Indie horror filmmakers offer insights at Scare L.A.

Summertime, and it’s still a few months to Halloween. Do not be horrified, because there are plenty of activities during the torrid vacation segment of the year for Halloween and horror enthusiasts to immerse themselves into the total scary environs.

Recently there was Midsummer Scream held at the Long Beach Convention Center, and then in early August was the annual Scare L.A. festivities at the Pasadena Convention Center. These events offer fans of everything horror just about everything they need to satisfy their hunger for thrills and chills and blood and gore.

At Scare L.A. there are classes such as Haunt Pneumatics 101, or Tips and Tricks for Your Haunted Graveyard Props. Also on tap are numerous films screenings. And vendors galore offering masks, accessories, books, movies in various formats and much more. There also are mini haunts if you’re in the mood to get scared. A full schedule of panels also give visitors a chance to hear experts provide insights.

One such panel was titled Indie Horror: Want to Make a Scary Movie? Presented by We Are Indie Horror , which can be found on various social media platforms, the panel featured five directors who have earned their chops in putting together independent films, which means they did it without the financial muscle of major movie production companies.

Panel members included:

Gene Blalock of Seraph Films whose credits include episodes of television series “Horror Haiku” and “My Activist Wife.” He also is a producer and editor.

Mary C. Russell, whose short film “Carved” has been garnering praise as it makes its way around the film festival circuit.

Andrew Kasch, who has extensive credits as a film editor and who directed the “This Means War” segment of the “Tales of Halloween” anthology.

Jessica Cameron, an actress who also has helmed  award-winning horror films “Truth Or Dare” and “Mania” and who is working on “An Ending.”

Darren Lynn Bousman, known for directing “Saw II,” “Saw III” and “Saw IV” as well as “Mother’s Day” and the “The Night Billy Raised Hell” segment of “Tales of Halloween.” He also has dabbled in indie efforts with his “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” “Abattoir” and “The Devil’s Carnival.”

Brian Sapir, from We Are Indie Horror, served as moderator for the panel and opened by asking the five directors what was the one movie that made them want to work in the film industry.

Bousman’s response was “La Bamba,” which drew surprise, as the expectation was it would have been a horror film. After facetiously warning of a spoiler alert, Bousman said, “When the plane crashes (which killed singer Richie Valens, the subject of the movie), I felt really sad and really angry. I realized that movies could make me mad or upset.”

Blalock said his inspiration was “E.T.” “It rips your heart out at the end of the film, made you feel something.”

Russell replied that the grindhouse throwbacks “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror” made an impression on her. “A lot of people have hate against ‘Death Proof’,” she said. “But some of the dialogue, I was just blown away by it, along with certain scenes. I love the lap dance scene.”

Kasch’s selection was a bona fide horror classic: “Alien.” “It was the first film that really traumatized me,” he said. “When you have that really horrific experience, you want to break it down. I wanted to know basically who everyone was who made the movie. I wanted to study that movie, really deconstruct it.”

Cameron cited “Sometimes They Come Back,” based on a Stephen King short story.

As to what factors come into play that makes them want to become involved in a film project, Bousman said he is drawn to a film “that can ruin your career.”

“I think if anyone else can make a movie that I am making at the time, then I shouldn’t make it,” he said. “There’s got to be stakes to it. If it’s safe, I don’t care. I want to know this could be the last movie I ever make.”

Bousman referred to his movie “Repo!” “I knew that it was dangerous. I was putting Paris Hilton and Sarah Brightman in the same movie. That was exciting. So for me I am always looking for something that could possibly destroy me.”

For Cameron, “Mania” presented her with the challenge of making a low-budget road movie. “It’s like being in Hell for three weeks and you can’t leave,” she pointed out. “And then you realize you have created this hell, and it’s your own fault.”

“Mania” was a 22-day shoot on locations across America. “I did it because I was trying to figure a way to do these movies that were road-trip films made on the road, which is so financially difficult for an independent filmmaker.”

Staffing the crew and casting the film is a vital element for a director, and Sapir asked the panel what they look for when hiring people to help make the movie.

“Well, talent, of course,” Blalock said, “but I much prefer to go with personality. If you can get along and talk and have fun together, then that is much more important than when someone was comes on set with ego and attitude and thinks they know everything and just doesn’t want to listen to anything. (I want) people that really work well together.”

Cameron said, “What I have learned is to get people who are more talented than the pay you are giving them but are very happy with where they are in their career; people who are in it to win it regardless of budget.”

“My crew is kind of my family,” added Bousman. “I started with no crew and I’ve been lucky to pick up people, almost like a snowball rolling downhill. And every time I go into a project, everyone is on board. And I don’t understand why that happens to this day because I feel like I’m exploiting everybody. I think the key is making a really fun set and forming nice relationships with everybody.”

