Back in July I did a review of a movie called Prison Of The Psychotic Damned. Soon after that, I found two comments that I was not expecting to see. One of those comments was by David Williams, the writer/producer of the film. After doing my interview with Cattleworks, he kept encouraging me to ask David for an interview. After much debate with myself, I decided to do so and David was kind enough to agree.
David Williams had a rough life to start with. We have something in common in that our mothers passed away when we were young. After moving around, getting married/divorced and working many jobs, David made it into college. He attended State University Of New York at Buffalo and got a BA in Media Study. David was accepted into a screenwriting program at UCLA but was tired of the college life by then so turned it down and got a job. The film bug was biting though and here we are. So now that you know a little bit about him, I present to you David Williams.
Heather Santrous: David, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. Would you tell us how you became a horror fan, and how you got involved with making movies?
David Williams: I've been making movies since I was 14 years old. I've been a fan of horror films since I was four. First horror film I remember seeing was The Crawling Eye. I still love that film. I was brought upon the old Universal horror films...Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, etc....graduated to Corman and AIP then Hammer then the Eurotrash cinema of the late sixties and early seventies. The indie horror boom of the late seventies through the eighties was a big influence. Despite that, I was also drawn to the art house cinema of the 50s through the 70s. Italian neorealism, French new wave...the films of Antonioni and Bergman. Fellini to a degree. Somehow or other that all gets rolled into the ball that makes a RedScream Film. My good friend Chris Lackner said I make b-horror movies with art film pretensions. LOL. That's about right.
Been writing since I can remember. All through high school. I even had a fan base. People I didn't know would stop me and say, hey, when are you writing another story? I read that last one and it was cool. Write another or I'll beat your ass. I stopped writing for quite a while there - just not enough hours in the day. There never is. I have seen about a dozen short stories published. The most recent in Cuthulu Sex magazine. I've written two novels. Killer Asylum and Twilight in the Spaces Between. Those are currently only available in e-book format but if you go to Amazon you can get the paperback of Asylum. It's sort of Die Hard meets Silence of the Lambs. With artfilm pretensions. LOL.
I don't know why I make movies. I don't know why I write. I do it because I have to. There's something about it that draws me. Like old buildings. I have an obsession with old buildings. They call to me. Pull me in. I can feel the time within them. Like a fog. With my films I'm not trying to make any statements or address any social concerns. What I do want to do is make people react. I really don't care how they react as long as they do. As much as I prefer that someone like my films, if they hate my films that's okay too. As long as they feel something. If someone watches one of my films and at the end shrugs and goes, it was okay...I've failed. I would rather they hate it. Iwould rather they want to find whoever made it and kill them they hate it so bad. That's better than, it was okay.
HS: It is my understanding that a script is harder to write than say a book. Have you found this to be true?
DW: I find writing a screenplay much easier than writing a book. A screenplay is, the basics. Imagine writing a detailed outline for a novel that is 120 pages long. It contains all the key points and dialogue but little else. This happens, then that happens, then something else happens, then the end. If moving on to a book you now have to expand on that outline, turning 120 pages into 350+ minimum. You have to carefully choose your words, and sculpt your descriptions and, its hard work. A script is a skeleton. It doesn't need meat and muscle grafted on like a novel. That comes when you shoot it and then edit it and score it. Which isn't to say you can just write anything. Without a strong skeleton the whole thing just falls apart, like a human body without bones. All you've got is a pail of soft tissue that ain't going no where. LOL.
HS: That is interesting to know and not how I thought you would answer. As far as Prison Of The Psychotic Damned (POTPD), how long did it take you to write the script?
DW: The first draft took roughly a month. I write what I called the "kitchen sink" version first. In this I throw in everything that comes to mind. When that is completed I can then go back and start trimming and revising to get it into a workable format. All in all, it took around 2-3 months to get the final draft.
HS: Was there an inspiration for the story or was it something that you came up with?
