.(laughs)

I remember one night being frustrated about that, I went home and I had just finished a previous film and I was thinking about what I should do next. And literally the whole thing just came to me at once.

Start to finish, with the exception of a few minor details, but it was all there. The man on a table, the machines, restraints.  Another person coming in. The surgeon.  His look. Why he looks that way.  All of it. Which was creepy, but it was one of those things that I’m sure plenty of people can relate to, where once you get this thing you're seeing in your head, you know you'll be haunted until you get it out there. So, I had to do it otherwise I'd go mad. (laughs). I did other films in between but I was always thinking of 'Mainstream' and how I could make it, on any feasible budget. It was a long road to get it together.

Well, when did all the pieces come together? When did everything align and make it possible to make it?

Even though I had come up with the idea, it was still early on in my film experience. Didn’t know how to pull all the resources together for it.  But back in ‘99, when I moved back to New York, I   got better work, so it was easier to raise money for it. There were 2 or 3 times where I had come really close to coming up with all the money we needed for it and then something disastrous would happen & that'd be it. I'd have to start over. During the whole time, I was always thinking about it. Up until around 2000, I didn't even have it written in script form. Just outlines, drawings, notes.  Once there was a really firm decision that this had to happen, it started to come together.

The film looked great. You shot it in 16 mm, correct?

Is it shot in 16. We had a great DP, Matt Caton.  He worked on a lot of features, commercials and videos and knew how to do a lot with nothing.

Was it always a conscious decision to shoot in 16?

It was always intended to be shot on 16, yeah. Especially since when I first thought of the idea, digital wasn't easy to get your hands on yet. And it didn't look that good yet either.

It's not an actor-heavy movie, it's more about mood and image and sound and tone, so I knew that it wouldn't be something that we'd spend 10-20 takes on trying to get dialogue when there's only one line of dialogue in the film anyways. I felt we weren't going to suffer financially if we shot it on film. It was probably a $600 difference, so I wanted to stick with my original plan. We rented some equipment and the cinematographer had access to some equipment.

And (laughs) I don't know why we thought we were going to shoot it on a Bolex, so we got 25 or so of those little 100 foot rolls of film. Which are about...2 and a half-minutes each. (laughs) We ended up just getting cameras that could hold 400 ft loads and up. So, there was a lot of roll changing. But I always wanted to shoot it on film. At THIS point, now seeing what people can do with the new equipment, I'm not against digital. I still like film, my next short may be partially digital, but it'll partially be on film for stylistic reasons. I'm not going to abandon that look. I'm not as “against it” as I might have been 4-5 years ago.

Where did you shoot the surgery scene, anyways?

That was actually back in my hometown of Meyersville, NJ. Which will hopefully now show up in a search engine. (laughs) I was living in New York but I knew we needed a big open space to make this piece.  And we were looking into theaters.  We were going to shoot it in the city, until we found a place that was open to the schedule we wanted. This point, we're about 2 months away from shooting and we’re locking things down. So, the place said, "You can come in, but only from between 9 to 4 and then you have to pack everything up & leave and you owe us $400 bucks a day." That was the discounted rate.  (The whole film was done on about three and a half grand.)

So, I went back to my hometown and met with people who ran a Grange hall, which had the amount of space we needed. And areas for makeup, to set up props, store things etc.  They did a lot of indoor flea markets there. The woman who ran it was really sweet and she gave us the run of the place for three days for nothing. I don't even think she charged us for electricity. We didn't use much, but I had offered to compensate for that, but they saw that the place was in good shape and were fine with it. So, the trick is to sometimes go back to your hometown and check! (laughs) That last scene, in the kitchen, was shot back in my family’s kitchen back home too.  It had the look I wanted and of course, a free location.

'Mainstream' is obviously a short film. And from what you’ve told me, it seems that you pretty much filmed everything you envisioned. But if you had the option to expand upon 'Mainstream' or turn it into a full length, do you have more story to add to it or is it meant to just be this short piece?

I'd always envisioned it as a short piece, even though I've always been obsessed with the themes in it. And I probably will continue to explore those in other films and stories. And it's funny that you say that, because everyone has asked me that.  “Is it a piece of a feature?” But I felt I kind of made my point in that brief period. I have some ideas on how I can expand it, but I think most of the scene is set up as symbolism.  It’s somewhat commercial at its length now, but it'd be hard to do 90 minutes around it, unless it was something completely experimental.

I'm tinkering with some ways to flesh it out, while keeping with the same kind of imagery that's in it. Still telling my story, but basing it around a more character-based story.. I can't say my first full length will be a new version of 'Mainstream', but never say never.  I'm leaning towards some other stories I’m writing. But ideas are always creeping in, so it's always a possibility. Maybe I should make it, because the more people ask me about it, the more ideas I get for it.  The scenes in this film would be much more unsettling at the scope I wished we could have shot it as.