“I hire people who are better than me in every position,” Blalock said. “You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.”

“I like people who love working in horror films, and are inspired by my scripts,” Russell said. “Crews work better when they are a family. It shouldn’t feel like work. It should feel like you’re having the funnest time of your life.”

Blalock noted that indie film people are like family, helping each other out with their respective projects.

On being part of an anthology project, Kasch said, “Indie film sets are generally chaos and the more people you have the more ambitious you get with it . . . . . We’re able to divide and conquer. The faster you can answer questions and solve the problems, the smoother things will run, and that’s kind of the benefit of a partnership.”

Financing of course is the lifeblood of filmmaking and it can be a difficult task One key aspect is the pitch package. Russell offered what the pitch package requires: a synopsis, example photographs and the script. Also key are biographies of all the people on the crew, especially if it includes big talent.

Such money-raising platforms as Indie Go Go, Kickstarter and Go Fund Me can be good sources of finance.

Sapir noted that Cameron has been able to recoup the costs of her films and he asked her how she achieved this.

“I make a really ambitious business plan,” she replied. “I try to have a very realistic approach to everything I am going to do. This is the dollar figure on the table with the movie I will get, here’s what I’m going to reach for and here’s how you’re going to get your money back. And I try to do that as quickly as possible. But it all has to stem from actual, real dollars”

Bousman noted that despite past successes in directing, finding financial support does not get easier.

“I was lucky to come off a very successful franchise and I thought the floodgates were going to open, and I (now) spend 90 percent of my day drunk in the bathtub crying, trying to find money.”

“Most people are really lazy when it come to trying to recoup the money,” Bousman added.  He mentioned “Repo!”, which initially was a box office disaster — “abysmal,” he admitted.  So: “I got in a van and traveled across the United States numerous times, showing ‘Repo!’ . . . By the direct course of my own action, I was able to get people in theater. That mentality stayed with me with ‘The Devil’s Carnival.’ We went out and did street teams, used street tactics to recoup the money.” Bousman said he also employed performers to be clowns and other characters to help promote the movie. “You have to think outside the box.”

“Time management is important,” Blalock said regarding keeping costs in line. “Trusting people to keep you on deadlines. If they say you are messing up, you need to listen to them and take their advice.”

The directors agreed that having a good film editor can be one of the best assets when making a movie. Bousman, for one, said he does not edit his films himself.

“I get too close to the material,” he confessed. “(I am always saying) this is the best shot, this is the best shot. That’s why a cut of ‘Mother’s Day’ was was 7 1/2 hours — because I love everything. Then someone comes it and cuts it and makes it good. The editor comes in and streamlines my ideas

“For me, an editor is a critical asset because I don’t see past what I shoot,” Bousman said.

On marketing the film, Bousman made a simple, but profound observation: “No one is a better salesman of you than you. You have to kick in doors, not knock on them.” He admitted to being a nuisance to people but said that is the best way to get a chance to sell the product.

Blalock said an effective way he employs to market a movie is “bragging about the people I work with.”

Cameron said, “I look at the ends, and it justify the means. With ‘Truth or Dare,’ we played 50 festivals worldwide and won 34 awards, and let me tell you, that was just marketing.”

Dealing with the constant frustrations can wear a person down. Sapir asked how the directors manage to stay on track with their efforts when it gets tough.

“I have no fallback plan,” Bousman said. “So this is it. It is survivalist. I have a wife and son and iI have animals, and realizing that they’re looking up to me and counting on me, it drives me. It also inspires me. For me there’s no other options.”

“If there’s anything else you can picture yourself doing other than making movies, perhaps you should do that,” Blalock advised. “It’s a long, hard commitment.”

For Russell, her desire to press on is based on this: “I’m in love horror.”

“If people look at me and say, oh this guy just makes horror movies, we only want to give him money for horror movies, I’m in hog heaven,” Kasch said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do with my life than what I am doing. I just want to find that one wave and ride it hard enough until I’m dead.”

Cameron said its her fan base that continues to give her inspiration and support to continue. “I look to that when I’m having a horrible day.”

The directors were asked if they prefer practical special effects over CGI.

“You do as much as you can do practical and use digital to enhance,” Blalock said. “A lot depends on the budget. Either side gets super expensive.”

Bousman had the audience laughing when he recalled a movie he tried to make titled “Jersey Devil,” and how he wanted the monster to be practical special effects with no CGI enhancement. It turned out the creature could not move. So CGI would have been a better option.

“I think CGI is overutilized,” Cameron said. “I think it should be used to enhance practical or to do the things which you’re just not physically possible to do.” Then she added a pet peeve of hers: “I wish the CGI blood effect would STOP.”

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