DW: The film is influenced greatly by the original film version of The Haunting as well as the book that film is based on. Perhaps a touch of Hell House but not that much. There is also my fascination with modern ruins and the Buffalo Central Terminal in particular. It's a place that looks like its haunted -and if its not, it should be.
HS: In addition to writing screenplays and producing, I see that you also direct your movies too. Would you explain why you chose not to direct POTPD?
DW: I "directed" all my early films. Prison was the only film I have ever made, short or feature or otherwise that I have not directed. I did not direct Prison because there just were not enough hours in the day for me to do all the production work and have to deal with the actual making of the movie. But I was on the set most days and DW Kann and I had frequent discussions regarding what he was doing and what I needed and expected. It was a pleasure working with him. He did a wonderful job despite the cold and the schedule.
HS: Would you care to elaborate on what you "needed and expected" out of POTPD?
DW: I was looking for a more classic horror feel. More character development with the terminal itself being one of those characters. The influences for the film were the original version of The Haunting and the novel upon which that film was based. But also the more gothic aspects of the Universal Horror films ofthe 30s with just a touch of 70s Eurotrash. I didn't want MTV style editing. I wanted longer, more static shots. Bascially I wanted to make a classic style horror film with modern sensabilities. Does that make any sense at all? LOL. I think we achieved that goal.
HS: Could you tell us what your favorite memory or moment is for POTPD?
DW: Finishing it and gettting it released. LOL.
HS: I can see why that would be the case. I'm sure you were proud that it was finished. As an Indy filmmaker, what is involved in getting a project off the ground and getting the final project out to fans like me?
DW: How much time do we have? I tend to build scripts around existing resources. So if I know I can use the Buffalo Central Terminal or an abandoned church or a friend's cabin in the woods, then I build my script around that location. I use Mandy.com for casting. I can post a casting call on a Sunday afternoon and by Monday afternoon my email box is filled with resumes from actors. We do have a growing group of local talent we can call on which is great as I can write based on their talents and I know I can depend on them.
We typically have very short production schedules, our longest shoot was 17 days but most fall between 7-10 days. I write with that in mind. Small cast, few locations, keep it simple. I have considerable experience in editing so while I shoot I am constantly editing in my head. Many times I will change or even drop a scene because as I edit the film in my head I know I either don't need that scene or I need to change it to make it work. I think in shots so know what I need to make a scene work typically before I shoot it. I do like to work with the cast on a scene. I like to get their input and I always ask actors to develop their own backstory for their character and purchase their own wardrobe. I want them to be their character and on set I call them by their character's name, not their real name.
The hard part of making a film to get back to your question is, all of it. I compare filmmaking to an insanely difficult puzzle. You have an idea of what you want the puzzle to look like but to get there, you have to assemble all the pieces and keep all those pieces together. Finally, when you believe you have all the pieces you start to put them together. But while doing so you might find out that some pieces don't fit or not as well as you'd hoped. So you either have to change those pieces, or force them to fit, or get new pieces. And the puzzle keeps changing and you keep adding new pieces or removing other pieces. While all this is going on, you're working under a time limit. You have to put the puzzle together by the end of the week or chances are it will never get put together. Does any of this make sense? It's nuts. Nobody in their right mind would try to make a movie. It's too hard. It can be brutally hard. People don't realize how hard making movies can be.
Getting the final product to the audience is a whole 'nother animal. We've lucked out in finding Sean Argoof Dissolve Pictures who handles sales for all our films. He is a great guy. He is a rare breed in a business that is eyebrow deep with scumbags who will tell you they are distributors then sit on your film for months, even years and do nothing. Who will take all the profits and hand you a list of expenses. The number of people you can trust who operate on the distribution end of the deal can probably be counted on two hands and you'll have fingers left over. Plus your thumbs. It's tough. Controlling your own distribution is the way to go, but that's another full time job and I'm already working two...three if you count family.