To me, 'Mainstream' seems wide open for individual interpretation.  I read way more in there then was there, if that makes any sense.

No, that's good. I'd rather you over-think it instead of going “that’s nice” and searching for the remote. (laughs)

How would you defend the film to other people that may be unsatisfied with not having more story or a real solid resolution? I mean, personally I loved it. But I watched it with Jsyn and Mike and although they both enjoyed it, they wanted more. They were unsatisfied that there wasn't more to it.

I have seen that reaction. Some people really get into it, but some people do ask me that. I don't feel as if I need to defend it, since I wasn't going for just a traditional story. But if I did it in a full length; I would absolutely TRY to do that. Maybe because it’s kind of stream-of-consciousness as opposed to heavily structured?  That might be it. This was always intended to be a snippet statement. I don't know if I’d call it an all-out experimental movie though. One review was comparing it to Romero, just in terms of taking social commentary and dressing it up as something scary. It doesn't have a traditional character, but it has a beginning, middle, and end.

But it doesn't follow the basic story structure like we're used to. I can see how for some people that can be jarring, even if they like it.  Plus, the ending scene is so different from its previous scene that I could see how someone might think it’s tacked on.  I feel it fits, personally.  I just felt this was the best way to present it at the time. It didn’t feel like it worked as well when I altered it on the page.  But if I ever plan on expanding on it, I still see it as an abstract horror film but I think the changes I’d make would satisfy both camps.  I do understand what you're saying. I know people that like it, but say "It's over already?"

Well... it IS a short! (laughs)

I set up this little world and then... credits! I don't feel it's too abrupt though personally.  This is one of the more ‘out there’ films I’d do though.  Not that others would be watered down, but more character/structure emphasis.

Speaking of credits, is that YOU who happens to be the second victim that pops up? Because a different actor name was listed in the credits!

(laughs) Yep. That is me. We had someone else cast in the 10-second part, but they had a situation come up-and we were getting so close to the wire, like the day before I was renting all the equipment-I figured I could just do it and not ruin it.

So, that's not your ode to Hitchcock by appearing briefly in your film? (laughs)

No! I never intended to be in it. You're not going to see me in a lot of my movies. This is probably the only one I'm going to show up in.  There’s a Japanese music video for Guitar Wolf with me in a spacesuit running from ladies in tight jogging outfits..that was another thing where an actor couldn’t make it and I was on the crew but had to fill in…wait a minute.  Hmm…(laughs)

Why didn't you credit yourself?

My name already shows up 5 or 6 times. I was tired of seeing it!  So, I took my ‘porn name.’ You know, when you take your middle name and the name of the street you lived on? So, I was Nathan Meyers. Somebody pointed out the irony that the second guy in line to sort of have his life & creativity drained out of him was the director. (laughs)  Most audiences who have seen it don't know who I am. I always wanted a second person in there, so it would be more like an assembly line. And the second guy willingly gets on the table, whereas the first guy resisted. Then again, he doesn’t put up too much of a fight…

Tell us a bit about the other actors you chose for the film and why you chose them?

I had done the usual rounds, placing ads in Backstage etc.  But I decided to go with several actors I knew or had seen before.  As opposed to casting non-actor friends. Never do that!  It's evil!  (laughs) Ed (Edmundo Santos) I let check out the script to get his feedback, but I really was looking to see his response to the material.  Plus to see if he would want to play a character that's unconscious for half of the film.  He loved it and had all these interesting takes on what the script was saying. Jean Arlea was into the material as well, loved working with her.  She didn't mind we made her look so strange and 'let-herself-go."  She could drop right into the numb/programmed character and snap out of it soon as we yelled cut.

It was great to work with them both.  Ed recently played the lead in a film made for Showtime, and Jean's starred in and directed several plays since then and she's gonna direct a film next year actually, a fantastical period piece based on a short story. Randy, the surgeon, I had actually worked with before.  He's got more of a background in stunts and martial arts, so I knew he could handle physical stuff, and being blind from the prosthetics for hours.  Though I never intended to show much of his face so most shots he was able to keep his eyes clear.  We get quite a few comments on how eerie he is in it.

Although I don't want you to give away ALL your behind the scenes secrets, I have to know... how'd you do the surgery scene on the abdomen?

That's a simple trick. It's a kind of gel-blood that's thick like toothpaste. The scalpel is real, filed down and smoothed. They put just a little bit of the blood on the side not facing the camera, and it's dragged across Ed's chest so it looks like a small slit/incision.  Worked quite well.

'Mainstream' is going to be featured on the upcoming Fangoria Blood Drive Volume 2 DVD. How'd that come about?

We finished the film in the spring and just started sending it out everywhere. But for the hell of it, I did use the 'Blood Drive' deadline as our deadline, just to guarantee finishing it in the Spring. So, we finished it in time, and it got in a couple of festivals and we sent it to Fango about 3 days before the deadline, and a month later they wrote us back saying "You're in." It's nice to have people from Fango write you and say your movie creeped them out. I'm sure the DVD's going to come out great. I saw the trailer for it earlier today online.