HS: I know what it is like to be very busy so I know how you feel. Expanding on your last answer, why such short shoots? Is it a money issue, or because of the time you can shoot at the location?
DW: The short shoots are a matter of time and money. There is only so much money that can be spent and when that is gone, it is gone. Plus most of us still hold down full-time jobs and have families so there are numerous factors contributing to the short shoots. Many members of the cast and crew must take time off from work to do these films. So we have a limited amount of both. We either do the film within those constraints or we don't do them at all. We make sure everybody understands that. If you can't do it for what we can offer you, then we'll find someone else. I don't mean to downplay anybody's talent or worth, but there are damn few cast or crew who cannot be replaced. I've fired crew the day before a produtionwas scheduled to begin and had their replacement on set the next day.
HS: Remind me to work hard if I ever work for you lol. Do you do your own effects in movies or hire someonefor that? How do you decide what effect to use for a scene?
DW: I do have some background in makeup effects but for all our films we have hired professional makeup effects artists. For Red Scream Vampyres nearly half our budget went to effects. Those are the money shots. They have to be good. They have to be great. If I direct a death scene I want a death scene that doesn't just push the envelope, I want a death scene that shreds the envelope. I want to be knee deep in blood when its over. I want flesh that pulls and tears and snaps. I want to rub the audiences' face in the violence. There are no polite deaths in a Red Scream Film. At the same time, I don't write gore for gore sakes. People die in our films for a reason. Their deaths are part of the story. Sex is the same, if there is a sex scene or nudity in our films, it comes naturally out of the flow of the story. We don't drop it in randomly. There is a reason for it.
HS: What is the hardest part of being a director for you?
DW: The hardest part of being a director? I think not attacking crew who don't do their job and killing them. Or actors who obviously have not taken the time to learn their lines or read the script. It's happened, believe me. I'm not a proponent of auteur theory. I am the writer, I am the producer, I am the director, so I am the final voice in any production Red Scream Films LLC is involved with but, I fully realize that film is a collaborative process. You need a dedicated, talented cast and crew who are passionate about making films. If a single person doesn't give you 1000%, the film suffers. And on our budgets and schedules, you really don't have the luxury of going back for reshoots or stopping production so you can find the right person or persons. It has taken us two years to find our core group of people. That really came together on Red Scream Vampyres and again on Terminal Descent. The people I worked with on those films are the people I want to work with on all my films. They get me and I get them and we share the belief that nothing is more important than the film. Nothing.
HS: When we first started to talk over email, you sent me a list of the films you have done and are working on. I will include that list now but I was wondering if you would like give a brief sneak peak into each film?
DW: Prison Of The Psychotic Damned (produced,wrote)...in release.
Red Scream Ghost Hunt (wrote, produced, directed) - in post production. Blair Witch meets Ghost Hunters. (2008 release)
Red Scream Vampyres (wrote, produced, directed) - in post production. Dark, demented, erotic, bloody...sometimes all at the same time. A total reworking of the vampire mythos.
FrightWorld (wrote, produced, directed) - completed. The spirit of a serial killer haunts a long closed halloween scream park. (2008 release)
Terminal Descent (wrote, produced, directed) - in post production. Urban Exploring Riot Grrrlz versus Mutant Hobos. (2008 release)
The Eldritch (wrote, produced, directed) - Captures Entertainment has this. No release date.
Movies Coming up:
Red Scream Gargoyle
HS: If you were given a nice large budget and were given a choice of any horror movie to remake, which one would you pick and why?
DW: Return of the Living Dead 3. I love that movie.
HS: Interesting choice! Once again David, I want to thank you for doing this interview with me. I enjoyed talking to you and getting to know you. I really appriciate that you took the time to do the interview. I hope you keep in touch with me about your projects so I can talk about them on Mermaid Heather. Please stop by in case any of my commenters might have a question for you.
4 months ago