Yeah, I checked that out too, and saw the box art, which a good chunk of features an image from your film!

Yeah, Ed’s hogging the cover!

I don't know. Did you slip anyone some extra cash to make that happen, pal? (laughs)

You know any indie filmmaker with extra cash?  (laughs)  Nah.  I’m just honored they chose it in the first place. It comes out October 4th. I had never thought of 'Mainstream' as an all-out horror film, but I knew Chris (Garetano) did an abstract horror film for the first Blood Drive disc that got picked. So, I thought I could enter and they might be receptive to it.  We should have an interesting panel at the Fango convention this Fall.

Have you seen any of the other short films that are going to be on Fangoria Blood Drive Volume 2?

I've seen two of them so far, and they're both terrific. Completely at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they're both really accomplished in their own right. I had seen 'Means To An End', Paul Solet’s film.  On their website, Eli Roth said it completely entertained & disgusted the hell out of him. It's much more of a pitch black horror comedy with some really good, disgusting special effects in it. Considering the budget and time they had, they had a great team for that flick. People are going to get a real kick out of it. Especially all the gore hounds.

And I met Paul this past weekend at a festival I was covering because one of the screenplays he wrote, Heartland, won 3rd place at Visionfest. It's nasty. It's just as offensive (as 'Means To An End') but it's dead serious. 'Means To An End' is the type of thing you have your friends over to watch and have a good time. I also saw 'We All Fall Down', because they showed that at the festival this past weekend.

Aw, man. I saw it too and I loved that short. It really blew me away.

Intense.  Crazy sound design and mood.  Jake (Kennedy) is fantastic.  I'm really happy to be on this compilation because the quality of the films is great. None of them are going to look like a public access show. (laughs) I'm excited to meet these other guys and see all the films in one sitting.

Who are some of the other local filmmakers whose work you enjoy?

I'm a big fan of Larry Fessenden, who is a New York indie filmmaker. He's more on the lines of Romero in wanting to make social statements & explore horror films more naturalistically. He did a great vampire film called 'Habit', which is really, to me, all about loneliness, alcoholism, not being able to truly trust someone else. There's an environmental ‘cautionary tale’ horror movie he did called 'No Telling'. He did a movie about people's need for myth and how kids interpret violence in the world called 'Wendigo'. I think he's got a couple of million dollars to do his new flick, 'The Last Winter'. He's somebody who I’ve bumped into at screenings, but I would definitely like to pick his brain. He's an original and I'm always impressed with his stuff.

Also, I’m a big Dante fan. Dante Tomaselli. He's just a great accessible guy. I've interviewed him twice for different websites. He gives back and I don't think he realizes how much he gives back.  But he inspires other people by getting his work out there, doing quality films on lower budgets, and lately he’s been great with advice and that kind of thing.  I like how meticulous he is with detail.  I saw Satan’s Playground in San Fran when it premiered at that festival- they made $500,000 look like 5 million.

He name-checked your short film 'Mainstream' as a film he'd seen recently and really enjoyed.

Well, I liked him before he name checked my short. (laughs) After we’d spoken for a while I sent it to him as a "Hey, I like your stuff and I'd love to hear your 2 cents on mine." And it turned out to be right up his alley.  He tends to be into more offbeat horror material.  The sound is freaky too, which he’s really attuned to.

After some promotion on 'Mainstream', what's next on your slate?

I've been script reading, freelance editing and doing some sound design for other people lately.  But the next short I'm going to do is going to be called 'Eight Phone Calls'. It’s an offbeat thriller. It'll be the first thing I’ve made in a while that has a lot of dialogue in it. A bit of a cat-and-mouse mind game.  Two actors, one location.  It may be shot in both formats(16mm and 24p), you’ll see why. That happens in November.  I'm doing two music videos as well, one on spec and one I was hired to do.  After that, if I can, the following short is called The Ashes of Idiots, it’s drama/comedy actually.  Jean Arlea will be back in that one.  I wanted to do some more (short-form work) while I’m working on feature-length scripts.

I like things that are all about character. 'Mainstream' is more of a statement, it's not so much about personality/character/emotion. But anything else I do, is going to need that.  There’s no reason you can’t make a horror film with emotion and great character, you know? There's one surrealistic drama I read called "Chicken Head" by Apryl Lee which was incredible, I'd love to direct that.

I'm developing a lot of scripts right now, so after that short, I’ll be setting up my first feature next year.  I got financing based off Mainstream for Eight Phone Calls, it’s still a lower-budgeted short but it’s enough to do it, and there’s interest from a few people in the first feature I go with.  We’ll see what happens...

Special thanks to Adam Barnick for his time.

Visit his sites: www.AdamBarnick.com
& Mainstreamthemovie.com.

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